Saturday, April 28, 2012

White House Correspondents' Association dinner

Where else will you find President Obama, Lindsay Lohan and Wolf Blitzer under the same roof? Welcome to the White House Correspondents' Association dinner.

Protesters rally for women’s rights in Richmond
About 300 demonstrators gathered a few blocks from the state Capitol on a cold, rainy Saturday to continue their months-long protest against proposals they say restrict women’s rights. Some protesters carried professionally printed signs that carried messages such as “Stop the War on Virginia Women.” Others waved more colorful, homemade posters: “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” and “Va. Gov. McDonnell. The Vaginal Probe Guy.” Local police were visible, but unlike demonstrations this spring on Capitol Square, the number of officers was limited in the downtown city park outside the Richmond Coliseum. There were no arrests. The rally, organized by Unite Women Virginia, is affiliated with a series of events across the nation Saturday to protest what activists have dubbed a war on women. “Women are powerful — despite the way we are treated and what we are told,” said Victoria Bragunier, president of the Richmond chapter of the National Organization of Women. Virginia has been in the national spotlight this year for legislation critics decried as designed to limit abortions. Although several abortion-related bills did not pass — including those that sought to define a fertilized egg as a person and ban abortions after 20 weeks — a measure requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion was signed into law. Several current and former female legislators spoke about the contentious General Assembly session, criticizing Republicans for failing to understand the measure before publicly supporting it. That includes the ultrasound bill, which as originally proposed mandated a transvaginal probe before an abortion could be performed. After an uproar over the legislation, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) asked lawmakers to drop the requirement from the measure. “How many of the 140 legislators had a clue?” Del. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond) asked. “I guess they were too stupid to understand.” Saturday’s protest underscores the strained relationship in Richmond — and across the nation — between Democrats and Republicans, who blame each other for an election-year focus on social issues including abortion. The debate over social issues, once a daily occurrence in the state Capitol, has moved to the campaign trail in Virginia. The state is expected to play a crucial role in November’s presidential election and determining the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. Former Democratic governor Timothy M. Kaine, who is running for U.S. Senate, stopped by the rally after campaigning in Roanoke, saying the issues are important to all adults, not just women. When McClellan pointed him out, the crowd erupted: “Tim! Tim! Tim!” A series of protests this year led Democrats to blast what they called excessive police force by officers wearing riot gear and carrying semiautomatic weapons. At a rally in March, officers arrested 30 demonstrators after they refused to leave the steps of the Capitol — where protests are prohibited. Bridget Kelley-Dearing of Lexington, who was holding one side of a banner that read “Defeat Virginia’s Sexist Politicians,” said she has been to every protest in Richmond this year. “I don’t feel like my legislators are representing me,” she said.

TURKEY: Women See Worrisome Shift in Turkey

Gokce, a soft-spoken 37-year-old mother of two, has lived on the run for 15 years, ever since her abusive husband tracked her down, broke down her door and shot her in the leg six times after she refused to return to him. Stoic and prematurely graying, she said her husband had since kidnapped her mother and stabbed her brother, trying to force them to reveal her whereabouts. She repeatedly turned to the police. But, she said, they chided her to return to her husband. Once, after her husband came to pick her up at the police station, she said she heard an officer advise him to break her legs so she could not escape. “Our state is the No. 1 enemy of women,” Gokce said recently at a women’s shelter here in Istanbul, declining to use her last name for fear of her husband. “I was 14 when my husband started to abuse me, and now I’m 37, and I am still living in fear for my life despite all my cries for help.” While reliable statistics are hard to come by, given what Turkish experts say is the serious underreporting of domestic violence here, rights groups point to a recent spate of high-profile attacks against women to raise the alarm that Turkey is backsliding on women’s rights. They say women’s progress is being undermined by Turkey’s flagging prospects for European Union membership and a Muslim-inspired government that is increasingly embracing the conservative values of the Arab world it seeks to lead. So bleak is the situation that this year one outreach group suggested that the state should simply arm women and provide shooting lessons. Fears that the governing party is diminishing women were fanned this month when President Abdullah Gul approved a controversial bill that extended compulsory education to 12 years but allowed home-schooling after the first eight, which critics said could encourage the practice of taking child brides. The government rejected such criticism, saying the changes brought Turkey in line with international education standards. The culture wars over women’s role in Turkish society also reflect tensions in a majority Muslim country where the state’s official secularism is clashing with an ascendant class of religious conservatives. With their rise, rights groups say, men appear to be increasingly acting with impunity against women. Last year there were 207,253 cases of deliberate injuries to women across the country, compared with 189,377 in 2010, according to official data collected by the National Police Headquarters in the capital, Ankara, and provided to Vildan Yirmibesoglu, the general secretary of Kader, a leading rights group. A United Nations report published last July indicated that the incidence of domestic violence against women in Turkey topped the percentages in the United States and Europe. The report — based on data from a 2009 Turkish government study in which 12,785 women were interviewed across 12 regions — said 39 percent of women in Turkey had suffered physical violence at some time in their lives, compared with 22 percent in the United States and between 3 and 35 percent in 20 European countries. In February 2011, Turkey’s justice minister shocked the country when, in response to a parliamentary question, he said that there had been a staggering increase in the murders of women, from 66 in 2002, to 953 in the first seven months of 2009. But while the change is large, the numbers are still relatively low for a country of 80 million, possibly skewed by underreporting. After the governing Justice and Development Party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2002, determined for Turkey to join the European Union, women’s rights were a priority. Laws that discriminated against women were removed. Others were added: rape within marriage was criminalized, and life sentences became possible for perpetrators of so-called honor killings. But analysts say women are now losing ground. While the governing party insists that it is simply socially conservative and pro-family, Nigar Goksel, a senior analyst at the European Stability Initiative who wrote a major study on women in Turkey, argued that rising domestic violence and women’s low participation in the work force (at 28 percent, less than half the European Union average) reflected that family integrity was valued over a woman’s individual rights. “The government started off as an unlikely feminist but has dropped the ball,” Ms. Goksel said. “Equally, the Arab Spring is pulling Turkey in a more conservative direction.” Mr. Erdogan, a pious Muslim, attracted the ire of many feminists here when during last year’s election campaign he called on women to have at least three children and argued that birth control advocates sought to weaken Turkey. With subsidized child care rare, many women protested that he was pushing them back into the kitchen. Ayse Bohurler, a founding and leading member of Justice and Development, said that the education of women had improved under the government, which she said was also taking a strong stand against domestic violence. Others argued that claims of a sexist society smacked of hyperbole, given that women in Turkey hold prominent positions in business and politics, and that the country has even had a female prime minister. In March the Turkish Parliament passed a variety of legislation friendly to women, including a law forcing husbands deemed abusive by the courts to wear electronic monitoring devices and allowing the police to issue protection orders if a family court or prosecutor is unavailable. The police are also to receive training on women’s rights. But legislation, however well intentioned, may not be enough to change mentalities in an abidingly patriarchal nation, or to ensure that new laws will be fully implemented. For instance, every municipality here with more than 50,000 people is required by law to have at least one women’s shelter. But the current count nationwide is just 79, a number that is woefully low for a nation that size, rights groups say. One local official in Ankara recently told a conservative women’s group that opening more was ill advised since they enabled women to leave home, according to a member of the group. But finding protection is proving elusive. In one murder case last year, a woman named Arzu Yildirim was shot eight times by her partner in the middle of a busy Istanbul street, even though, women’s rights groups said, she had filed for legal protection more than 10 times. A copy of her most recent letter of complaint was found in her blood-stained purse.

The evil nexus of Sharif brothers and judges

A 42-page-long tape recording of a telephonic conversation, released now by the PPP leadership, leads you to draw at least one conclusion: all notions of justice, fair play, rule of law, and supremacy of the judiciary, which the Sharif brothers
repeat like a mantra these days, is just a smoke-screen, hardly matching with their conduct when they were at the helm of affairs with most judges at their beck and them calling the judges to keep Asif Ali Zardari behind bars in corruption cases, fake or otherwise. The second impression one gathers after going through the transcript of the tapes is the insecurity and greed of the judges of the Lahore High Court, especially then justice Maik Muhammad Qayyum (1998 to 2001) and then chief justice of the Lahore High Court Rashid Aziz Khan (1997 to 2000) and their respective families ever ready to be at the Sharifs' disposal no matter at what cost, at times seeking mercy for carrying out their orders on time though in the process they also suffered many a sleepless nights. A division bench of the Lahore High Court, comprising justice Malik Muhammad Qayyum and justice Syed Najamul Hassan Kazmi, was hearing Ehtesab Reference No 30/98 and No 26 of 1998 against Zardari and Qayyum being head of the LHC bench was in troubled waters fearing pressure of the Sharifs.
Nawaz Sharif being the prime minister and therefore caring least for court procedures wanted a speedy and the hardest punishment for Asif Ali Zardari in the corruption cases and a delay in punishment was disturbing him (Nawaz). The phone recording brings to light the helplessness and wickedness of Justice Qayyum and then LHC chief justice Khan as they, unlike judges, acted like ordinary clerks and petty servants in the face of dictates and orders coming from the Sharif government. One day, then federal law minister Khalid Anwar called Justice Qayyum and said "someone on the top [Nawaz Sharif] is very unhappy with a delay in the decision of the cases against Zardari". "He (Nawaz) is complaining that nothing is being done in the case and asking why has it not been concluded?" the minister said referring to Nawaz's annoyance. The minister asked Justice Qayyum to decide the case next Monday and the judge assured him that it would be done per his desire. Qayyum mentioned that "the problem is that he will have to give time to the defence counsel to argue the case as without it, they (Benazir and her counsels) will make an issue out of it and it may be dangerous for us all." The minister said "complete it in two weeks and start hearing it on a day-to-day basis, to which Qayyum said, "Sir I am at your disposal." Later, Senator Qayyum telephoned Justice Qayyum and says, "I have checked. Nothing has happened in the case and the hearing hasn't taken place yet. You are delaying the matter." Qayyum begs pardons. A day later, Justice Qayyum calls home and tells his wife, Rukhsana, that "things have gone worse". They have said remove him (Qayyum) and he wife asked him who said this? He says chief justice Rashid Aziz was called and told (by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif). Why? His wife asks. Qayyum tells her that "they (Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif) say that he has changed his loyalty". Later, in another conversation Qayyum's wife calls MNA Malik Pervaiz (Justice Qayyum's brother) and tells him that the chief justice was called by Nawaz Sharif and asked him to remove Qayyum because due to delay in the judgement "they think he is in connivance with the other party, Benazir and Asif Zardari". She also tells Pervaiz that "this afternoon being disturbed by the situation, Qayyum fell in the bathroom and hurt his arm". Qayyum, while talking to his brother, Pervaiz says "Senator Saifur Rehamn called me and said Nawaz Sharif is angry with me and was inquiring why it has not been done today (the date of hearing of the Zardari case)."
Pervaiz says, "I will handle it but Qayyum replies, "He (Nawaz Sharif) just gets angry for nothing." Then chief justice Rashid Aziz phones Qayyum and says that "today Nawaz Sharif personally called me and asked me to advise you". Rashid tell him to announce the order in the case early otherwise "he (Nawaz) is going to issue death warrants for both of us". Qayyum assures him that "I will announce a short order tomorrow". Rashid says "he (Nawaz Sharif) cannot sleep at night". Then Senator Saif calls Qayyum and tells him that Nawaz wants a "full dose of punishment for Zardari that is seven years in the corruption reference". Qayyum says, "I will give five years, otherwise it will become an issue." Saif makes another request to Qayyum saying, "How will you their Swiss accounts which are twenty or twenty-two their London accounts which are ceased and other properties so that this money cannot transferred?" Qayyum suggests that "for confiscation of properties better give additional application as it is required and we will grant a court order". About delay he asks "how much time will you give to Zardari's counsel Pirzada. Qayyum says "just one day otherwise they will make a hue and cry". The judge says "Do not worry it (order) is already prepared in written on advice of chief justice Rashid". Both laugh. Next day Saif says to Qayyum that "I want to clarify whether this judgement covers the inherited properties or not" to which Qayyum assures him that "Total is to be done. Nothing is to be left." Next day, Justice Qayyum and Justice Kazmi announce the short order on April 27, 1998 with five years in jail for Zardari and confiscation of all moveable and immoveable property inherited or otherwise and then phone calls congratulating him start. Then CM Shahbaz Sharif calls Qayyum and Qayyum says "Sir." Shahbaz Sharif says, "I had requested you to do something." "Sir, I finished that," Qayyum says, referring to the Zardari case. In response, Shahbaz says "thank you very much but I also asked about matter regarding Ch Sarwar. The CM says, "My elder brother has asked me to tell you that MNA Ch Sarwar should be favoured in disqualification case." "So you want Ch Sarwar to be looked after?" Qayyum asks for clarity and Shahbaz say "Yes, Yes." Qayyum assures the CM that it is all right. It will be done per Mian Sahib's (PM Nawaz) desire. Then came carrots, the order with regards to freezing of properties and assets of Zardari and Benazir was passed on April 27, 1998 while on April 30, 1998, prime minister Nawaz Sharif approved the grant of diplomatic passports to Judge Qayyum and his wife ignoring the formidable objection raised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that judges could not be issued diplomatic passports.

No such thing as ‘state capitalism’ in China

Certain Western officials and scholars have repeatedly criticized China for implementing “state capitalism,” claiming that China encourages its state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to monopolize resources and stifle the growth of foreign investment. Based on what they believe to be unfair competition practices, they have called for restrictions on overseas investment by Chinese SOEs. However, their claim is totally untenable. First, China is marching on the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics, instead of implementing “state capitalism.” The country adheres to the basic economic system with the public sector remaining dominant and diverse sectors of the economy developing side by side as it suits the country’s development level and serves the interests of the Chinese people. The Chinese government has carried out the SOE reform, made efforts to solve the financing problems facing small and medium-sized enterprises, and encouraged and guided private investment in sectors not prohibited by laws. The country has gradually deepened various reforms, which have yielded positive results. The market economy is growing to maturity in China, where the relationship between state-owned and private companies will become more harmonious, and the people’s welfare will be further improved. Second, China does not support domestic companies’ pursuit of oligopolistic interests, and treats foreign and domestic companies equally. More and more multinational corporations are willing to set up their regional headquarters as well as research and development centers in China because the Chinese government has long been committed to creating an open, transparent, and fair market and legal environment and to strengthening the protection of intellectual property rights. The increasing openness of the huge Chinese market has become the primary determinant of multinational corporations’ investment in the country.In terms of foreign trade and cooperation, China does not deliberately pursue a trade surplus, and has made great efforts to increase imports, which has been unfortunately hindered by certain countries’ export controls. China has actively carried out cooperation with other countries in key areas such as nuclear power, high-speed railways, space exploration, and petrochemicals, while a number of private Chinese companies have been denied access to certain non-sensitive industries in certain “free countries” for no reason. Criticizing China for implementing “state capitalism” and calling for restrictions on the overseas development of Chinese SOEs reflect that certain people are still reluctant to recognize the rapidly growing economic power of emerging markets and developing countries such as China. While trying to hinder China’s development, they fail to realize that China is the main engine driving the world’s economic development, and has been contributing more than 20 percent to the world economic growth annually for quite a long time. The train of the world economy could not run fast without China. Their attempt to hinder China’s development by hyping up “state capitalism” does no one good, and is bound to fail.

Russia says 'Syria terrorists need decisive rebuff'

Russia on Saturday said it backed delivering a "decisive rebuff" to "terrorists" operating in Syria a day after state television reported 11 people killed in a bomb blast outside a Damascus mosque. "We are convinced that the terrorists operating in Syria need a decisive rebuff, and that all domestic and outside players need to prevent any support" from reaching the rebel forces, the foreign ministry said in a statement. Syrian state television on Friday reported that 11 people were killed and 28 wounded in a suicide attack in the historic Midan neighbourhood in the heart of the capital. It said the attack near the Zein al-Abidine mosque took place "while worshippers were making their way out." Russia has previously argued that a ceasefire brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan was largely holding despite periodic episodes of violence and has urged all sides to engage in direct talks. But its criticism of the rebels has been more explicit than its condemnation of attacks observers pin on the Syrian army. Damascus is a long-standing Russian ally and Moscow blocked two rounds UN sanctions against Bashar al-Assad's regime in the past year. Russia on Saturday accused the rebels of trying to undermine Annan's peace efforts as part of a broader campaign to get foreign powers drawn into the conflict. "Moscow resolutely condemns these barbaric acts," the foreign ministry said. "We are especially concerned by attempts by Syria's intransigent opposition -- even at the cost of the death of innocent civilians -- to intensify the situation in the country and incite violence," the statement said.

Berries Good for Memory?

video platform video management video solutions video player

F-word signs across the globe

'Hot girls' make world's worst song?

Sharif brothers involved in embezzlement

Rehman Malik presented evidence against Sharif brothers during a press conference.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Saturday uncovered involvement of Mian Nawaz Sharif and his family in US $32 million money laundering scam, saying he would expose their more such corruption acts. Addressing a press conference, Rehman Malik said that Shehbaz Sharif was declared defaulter by High Court of Queen’s bench London. Nawaz Sharif was also the defaulter of 6 billion rupees of different banks. ‘They are not honest therefore cannot be in politics,’ Malik added. When asked that why is he bringing up these allegations at this time, rehman Malik replied that during Benazir’s second term General Amjad of National Accountability Bureau asked for my assistance against Sharif brothers but Benzair refused to do so. The Interior Minister said he would send a reference of that scam to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) next week and to present all documents in the court if called. ‘Fearing the investigations Nawaz Sharif signed first NRO with Farooq Laghari and second NRO then with Musharaf,’ said Rehman Malik. Rehman Malik asked the Supreme Court to take a suo moto notice of the scam in which the precious money of national exchequer was sent abroad.

Sarkozy snaps at DSK as France poll approaches

French President Nicolas Sarkozy
has rejected claims by Dominique Strauss-Kahn that his party was behind the former IMF chief's downfall. Mr Sarkozy told reporters Mr Strauss-Kahn should keep quiet and "spare the French his remarks." Mr Strauss-Kahn told Britain's Guardian newspaper that sex allegations against him were orchestrated by opponents. He said although he did not believe he had been set up, events were "shaped by those with a political agenda." The Guardian said it was clear that he was referring to people working for Nicolas Sarkozy and his UMP party. Mr Strauss-Kahn was forced to stand down as head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in May last year when he was arrested in New York and accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid. The charges were later dropped, but he has since been embroilled in new allegations that he was involved in a prostitution ring. On the campaign trail Mr Sarkozy dismissed Mr Strauss-Kahn's interpretation of events. "Enough is enough!" he said, "I would tell Mr Strauss-Kahn to explain himself to the law." Libyan 'support' Mr Sarkozy is trailing in the polls in the run up to the second and decisive round of France's presidential election on 6 May. And he is faced with further damaging allegations about his links to Libya under former leader Col Muammar Gaddafi. A left-wing political website, Mediapart, claims to have documentary evidence that Mr Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign received 50m euros ($66m) from the Gaddafi regime. The document - dated 2006 and written in Arabic - appears to have been signed the then Libyan foreign intelligence chief Musa Kusa. It refers to an "agreement in principle to support the campaign for the candidate for the presidential elections, Nicolas Sarkozy, for a sum equivalent to 50m euros." The website made similar claims last month. Mr Sarkozy said the claims were "grotesque", and said that if Gaddafi had financed his campaign "I wasn't very grateful" - a reference to the role he played in the former leader's overthrow in 2011.

Ex-Israeli spy boss attacks Netanyahu and Barak over Iran

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
PM and defence chief not fit to lead Israel and are misleading the public over Iran, warns former Shin Bet boss Yuval Diskin Israel's former security chief has censured the country's "messianic" political leadership for talking up the prospects of a military stike on Iran's nuclear programme. In unusually candid comments set to ratchet up tensions over Iran at the top of Israel's political establishment, Yuval Diskin, who retired as head of the internal intelligence agency Shin Bet last year, said he had "no faith" in the abilities of the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the defence minister, Ehud Barak, to conduct a war. The pair, who are the foremost advocates of military action against Iran's nuclear programme, were "not fit to hold the steering wheel of power", Diskin told a meeting on Friday night. "My major problem is that I have no faith in the current leadership, which must lead us in an event on the scale of war with Iran or a regional war," he said. "I don't believe in either the prime minister or the defence minister. I don't believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings. Believe me, I have observed them from up close ... They are not people who I, on a personal level, trust to lead Israel to an event on that scale and carry it off. "They are misleading the public on the Iran issue. They tell the public that if Israel acts, Iran won't have a nuclear bomb. This is misleading. Actually, many experts say that an Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race." Government aides described Diskin's comments as irresponsible and motivated from personal frustration. Diskin's remarks followed a furore over comments made on Wednesday by Israel's serving military chief, Benny Gantz, which starkly contrasted with Netanyahu's rhetoric on Iran. Gantz said he did not believe the Iranian leadership was prepared to "go the extra mile" to acquire nuclear weapons because it was "composed of very rational people" who understood the consequences. In what was seen as a veiled rebuke to the prime minister, Gantz added: "Decisions can and must be made carefully, out of historic responsibility but without hysteria." The chief of staff later attempted to gloss over suggestions of a breach between the military and political leaderships, telling reporters there was "really no distance" between his view and the prime minister's. Neither Netanyahu nor Barak have moderated their rhetoric. The prime minister recently said that those who downplayed the threat from a nuclear Iran "have learned nothing from the Holocaust". He added: "The Iranian regime is openly calling for our destruction and working frantically for the development of nuclear weapons as a means to that end." On Thursday, Barak said the chances of Iran halting its nuclear programme in response to international sanctions appeared low. Iran, he said, was not "rational in the western sense of the word". Diskin's comments also put him in agreement with the former head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, who has said that attacking Iran was "the stupidest thing I have ever heard" and that the Iranian regime was rational.

Nawaz Sharif involved in money laundering

Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Saturday alleged that PML-N Chief and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was involved in money laundering. Addressing a news conference in Islamabad, he said evidence against Nawaz Sharif would be placed before the Supreme Court and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for alleged corruption of $32 million. Rehman Malik said a commission may be formed to investigate alleged involvement of Nawaz Sharif in money laundering. He appealed to the Supreme Court to call him and he would present all evidence. He further alleged that Nawaz Sharif made an NRO with former President Farooq Ahmed Leghari and as a result, Benazir Bhutto’s elected government was unconstitutionally dismissed in November 1996. Rehman Malik also alleged that Nawaz Sharif made a second NRO with dictator Pervez Musharraf and went abroad after signing an agreement and violated the Charter of Democracy (COD) he signed with Benazir Bhutto in 2006.

Tehran police in new dress code crackdown

Police in Tehran are conducting a new crackdown on women
wearing mandatory headscarves improperly or in "vulgar" dress, the city's police chief said, according to media reports on Saturday. Such operations, which see police screening foot and vehicle traffic at major junctions and shopping centres, are conducted fairly often in Iran. The latest one was ordered days ahead of the May 4 second round of parliamentary elections, and as the onset of warm spring weather prompts Iranian women to don lighter clothing.
The police chief, Hossein Sajedinia, said the crackdown was "asked for by the people," the Fars news agency reported. Women wearing "bad headscarves, bad dress, and model-type women in vulgar dress" would be stopped, he said. Typically, such women are fined or detained in police stations until relatives collect them hours later with more modest clothing. Sajedinia said that companies importing "illegal clothes" that do not comply with Islamic dress standards would be given a warning or closed. The police chief said that "thugs" disrupting public order and men "who bother other people's daughters and wives" would also be confronted by officers.

Secularism: A concept most misunderstood!

It is almost a sin to mention the word secularism in Pakistan. Suddenly you are bombarded with labels of being pro-western, anti-Islam, ashamed of your values, threat to identity of the nation, as a result of which you are not a true Pakistani or a good Muslim. People associate secularism with the images of clubbing, partying, drinking, promiscuity, prostitution, broken family structure, mental diseases and all other ills that are associated with western culture. The idea being that when these societies moved away from religion, they became materialistic and lost their sense of morality, as a result of which they are suffering from these social disasters today. It is very true that religion is an important source of morality. Some of our basic senses of right and wrong come from religious teachings whether it’s respect for human life, caring for the poor, modesty and respect in personal relationships or refraining from materialistic pursuits of the world; these are very important and valuable concepts that help to build up the character of a person. The misguided idea however, is that to build such a character among people, religion has to be a part of the state structure and imposed on people forcefully. Muslims who demand a religious state forget to notice that it is actually Muslims who prove this idea wrong that secularism is a threat to your religious values. For example, there is a large number of Muslims who live in secular western societies where Islam is not part of the state, yet they don’t do any of the things that are common place in those countries and which we think are not “our values.” Even though Islam is not a part of western governmental structure, this doesn’t mean that it is a threat to the beliefs of Muslims living in those countries. This is a very important point that people need to understand. Secularism merely means separation of church/mosque and the state. In other words, your state and its institutions don’t adhere to a religion. It certainly doesn’t mean that you yourself have to leave your religion. In fact, in a secular society, you will have more freedom to practice your particular interpretation of a religion which is very much limited in a state where anyone ideological religion interpretation is part of the state apparatus. Let’s talk about Pakistan. Here we have Brelvies, Deobandis, Imamis, Ismaelis, Zikris, mystic Sufis, Wahabis and Ahmadis. Now if we want to make Pakistan an “Islamic” country, this means that Islam has to be a part of the state and all its functions, from education, to laws, to foreign policy, to treatment of minorities etc. Now which version are we going to adopt? (Especially when even within one version, there are disagreements. Not all Hanafis agree on everything, neither all Shafi’s). Moreover, what gives one particular version the right to impose itself on others? (I am not even talking about non-Muslim minorities here, just talking about divisions within Muslims). May be if we agreed on what “Islam” is, the argument to make Pakistan an “Islamic” country would be stronger, but considering the diversity that we have within Islam, incorporation of religion with the state is only going to increase resentment among the groups who would be left out, and sectarian violence by those who would consider their version right and others’ wrong. We have already experimented with this bloody business during Zia years when one ideological interpretation of religion became part of the state and now that cancer has engulfed our society. Secondly, the moral degradation of western societies is not a result of secularism. It’s a result of abandonment of religion or other sources of moral ethics in their personal sphere as well, something that we don’t have to worry about. It is because in our society, along with all the modernity, religion is still and will continue to be a very important part of our everyday lives. That is why I think that secularism would be perfect for our society as even though we may differ on complex matters regarding interpretations, there are a lot of commonalities that we take pride in by calling them “our values.” Moreover, if you look at Pakistan today, it’s not an “Islamic” country in the full sense of the word (whatever that means in the first place?). Despite the inclusion of certain religious clauses, our laws are largely secular and so is our society in their everyday lives. We have people wearing niqabs and people wearing jeans, we have women running for Parliament and stay at home mothers, we have people with beards and those who are clean-shaven, we have people listening and performing music and those who tend to refrain from such activities. Now I am pretty sure none of these classes of society would want their way of life to be banned, and that can only happen in a secular society. Otherwise, if you have one religious interpretation guiding the lives of people who come from diverse social and ethnic backgrounds, result will be chaotic. People don’t really like much interference in their personal lives and state should be concerned with matters that affect the society as a whole. Now getting back to “our values” which are always so threatened, I just want to give one example, let’s take drinking. Majority of the Muslims don’t like the idea of legalizing alcohol as it is clearly prohibited by Islam. However, if you want to make a law regarding its prohibition in the country, you can and should make other logical/valid arguments as to why it is harmful, because it causes addiction, drunk driving accidents, can be a cause of increase in domestic violence/abusive families etc. Moreover, other countries ban drugs too depending on how much harm they will cause to a society so there is no clear cut line as to what drugs should and shouldn’t be legalised. As far as minorities are concerned, if they are not discriminated on other more important basic rights, they probably won’t mind as they also understand that sometimes majority considerations are important in order to avoid conflicts. For example, when Muslims live in other countries that do sell alcohol, they might not fully agree with it they have to accept the decision of what the majority wants. My point here is certainly not to say that minority voices are not important or that they should be ignored at the expense of majority. I just want to point out a political reality. Even the most liberal/modern/secular societies haven’t been able to completely remove the influence of religion on their political decisions. It is a thing that people take seriously and you cannot completely erase its influence in the public sphere especially when adherents of one particular faith have such a vast majority (97% Muslims in case of Pakistan). The point that I want to emphasize is that when majority won’t see their values being compromised, they won’t see minorities as a threat and this will stop strong anti-minority feelings to be developed. As a result, more important issues of minorities can be brought to forefront and resolved. Moreover, generally I have observed that minorities in Pakistan don’t have a huge list of demands and I think that they do understand that being in a Muslim majority country, certain practices of Muslims will affect their public life. Still, all minorities want is to be treated equally with regards to other citizens and not discriminated in their day to day affairs on the basis of their identity. This thing can be seen in the West as well that when certain Muslim practices are suddenly seen as a threat to modern, liberal values, it only ends up increasing discrimination against them; whereas Muslims normally just want to have the freedom to go about their everyday lives without being hunted on the basis of their identity. There are certain policies in the west that clearly run against Islamic principles/values, but even if those Muslims disagree with them, changing them at the state level is not a part of their agenda. Politics is a business of compromises as you can never make everyone happy. Using this analogy, I think that minorities in Pakistan would prefer that we give them complete freedom in their private sphere and treat them as equal citizens with regards to fundamental rights that everybody should be entitled to including the right to vote and run for office and have a voice in making of policies. As a result they would also accept and realize that sometimes national policies might be more influenced by majority demands than that of minorities, even when minority voices are listened to and accounted for. A secular, democratic state is what our founders thought Pakistan would grow up to be when this country was born. When our grandparents migrated from across the border leaving everything behind, they came to be a part of the country where in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Hindus, not in a religious sense, because that’s everyone’s private matter, but in the political sense, as citizens of the state. A country where everything is being blown into pieces and whose countrymen are always so ready to be at each other’s throat is not the land of pure that was formed after years of struggles. Just as people were united for the formation of this country despite many different ethnic and religious identities, that unity is now needed more than ever to sustain it which belongs to us, all of us, irrespective of our religion, caste or creed. That was the Pakistan that Jinnah gifted us, and that is the Pakistan that we have to get back. It’s ours and God willing, it will remain ours.

Obama would veto GOP student loan plan

The White House said Friday that President Barack Obama would veto a Republican measure passed by the House to extend lower interest rates on federal student loans because it takes money from a health care fund that benefits women. A White House statement said Obama's senior advisers would recommend a veto if the House measure, which passed 215-195 on a largely party-line vote, were to win Senate approval and reach the president's desk. "Women, in particular, will benefit from this prevention fund, which would provide for hundreds of thousands of screenings for breast and cervical cancer," the White House statement said. "This is a politically motivated proposal and not the serious response that the problem facing America's college students deserves. If the president is presented with H.R. 4628, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill." Obama favors extending the current lower interest rates on student loans but would seek a different way to pay the $6 billion cost. A proposal by Senate Democrats would pay for the measure by ending some tax loopholes for corporations, a move opposed by Republicans. The House plan would instead take the money from the health care fund, which is part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act detested by Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, proposed the GOP's student loan measure this week in the face of a high-profile campaign by Obama that rallied college students -- a key component of the vital youth vote in November -- to pressure Congress to extend the lower student loan rates.n addition, certain Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney pinned Boehner and congressional Republicans in a corner by coming out in favor of the lower rates this week. House Republicans previously backed a budget plan that called for letting the lower interest rates on student loans expire on July 1. In an emotional floor speech Friday, Boehner labeled the issue a fake fight mounted by Democrats for political advantage. "People want to politicize this because it is an election year, but my God, do we have to fight about everything?" Boehner said, at times pounding the podium. "And no, now we are going to have a fight over women's health. Give me a break! This is the latest plank in the so-called war on women entirely created by colleagues across the aisle for political gain." Calling for a review of "the facts," Boehner said Obama's proposed budget called for reducing the same health care fund, which he labeled a "slush fund." "You may have already forgotten that several months ago, you all voted to cut $4 billion out of this slush fund to pay for the payroll credit bill" that extended a payroll tax cut, Boehner continued, shouting, "So, to accuse us of wanting to gut women's health is absolutely not true." On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, took exception to Republicans characterizing the health care fund as something inappropriate or sinister. "You call preventive care a 'slush fund'? I mean, they should be ashamed of themselves," Reid said. "This is saving people's lives, saving the country huge amounts of money." Asked about the payroll tax vote at a Friday news conference, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said Democrats weren't happy about taking money from the fund for the payroll tax measure at the time and now want to ensure that the rest of the money stays in the fund. On the House floor, Pelosi said House Republicans were forced by Obama's publicizing of the issue to reverse their previous opposition to keeping the interest rates on federal student loans at the current 3.4% instead of letting them double to 6.8% on July 1. She said the House budget proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, called for allowing the interest rate to double in July, and that House Republicans had backed the plan as recently as last week. The new House measure would eliminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund, Pelosi said, accusing Republicans of protecting tax subsidies for the oil industry while wanting "mom and children to pay the price." On Wednesday, Obama took on Boehner by name, telling students at the University of Iowa a spokesman in the speaker's office believed the president's focus on student loans is an effort to "distract people from the economy." The president told a rowdy audience, "Now think about that for a second, because these guys don't get it." He told the cheering crowd, "If you do well, the economy does well. This is about the economy. What economy are they talking about? You are the economy." A few hours later, Boehner announced a Friday vote on the House measure and hit back at the president saying, "This week the president is campaigning and trying to invent a fight where there is none and never has been on this issue of student loans." On Tuesday night, Democratic Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Sherrod Brown of Ohio introduced the Democratic proposal. It would freeze the current interest rate for one year and pay for it by closing a loophole on "S corporations," a tax structure Democrats say can be used to avoid paying Social Security and Medicare taxes. The Republican proposal in House also extends the current rate for one year, but it covers the cost by dipping into the health care fund intended to promote wellness, prevent disease and protect against public health emergencies.

Gaddafi 'agreed to fund Sarkozy' with €50m cheque

French investigative website Mediapart reported Saturday that deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi agreed to fund President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign with a 50 million euro cheque. By News Wires (text) AFP - Moamer Kadhafi's regime agreed to fund French President Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign to the tune of 50 million euros, a news website reported Saturday, publishing what it said was documentary evidence. The 2006 document in Arabic, which website Mediapart said was signed by Kadhafi's intelligence chief Mussa Kussa, referred to an "agreement in principle to support the campaign for the candidate for the presidential elections, Nicolas Sarkozy, for a sum equivalent to 50 million euros." The left-wing investigative website made similar assertions on March 12, based on testimony by a former doctor of a French arms dealer alleged to have arranged the campaign donation, which Sarkozy slammed as "grotesque." "If he had financed it, I wasn't very grateful," Sarkozy said sarcastically, in an apparent reference to the active role that France played in the NATO campaign that led to the strongman's ouster. The latest report comes as Sarkozy trails Socialist rival Francois Hollande in opinion polls ahead of the run-off second round of presidential elections on May 6.

Saudi girls school defies clerics with basketball

A girls' school in Saudi Arabia has defied a religious ban on female sports by erecting basketball hoops and letting pupils play at break-time, the daily al-Watan reported on Wednesday. Powerful clerics in the conservative Islamic kingdom have long spoken against allowing girls to play sports, with one senior figure saying in 2009 it might lead them to lose their virginity by tearing their hymens. Saudi Arabia's austere interpretation of Islamic law prevents women from working, opening bank accounts or having some elective surgery without the permission of a male relative. They are not allowed to drive. The school in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province has now become the first state-run girls school openly to encourage sports, Watan reported, quoting a supervisor as saying it would expend pupils' energy "in a positive way".

Saudi silent over woman’s arrest
The authorities in Saudi Arabia are yet to provide details over the arrest of a Sri Lankan woman on charges that she had dabbled in witch craft, a senior official with the External Affairs Ministry (EAM) said today. Director Publicity at the EAM Mr. Sarath Dissanayake said the Lankan Mission in Riyadh had been instructed to follow up the matter at the earliest because if the woman is convicted she faces the death penalty. "For their part the Saudi authorities have so far failed to bring the matter to the notice of the Sri Lankan Mission and this is a cause to worry", Mr. Dissanayake said. The woman was arrested earlier this month after a Saudi couple complained to the authorities that her daughter acted in an abnormal manner when ever the Lankan woman was nearby and she was subsequently arrested. Apart from that which appeared in the media there are no other details of the arrest and the follow-up action taken by the Saudi authorities, he added. Saudi Arabia is a monarchy, with no known written criminal code and judges’ make their decisions from interpretations of the Islamic Shariah Law.

Hidden crisis in Saudi Arabia

Since March last year, a hidden movement has gathered pace in the oil-rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For the first time in decades, ordinary citizens in large numbers are demanding reform in public in the Arab monarchy. This is considered phenomenal because no public gatherings of any kind are allowed in Saudi Arabia. It all began early last year when the "Islamic Awakening" started. Activists inspired by the revolutions taking place in Tunisia and Egypt decided to start a movement of their own. In January 2011, protesters took to the streets, demonstrating against the government corruption. The protests were not organized at first and happened sporadically in different cities including the capital Riyadh and the main western port city of Jeddah. But, in February things changed. Activists, using the social site Facebook, called for nationwide mass rallies on March 11 dubbing it the "Day of Rage." In Riyadh, only one person showed up as the Saudi government had the whole capital on lock down. His name was Khaled al-Johani. He was detained since then and became known on twitter and Facebook as the "only brave man in Saudi Arabia." Human rights group Amnesty International later learned that four others had also been arrested on the same day. In a frightening statement, the London-based group said "the fact that we have only just found out about four of these men gives us real concern that there are others swept up in arrests around the time of last year's demonstrations who we are yet to find out about." At around the same time frame, the protests of another front became known. In the oil-rich Eastern Province, thousands of people--mainly from the minority Shia sect of Islam---began to come to the streets, calling for equal representation in key offices, reform, and the release of the prisoners. As their movement began to grow and infuriated by their government's decision to send hundreds of military vehicles to Bahrain to help the regime crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, they called for the Saudi government to withdraw its troops from the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom. When the Saudi government started to feel the pinch, its security forces opened life fire on the protesters, killing several in different incidents. Since then, the protesters began to rally on an almost daily basis. The government in Riyadh blames the unrest on what it calls foreign agents-an indirect reference to Iran--- trying to stir up the unrest, the same excuse it used before invading and occupying Bahrain. The leader of the group Sheikh Ali Salman criticized Riyadh's allegations during a Friday mass rally outside the capital Manama a few weeks ago. Salman said "Saudi Arabia's occupation of Bahrain only makes the situation worse." He went on to say "Iran has nothing to do with the revolution in Bahrain." Human Rights Watch reported a while back that more than 160 people calling for reform have been arrested in Saudi Arabia since January of 2011. The Saudi-based Human Rights First Society reported that the detainees have been subjected to torture---mental and physical. Surprisingly in a theocratic strict monarchy, women are not sitting back from the reform movement. Last summer, female activists organized a campaign calling on all women drivers to take behind the wheel and violate a Saudi law which prohibits women from driving vehicles. The main event took place on June 17 and infuriated the government. At least 70 women have been arrested in that month alone for driving. A few weeks ago in the southern tourist city of Abha, hundreds of women protesters staged a sit-in at their university, protesting against injustice and inequality. They were brutally attacked by the moral police. Over 50 of the women were injured and taken to a hospital. The incident sparked outrage across the country with male and female students taking to the streets in Abha, Riyadh and the holy city of Medina. Saudi citizens for the first time are showing their anger at the government and asking for change. Riyadh knows this very well. Therefore its actions of playing the counter-revolution party in the region also aim to illustrate the horror of a revolution in their country. The government-controlled media only cover the negative aspects of the pro-democracy movements sweeping the Arab world. This comes while Saudi Arabia is playing a key role in containing the uprising and helping Arab regimes suppress the revolutions in their countries. It seems evident that as the US and its western allies continue to turn a blind eye on the main violators of human rights in the Middle East and one of many in the world; the Riyadh government will only feel more confident to do as it wants and what it sees is right. Apparently no western country wants to upset one of its biggest weapons customer and oil providers in the region. It’s clear that the winds of change are right on the borders of Saudi Arabia. With the ongoing revolutions in Yemen and Bahrain and the uprising movement in Jordan, the Saudis abroad and inside the Arab kingdom are watching closely as the fate of their freedom might depend on the outcome of those revolutions happening around them.

Pakistan’s first gold class 3D cinema

The launching ceremony of Bahria Town’s 3D cinema was inaugurated by CEO Bahria Town, Ahmed Ali Riaz, along with VCE Bahria Town Cdr (r) Ilyas and senior management of Bahria Town, says a press release issued here on Friday. People from all walks of life attended the ceremony. The guests, including celebrities, socialites and other high profile figures of society, opined that ‘The Arena’ is the best 3D movie theater in the country and truly a Gold Class Cinema up to international standards. On the occasion the CEO expressed: “The Arena has been built on the vision of Bahria Town Chairman Malik Riaz Hussain, which is that Bahria Town not only aims to provide quality housing with complete lifestyle amenities and facilities to the general public, besides its residents. Based on this very vision Bahria Town has set up an array of both indoor & outdoor recreational facilities, including fitness clubs, spas, movie theaters salons, golf courses, horse riding clubs, mini golf courses and even a mini Formula-1 Track.” The Arena is a state-of-the-art movie theatre equipped with digital 3-D technology, which is the first of its kind in Pakistan. Its unique combination of the latest high-tech equipment and extreme luxury, set up in a very tasteful and classy manner, is what distinguishes its likes amongst others. The theatre has the capacity to contain 250 heads, and similar to certain European opera theatres, it also has an addition of 2 VIP lounges; consisting of 6 Lay-z-Boy recliners each and an in-theater snack bar. Besides the movie related aspects of the facility, there are certain other salient features of the “Arena” which, more than supplement and compliment the box office pleasure. Furthermore, there is an exhibition hall with world class decor meant to cater to all kinds of exhibitor requirements including art displays. There are quite a few restaurants for fine dining and outlets for High-Street-Brands. A separate space has been set apart for a “kids play area” along with a gaming arcade.

Kandahar governor's compound attacked

Two bodyguards and two suicide attackers were killed in a gun battle inside the governor's compound in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province Saturday, an official said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying their main target was the provincial Governor Tooryalai Weesa. The insurgents somehow made it through the tight security at the compound with small pistols hidden in their sandals, Weesa said, and a gun fight ensued with guards that lasted for about 30 minutes. "After killing two bodyguards, the attackers seized their rifles and opened fire on other bodyguards, injuring one," the governor told AFP, confirming that he was not hurt in the incident. The attackers were eventually killed, Kandahar government spokesman Zalmay Ayobi told AFP. Security forces also found a vehicle laden with explosives abandoned outside the compound. Kandahar province is the heartland of hardline Taliban insurgents and has been one of the hardest hit in 10 years of war in which NATO troops are supporting the government of President Hamid Karzai. Condemning the attack, Weesa said the Taliban were resorting to "new ways and tactics to hurt the government and the people" but reiterated that "they will not succeed". The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until they were toppled in a 2001 US-led invasion for refusing to hand-over Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Since then, remnants of the regime have orchestrated an increasingly deadly insurgency focused on suicide attacks and roadside bombing that frequently miss their military targets and cause civilian casualties. The attack on governor's compound comes a day after an American soldier, two Afghan troops and an interpreter died when an Afghan soldier opened fire at them in the latest in a series of so-called green-on-blue attacks in Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar. On April 15, squads of suicide attackers took up positions in the nation's capital Kabul, firing on embassies, government buildings and foreign military bases for 18 hours before they were all killed. Afghan officials and US Ambassador in Kabul blamed the Pakistanis-based Haqqani Network, a close ally of the Taliban for the attacks on Kabul, considered to have been the biggest assault on the capital in 10 years of war. Apart from Kabul, the eastern capitals of Paktia, Logar and Nangarhar provinces also came under attack, with a total of 51 people, including 36 militants, killed.

77,000 IDPs living outside camps

An inter-agency rapid assessment of people, displaced by renewed conflict in tribal agency of Khyber, living outside formal camps in Peshawar valley has identified more than 77,000 people. IOM, WFP and IVAP co-led the assessment, which was conducted in coordination with UNOCHA and the KP Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) and with support from NGOs, including Save the Children, CERD, BEST, SSTD, LHO, NRC and ACTED. The assessment was designed to map off-camp populations, identify urgent needs and provide the planning needed to ensure that aid deliveries target the most vulnerable. It was conducted across three districts (Peshawar, Nowshera and Kohat), covering 54 union councils and 275 villages. Data collection was done by 16 teams using smart phones. Preliminary results indicated that 9,744 families (77,435 individuals) are living outside camps in the three districts. Some 67 per cent of them arrived over a month ago, 19% arrived within the last 3-4 weeks, 12 per cent arrived in the last two weeks and two per cent in the last week. The assessment showed that newly displaced families are in urgent need of food, emergency shelter, clean drinking water, health and nutrition services, and protection.

Another govt girls school blown up in Khyber Agency

Unknown miscreants blew up a government girls primary school with explosives here in Landikotal late Friday night. Sources said that anti-literacy militants had planted explosives in a government run girls primary school located in Sheikh Mankhel area of Landikotal, Khyber Agency which exploded late at night. The school building was completely destroyed in the bomb blast but no human loss was reported as the building was vacant due to night time. It should be mentioned that 72 educational institutions, mostly girls primary schools have been destroyed by anti-literacy militants in Khyber Agency during the last three years. Most of the tribesmen in Khyber Agency avoid sending their children to school due to terror threats.

Latif Khosa, Chaudhry Shujaat hit back at Nawaz Sharif

The Express Tribune
Punjab Governor Sardar Latif Khosa and Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, talking on separate occasions, spoke in favour of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and criticised Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif. Khosa, while talking to the media at the governor house, said that no one except the speaker of the parliament had the right to declare the prime minister ineligible, may they be a party or the Supreme Court itself. “Parliament is supreme and all courts are subjected to it,” he said, adding that the parliament can reject the contempt of court decision. “Who gave Nawaz Sharif the right to interpret the contempt of case verdict,” said the governor. “Is the detailed verdict being written by him or is it being written on his directive?” He said that if the judiciary wanted to do justice, it should do so in a fair manner. “Stay orders on the Sharifs’ cases and seven judges on Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) cases? This joke with the nation should be stopped.” Khosa said that judiciary to date had not opened any case against a military dictator which was why Amna Janjua had withdrawn her case. “Is this the Supreme Court of Pakistan or Sharif brothers,” he asked. Speaking on Babar Awan and Masood Chishti, he likened them to Mir Jaffar and Mir Sadiq, saying, “On whose directive did they refuse to testify and make the file disappear? Contempt cases against them will be postponed date after date and no verdict will ever be given.” ‘PM has right to appeal’ While talking to the media, PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain said that the prime minister had every right to an appeal and Nawaz Sharif’s acceptance or rejection of this fact would not make any difference. While giving a tour to the 15-member Korean delegation which was invited by the Gandhara Association to visit Lahore Museum, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain asked the media, “Where in the Supreme Court’s decision was it written that he is not the prime minister anymore?” “Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif can also be held in contempt for attacking the Supreme Court,” he said.


Quetta is the seat of Provincial Government and it lacks basic amenities and civic services which had brought the prestige of Quetta to the lowest level. All the time gutters are overflowing polluting the atmosphere in the Civil Secretariat and Governor’s House area. The flood gate of gutter water is overflowing in front of Civil Hospital where hundreds of patients are being operated upon risking more serious infections for the patients at the operation tables. It is learnt that the new Chief Secretary took notice to worst condition of Quetta roads and streets and asked concerned authorities to mobilize resources for reconstruction and rebuilding of roads on priority basis. He also confirmed this news while informally interacting with newspaper editors and senior journalists at a dinner the other day. He said the Ministers and MPAs had pledged to make available funds for rebuilding roads and streets of Quetta at the earliest. We have two brief suggestions that first the sewerage lines should be improved and overflow of gutters and open drain lines be stopped as it is choked off and on causing pollution in the entire city. Besides the long term planning to improve the sewerage system for Quetta, the Municipal authorities be made responsible if any of the open drain line was found choked at any day on seven days a week. Friday is off day and Sunday is full holiday and during holidays, there is a definite overflowing of gutters or open drain line. After improving the sewerage system, the roads should be rebuilt that a quality construction should be ensured. Saryab Road is built during the days of late Nawab Bugti and it is in finest shape and not washed away in overflowing gutters or rains. While all others roads are in worst condition slowing down the pace of vehicular traffic causing congestion. Thus quality of roads should not be compromised and it is ensured that overflowing gutters and open drain lines are not washing away the entire investment in hours and not in days and weeks. Thus public money should be protected at all cost.

PPP fight back

One day after being convicted and symbolically sentenced for contempt till the rising of the seven-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC), Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani appeared in confident, fighting mood in his appearance in the National Assembly (NA). In a hard-hitting defence from the floor of the house of his stance on the conviction and a host of other issues highlighted by the verdict, the PM raised some pertinent points. He took the Leader of the Opposition, Chaudhry Nisar, to task for challenging the treasury benches to bring the PM to the house. The PM’s advice to Chaudhry Nisar and others of his ilk was to avoid trying to play God. He argued that, as the PML-N chief has stated, even if you do not recognise me as the PM, I am still a member of the house and cannot be prevented by threats from attending the sessions of the NA. The PM questioned why the judiciary had never in our history put military coup makers and dictators in the dock. He pointed to the infamous doctrine of necessity formulated by the judiciary, which led to the condoning and justification of all coups in the country’s history. He said he had only defended the constitution as a member of a party that had not only formulated the 1973 constitution but also restored it (considerably) through the 18th Amendment. He further asserted that all the constitutions of the country, the 1956, 1962 and 1973 constitutions promulgated immunity for the president of the country. Therefore, by implication, the demand of the judiciary that he write a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen the alleged corruption cases against the president would be in violation of the laid down immunity for the president while in office, an immunity that exists for all heads of state internationally. Had the immunity not been laid down in all the constitutions in the country’s history, the PM argued, the demand to ignore the clear provisions of Article 248 might have had some weight and value. As things stood, his view and the view of the government’s legal experts was that this was not possible under the long standing and consistent immunity available to heads of state while in office. The PM reiterated his view that parliament is supreme as it expresses the will of the people and all other institutions of state receive their legitimacy and standing from parliament. The contempt verdict has split legal, political and all other circles right down the middle. The division in the political field corresponds to the PPP and its allies in one corner, while the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition stands on the opposite side of the ring. This was also visible in the NA on Thursday when the house descended into scenes reminiscent of a fish market, much to the discomfiture of the Speaker and all those who fear such scenes erode the sanctity of parliament and thereby depreciate democracy itself. Demands have been raised by Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan and others, both with a presence in parliament and outside it, for the PM to resign immediately. The first named has gone so far as to say that the government must immediately appoint a non-controversial caretaker PM to conduct the coming elections, who should also write the SC’s desired letter to the Swiss authorities. Ironically, forgetting to even glance at his own past track record, Nawaz Sharif attempted to take the high moral ground by accusing the PM of ridiculing the judiciary. Politics does require thick skins, but this must rank as close to taking the cake. No wonder after the SC verdict against him, the PM in a lighter mood remarked that politics is like watching a “horror movie”. The government, its allies and the PPP seem to be in no mood to roll over and die after the contempt conviction. Apart from filing an appeal against the verdict and allowing the process after that appeal is exhausted to take its course, the PPP-led government, given its strength in both houses of parliament, still retains the ultimate weapon, as hinted at by Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan: legislation to nullify the effects of the SC verdict and bring an assertive judiciary within the fold of restraint required by all institutions of state in their relationship and working with, not against, each other.

Sindh CM threatens long march against PML-N

In a tit-for-tat reply to PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif’s call for Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani’s resignation, Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah has threatened Long March to Lahore against Nawaz League. Nawaz Sharif had appealed to the nation to rise up against what he called ‘immoral’ and ‘illegal government’. War of the words has escalated between the PPP and PML-N after Supreme Court convicted Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani of contempt for not ordering reopening of multi-million-dollar corruption cases against President Zardari. Qaim Ali Shah, during a press conference here in Karachi, said “Nawaz Sharif should refrain from issuing threats. If they will go to Islamabad then PPP jialas will march to Lahore.” “He (Sharif) is taking cover of the Supreme Court which is yet to issue a detailed verdict… He should wait for general elections,” charged Qaim said in an angry tone.

PML-N losing its popularity

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Saturday said that Pakistan People’s Party’s success in Multan’s by-elections was proof that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was losing its popularity, DawnNews reported. Speaking to a lawyers’ delegation at Governor House Punjab, the prime minister said Nawaz Sharif was disappointed with his party’s lost popularity. The prime minister said rhetorically: “We have restored the constitution, how can we violate it…we will always comply with the constitution”. Gilani said he did not write to Swiss authorities because the constitution granted immunity to the president. The lawyers vowed their support for rule of law, democracy and an independent judiciary.

United States Talks Fail as Pakistanis Seek Apology

The latest high-level talks on ending a diplomatic deadlock between the United States and Pakistan ended in failure on Friday over Pakistani demands for an unconditional apology from the Obama administration for an airstrike. The White House, angered by the recent spectacular Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, refuses to apologize. The Obama administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, left the Pakistani capital Friday night with no agreement after two days of discussions aimed at patching up the damage caused by the American airstrikes last November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghanistan border. Both sides insist that they are now ready to make up and restore an uneasy alliance that at its best offers support for American efforts in Afghanistan as well as the battle against some extremist groups operating from Pakistan. The administration had been seriously debating whether to say “I’m sorry” to the Pakistanis’ satisfaction — until April 15, when multiple, simultaneous attacks struck Kabul and other Afghan cities. “What changed was the 15th of April,” said a senior administration official. American military and intelligence officials concluded the attacks came at the direction of a group working from a base in North Waziristan in Pakistan’s tribal belt: the Haqqani network, an association of border criminals and smugglers that has mounted lethal attacks on foreign forces in Afghanistan. That confirmed longstanding American mistrust about Pakistani intentions — a poison that infects nearly every other aspect of the strained relationship. That swung the raging debate on whether Mr. Obama or another senior American should go beyond the expression of regret that the administration had already given, and apologize. The negotiations are complicated by a complex web of interlocking demands from both sides. Without the apology, Pakistani officials say they cannot reopen NATO supply routes into Afghanistan that have been closed since November. The Americans, in turn, are withholding between $1.18 billion and $3 billion of promised military aid — the exact figure depending on which side is speaking. The continuing deadlock does not bode well for Pakistan’s attendance at a NATO meeting in Chicago in three weeks, assuming it is even invited. The administration has been eager to cast the event as a regional security summit meeting, and Pakistan’s absence would be embarrassing. Administration officials acknowledged Friday that the stalemate would not be resolved quickly. “This is the beginning of the re-engagement conversation,” Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, said in Washington. “We’re going to have to work through these issues, and it’s going to take some time.” The two countries at least are relieved to have started talking. A series of visits and discussions in recent weeks included a meeting between Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of a nuclear summit meeting in Seoul, South Korea, last month. Since the Pakistani Parliament completed a review of relations with the United States, Americans have repeatedly vowed to respect the will of Pakistan’s lawmakers, even though they demanded an end to American drone strikes, which the United States sees as crucial in fighting militants hiding in Pakistan’s border areas. Aside from the apparently intractable issues of drones and the apology, the two countries focused on four specific areas of potential cooperation: counterterrorism, the NATO supply lines, military aid payments and the Taliban peace process. Yet there was an undeniable sense of wariness, driven by the pressures of domestic politics, with Mr. Obama facing re-election this year and Pakistan due for elections in the coming 12 months. Pakistanis’ rage has been rising since a shooting in Lahore in January 2011 that involved a C.I.A. employee and fueled common fantasies about being overrun by rogue spies. The American operation to kill Osama bin Laden a few months later was taken as a stunning breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty. An American apology is also problematic given Republican pressures weighing on Mr. Obama and the hostility of a Congress with little patience for Pakistan. “The politics of election year in both countries are slowing down the resolution of admittedly vexed issues in an environment of persistent mistrust,” said Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington. The Haqqani network has re-emerged as a focal American issue, particularly after the April 15 attacks. The next day, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, that “there has to be a concerted effort by the Pakistanis with the Afghans, with the others of us, against extremists of all kinds.” American officials refused Friday to say whether there were any links between Pakistan’s main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, and the Haqqani network’s latest attacks. One said the intelligence on the issue was “constantly evolving.” Others in Washington say they have not yet found any such ties. New details about the attacks have emerged in the past two weeks, according to Afghan and American officials. While it is possible that some fighters were smuggled into Afghanistan over time and in small numbers, and that some weapons and ammunition were pre-staged, many may have been brought in from Pakistan only a day or two before the attacks, said a senior American military officer in Afghanistan. “Our initial assessment is they probably moved them in a last moment to avoid detection,” said the officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing inquiry. Officials have also identified a possible intelligence gap. Ethnic infighting at the top of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, may have resulted in key people failing to pass on information that could have helped derail the attacks. At this week’s meetings in Islamabad, new ideas were gently sounded out. A senior Pakistani official said his country was offering a “wide menu of counterterrorism options” in a bid to at least slow down the rate of drone strikes. Pakistan has also offered to send F-16 fighter jets to strike Taliban and Qaeda targets in the tribal belt. United States officials have said that if Pakistan would not or could not strike insurgents in places like Miram Shah, the capital of North Waziristan, then the drone attacks would have to continue. With Pakistan refusing at least publicly to condone the strikes, the two sides seem at an impasse. “The policy of the government is very, very clear,” Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Jalil Abbas Jilani, said Thursday. “We consider drones as illegal, counterproductive and, accordingly, unacceptable.” Another Pakistani official, however, conceded, “Privately, we know they are unlikely to stop.” The reopening of NATO supply lines is important for the United States military to support troops currently in Afghanistan, but also to help withdraw tons of weapons and matériel out as a major drawdown approaches in 2014. But, the senior Obama administration official added, Pakistan’s support for the NATO lines was about politics as much as logistics. “Our NATO partners see them as increasingly problematic, not as a partner,” he said. “If they don’t restore this, those feelings will become intensified over time.”