Friday, April 27, 2012
More Occupy Wall Street protesters are arrested as they take part in a weekly march to the New York Stock Exchange
By:Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq AhmedSince NATO's Lisbon summit in November 2010, debate has raged over the decision to draw-down troops from Afghanistan by 2014. And in less than a month, NATO is to hold its 25th heads of state summit in Chicago on 20th May. Unsurprisingly, among the summit's major themes will be the seemingly intractable Afghan question, controversy over which has continued with increasingly ferocious attacks by militants - the synchronised 18-hour assault on Kabul on April 16 being an outstanding example - along with persistently strained U.S.-Pakistani relations since NATO airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November. But rather than endlessly debating troop numbers - whose link to stability is at the least exceedingly unclear - NATO allies would be better off focusing on how to maximise the impact of programs which pave the way for long-term stability by dramatically re-shifting the focus of aid funding from security to development. The full transition of responsibility for Afghanistan's security from NATO to Afghan forces poses deep questions about the efficacy of international intervention and traditional military approaches. For some critics calling for a faster transition to Afghan control, NATO's presence is the problem. Two years ago, NATO Afghan war veteran Lt. Col. Thomas Brouns warned presciently that "the possibility of strategic defeat looms" as "violent incidents" increase in direct proportion to the troop surge. The war is "a losing battle in winning the hearts and minds of nearly 30 million Afghans." Others argue that a quick NATO withdrawal could be a grave mistake, precipitating a downwards spiral into endless civil war - a view expounded last year by the German military, the RAF, and a British government review ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron. Even the Afghan defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak warned of the potentially catastrophic ramifications of a more abrupt withdrawal - no doubt fearing a Taliban come-back in the wake of the vacuum left behind by NATO's departure. Amidst all the controversy about NATO in Afghanistan, the curious assumption is that the country's stability is somehow purely correlated with troop numbers, rather than underlying socio-economic conditions and political accountability. Indeed, commentators have overlooked the single component of international intervention which has had resounding success - development aid, through Afghanistan's National Solidarity Programme (NSP). Under the programme, the Afghan government disburses grants to village-level elected organisations, Community Development Councils (CDCs), which in turn identify local priorities and implement small-scale development projects. The NSP has reached out to 24,000 villages, mobilising nearly 70 percent of rural communities across all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces - including enrolling over 100,000 women into new local CDCs. An independent evaluation by academics from Harvard, MIT and the New School found that the NSP had led to "significant improvement in villagers' economic wellbeing" and "their attitudes towards the government" - "reducing the number of people willing to join the insurgents" leading to "an improved security situation in the long run." Yet the evaluation report also observes that development mitigates militancy only in regions facing "moderate violence" - but not where there are "high levels of initial violence." Here, the impact of the war is palpable - 2011 saw a record number of 3,021 Afghan civilian deaths. And a UN assessment for that year found the average monthly number of "security incidents" - such as gun battles and roadside bombings - was 39 per cent higher than the preceding year. So if the exit strategy is the right one, it's still not enough. From June 2002 to September 2010, the United States - though the largest NSP donor - has given $528 million to the programme (as well as another $225 million from FY 2010 funds, with Congress appropriating a further $800 million or so). This is a tiny fraction in the total of about $18.8 billion in foreign assistance over the last decade, and much more needs to be done. Over two-thirds of Afghans still live in dire poverty; only 23 per cent have access to safe drinking water; and just 24 percent above the age of 15 can read and write, according to the UN High Commission for Human Rights. Thus, a recent report by the Center for a New American Security urges that the US government "not only continue its [NSP's] funding but should also help expand the program across Afghanistan. Only through steadfast support of the NSP and similarly structured enterprises can hard-won military gains be consolidated into an enduring, Afghan-led peace." Yet the NSP is a virtual carbon copy of a longstanding development model being implemented just across the border in rural Pakistan, including the Taliban's strongholds in the northwest frontier province: the Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN). As Pakistan's largest NGO, the RSPN has run quietly for nearly thirty years, with a staggering success rate - having mobilised over 4 million Pakistani households through local community organisations, provided skills training to nearly 3 million, and reached approximately 30 million people. The RSPN's model - replicated so successfully in Afghanistan under the NSP - is distinguished by its unique participatory approach, based on partnership with communities. The programme began in the early 1980s through the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), in the Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan regions. Under the leadership of Nobel Prize nominee Shoaib Sultan Khan, the AKRSP model was replicated by establishing a further ten autonomous Rural Support Programmes (RSP) across three quarters of the country's districts - which together form the umbrella that is the RSPN. The secret of the RSPN's success is deceptively simple. The poor are mobilised to establish local community organisations where citizens are involved in every aspect of decision-making - designing and selecting projects, managing them, and monitoring expenditures - in projects which have immediate, tangible impact. The programme thus empowers villagers to see themselves as citizens with the skills, tools and acumen to work together in managing disbursement of government funds to lift themselves out of poverty. In the northwest province of Chitral, for instance, local micro-scale hydro-electricity projects now supply power to over half of the population. Elsewhere, RSPN has empowered locals to establish 1,449 community schools, whose pupils out-perform their peers from government schools, and enrolled 681,000 women in community activism - the largest outreach to poor rural women of any Pakistani organisation. That is why the RSPN's work is so critical to the future of the country - for a strong, representative Pakistani state to emerge, it must be grounded in strong local civil society institutions capable of holding it to account and engaging with it constructively. But like the NSP, the RSPN receives only a fraction of the overall U.S.-U.K. aid budget to Pakistan. The ongoing debate about troop numbers and drone strikes - while important - has served to distract attention from the critical role of development aid in building resilience to radicalisation. Thus, across the region, the obsession with traditional security solutions has arguably been its own worst enemy. As the countdown to withdrawal continues, the international community must strengthen and expand these proven development models. Otherwise, the quagmire will become an abyss.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/For their determination to put an end to veterans living on the streets, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will receive the highest honor given to homeless advocates. The Obamas were chosen to get this year’s Jerald Washington Memorial Founders' Award, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), and Barack Obama is the first person -- in history -- to receive the award more than once.
voa newsU.S. President Barack Obama has signed an executive order to help protect active-duty troops and veterans from fraudulent and misleading college recruiting practices that target their federal education benefits. The president signed the order Friday after he and first lady Michelle Obama spoke to troops at Fort Stewart army post in the southern state of Georgia. Mr. Obama said some colleges were trying to “swindle and hoodwink” military families and that his administration was “putting an end to it.” The order limits recruiters' access to military facilities and requires schools to provide more information to current and former troops before signing them up for programs. It targets for-profit colleges and universities that market heavily to military families for their education loan money provided by the government under what is known as the “GI Bill.” First Lady Obama told troops that “America does have [their] backs” (supports them). She said the government wanted to serve soldiers and their families just as they have served their country. The trip to Georgia comes about a week before Mr. Obama's first official re-election campaign rallies in Virginia and Ohio. The president lost the state of Georgia to Republican candidate John McCain in the 2008 election.
Let Us Build Pakistan
After taking 28.63% of Sunday’s votes to incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy’s 27.18% tally, Hollande has not missed a campaign beat, plunging back into a full schedule of rallies and television appearances. And to some observers’ surprise, he has rushed to address people who cast ballots for the far right. National Front candidate Marine Le Pen gathered 17.9% of first round votes, a historic high for her anti-immigration party.Speaking after results confirmed his status as the election’s frontrunner, Hollande said the far right’s extraordinary score demanded attention and a deeper understanding of the “anger” expressed by many French. Instead of feeling proud, Hollande said the French under Sarkozy had often felt “lowered” and “belittled”. The Socialist hopeful delivered a much clearer appeal in a front page interview published Tuesday in the left-leaning Liberation daily. "There is a part of Le Pen electorate that comes from the left… who are against privilege, against globalisation, against a Europe that doesn’t work. It’s up to me to convince them that it is the left that will defend them,” Hollande said. While he reserved no compliments for Le Pen herself or her anti-immigration programme, Hollande’s interview drooled empathy for a “suffering electorate, made up of low-paid workers, manual staff and workers who feel like they’ve been abandoned,” and who turned toward the National Front. “He wants to be the president of all the French and is projecting himself in that possibility,” said Michel Wieviorka, a French sociologist, supporter of Hollande and author of the book For the Next Left (Pour la prochaine gauche, Robert Laffont), “He should easily win the runoff, but to do so needs to pick up a fraction of Marine Le Pen’s first round votes.” Hollande’s own camp has consistently bashed Nicolas Sarkozy for trying to appeal to the far right with the objective siphoning National Front votes. Marine Le Pen’s nearly 18% support may be irresistible fruit for Hollande, but the Socialist candidate could be playing with fire. Game of percentages According to Sylvain Crepon, a professor at Paris 10 University and an expert on the far right in France, Le Pen will likely tell her supporters to abstain in the second round, but it is uncertain if they will follow her instructions. “About half of Le Pen’s followers, consider themselves right-wingers above all and will tend to vote for Nicolas Sarkozy to prevent a Socialist presidency,” Crepon explained. “Marine Le Pen has an interest in seeing Nicolas Sarkozy defeated. Her goal is to see the right in France implode and recover some of its members around the FN,” he added.According to different opinion polls this week, 45% to 60% of people who voted for Le Pen will transfer their vote to Sarkozy in the runoff, while only 18% to 26% said they would throw their weight behind Hollande. Those forecasts seemed to give Hollande the numbers he needs to be crowned the winner on May 6, but Alexandre Dezé, a professor of Political Science at Montpellier University and author of the book National Front: The Conquest of Power? (FN : La conquête du pouvoir ?, Armand Colin editions) warned that opinion polls were untrustworthy and prone to change. For Dezé, Sarkozy was better prepared and more willing to charm National Front’s electorate. “Sarkozy will come out strong, we have already seen him employ elements of [former FN candidate] Jean-Marie Le Pen’s key campaign speech in 2002,” Dezé said. “He is appealing to the poor and disenfranchised, calling for a “real” May 1 Worker’s Day rally, showing hostility to the media. It is really a complete and worrying revival of the National Front’s rhetoric,” the Montpellier professor added. Disappointing the Left While some analysts calculated Hollande’s chances of picking up some of Marine Le Pen’s sympathisers for the May 6 presidential duel, others challenged the overall wisdom of such a strategy. And it seemed Hollande was well aware of the danger of pushing away his natural allies on the left by trying to appeal to the far right. “The mistake I will not make is, in reaching out to others, to forget our own,” Hollande told Liberation. “I am a socialist, I am the voice of the left, but I am addressing all the French because I want to be the president of unity.” According to Wieviorka, there is little chance Hollande will spoil support within his own ranks. “Hollande will tell FN voters that he understands their message, and will ask them to trust him to solve their problems. But he is not going to change his own message.” An April 22 survey by the French polling firm Ipsos revealed that while the demographics of the National Front’s electorate may be shifting slightly, the issues close to its heart remain unchanged. Sixty-one percent of people who voted for Marine Le Pen on Sunday told pollsters that immigration was their top concern, while 44% of them said crime was the country’s most pressing problem. The French sociologist also wondered how much Hollande or Sarkozy could really do in less than two weeks to win over voters. “Hollande has his votes on the left secured… I think people have already made their choice.”
Daily TimesInterior Minister Rehman Malik on Thursday asked Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif to apologise to the nation over his attitude towards courts during his tenure as prime minister. Talking to reporters at the opening ceremony of the Intellectual Property Day Celebrations, the minister said his party respected courts and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had proved it by appearing in the apex court. Malik said, “The nation knows what Nawaz Sharif did with Sajjad Ali Shah. I admire the prime minister who has faced the recent situation like a brave man and he will be remembered in history as a brave man.” The interior minister said he had issued clear directions to authorities concerned not to permit anyone to chant slogans at the Supreme Court premises, regardless of the decision, as the PPP believed in respect of judiciary. Malik said the prime minister had acted according to a legal interpretation that had been made by the government’s experts on the matter. The prime minister had the right to continue in his office because the option of an appeal against the verdict was still available, he added. app
The Express TribuneAfter members of Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) walked out of the National Assembly session in protest, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani challenged Nawaz Sharif to bring a no confidence motion if “he thinks he can dissolve the government.” Speaking during the session held a day after the Supreme Court of Pakistan convicted him of contempt of court, Gilani said that he “does not have an ego problem” like members of PML-N. The prime minister said that the opposition and PML-N should “respect the mandate of the people if they believe in democracy.” Gilani also expressed disappointment over leader of the opposition, Chaudhry Nisar’s reaction. “Chaudhry Nisar spoke to me a day before the hearing of the verdict in the contempt case against me and wished me luck. Today, he says that he won’t let me enter the House. Am I not an elected prime minister of this country?” The prime minister said that no one has ever accommodated the opposition as much as his government did. “For the first time in Pakistan, the opposition received funds,” he said. “We are not talking about millions, we are talking in terms of billions of rupees.” He said that he did this only to strengthen democracy in the country and that he believed in working with all representatives of the Parliament. Speaking on the Supreme Court’s conviction, he said, “Ever since the case started, did anyone in this House disagree to presidential immunity? No one did. During 1956, 1962 and 1973, when the dictators can enjoyed immunity, why not the elected heads of the state?” He said that throughout the world, heads of the state including the president, the prime minister and the foreign minister enjoy immunity and questioned, “Have I made these laws?” Gilani said that he was convicted merely for protecting the Constitution of the country and that if that is his crime, then he is happy of doing so. “Many media reports said that I looked happy after the verdict was announced … Yes I was happy, because I protected the Constitution of this country.” The prime minister said that no one but the speaker of the House can “disqualify him and send him home.” Gilani said that he respected the supremacy of the Parliament and that the decision of disqualifying him was upon the custodian of the House – Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza. “If you disqualify me today, I will be honoured. It wouldn’t matter to me only because I was convicted to guard the Constitution.” Addressing the speaker, he said, “Today it’s me, tomorrow, there might be someone else. But I don’t want a situation where I am ousted and people wind up the whole system including this House. There shouldn’t be a situation where I am disqualified and then they say that they haven’t made the voters list and then a technocrat government comes in place. Such a step will not be accepted.” Gilani said that those who think that a reconciliation government is wrong then they can “continue doing so”. Contempt verdict sent to NA speaker, ECP Express News reported that the copy of the Supreme Court’s verdict in the contempt case against Gilani was sent to Dr Mirza and the Election Commission of Pakistan. On Thursday, a seven-member bench, headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk had found Gilani guilty of contempt for disobeying the court’s orders to write a letter to Swiss authorities in order to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. According to the law, the speaker has to take a decision within 30 days on if the prime minister is disqualified from being a member of the assembly in light of the sentence awarded to him. In case the speaker and chairman senate say that they will not take the decision in this regard, the case will be referred to the ECP.