Monday, April 30, 2012

U.S. Racial tensions go beyond black and white issues

By Rong Xiaoqing
A 17-year-old boy was shot dead by a 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer, when the boy was walking back to his father's fiancée's house. The boy was unarmed, and carried only a bag of candy and a can of iced tea. The shooter, who thought the boy looked suspicious, claimed self defense and was initially let go by the police after the incident. The boy, Trayvon Martin, was black. The skin of the shooter, George Zimmerman, is much lighter. And it happened in Florida, a state that carries a heavy baggage of racial tensions from the past and has kept causing controversy in modern times through its "stand-your-ground" law, which allows someone to fire a gun at another party in a public area if he or she feels their life is threatened. It is no surprise that this has ignited a national outcry and more division. After national media outlets picked up the story, which happened in February, thousands of people protested. More than two million people signed an online petition calling for Zimmerman's arrest, which finally happened six weeks after the incident. The local police chief stepped down. A special prosecutor was appointed. The FBI was brought in. US President Barack Obama demanded a thorough investigation and said "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon." The death of Martin has thus become a new milestone for the civil rights movement. Many journalists, bloggers, activists and politicians asked one question to highlight the racial inequality in this country: "What would happen if Martin were white and Zimmerman were black?" It's a legitimate question given that statistically, black perpetrators receive harsher sentences than whites for the same offences and black victims are more likely to be ignored than white ones. However, the only problem is Zimmerman is not white. With a white father and Peruvian mother, and looking darker than the average Caucasian, Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic on his voter registration card. Of course, this doesn't change the fact that he shot an unarmed boy and many people just can't understand why he wasn't arrested straight away. But the efforts to portray this as a conflict between black and white are notable. A survey by Newsweek, which found 80 percent of blacks thought the case was racially motivated while only 35 percent of whites agreed, vividly displayed the division. The questions missing here, though, are what if Zimmerman were Hispanic? What if he and Martin were both black? What if one of them were Hispanic, and the other were Asian, or even one were white, and the other were Asian or Hispanic? The gun control and the "stand-your-ground" issues would still be the talking points. But would the case still become a national sensation as it did? And would anyone outside the immediate community still care at all? It is true that a lot of US racial baggage in black-white relations still remains. But people from other ethnic communities also often become victims in racial conflicts with whites, with much less spotlight shed on them. What's more, when less than half of the babies under 3 years old are white in the US now and whites are predicted by some demographers to become a minority by 2050, more racial conflicts are destined to be between people from the black, Hispanic and Asian communities. What makes things more complicated is that many times, what look like racial conflicts may not be as clear-cut beneath the surface. Take the 2009 case in which two Chinese restaurants in Manhattan were accused of refusing to deliver food to East Harlem, a largely black neighborhood. The restaurants were dubbed "racist" by black politicians and it triggered an investigation by the city's Human Rights Commission. But with stories of deliverymen being repeatedly assaulted in some neighborhoods, the workers may be forced to choose between political correctness and their own safety. It would be much easier for everyone if life was like scenes from Hollywood movies where good guys and bad guys are so clearly labeled. But in the real world it isn't a question of black and white, but of shades of grey. The author is a New York-based journalist.

In Fight Over Obama Health Law, a Front in Minnesota

With zeal, excitement and a meticulous attention to detail, the administration of Gov. Mark Dayton is trying to expand health insurance coverage and remake Minnesota’s insurance market along the lines envisioned by President Obama. In setting up a marketplace where people can shop for insurance, the state has sought advice from consumer groups, labor unions, doctors and hospitals, employers, insurance companies, agents and brokers, and American Indian tribes. But one notable group has been missing from the process: Republicans, who control both houses of the State Legislature. Mr. Dayton, a Democrat, and the Republicans find themselves in an icy standoff. The situation is a case study of the politics found in state capitols around the country as officials grapple with a crucial element of the new federal health care law. A similar confrontation has stalled action in New Hampshire. In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, recently established an insurance exchange by executive order after Republicans in the State Senate blocked legislation. In Minnesota, many Republicans want nothing to do with what they call Obamacare, even though the federal government will operate an insurance exchange here if the state fails to create one. “There is a very toxic atmosphere between Republican legislators and the Dayton administration on this issue,” said Kate Johansen, manager of health policy at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which wants the state to establish its own exchange. In an interview, Mr. Dayton said that while some moderate Republicans would like to work with him, the Republican caucus in the Legislature had balked because it was dominated by “extreme right-wingers.” “For reasons of ideology and politics, they want to bash our effort to establish an exchange, rather than join it,” Mr. Dayton said, lamenting the power of “vitriolic antigovernment, anti-Obama” forces. State Representative Mary D. Franson, a conservative freshman Republican, said: “We have an ultraliberal governor who thinks he can do things by executive order like President Obama.” Ms. Franson said that if Mr. Dayton tried to establish an exchange without legislative approval, “he will have a fight on his hands because I’m like a mama bear; I’ll protect our citizens from the overreach of government.” The federal divide over health care is reflected at the state level, even in Minnesota, which has a progressive tradition and a long history of innovation and bipartisan cooperation on health policy. The exchange is the centerpiece of the new health care system envisioned by Mr. Obama. In the exchange, people who do not have insurance from employers will be able to get comparative information on health plans, insurers will compete on price and benefits, and the federal government will offer subsidies to lower- and middle-income people buying insurance. Mr. Dayton and his team are trying to carry out the new federal law over objections from Republicans, who control both houses of the Legislature for the first time in 38 years. “Health care reform is going ahead full speed in this state,” said Lawrence R. Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. Mr. Jacobs said the governor was relying on an expansive concept of executive power to circumvent Republican opposition and apparently saw no need to compromise because he was confident that the Democrats would regain control of the Legislature in the November elections. Minnesota starts from an enviable position, with 91 percent of its population having health insurance — more than all but three or four states. For decades, Minnesota has been a health care innovator. The nonprofit Mayo Clinic, which traces its roots to 1864, pioneered the team-based approach to medical care now espoused by many health policy experts. A Minnesota doctor, Paul M. Ellwood Jr., was an early proponent of managed care and coined the term “health maintenance organization.” Minnesota expanded Medicaid eligibility and was already covering most low-income children before Congress created the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997. The state’s top insurance regulator, Commerce Commissioner Michael Rothman, said the exchange would simplify the purchase of insurance for consumers and pool their purchasing power so they could get better prices. Minnesota has spent $1.4 million in federal money planning an exchange through which one-fifth of state residents — more than one million people — are expected to obtain coverage. That includes 450,000 people who will get subsidized private insurance and 600,000 who will enroll in Medicaid or other public insurance programs. State officials who speak fluently about arcane technical details of the insurance exchange — like risk adjustment, adverse selection and actuarial value — seem nonplused but undeterred by the Republicans’ resistance. When asked what was lost as a result of the Republicans’ absence, Mr. Rothman fell silent for a minute, then said, “We would like to keep an open dialogue with Republicans and all stakeholders.” Republicans object to both what is being done and how the governor is doing it. State Senator David W. Hann, a Republican who is chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said the exchange would “absolutely not create a true insurance marketplace” because it would control what products could be offered and might have a say over prices. “The exchange centralizes power in the hands of bureaucrats and is a step to single-payer health care that has been the dream of the political left for decades,” Mr. Hann said. Moreover, Mr. Hann said, Republicans are irked because “the governor has shown a propensity to act by executive order, as if he could establish an exchange by some kind of fiat or diktat.” Officials in the Dayton administration decline to say how far they can go in setting up an exchange without authority from the Legislature. Time is running out. Legislative leaders hope to adjourn the 2012 session this week. Federal officials must decide by Jan. 1 whether the state is able to run its own exchange. Republican legislators declined an invitation to participate in a Dayton administration task force guiding the development of the exchange. Twila Brase, president of the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom, a free-market group mobilizing opposition to the exchange in Minnesota, sees little difference between one established by the state and one run by the federal government. “All exchanges must follow the Obamacare law and the Obamacare regulations,” Ms. Brase said. In his first official act after taking office in January 2011, Mr. Dayton issued an executive order expanding Medicaid to cover 95,000 low-income adults who would not otherwise have qualified until 2014. The reaction was a portent of things to come. Supporters cheered the governor’s action, while protesters packed the signing ceremony to denounce the new federal health care law as costly and unconstitutional. Minnesota takes pride in its culture of collaboration, fostered by civic-minded employers like General Mills and Target, which have worked together for more than two decades to improve health care and limit its cost. When Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, was governor, he liked the idea of an exchange. “We will reduce costs by creating the Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange, to allow uninsured individuals access to health insurance that will lower premium costs by roughly 30 percent,” Mr. Pawlenty said in his State of the State address in 2007. But State Representative Douglas G. Wardlow, a freshman Republican, said the creation of an exchange “in the context of Obamacare is an entirely different question.” The new law, he said, imposes so many requirements that it “turns the state into an instrumentality of the federal government and limits our ability to innovate.”

Putin's Russia

As Vladimir Putin begins his third term as president, we ask if Russia can become a superpower once again.
Russia is the largest country on the planet. It straddles nine time zones, is the largest energy producer and possesses half the world's nuclear warheads. But Russia is not the former Soviet Union. Since the Cold War ended two decades ago, the new emerging Russia has been largely defined by two men, Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. Yeltsin presided over the dismemberment of the old Soviet Union and the reckless privatisation of state assets. Washington saw this chaotic free-for-all as a new wild west and assisted the plunder. When Putin took over the presidency in 2000, he was determined to rid Russia of Yeltsin's embarrassing legacy and to stop the rot. As Putin begins his third term as president, flexing his muscles at home and abroad, we ask: Can Russia be a superpower once again?

Pakistan: After Hindus, Christians forced into conversion
Victims of forced conversions are often girls from poor backgrounds who are unable to defend themselves against extremists because their community is deprived, defenceless and marginalised, reports Amir Mir While Pakistan's Hindu minority community is already disturbed over the rising incidents of kidnapping of young Hindu girls and their forced conversion to Islam, the conditions for the country's Christian minority are equally antagonising. They too are being forced by fanatic Muslims to convert to Islam, making them wonder if they still have a place in Pakistan. "There is no compulsion in religion," is a well-known saying that most Pakistanis who live in the land of the pure often tend to forget. While religion encourages conversions, it in no way tolerates coercion. But that is what the Christian community in Pakistan says is happening. With 1.6 per cent of the population and some three million believers, the Christian minority in Pakistan is the second largest religious minority after Hindus. Available figures show that on average, eight to ten Christians are being forced every month by fanatic Muslims to convert to Islam, mostly in Sindh and Punjab provinces. Victims are often poor girls The victims of forced conversions are often girls from poor backgrounds who are then subjected to harrowing and extremely traumatic ordeals. Most of them are extremely vulnerable and are unable to defend themselves against extremists because their community is deprived, defenceless and marginalised. Christians, who constitute just about two percent of the Pakistani population, are paying a high price for being a part of the minority community. This is despite the fact that at the time of independence, the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had pledged to create a secular and liberal environment in the country where all religions could thrive. But a gradual Islamisation of the Pakistani state and the society in the 1970s by the martial law regime of General Ziaul Haq led to the enforcement of controversial blasphemy laws in Pakistan to force more and more Hindu and Christian minority members to abandon their religions and convert to Islam. Allegations of forced conversion of Hindu women, which were endorsed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), have already brought to light the dilemma faced by the minority Hindu community. However, many recent examples of forced conversion of Christian girls in Sindh and Punjab have come to light recently. In the first instance, Sidra Bibi, 14, was abducted and raped by a Muslim in her village in the Sheikhupura district of the Pakistani Punjab. Her abductor instantly converted her to Islam by threatening to kill her. Although Sidra became pregnant as a result of the abuse, she was lucky enough to have managed to escape from her abductor and find her way back to her family. Sidra and her family members tried to lodge a complaint with the police in a bid to get justice, but they were refused the chance due to the fact that the abductors were influential people of the area.

Inquiry launched into Sarkozy Gaddafi finance claim

Prosecutors on Monday opened an enquiry after President Nicolas Sarkozy sued a website that claimed Moamer Kadhafi financed his 2007 presidential election, in the crucial final week before France returns to the polls. Sarkozy’s complaint, submitted late Monday afternoon, targets the left-wing investigative website Mediapart, its publishing director Edwy Plenel and journalists Fabrice Arfi and Karl Laske, judicial officials said. Arfi and Laske on Saturday co-signed an article that alleged the former Libyan dictator agreed to give 50 million euros ($66 million) to Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign. The enquiry is to determine whether there is a case of “forgery and use of forged material”, and whether “false news has been spread”. Sarkozy’s lawyer Thierry Herzog was not immediately available for comment. Sarkozy has dismissed the document as a “crude forgery” and believes that he is relentlessly targeted by “biased” left-wing media. “There’s a section of the press, of the media, and notably the site in question whose name I refuse to mention, that is prepared to fake documents, shame on those who have exploited them,” Sarkozy said. Claims that Kadhafi financed Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign are not new, but Mediapart’s document bearing the signature of Libya’s former foreign intelligence chief Moussa Koussa is. Koussa, who lives in Qatar, has said the "allegations are false".

New World Trade Center tower

Pakistanis dead; got 'blood money' in CIA killing

The widow and mother-in-law of a Pakistani man killed by a CIA contractor last year were murdered Monday, allegedly by the widow's father who may have feared she would remarry and take the "blood money" she received with her, police said. The families of the two men killed by Raymond Davis last January received hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for pardoning the killer, a common legal practice in Pakistan. The money normally goes to the wife if her husband was killed. The widow who was murdered Monday in the eastern city of Lahore, Zohra Haider, wanted to remarry and was supported by her mother, Nabeela Bibi, said police officer Athar Waheed. But her father, Shahzad Butt, opposed the move, possibly because she would take her fortune with her when she remarried, Waheed said. "We will investigate that aspect as a possible motive," said Waheed. Butt allegedly shot and killed his wife after having an argument about the issue in their house in a middle class neighborhood in Lahore that they bought with the blood money, said Waheed. He chased his daughter as she tried to escape and allegedly shot and killed her in the street, said Waheed. The shooter escaped. Davis said he shot Haider's husband, Faizan, and another Pakistani man last year because they tried to rob him as he was driving his car through Lahore. The U.S. and Pakistan argued for nearly seven weeks over whether Davis had diplomatic immunity before the blood money was paid, and he was freed. The U.S. denied paying the compensation to the families, but many believe it was simply routed through Pakistani officials. Reports of the total payout varied from $1 million to over $2 million. A third Pakistani man was killed by a U.S. vehicle rushing to the scene of the shootings, but the driver was never taken into custody. The incident seriously damaged the already troubled relationship between Pakistan and the U.S., one that got worse only months later when American commandos killed Osama bin Laden in a covert raid in a Pakistani garrison town last May.

UAE urged to release political prisoners

Rights groups have urged the United Arab Emirates to immediately end crackdowns on perceived political opponents and release nine activists in custody. On Monday, two international rights groups, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on authorities to stop threatening to revoke the citizenship of some of the detainees because of their political activities. The appeal follows the detention of Sheikh Sultan bin Kayed al-Qasimi, who is a reformist relative of the ruler of the Ras al-Khaimah Emirate and one of the elders of the UAE sheikhs. Al-Qasimi was arrested without a warrant. The rights organizations say UAE officials are holding at least nine activists, with seven of them connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been critical of some policies of the country's Western-allied leaders. Rights groups said some of the men are among 130 people who signed a petition in March 2011 seeking political reforms in the UAE. The UAE has arrested pro-reform activists and charged them with serious crimes to prevent the Arab Spring, a popular uprisings that swept some Arab countries last year, from reaching its territory. Formation of political parties is banned in the small Persian Gulf state.

Bahrain: Family of activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja 'sad' at retrial

The family of leading Bahraini opposition activist
Abdulhadi al-khawaja has denounced the decision to retry him and 20 other activists. Khawaja's daughter Maryam said the retrial is "sad news not good news". The ruling will not stop her father's hunger strike as he wants "freedom or death" not a retrial, she said. The retrial will take place in a civil court. A military court sentenced Khawaja to life in prison last June for plotting against the state. 'Not fair, nor just' Khawaja began a hunger strike some three months ago. His case has become a rallying point for other activists. "The court is [ordering] that the trial take place again and that testimony from prosecution and defence witnesses be heard once more as if it is a new trial," the official news agency BNA said. Technically, however, the cases are simply being reviewed by the civil court, says the BBC's Frank Gardner who was in the courtroom to hear the appeal outcome. "We are talking about a court which is not fair nor just and it's not independent either," Maryam al-Khawaja told the BBC. "This is the courtroom that is used by the regime as a tool against people," she added.A crowd of opposition supporters chanted outside the court after the ruling was announced, disappointed that Khawaja will stay in custody until the retrial. Twenty other activists sentenced alongside Khawaja in 2011 also won retrials - seven in absentia because they remain at large. Seven are fighting life terms. 'Ridiculous' This is only a limited victory for Khawaja and his team, our correspondent says, because although the verdict reached by a military tribunal has been thrown out, he will remain in custody while his case is reviewed. One lawyer for the convicts said he had hoped the initial verdicts would be annulled. Khawaja has dual nationality with Denmark, and the Danish ambassador renewed his call for him to be transferred to Denmark on humanitarian grounds. "I think it is ridiculous, what sort of legal process is this?" Khawaja's wife Khadija al-Moussawi told the BBC. "They are playing for time, and should have transferred his case to a civilian court at the first hearing not the third." She said they were the same judges in military and civilian courts, "but with different clothes". "Just let them [the activists] go. The government commissioned the Bassiouni report and that declared that they were prisoners of conscience," she said - referring to an independent inquiry into events in 2011 that delivered a searing indictment of the government, including its treatment of Khawaja. She said her husband was prepared to lose his life over the issue. Khawaja remains in hospital in a serious condition, having lost 25% of his bodyweight during an 82-day campaign during which he has usually refused food. "I saw him on Sunday," Khadija al-Moussawi said. "He is very weak. He had been restrained and force-fed through a tube for five days, but agreed to be fed by IV [intravenous drip]. He will decide today [Monday], what course to take." Torture claims The hospital denies Khawaja has been force-fed, saying he gave written permission to be fed via a nasogastric tube. At least 60 people are reported to have been killed in Bahrain since protests erupted last year demanding more democracy and an end to discrimination against the majority Shia Muslim community by the Sunni royal family. Khawaja was arrested in April after King Hamad declared a state of emergency and brought in troops from neighbouring states to crush dissent. He claims he was tortured, sexually assaulted and regularly beaten in detention. Manama is usually calm these days, but regular protests continue in villages outside the capital. "They must be freed."

Peshawar blast: One policeman killed, another injured in roadside blast

The Express Tribune
A community police personnel was killed and a policeman sustained serious injuries after a bomb exploded on Charsadda Road near Garhi Sobat Khan in Peshawar on Monday evening. Police officials talking to The Expess Tribune said that a police party, mix of regular police and community police personnel, were on a routine patrol within the remits of Khazana Police Station when they came under a bomb attack which injured two police men. One of the injured was identified as Javed. They were rushed to the hospital where Javed succumbed to his injuries. DSP Riazul Islam told The Express Tribune that it was a powerful bomb attack which targeted a police patrol. “Gulzar and Javed are among the injured men. Javed is a community police personnel, who was hired on a two year contract,” he explained. Islam said that the entire area has been cordoned off and a search operation is underway in the area. “Javed expired in the hospital while the other injured is out of danger now,” said the DSP. Earlier on April 16, a six year old student was killed, while another one was injured when unidentified miscreants threw a hand grenade into a school in the Chargo Kalay area of Peshawar. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including Peshawar has been regularly targeted by militants, attacking schools and tribal leaders for supporting the government in quashing militancy in the province.

Prime Minister Gilani: I am only guilty of protecting constitution

In response to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif’s call for a ‘protest movement’ against the government, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Monday said that he was only guilty of protecting the constitution, DawnNews reported. Speaking at a Senate session, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader said that he was unanimously elected as prime minister by all parties including the PML-N. Earlier, the PML-N chief had urged the premier to comply with the Supreme Court’s orders and resign from the prime minister’s office. Moreover, Sharif warned that the government would have to face a protest movement if the prime minister does not resign. In Senate today, the prime minister said that his only fault was to protect the constitution. “I am ready to face any sentence for the act,” he added. He said that he did not take advantage of National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). “Cases are registered all over the world…even former US president Bill Clinton faced the case registered against him,” said the premier. The prime minster said that he was not only facing the Supreme Court but the ‘Sharif courts’ as well. “I will never bow down to decisions of Sharifs’ court,” he added. Gilani further said that Nawaz Sharif was given the opportunity of ruling the country twice but he could not handle it and fell down by his own credence. Despite of having a two-third majority, the PML-N failed to amend the constitution, said the premier. “Clause for becoming the PM for the third time was only removed for Nawaz Sharif,” he said. Meanwhile, the National Assembly session was adjourned to May 2 amid verbal assault of each other by the lawmakers of both treasury and opposition benches.

Sharifs are ‘robbers’

Interior Minister Rehman Malik took on the Sharif brothers again on Sunday when he accused them of ‘robbing’ the country’s banks of billions of rupees. Continuing his tirade for the second consecutive day, Malik, at a news conference, said he would present all documentary evidence against Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif in court to help unearth their corruption. He claimed that he had evidence that the PML-N leaders had embezzled public funds worth $32 million. Referring to the long march threats by the PML-N, Malik said the PPP’s reconciliation policy should not be taken as its weakness, adding it is being pursued for consolidation of democracy and in the best national interest. He threatened that hardcore PPP workers would march against the PML-N if they continued confronting the ruling party. “We are not wearing bangles. PPP jiyalas from all over Pakistan will march to Raiwind against Sharif brothers,” he added. The minister announced to present evidence of the Sharifs’ alleged corruption before the Supreme Court within a week, adding that if Nawaz and Shahbaz had the “courage” they could challenge his claims. He said people wanted to know about the money they allegedly embezzled, their empire at Raiwand and other places in and outside the country. “If PML-N leadership, including Pervaiz Rashid, thinks that the allegations levelled against the Sharif brothers are false, why don’t they file a libel case against the interior minister? They should approach the courts and get a verdict against the interior minister. He would welcome any defamation suit against him,” said a note distributed on the occasion.

Shock at brutal killing of Red Cross worker Khalil Rasjed Dale
HORRIFIED agencies yesterday condemned the murder of a Red Cross worker taken hostage in Pakistan whose bullet-riddled body was found in an orchard yesterday, decapitated, with a note attached to his body saying he had been killed because no ransom was paid. Khalil Rasjed Dale, 60, a Scot who was engaged to be married to a nurse in Australia, was seized by armed men in January in Quetta, in southwestern Pakistan. "This was a shocking and merciless act by people with no respect for human life and the rule of law. Khalil Dale has dedicated many years of his life to helping some of the most vulnerable people in the world," British Prime Minister David Cameron said. The director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Yves Daccord, condemned the "barbaric act". "It's unbelievable what they've done to Ken," a friend and former colleague, Sheila Howat, said. "It's soul-destroying. For someone who has ... devoted their life to caring for others - it's just so wrong. Ken was an absolutely lovely person who saw good in everybody. He wanted to make the world a better place for people who had nothing."Ms Howat said Mr Dale's fiancee, Anne, lived in Australia. "I was so happy that he had finally found happiness. I think their engagement happened quite recently." Mr Dale, 60, had been awarded the MBE for his humanitarian work overseas. He changed his name from Ken when he became a Muslim. Quetta police chief Ahsan Mahboob said the note attached to it read: "This is the body of Khalil who we have slaughtered for not paying a ransom." Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, lies close to the Afghan border and for decades has hosted thousands of refugees from that country. The Red Cross operates clinics in the city. A Pakistani foreign office statement condemned the crime, promising to bring its perpetrators to justice. However, arrests for this type of crime are rare. Much of Baluchistan and the tribal regions close to Afghanistan are out of Pakistani government control, and make good places to keep hostages. Large ransoms are often paid to secure their release, but such payments are rarely confirmed. Last August, a 70-year-old American humanitarian aid worker was kidnapped from his house in the Punjabi city of Lahore. Al-Qa'ida claimed to be holding the man, Warren Weinstein, and said in a video he would be released if the US stopped airstrikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

Sharifs poised to derail democracy

Reiterating to protect the Constitution and uphold democratic norms, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani Monday said Sharifs were poised to derail democracy and he would not listen to their dictation. “I am being penalized to protect the Constitution. I am not a beneficiary of the NRO. Then why I am being targeted? Only because I am protecting the Constitution,” he said addressing the Senate. “It is not the case of financial corruption or moral turpitude. I am being blamed to protect the Constitution. But, it was my right being a Prime Minister.