Thursday, July 5, 2012

NATO's transition in Afghanistan an 'organised challenge'

NATO's transition from a combat to a support role in Afghanistan, to be concluded by the end of 2014, will be a challenge but a well organised one, alliance chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday. "It will be a well organised and planned operation to gradually transfer the lead responsibility to the Afghan security forces and gradually change the role from combat to support," Rasmussen told a joint news conference with Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa. "I could call (the transition) a logistical challenge, not a nightmare," he added. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is to hand over security to local forces by the end of 2014. From January 2015 onwards, NATO will remain in Afghanistan mainly for training, mentoring and assisting the Afghan forces. "As we gradually hand over lead responsibilities, we will also adapt our troop presence," Rasmussen said, adding that the recent reopening of the supply route through Pakistan and other existing transit agreements will allow "better opportunities than we had previously" for the withdrawal of troops. "I expect that some allies will join efforts in solving this logistical challenge," Rasmussen said. He gave no estimate of the cost of the transition operation.

Pakistan:Hillary Clinton's $100 Million a Month Apology

By Adam Martin | The Atlantic Wire
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
saved the United States and its allies upwards of $100 million a month with one little word: "Sorry." Clinton announced Tuesday that she'd smoothed things over with Pakistan, which reopened a crucial supply line into Afghanistan after she apologized directly for that disastrous NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani troops last November. State didn't cite the economic factor as a reason for Clinton's belated apology, but that extra money was a clear benefit.As The Associated Press' Bradley Klapper notes, "with the supply lines closed, the U.S. has been forced to use more costly transportation routes through Russia and Central Asia. [Defense Secretary Leon] Panetta has estimated the cost at an extra $100 million a month." That figure had been set to grow as the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan. As The New York Times' Eric Schmitt points out, it really was the word "sorry" that was "the clincher" for Pakistan. Clinton had previously expressed her "deepest regrets for the tragic incident," but on Tuesday she finally said the magic words: "We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military." When Clinton finally said it, the country not only reopened the supply route but dropped its insistance that U.S. trucking companies pay as much as $5,000 transit fee per vehicle, up from $250 before the attack. The officials lowered their request to $1,000, Schmitt reported, before finally dropping it back down to the original $250. Sorry really is a powerful little word.

Obama launches first 2012 campaign bus tour, announces trade action against China
President Barack Obama kicks off his first bus tour of the 2012 campaign on Thursday with news meant to cheer struggling Rust Belt voters: His administration is taking on China over an allegedly unfair trade practice. Hours before the president was due in Ohio, the White House sent reporters a Toledo Blade report that the Obama administration would take aim at Chinese duties on some American-made cars and SUVs "including the Toledo, Ohio-made Jeep Wrangler." (Eerily excellent timing.) The World Trade Organization (WTO) complaint will accuse China—a frequent election-year villain blamed for lost American manufacturing jobs—of improperly imposing duties on about $3.3 billion of American exports, the Blade reported. A victory could see China rescind the duties. Beijing says the fees are a legitimate response to the American auto industry bailout championed by Obama, which China calls an unfair government subsidy. The WTO complaint could also give the president another opening to hit Mitt Romney, who famously opposed the bailout in stark terms. Ohio is home to a vast auto-parts manufacturing sector that benefited from the auto industry rescue.Obama was expected to hit his Republican rival at stops in Maumee, Sandusky, Parma, Akron, East Liverpool and finally Pittsburgh—his only Pennsylvania stop —before returning to Washington Friday night. The Romney campaign is bracketing the Obama visits with appearances by high-profile surrogates. And ahead of Obama's appearance in Maumee, two small planes could be seen in the sky bearing pro-Romney messages. Obama won Ohio and Pennsylvania in 2008 and hopes to capture them again in November on the road to securing the 270 Electoral College votes he needs to get a second term. Ohio has 18 electoral voters; Pennsylvania has 20. A Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll released last week showed Obama leading Romney 47 percent to 38 percent in Ohio, and 45 percent to 39 percent in Pennsylvania. The president's two-day trek began with a bit of good news on the economic front: The Labor Department reported that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits slipped to the lowest level in six weeks. Come Friday, all eyes will be on the latest jobs numbers. The economy is the top issue on voters' minds and Obama's most serious vulnerability. Ohio and Pennsylvania both had unemployment rates of 7.3 percent in May—below the national average of 8.2 percent. Obama's approach has been to blame "headwinds" beyond his control, like the European debt crisis; accuse Republicans of stalling his jobs program; and warn voters that Mitt Romney's economic policies are the same ones that fueled the 2007-2008 meltdown. He has also taken a sharply personal tack, pointing to Romney's wealth and bank accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere to paint the former Massachusetts governor as out of touch with average Americans. Obama has painted himself as a fighter for the middle class—an argument buttressed Thursday with the well-timed news about action against China. "As we have made clear, the Obama administration will continue to fight to ensure that China does not misuse its trade laws and violate its international trade commitments to block exports of American-made products," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said as he formally announced the move. "American auto workers and manufacturers deserve a level playing field, and we are taking every step necessary to stand up for them. This is the third time that the Obama administration has challenged China's misuse of trade remedies." The Toledo Blade reports: The duties cover more than 80 percent of U.S. auto exports to China, or about 92,000 vehicles. They add 15 percent to the price of an imported Jeep Wrangler or Detroit-made Jeep Grand Cherokee, 21.8 percent to a Buick Enclave and Cadillac CTS produced in Lansing, and 4.1 percent to an Acura TL sedan made by Honda of America Manufacturing Co. at Marysville, Ohio.

Poisonings' at Afghan girls' schools likely mass hysteria - not Taliban, says report
A spate of apparent poisonings at girls' schools across Afghanistan is probably outbreaks of mass hysteria rather than a Taliban plot, according to the most comprehensive study yet of the phenomenon.
By By Ben Farmer
The World Health Organisation (WHO) working with the Afghan government has investigated attacks for more than three years but found "no conclusive evidence of deliberate poisoning". Thousands of girls have been taken ill at schools in that time, in incidents of mass fainting and vomiting. Pressure has mounted on Hamid Karzai's government to stop the apparent attacks as their frequency has increased in recent months. Pictures of girls being carried to ambulances, or hooked up to drips in provincial hospitals, have become an increasingly common sight. The symptoms are always short-lived. The incidents have been widely interpreted as a campaign by the Taliban or other insurgent hardliners to crackdown on girls' education. The Taliban have denied this. The WHO's preliminary findings put the body at odds with the Afghanistan's security forces who say they have become convinced the attacks are genuine and have arrested numerous suspected poisoners. Seven were arrested on Tuesday and several were said to have confessed already. Security officials have blamed neighbouring Pakistan and said the poisonings were an attempt to destabilise Afghanistan and weaken its future. The poisoning of school water tanks, or the use of a gas or noxious liquid have all been suggested as potential weapons. Many girls reported smelling a strange odour before they were overcome. However an analysis given to The Daily Telegraph of 32 such incidents, all but two at girls' schools, casts significant doubt on the poisoning theory. The WHO said it and the Afghan ministry of public health were "taking every step to address this menace in the interest of public health." "According to preliminary findings, incidents' analysis and the prevailing situation, Mass Psychological Illness is the most probable cause," a statement said. A child psychologist has been drafted in to study the incidents, sources added. Poisoning could not be ruled out without further tests, but after examining more than 200 laboratory samples of blood, urine and water so far, there was "no conclusive evidence of deliberate poisoning found". The fact that few teachers had been taken ill also argued against mass poisoning. Academics who have studied mass hysteria say it has occurred before in war zones, where tensions and uncertainty are high. Similar cases were reported in the Palestinian territories in 1983 to Soviet Georgia in 1989 and Kosovo in 1990. Peter Kinderman, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool, said: "People do follow the crowd in lots of ways and we are social animals. "When it comes to these mass anxiety attacks, there have been many throughout history." If people were already worried by rumours of gas attacks and someone nearby began to appear ill, then others could soon panic, hyperventilate and become ill themselves. "They symptoms can be very convincing because in a sense they are real," he said. Earlier smaller investigations by the Nato coalition have also undermined suggestions of poisoning. In April the coalition was called in to test water supplies after girls were taken ill at a high school in Takhar province. "Results concluded that naturally occurring bacterial contamination was responsible. No toxins were found in the water," said Brian Badura, a spokesman in the coalition's Kabul headquarters. Police said they remained convinced at least some of the attacks were genuine. The seven alleged poisoners held this week in Sar-e Pul province had employed a schoolgirl to take a chemical spray into class, said Siddique Siddiqi, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior. "We have initial proof these people were involved and we have confessions," he said. The hospitalisation of thousands of female students has had a devastating effect on education in several areas, as parents have kept their children from classes. Following two incidents in Ghazni, south west of the capital, schools were allegedly closed and 36,000 students stopped going to school for some time. "The uncertainties about the cause of these incidents and growing rumours have had a significant impact on education, and especially girls' education," the WHO said.

Pakistanis fall below acceptable dietary line

The food security situation in Pakistan has worsened over the past four years, resulting in a drastic increase in the proportion of population falling below the minimum acceptable level of dietary consumption, according to a United Nations report. According to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals report for 2012, two-digit inflation and high food inflation significantly decreased the purchasing power of people, especially the poor. The report expressed fears that Pakistan was lagging behind the target of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and indicators show that the target would not be achieved by 2015, the deadline for achieving MDGs. The report expressed concern over a number of factors that have contributed to under-achievement against most of MDGs. These include the slow economic growth or less than three per cent over the last three to four years. With a labour force increasing at a rate of 3.2 per cent, the slow economic growth is not creating sufficient jobs for the new entrants to the labour market. Besides poverty and unemployment issues, the income inequality in the country has always been on the rise. The share of consumption of the lowest quintile is currently 9.6 per cent against 40.3 per cent for the highest quintile. There also exist widespread gender inequalities. The share of women in wage employment is the slowest in South Asia and Pakistan is not an exception to it. Additionally, there are regional pockets where status of development is worst than other areas. Notwithstanding the challenges, the report said, there are a number of opportunities to build on. The increase in the share of provinces in NFC award and the 18th Amendment for decentralisation of governance at the provincial level will help development partners to work more closely with the end beneficiaries. According to the report, Pakistan adopted 18 targets and 41 indicators against which the progress is measured. However, time series data against only 33 indicators were available.Of the total 33 indicators, progress on 20 indicators is lagging behind, slow on four indicators, on track three indicators, off-track one indicator while targets against five indicators have been met. On a total of five indicators, Pakistan is either ahead or has achieved the target. With regard to access to improved water source, Pakistan achieved the target when three sources of improved water, tap water, hand pumps and electric motor propelled water, are taken into account.However, the Pakistan MDG report of 2010 has not included ‘electric motor’ in the category of improved water source which makes the status at around 63 per cent against the 92 per cent. According to the report, Pakistan has made some progress in combating HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases; and promoting gender equality and women empowerment. However, progress rate is slow and additional efforts will be needed if the targets are to be achieved by the 2015 deadline. On a positive note, the report recognised that Pakistan has one of the highest ratios of women parliamentarians in South Asia. While bullish on the success recorded, the MDG report warns that the 2015 deadline is fast approaching and in order to achieve outstanding goals, governments, the international community, civil society and the private sector need to intensify their contributions.

ANP expresses reservations over dual nationality amendment bill

The Express Tribune
Expressing reservations on the amendment bill for the dual nationality law, the Awami National Party has said that the law should only be applicable for presidents, prime ministers, the army leadership and judges, Express News reported on Thursday. Haji Adeel, a central leader of the government allied ANP, presented the party’s stance when he was contacted by President Asif Ali Zardari. He said, “If such laws are not enforced, then people like Mansoor Ijaz can also become the president of Pakistan one day.” Earlier on Wednesday, the federal cabinet had approved amendment bills pertaining to dual nationality and contempt of court laws. It was ordered in the cabinet session that the dual nationality amendment bill be brought before the National Assembly for discussion and approval.


After embarrassment, the Government had reopened the NATO supply route from Karachi to Afghanistan transporting essential commodities to the NATO troops belonging to dozens of major countries of the world. We opposed the Government decision to make the NATO supply route a public issue taking it to Parliament, Parliamentary committees, and to the Jihadis and extremists instead of keeping it an administrative issue. In all these months, the issue was deliberately handed over to the extremists and fascist elements to use it to bash the United States as if Pakistan was going to war with the USA, sooner or later. Visibly, the political leadership in the Government remained in the sideline and supported the stand of security establishment as it is considered an issue of national security. The Jihadis and extremist elements had hurled threats that they will organize suicide attacks on the convoys if the NATO Supply Route was reopened. Mr. Tsunami Khan and his rightwing allies were on the forefront in heightening tensions and heat in politics on this issue at the same time news channels at the behest of others organize talks show propagating anti-Americanism as if the relations with Washington will not be repaired and restored to normal condition. In any case, it is good decision though delayed. It will help repair our relations at time when the West had successfully isolated Pakistan from rest of the world and at the same time it faced a serious economic and financial crisis in absence of aid flow from the United States. General Kayani played the key role and he held talks with General Allen, the Commander of ISAF in Afghanistan who expressed his personal regrets over the Salala Check Post incidents. General Kayani agreed to open the NATO Supply route. General Kayani and General Wyne participated in the DCC meeting, chaired by the Prime Minister in which it was formally announced that Pakistan will reopen the NATO Supply Route. With the sane decision, there are high hopes that Pakistan will meet other challenges, mainly economic and financial challenges, after receiving substantial economic and financial assistance from the United States in shape of the Coalition Support Fund. According to initial reports in the media, the US will provide 1.1 billion US dollar Coalition Support Fund to Pakistan immediately to tide over its economic and financial difficulties. All sections of the Pakistani society, mainly all elements in the Government had felt the pain of financial crunch and they were desperate to take the country out of this serious financial crunch. It was possible only by repairing the relations with the United States, the Financial Super Power of the World besides a military power. No other country had the capacity to provide liberal funds to Pakistan to take the country out of the present economic difficulties. We hope that the Government and its institutions will stop US bashing, directly or indirectly, repair Pakistan’s relations with the United States in order to preserve its sovereignty and integrity first and later the economic prosperity of the people in general. Our Government should think about the people and the country as a whole instead of narrow interests of a section of the people in the Government. We also hope that the issue of Drone attacks on the Pakistani territory will stop and the Government of Pakistan and US will reach an agreement to fight back all terrorists, regardless of their affiliation. It is our responsibility to disallow the foreign or local terrorists using our sanctuaries in attacking the ISAF inside Afghanistan. Rather, the Pakistan Government should take a bold step by expelling all the foreign terrorists and eliminating the local ones without any delay. We should not threaten world peace by patronizing one brand of terrorist or the other. They should all be treated equally and at par and their activities be curbed with immediate effect in the interest of regional peace and security.

Pakistan Contempt law being amended: Govt move to clear judicial hurdle

With the Nato supply route controversy almost sorted out, the government on Wednesday started rolling up its sleeves to wriggle out of the problems it is facing as a result of recent judicial decisions. At a meeting, the cabinet approved a bill to change the contempt law to clip the judiciary’s wings. The proposed bill will provide immunity to federal and provincial government leaders from being charged with or convicted of contempt of court. Ironically, the bill is similar to what Nawaz Sharif had as prime minister introduced in 1997 during his clash with then chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah. Legal experts believe that with the adoption of the proposed changes in the contempt law by parliament, a new round of confrontation might start between the executive and the judiciary. Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was convicted in a contempt of court case for refusing to implement an order of the Supreme Court regarding writing a letter to Swiss authorities against President Asif Ali Zardari. His successor Raja Pervez Ashraf has been asked to submit his reply on the same issue on July 12. Briefing newsmen after the meeting, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said the cabinet had given its approval to the Contempt of Court Bill, 2012, for introduction in either house of parliament. If adopted with simple majority, the bill will provide a constitutional cover to the powers of top government functionaries against the effects of contempt law. Through the bill, Mr Kaira said, “the scope of the right to appeal has been enlarged, including incorporation of other necessary provisions relevant to contempt proceedings”. After the passage of the bill, the information minister said, contempt proceedings could not be initiated against holders of public office as mentioned in Article 248(1) of the Constitution. Article 248(1) reads: “The President, a Governor, the Prime Minister, a Federal Minister, a Minister of State, the Chief Minister and a Provincial Minister shall not be answerable to any court for the exercise of powers and performance of functions of their respective offices or for any act done or purported to be done in the exercise of those powers and performance of those functions.” The minister dispelled a perception that the government intended to undermine the superior judiciary. With the enlargement of the scope of right to appeal, the minister said, once an appeal by a convict in a contempt case was accepted, his/her punishment would automatically stand suspended. Dual nationality Mr Kaira said: “The cabinet approved a draft bill tabled by the ministry for overseas Pakistanis proposing amendment in Article 63(1)C of the Constitution to enable Pakistanis having dual nationality to contest election for the membership of parliament.” After threadbare discussion, the cabinet held that if top civil servants and judges who too were involved in state affairs, could hold dual nationality, why should there be this discrimination against politicians. When approached, Supreme Court Bar Association president Yasin Azad said that although parliament had the right to amend the Constitution and law, such a move would be considered mala fide in the current circumstances. He said only a simple majority was required to amend a law, while for making a constitutional amendment a two-thirds majority of the two houses of parliament was needed. The Supreme Court is hearing several cases against parliamentarians and has suspended membership of a number of legislators holding dual nationality. In reply to a question, Mr Kaira said: “According to my personal opinion, if you allow voting right to dual nationals they cannot be stopped from contesting elections, and if you don’t want them simply remove their names from the voting list.” Ahsan Iqbal, PML-N’s Deputy Secretary General, said holders of dual nationality should be allowed to vote and contest elections, but once elected they must surrender their foreign nationality before taking oath as people’s representatives. On the proposed changes in the contempt law, he said after the bill was presented before the house, PML-N’s legal experts would be consulted and a formal position would be taken. APP adds: The information minister said that the cabinet unanimously endorsed the decision of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet for reopening the ground lines of communication to and from Afghanistan. He said Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf informed the cabinet that it was vindication of Pakistan’s principled stand after the unfortunate Salala incident. Raja Ashraf said the US would have to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty so that future relations between the two countries were enduring, strategic and carefully defined for peace and security in the region. Mr Kaira said the prime minister also informed the cabinet that in view of Pakistan’s larger objective of peace and stability in Afghanistan and the whole region and also its cooperative relations with 50 member states of Nato/Isaf “we will facilitate the transition process to help enable Afghanistan’s national institutions to meet the challenges they are facing”.

Pindi all set to observe July 5 as black day against Zia rule

Daily Times
The local leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has finalised arrangements to observe July 5 as a black day in protest of the infamous dictatorial rule of Ziaul Haq which began on the day in 1977. The strongman had toppled the democratically elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Zia, after ousting Bhuttos, stayed in power for eleven years despite promising to hold general elections within 90 days. Rawalpindi PPP President Amir Fida Paracha told APP that the party workers would gather at Liaquat Bagh from across the district to participate in the demonstration to reiterate their commitment to the cause of democracy and express hatred against non-democratic forces. Pakistan Baitul Maal Managing Director Zammurd Khan said the PPP rendered unmatched sacrifices to strengthen democracy in the country and the workers would follow footprints of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto under the dynamic leadership of President Asif Ali Zardari. PPP Central Executive Committee Member Qazi Sultan Mehmood, who remained in jail for around four years during the Zia regime, termed the July 5 the darkest day in history of the country as a large number of democracy-loving people were sent behind the bars, gallows and subjected to public flogging. But they did not bow before the forces of tyranny. He asserted that Zia introduced the Kalashnikov and drug culture in the country, besides fanning sectarianism and “now we being the nation are facing a number of challenges at national and international fronts due to the policies adopted during the Zia era. What we are facing today is all the result of the seed sowed by Zia”.

July 5 a black day in history

Shazia Marri strongly condemned the long dictatorial tenures in the history of Pakistan and expressed confidence in the political forces to ensure sustained democracy in the country. In her statement recalling 5th July 1977, Marri termed the date as black day in the history of Pakistan. She further said the dictator who toppled the democratically elected government and plunged the country into darkness, forgot that ideology cannot be trampled upon. Shazia Marri stated that General Zia was a ruthless dictator who usurped power and callously removed Pakistan's first directly elected Prime Minister. She said he was a General who, by murdering Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, killed the hopes of millions across the country and around the world. "Zia's regime was opposed by all stakeholders of society, with a very courageous role played by the journalists of Pakistan. They courted arrests from all corners of the country. But the General believed in absolute tyranny.", Marri lambasted. In her statement, Shazia Marri paid greatest tributes to Begum Nusrat Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto who carried forward the mission of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto alongwith the die hard workers of Pakistan Peoples Party. "Peoples Party is a political party that follows the ideology of Shaheed Bhutto.", Marri said. She also applauded the role of President Asif Ali Zardari for fighting against all odds in order to protect the democratic traditions and strengthen the will of the people of Pakistan. Shazia Marri said that nations who have leaders like Shaheed Bhutto can never fail and would continue to triumph against all odds.