Sunday, June 10, 2012

UN Worried Over Pakistan 'Rights Abuses'
The United Nations has voiced concern over allegations of "very grave" rights violations and forced disappearances during Pakistani military operations against insurgents and militants. At the end of her four-day visit to the country on May 7, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said that she is concerned about allegations of grave abuses in the context of counterterrorist and counterinsurgency operations. She told journalists in Islamabad that such abuses "include extrajudicial killings, unacknowledged detention and enforced disappearances." Independent watchdogs have accused Pakistani security forces of mass arrests and extra-judicial killings in the southwestern province of Balochistan, where a separatist insurgency began in the in 2004. Pillay urged Islamabad to pass legislation on crucial issues such as torture, education, and women’s rights.

US, Pakistan beginning to look more like enemies

You know a friendship has gone sour when you start making mean jokes about your friend in front of his most bitter nemesis. So it was a bad sign this week when the U.S. defense secretary joshed in front of an audience of Indians about how Washington kept Pakistan in the dark about the raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden a year ago. "They didn't know about our operation. That was the whole idea," Leon Panetta said with a chuckle at a Q&A session after a speech in New Delhi, raising laughs from the audience. The Bin Laden raid by U.S. commandos in a Pakistani town infuriated Islamabad because it had no advance notice, and it was seen by Pakistan's powerful military as a humiliation. The U.S. and Pakistan are starting to look more like enemies than allies, threatening the U.S. fight against Taliban and al-Qaida militants based in the country and efforts to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan before American troops withdraw. Long plagued by frustration and mistrust, the relationship has plunged to its lowest level since the 9/11 attacks forced the countries into a tight but awkward embrace over a decade ago. The U.S. has lost its patience with Pakistan and taken the gloves off to make its anger clear. "It has taken on attributes and characteristics now of a near adversarial relationship, even though neither side wants it to be that way," said Maleeha Lodhi, who was serving as Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S. at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and was key in hurriedly putting together the two countries' alliance. The latest irritant is Pakistan's refusal to end its six-month blockade of NATO troop supplies meant for Afghanistan. Even if that issue is resolved, however, the relationship may be on an irreversible downward slide. The main source of U.S. anger is Pakistan's unwillingness to go after militants using its territory to launch attacks against American troops in Afghanistan. On the Pakistani side, officials are fed up with Washington's constant demands for more without addressing Islamabad's concerns or sufficiently appreciating the country's sacrifice. Pakistan has lost thousands of troops fighting a domestic Taliban insurgency fueled partly by resentment of the alliance with the U.S. Panetta's comments about the bin Laden raid may have been unscripted, but others he made while in India and Afghanistan seemed calculated to step up pressure on Pakistan. He stressed Washington's strong relationship with India — which Islamabad considers its main, historic enemy — and defended unpopular American drone attacks in Pakistan. He also said in unusually sharp terms that the U.S. was running out of patience with Islamabad's failure to go after the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, considered the most dangerous militant group fighting in Afghanistan. Many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to target the Haqqanis and other Afghan militants based on its soil because they could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw, especially in countering the influence of India. Pakistan lashed out at Panetta on Saturday and denied the country was providing safe havens for militants. Panetta "is oversimplifying some of the very complex issues we are dealing with in our efforts against extremism and terrorism," the Foreign Ministry said. "We strongly believe that such statements are misplaced and unhelpful in bringing about peace and stability in the region." A senior U.S. official described the relationship as "the worst it has ever been." "This is from Washington's point of view and from Pakistan's point of view, and even among the real well-wishers on both sides who are appalled and befuddled that we can't get past all of this and move beyond," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. After years of frosty relations caused by Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, Washington and Islamabad were thrust together on Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida attacked New York and Washington. The U.S. demanded Pakistan support the war against bin Laden and his Taliban hosts in Afghanistan. The U.S. directed billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan and sought to convince Islamabad it was not simply interested in a "transactional" relationship based on counterterrorism cooperation, but wanted a long-term strategic partnership. U.S. officials have largely abandoned that argument over the past 18 months as the relationship has suffered repeated crises. "Because of the toxic atmosphere on both sides, the two countries cannot even work in a transactional way," said Lodhi, the former Pakistani ambassador. In January 2011, a CIA contractor sparked outrage when he shot to death two Pakistanis in the city of Lahore who he claimed were trying to rob him. Anger over the incident was still simmering when the U.S. killed bin Laden in May. In November, American airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani troops at two Afghan border posts. The U.S. has said it was an accident, but the Pakistani army claims it was deliberate. Pakistan retaliated by kicking the U.S. out of a base used by American drones and closing its border to NATO supplies meant for troops in Afghanistan. Negotiations to reopen the route have been hampered by Islamabad's demand for much higher transit fees and Washington's refusal to apologize for the deaths of the Pakistani troops. The U.S. has attempted to bridge the difference over money by offering to repave highways used by the supply trucks, said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. But Pakistani officials have made clear the route will not reopen without some kind of apology. The U.S. has expressed its regret over the incident but has refused to apologize for fear it could open the Obama administration up to criticism by Republicans upset with Pakistan. A senior U.S. defense official, Peter Lavoy, arrived in Pakistan on Friday to participate in the negotiations. But Panetta's comments could complicate matters. Such statements do "water down the willingness to cooperate with the United States," said Imtiaz Gul, director of the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies. President Barack Obama showed U.S. anger over the supply issue at a NATO summit last month in Chicago by refusing a one-on-one meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. However, the U.S. and Pakistan both have reasons to walk the relationship back from the brink. The U.S. continues to receive some intelligence cooperation from Pakistan on militants and has been able to continue drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal region despite public protests, likely because of tacit agreement by Pakistani military leaders. Both could be threatened if the relationship heads farther south. Just as important is Pakistan's support on the Afghan war. Pakistan is seen as key to striking a peace deal with the Taliban and their allies in Afghanistan that will allow the U.S. to withdraw most of its combat forces by the end of 2014 without the country descending into further chaos. Pakistan is keen on freeing up over a billion dollars in frozen U.S. aid, which will only be released if it reopens the supply line. Also, Pakistan can ill afford to become a true enemy of the U.S. at a time when it is struggling to contain its own Taliban insurgency and right its stuttering economy. But politics on both sides make breaking the impasse difficult, particularly with U.S. elections this fall and Pakistani elections due early next year — possibly even sooner. Historically, Pakistan's army has steered the relationship with the U.S. But fearing public backlash in a country where anti-American sentiment is rampant, the generals have tossed the NATO supply line issue to Pakistan's weak and unpopular civilian government. The politicians are reluctant to do anything that could hurt their election prospects. "The longer Islamabad delays and dithers, the opinion in Washington is hardening," said Lodhi. "Time is the enemy of a reset in relations."

Ahmad Faraz: Governor, poets pay homage to late Faraz

To pay homage to the renowned poet, late Ahmad Faraz, Anjuman-e-Taraqi-e-Urdu Kohat arranged a Mushaira at Kohat wherein the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor, Barrister Masood Kausar was the chief guest. More than twenty prominent poets from across the country, besides a large number of their local counterparts, educationists, writers and elites of the city participated in the event. The Mushaira was a major event of the 2-day Kohat Cultural Festival arranged by the District Administration, Kohat. The Secretary of the Anjuman, Shahid Zaman conducted the Mushaira. The Governor who is the younger brother of the late poet, in his brief remarks on this occasion said that late Ahmad Faraz was a great asset for the country and being the towering personality of Urdu literature in particular, he influenced the countrymen in general and the Kohatians in particular to an extent that they not only used to but still consider him as one of their family members. Appreciating the Anjuman-e-Taraqi-e-Urdu and the Kohat administration, for remembering the great poet, the Governor said that late Ahmad Faraz is still alive because of his works in the minds and hearts of the people and the presence of such a large number of poets as well as other dignitaries is a clear depiction of this reality in this respect.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa budget
IF the purpose of the 18th Amendment was to improve service delivery by devolving these responsibilities to the provinces then that purpose is clearly in jeopardy. For yet another year, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has announced a budget that channels resources into current consumption while health and education languish. Moreover, revenue mobilisation has been brought down by Rs70m with the revenue target at Rs7.88bn. Salaries of government employees will rise by 20 per cent, and 8,300 more government jobs will be created. Likewise, the Annual Development Plan will rise to Rs97.4bn, an all-time high. Some of the government’s pressures are understandable. The salary increase is made necessary by a similar announcement by the federal government in its budget. The provincial government cannot allow too large a difference between the salaries of its officials and those of the federal government, and is therefore constrained to follow suit. But what was the point of announcing a ‘laptop scheme’ of Rs1bn? And what good sense is there in budgeting this as a ‘pro-poor’ measure? Schemes for the poor are allocated a paltry Rs5.2bn, of which one-fifth is already eaten up by the ‘laptop scheme’. This is not in keeping with the spirit of the 18th Amendment. Neither is the lack of capacity to absorb incremental resources highlighted by the Rs9bn of unutilised foreign grants from last year’s pool of Rs16bn. The idea behind devolving services to the provinces was to improve service delivery by bringing the delivery mechanisms closer to the intended recipients. Instead it seems social services have become the victims of neglect given the political priorities of provincial governments. A four per cent allocation for education is to be lauded, but much more effort is required in this area. We understand it is election year, but a focus on governance cannot be allowed to waver on that account.

WHO concerned at polio cases in Khyber

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has expressed concern over emergence of polio cases in Khyber Agency, saying that circulation of the virus will continue unabated as long as anti-polio programmes continue to miss a significant number of children either due to insecurity or poor quality campaign. “We need to administer oral polio vaccines to every child below five years of age to safeguard them against the crippling disease,” head of WHO Polio Eradication Section Dr Elias Durry told Dawn. Cases in Federally Administered Tribal Areas again demonstrate the mammoth risk of not reaching every child in Fata, he said. Khyber Agency last week registered its 8th case, most by any of the 10 infected districts/agencies in the country. Zabia, a 23-month-old daughter of Noor Jan, a resident of Akakhel tehsil of Tirah in Khyber Agency, was the latest case recorded in the agency where the world health agency says 150,000 children had not been immuised against polio. Zabia didn’t receive any dose of oral polio vaccine, as the area where she lived was not visited by any vaccination team since September 2009 due to insecurity. The WHO official said that environmental surveillance system had clearly proven persistent circulation of wild poliovirus in cities like Lahore and Rawalpindi in Punjab, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and children in these areas stood vulnerable to the virus. This is the 8th polio case reported from Khyber agency this year and the first from Tirah, while the other seven were reported from Bara. Khyber Agency is the only area in Asia having both the wild poliovirus-1 and ‘3’ types and posed a huge threat to the efforts of polio eradication in the country (and globally), especially when there is ongoing large-scale population movement from Fata, particularly Khyber Agency, to other parts of the country. “The essence of polio eradication is not only to have fewer cases, but to ensure that there is no virus circulating anywhere, including in environmental (sewage) samples,” he said. Dr Azam Wazir, agency health official, said that “May, June and July are peak months for spread of poliovirus and Bara being a high risk area we are making all-out efforts to rein in this crippling disease,” he said. He said that due to coordinated efforts the problem of inaccessibility was on the decline. “We are working in close liaison with various stakeholders and also encouraging participation of general public to overcome this menace,” he said. Meanwhile, the political administration arrested four health workers and withheld salaries of at least two others for dereliction of duty during the recent polio campaign in Jamrud and Landi Kotal. Officials said that they had also sent health teams to the far-flung areas of Bagh and Maidan in Tirah valley. They said that though actual figures of vaccination were not yet available, but the three-day campaign went smoothly and without any resistance from any quarter.