Thursday, July 19, 2012

PPP wins Multan vote battle

Long Live Bhuttoism
Dismissed PM Yousaf Gilani’s son Abdul Qadir Gilani wins against independent candidate. According to the unofficial results Abdul Qadir Gilani bagged 64,628 votes and Shoukat Hayat Boson got 60,532 votes. Shoukat Hayat Boson was an independent candidate but he enjoyed the support of PML-N, PTI and Jamaat-e-Islami. All eyes were focused today on Multan NA-151 elections, as its result could determine the future political trends in the country. NA-151 seat was vacated after the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified former PM Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani. It was virtually a contest between PPP on the one side and all political forces on the other. The main candidates were the former prime minister’s son Abdul Qadir Gilani who represented Pakistan People’s Party and Shaukat Hayat Khan Bosan, who enjoyed the informal support of both Pakistan Muslim League-N, JI Pakistan and Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf. PTI President Javed Hashmi and Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi also used their influence in the favour of the independent candidate Bosan. Other candidates contesting the by-election were Abdul Mateen Qureshi, Dr Aleem Chaudhry, Mehr Ghulam Shabbir Sial, Shehla Shaheen Advocate, Muhammad Husnain Khan Bosan, Muhammad Amil Yousuf Jutt, Muhammad Abbas and Nawaz Muhammad Iqbal Khan. The seat fell vacant when the former prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani was declared disqualified by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Pakistan: Three million Afghans to be expelled by December

The Express Tribune
Authorities have declared that they are unwilling to extend the stay of almost three million Afghans residing in Pakistan beyond December 2012. In an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune on Monday, Habibullah Khan, the secretary for the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (Safron), a body that deals with Afghan refugees, said that Pakistani and Afghan agencies are negotiating among each other on the repatriation of 2.7 million refugees. Official statistics show that 1.7 million Afghans residing in Pakistan hold legal documents issued by local authorities. While around one million are residing here without any legal documentation. It is reported that authorities are planning to launch a crackdown to expel all illegal refugees that the country hosted for over three decades. “One million illegal refugees would be treated under the Foreign Act of 1946,” he said. “We plan to expel all the illegal refugees from the start of next year…there is no way that we can extend their stay here.” Pakistan and Iran have been hosting refugees since the 1979 Russian invasion. The countries prepared a roadmap for the repatriation at a conference held in Geneva in May this year. The three countries have been running the repatriation programme for Afghan refugees with the financial and technical assistance of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Statistics show there had been a consistent decline in the number of individuals returning to Afghanistan under a programme of voluntary repatriation assisted by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). As many as 4.6 million Afghan refugees have been repatriated under the programme since it started in 2002. The registered population living in Pakistan comprises 52.6% males and 47.4% females. Eighty-five per cent Afghans are Pakhtuns hailing from Nangarhar, Kabul, Kunduz, Logar, Paktia, Kandahar and Baghlan areas while the rest are Uzbeks and Tajiks. Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa (K-P) hosts the largest of the refugee populace estimated at around 62.1%, followed by 20.3% in Balochistan, 11% in Punjab, 4.2% in Sindh, 2% in the federal capital and 0.4% in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). The official figures revealed only 40.6% Afghans live in the villages or camps set up for the refugees while 59.4% are settled across Pakistan in both the rural and urban areas and earn livelihood through means other than funding by the United Nations. In a survey conducted, 56% of the returnees are reported to be Pakhtuns. 26% of the refugees prefer Kabul as their most favoured destination followed by 20% who opted for Nangarhar. According to Khan, Pakistan would allow students, vulnerable persons like unattended widows and orphans and some businessmen to stay here on their visa until they finish their pressing assignments. Khan added that the Afghan authorities have expressed willingness to receive as many refugees from Pakistan as they can and hoped most would be leaving the country within the given deadline.

Britain, Pakistan back bid for Afghan peace

Afghan efforts to negotiate with the Taliban need Islamabad's help to be successful, the leaders of Afghanistan, Britain and Pakistan emphasised on Thursday, following three-way talks in Kabul. British leader David Cameron and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met Pakistan's new Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf for the first time, as British and NATO combat troops prepare to leave Afghanistan in 18 months' time. Karzai has long sought to negotiate with the Taliban, who have been fighting for a decade to topple his Western-backed government, but the militia has in public refused to deal with his administration, branding it an American puppet. Earlier this year, the militia also announced that it had abandoned contact with US officials in Qatar aimed at securing a prisoner swap. During the talks, Karzai reiterated the "urgency" of a political solution. His office said Ashraf and Cameron reaffirmed support for such a process, "led and owned by Afghans, facilitated by Pakistan and other regional countries". Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan traditionally suffer from distrust and mutual blame for the Taliban violence that plagues both countries. Kabul has repeatedly asked Islamabad to assist efforts to broker a peace deal with the Taliban, whose leaders have traditionally had close ties to Pakistan. But it remains unclear to what extent Pakistan controls core Taliban leaders and to what extent it can facilitate a peace process. Pakistan's oldest newspaper, Dawn, on Thursday counselled Pakistan to "begin to match its claims and demands with what it can actually deliver". "It will need to demonstrate at least a genuine effort to try to persuade the Taliban (which) it does have contact with, to talk to the Afghan government and the US -- and turning over prisoners could be a first step," the newspaper wrote. It was Ashraf's first visit to Kabul since being elected after his predecessor was dismissed last month for contempt of court. An Islamabad government official said he would raise the issue of cross-border attacks on Pakistan from Afghan territory and press for increased security measures to prevent such incursions in the future. Afghanistan shares a disputed and unmarked 2,400-kilometre (1,500-mile) border with Pakistan, and Taliban and other Al-Qaeda-linked militants have carved out strongholds on either side. According to the joint statement released by Kabul, the three leaders "reiterated their strong commitment to working together to eliminate" terrorism, which "poses the gravest threat to regional and international security". "They also emphasised the importance of peace in Afghanistan for the peace and security of Pakistan," it said. Cameron warned the Taliban at a joint news conference with Karzai earlier that the international community would continue to support the Afghan government after NATO troops pull out in 2014. A NATO conference in Chicago and a donor conference in Tokyo had recently shown the West's commitment to the war-torn country, he said. "I think this sends a very clear message to the Taliban, that you cannot wait this out until foreign forces leave in 2014, because we will be firm friends and supporters of Afghanistan long beyond then. "So now is the time for everyone to participate in a peaceful political process in Afghanistan." Karzai said the peace process was "the most important goal that we pursue", adding that Thursday's talks were "to see how we could intensify the Pakistan role in the Afghan peace process". Cameron also signed a deal to build an officers' training academy modelled on Britain's Sandhurst as Afghan forces take increasing responsibility for the fight against Taliban insurgents. Britain has around 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, making it the second-largest contributor to NATO's US-led 130,000-strong International Security Assistance Force. Asked about reductions in troop numbers, Cameron said it would be done gradually, from 9,500 to 9,000 this year. "I don't want to see some cliff edge. I'm confident we are going to have a staged reduction and deliver a safe and secure situation."

Putin and Obama agree to disagree on Syria
In a telephone call between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama, the leaders expressed the coinciding view that a political solution must be reached for ending the violence in Syria, while admitting that differences between them remain. "Differences in approaches remain (between Washington and the Kremlin) concerning the practical steps in achieving a settlement," presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters following the Putin-Obama call. The Russian and American leaders spoke after a bomb attack Wednesday killed four high-ranking members of President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle. The attack came one day before the UN Security Council is set to vote on whether to extend the mandate of the UN observer mission in Syria, which expires on Friday. The unarmed UN observers were granted 90 days to monitor the situation on the ground in Syria, evaluating the implementation of Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan. Russia and the US have competing views on how to extend the 300-member UN mission. Moscow is opposed to imposing sanctions against Syria, saying that to do so would be tantamount to supporting the aims of the rebels. Meanwhile, Moscow, imploring the West not to take sides in the Syria crisis, continues to practice what it preaches as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with prominent Syrian opposition activist Michel Kilo in Moscow on July 9. The negotiation process continued two days later when Lavrov met with Abdel Basset Sayda, the head of the oppositional Syrian National Council (SNC). Presidential aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters on Thursday that Russia's position "boils down to the thesis that pressure must be applied not only to Syrian authorities but to the opposition forces as well.” On the topic of the bomb blast in Damascus on Wednesday that killed four high-ranking officials, Ushakov said Russia reaffirmed its firm position that it "condemns terrorist attacks, whoever commits them." Concerning the conversation between Putin and Obama, the White House stressed the need for a coordinated political approach to ending the violence. "The two presidents noted the growing violence in Syria and agreed on the need to support a political transition as soon as possible that achieves our shared goal of ending the violence and avoiding a further deterioration of the situation," the White House said. Peskov said the conversation showed that Putin and Obama "have a coinciding view of the general situation in Syria (and agree) on the end goal of reaching a settlement." "President Obama also took the opportunity to express condolences on the tragic loss of life resulting from flooding in southern Russia earlier this month and reiterated the US readiness to provide assistance if needed," the White House statement said.

Violence troubles Saudi Arabia and Bahrain

Saudi Shias feel they are treated as second-class citizens ANGER is rising in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province after security forces arrested and wounded one of the government's harshest critics, a Shia cleric called Nimr al-Nimr. Two young men were shot dead in the protests that followed. This takes the total number of Saudis killed since the start of the Arab spring a year and a half ago to ten, all from the Shia minority that makes up about a tenth of the country's 27 million-odd people. Sheikh Nimr has long been a thorn in the side of the ruling family. A warrant for his arrest was first issued in 2009 after he said that if Saudi Shias were not allowed to "live with dignity", the eastern provinces should secede from the kingdom. Such talk is particularly inflammatory, since most of Saudi Arabia's oilfields are in the east. Yet he was not actually arrested. Security forces may have been mindful of the fact that some households in his town, Awamiyeh, were known to have stashes of guns smuggled in from Yemen and Iraq. Recently, however, the sheikh had again irked the ruling Al Saud family with a speech marking the death of the long-standing interior minister, Prince Nayef, who had also recently become the crown prince, as well as having been in charge of the religious police since 1975. The prince was hardly beloved by Saudi Arabia's Shias, who saw him as more hostile towards them than his gentler half-brother, King Abdullah. Saudi Shias feel they are treated as second-class citizens in a state that embodies a puritanical Sunni version of Islam. But the interior ministry dismisses unrest in the Eastern Province as "foreign meddling", a charge invariably laid against Iran, though Saudi Shias tend to revere Saudi or Iraqi clerics rather than Iranian ones. Prince Nayef was also a driving force behind last year's Saudi-led military intervention in neighbouring Bahrain, where protesters mainly from the Shia majority had been massing on the streets to demand more rights. The late prince's long-standing deputy and half-brother, Prince Ahmed bin Abdel Aziz, who has replaced him, is not generally seen as a bringer of change. But some Shia leaders look more hopefully to Prince Nayef's son, Muhammad, the deputy interior minister, who is admired in Western government circles for pioneering a rehabilitation programme for captured or surrendering jihadists. Sheikh Nimr told his followers in a posting on YouTube to celebrate Prince Nayef's death. Some young Shias even held parties. The sheikh said he was not afraid of being arrested and would even be willing to die if it helped his people to earn some dignity. The police soon responded, injuring him during his arrest. As pictures of his bloodied white robes circulated on social networking sites, young Saudi Shias took to the streets to shout for him and clashed with the police. Some Shia elders wish the sheikh had held his tongue. After all, it was too soon for changes at the interior ministry in the wake of Prince Nayef's death to have taken effect. And some Sunni dissidents sigh that the government thrives on the sort of provocative statements issued by Nimr, whom the Sunni majority in Saudi Arabia already finds easy to demonise. The arrest of the Saudi sheikh came two weeks after Bahrain's Saudi-backed security forces wounded another popular Shia cleric, Ali Salman, who was raked with birdshot as he addressed a clutch of flower-holding protesters outside his home. This peaceful gathering was unlicensed, so it was technically a crime. But the sheikh's shooting was likewise a response to a speech he had made a few days earlier, when he said that Bahrain's Shias had yet to display half of their power and could bring thousands onto the streets, dressed for death, at the drop of a fatwa. Salman's political group, Wefaq, won 45 per cent of the vote in parliamentary elections in 2010, enjoying roughly the same level of support as Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood or the Islamists that won a general election in Tunisia. Yet Bahrain's government routinely dismisses it as a group of traitors in thrall to Iran. The Saudis say much the same of their eastern Shias. Pointing a finger at foreign plots is easier than accepting the need for reform at home. Read more: Violence troubles Saudi Arabia and Bahrain - Columnist - New Straits Times

The great U.S. wealth gap could cause a social conflict

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Carter, says the rich are getting richer beyond any reasonable proportion and consequently the U.S. may be heading toward a social conflict.

Saudi Arabia world's third laziest nation - study
Saudi Arabia's population is the third most slothful in the world, new research has found, with 68.8 percent of adults failing to do enough physical exercise to keep themselves healthy. Only in Malta and Swaziland do adults exert themselves less than Saudi Arabia, and women in the Gulf state are the world’s least inactive females, according to data published in the Lancet medical journal. Kuwait and the UAE also rank in the top ten with 64.5 percent and 62.5 percent of adults respectively not meeting the recommended level of activity. Malta is the laziest country in the world with 71.9 percent of the population deemed inactive, while in Swaziland the proportion is 68.3 percent. Nine eastern Mediterranean countries featured in the list with those over 15-years old in Libya considered the most active of the region (45.8 percent inactive), ahead of Lebanon (46.8 percent), Iraq (58.4 percent) and the UAE (62.5 percent).

Mitt Romney Taxes For 2010 Not Fully Disclosed

Mitt Romney has not released his full tax records from 2010, including key documentation connected to his Swiss bank account. Although President Barack Obama and an increasing number of Republican politicians have called on Romney to release tax returns from years prior to 2010, the public criticism has so far failed to note that Romney has not disclosed all of his tax documents for 2010 itself -- the only year for which the GOP presidential nominee has presented any final tax forms. Romney released his 2010 tax return in January of this year, a document that first informed voters about the existence of his Swiss bank account and financial activities in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. But people who own foreign bank accounts are required to file a separate document with the IRS that provides additional details on such overseas bank holdings, and Romney has not released that form to the public. The Romney campaign did not respond to HuffPost's request to view the document. Tax experts say it is almost certain that Romney did file the form, known as a Report on Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, or "FBAR" in accountant slang. The penalty for not filing an FBAR can be severe, and the IRS would have expected to receive the form since Romney listed the Swiss bank account on his tax return. Listing the account on his tax return and then failing to file the subsequent FBAR would have been asking for a hefty fine, and would probably have heightened IRS scrutiny of prior tax filings. Nevertheless, Romney's omission of the form from the earlier disclosure raises questions for tax policy experts about the function of his Swiss bank account, and whether or not Romney used other offshore bank accounts that did not generate interest. "The campaign has never told us why he had a Swiss bank account," said Rebecca Wilkins, senior counsel for federal tax policy at Citizens for Tax Justice, a nonprofit tax reform group. "It just looks bad."For individuals seeking to game the U.S. tax code, Swiss bank accounts are only useful when used illegally. Swiss accounts are prized by global elites for their extreme levels of secrecy. That secrecy has allowed thousands of American taxpayers to stash income from offshore companies in a Swiss account, shielding it from the IRS. Romney, however, disclosed his Swiss bank account to the IRS in 2010, meaning that at least for 2010, the account was of no use to avoid paying taxes. But Swiss bank accounts have other benefits. By serving as a curtain between Romney's U.S. accounts and his foreign holdings, Romney's Swiss account could shield many financial activities from American scrutiny. Hypothetically, any politically unpopular investments, clever and complex asset sales designed to lower Romney's tax bills or other activities would be far more difficult to decipher. Romney may not have engaged in any of those activities, but his as-yet-unreleased 2010 FBAR would make it easier to determine whether or not he did. Although Romney's campaign declined to comment for this article, in January, Brad Malt, the manager of Ann Romney's blind trust, told reporters the Romneys had an account with Swiss bank UBS worth about $3 million, which generated roughly $1,700 in interest. Malt said the account was set up for "diversification" in 2003 -- a claim that puzzles tax and investment experts, who note that all of the investment options available in Switzerland are available in American accounts. Malt said the account was closed in 2010. But Romney would only have had to report offshore bank accounts that generated interest on his tax returns. Other accounts that simply executed transactions and forwarded the money along to U.S. accounts would not have to be reported on the tax return. They would, however, have to be listed on the FBAR form Romney has not released to the public. That Romney's disclosed account was with Swiss bank UBS has also raised eyebrows. In 2008, a whistleblower at the bank informed the IRS of thousands of accounts being operated by American clients to avoid paying U.S. taxes. For Americans, the coveted Swiss secrecy suddenly became a legal liability. So much information was turned over to the IRS that it would have been extremely difficult for the agency to pursue cases against every offender. So the IRS established a special tax amnesty program, which allowed those who voluntarily turned themselves in to remain anonymous and pay limited penalties. Thousands of citizens have since come forward. "It's unclear why he would have valued the Swiss bank account secrecy, and it wouldn't have enabled him legally to avoid U.S. tax," said Daniel Shaviro, a tax professor at New York University School of Law. "This is why there's speculation that he was into the amnesty program." But Shaviro and other tax experts note that one of the principal benefits of the amnesty program is its anonymity. Nobody who received amnesty from the IRS would ever have to tell the public they'd held a Swiss bank account. Any politician who had received amnesty could have simply shut down their account and washed his or her hands of any political liability. And once the IRS was aware of the account, maintaining it would have had no tax benefits. "The fact that they never said why he had it is just really bizarre to me," said Wilkins.

Why Asians want to move to the U.S.

By Diego Laje and Corinna Liu, CNN
Aspiring Hong Kong musician Annabelle Cheng wants to be in America. "I think (Hong Kong) is a city that can be defined by business," said Cheng, who recently graduated from Baptist University in Hong Kong with a degree in religion and philosophy. "But the cost of living in a dynamic city is that you don't have your personal space." Living conditions in this crowded and hectic enclave are part of the reason Cheng wants to relocate to the U.S. "I really need that amount of time and space to think, to meditate, to get inspiration," said Cheng, who plans to save and apply for a post-graduate music program in the U.S. in two years. Cheng isn't alone. Despite the rising fortunes of Asia, the Pew Center released a report last month that shows Asians have surpassed Latinos as the largest group of immigrants to the United States. And university is often a gateway to residency: around half of Asian immigrants have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 13% of Hispanics, according to the report. "There have been many thousands upon thousands of Chinese students attracted to the U.S. for studies," said Yeung Yue-Man, Emeritus Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who specializes in development patterns. "This trend has been gathering pace for the last two decades since the Chinese have become better off than before, they have the means and they can afford the high tuition." China leads overseas applications to American university graduate programs, followed by India and South Korea, according to a report by the Council of Graduate Schools. Sean Luo first came to the U.S. in 2000 as a graduate student after working for a Chinese state-run telecommunications company. After earning his degree, he decided to stay. He attained permanent residency in 2006 and now runs his own telecommunications company in Los Angeles. "No matter who you are, chances (in the United States) are equal for everyone," said Luo, adding that as a first-generation American, there have been difficult adjustments. "For cultural reasons, it's not easy to get into the mainstream social circle." Although he occasionally thinks of returning to China, the growing cost of living and uncertain political climate keep him in the U.S. "Asian countries are the most populous, has more competition and less resources," Luo said. "We are just being rational to immigrate to the countries where there are less people and more resources." One entrepreneur who moved his family to Los Angeles said that he moved to give his children better educational opportunities. "China is not the best place to raise kids," said the 40-year-old man, who wants to remain anonymous so as not to jeopardize his business and family in China. As for himself, he left China feeling insecure in a society where government has the final say in everything. "Individuals should be protected by laws and everyone's commitment to obey laws," the entrepreneur said. "Everyone minds their own business here. Very few people like to judge others." It's a common reason for China's wealthy class to emigrate, he said. About half the Chinese millionaires polled last year said they are thinking of emigrating, with North America the top destination, according to a November Hurun Research Institute and Bank of China report. Another source of Chinese immigrants is investment. "In real estate, the recent Chinese [immigrants] are quite well off, they want to find places where they can park their investment," Yeung said. "U.S. cities have become quite attractive to Chinese investors to buy property," Yeung said. Cheng, the Hong Kong musician, says she has a lot of American friends coming to Hong Kong to look for opportunities. "At the moment, the economy in the U.S. is quite bad, compared to Hong Kong," Cheng said, "so I'm going to wait ... I think in two years the economy will boom again." Still, Cheng believes her prospects are greater across the Pacific. "This is more possible in the U.S. than in Hong Kong," Cheng said.

Zardari writes to Indian PM, hails cricket ties resumption

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing hope that the resumption of cricketing ties after five years will be a confidence building measure. Zardari on Wednesday sent the letter to Manmohan Singh welcoming cricket relations, reported Dawn. The BCCI on Monday invited PCB to play three One-dayers and two Twenty20 Internationals in December-January, a move that would see the arch-rivals clashing in a bilateral series after a five-year gap The resumption of cricket matches would add to positive atmosphere witnessed by the two countries, said Zardari. The letter said: “You would recall that in my recent visit to India, we discussed resumption of cricket ties between Pakistan and India. I am glad to learn that the cricket boards of Pakistan and India have agreed to resume cricket matches after a gap of five years." “I am sanguine that cricket matches between our two countries would prove to be a formidable confidence building measure and a way forward towards encouraging people-to-people contacts," the letter added.

Militants Destroy 22 NATO Trucks in Afghanistan
Taliban says it detonated a bomb Wednesday in northern Afghanistan that destroyed at least 22 trucks carrying supplies to NATO forces. The bomb exploded in Samangan province and caused the fuel tankers and supply vehicles to catch fire. Afghan officials say the trucks were parked overnight and were on their way from Uzbekistan to NATO forces in southern Afghanistan. NATO was forced to rely more heavily on the northern route into Afghanistan after Pakistan shut down its NATO supply lines for nearly seven months following a coalition airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Few trucks have so far crossed the Afghan border since Pakistan reopened the supply lines earlier this month. Meanwhile, authorities say nine Afghan soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan when insurgents attacked their post in the Washer district of Helmand province. British Prime Minister David Cameron met with Afghan officials and British troops stationed in Helmand during a trip to Afghanistan Wednesday. Britain has some 9,500 troops stationed in the country. In the east, NATO says a bomb attack killed two of its soldiers Wednesday. Two other soldiers were wounded in a helicopter crash in western Afghanistan. The coalition says it is investigating the cause of the crash.

Afghan and Pakistan in joint fight

British Prime Minister David Cameron called on Afghanistan and Pakistan on Thursday to make a joint effort against insurgents in the two countries' border zone. He also expressed confidence that Afghan forces will be able to hold their own after the majority of foreign troops leave at the end of 2014. Cross-border fighting and the stalled Afghan peace process were the main topics of discussion at a three-way meeting in Kabul between Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Cameron. The British, U.S. and Afghan governments have long criticized Pakistan for not doing enough to stop cross-border attacks. Many insurgents groups are based in safe havens in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas along the Afghan border. Islamabad also charges that insurgents cross the border from the Afghan side and attack Pakistani security forces. "The terrorists that are trying to wreck Afghanistan are by and large the same terrorists that are trying to wreck Pakistan," Cameron said. "We should be together in one single fight." Britain's involvement could help America's effort to push Pakistan to crack down on the safe havens and also to use its connections with some Taliban leaders to promote peace talks. Relations between Pakistan and the United States have been rocky at best, with their lowest point coming late last year after American airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the border. Britain also sees the border areas as a main base for terrorists planning attacks against the West, although Cameron said that less than half of terrorist plots against Britain now originate from Pakistan's border regions — down from two-thirds as recently as 2010. Three men were charged Wednesday in London with travelling to Pakistan for terrorist training. "We are making progress, and this is our fight as much as your fight and the Pakistanis' fight," Cameron said. Pakistan's Ashraf, who took office last month, and Karzai were also holding separate talks together. His spokesman, Akram Shaheedi, said the prime minister also plans to push the Afghan government to stop militants from its country from infiltrating Pakistan. Ahead of the visit, Shaheedi said Pakistan supports peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, but the outcome should not adversely affect the country. The Taliban has refused peace talks with Karzai, calling him a puppet of the United States. Instead, they have held talks directly with American officials. They broke off talks earlier this year, saying the U.S. reneged on a promise to release Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. The talks have so far shown no signs of restarting. Pakistan is seen as key to breaking this impasse because of its historical ties with the Taliban. "The peace process is the most important of our pursuits for Afghanistan. It remains the highest priority," Karzai said. Karzai said having talks among the leaders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Britain was Cameron's idea and that there had been minister-level meetings among representatives of the three countries. "Today is the first time that we are sitting at the high-level of the leaders," Karzai said. "The purpose of the meeting is to find an effective way to battle against terrorism and what role Pakistan can play now in the security situation in the region and the peace process." The Kabul talks marked the end of Cameron's two-day visit to Afghanistan, intended to guide decisions on how fast Britain will withdraw its 9,500 troops before international forces leave by the end of 2014. In separate talks with Karzai, Cameron discussed the drawdown. He also planned to stress the need for "credible, inclusive and nationwide" presidential elections in 2014, his spokeswoman said, on customary condition of anonymity in line with policy. Cameron also met in Kabul with the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, who gave him a positive message on the country's overall security picture as they discussed recent violence in northeastern Afghanistan. Allen said the process of handing security duties to local forces was progressing well, though the Afghan army still needs to improve its command and control capabilities, Cameron's spokeswoman said. Cameron rejected claims Afghanistan could be mired in violence once foreign troops withdraw, insisting local forces are prepared to handle insurgents. Taliban fighters should "be in no doubt that there is a very clear and strong plan to transfer lead security responsibility from very capable (NATO-led) ISAF forces, including British forces, to very capable Afghan forces," he said. "I am content that they will be able to defeat an insurgency and that Afghanistan will have a secure future," Cameron added. "Of course we would make even further progress if there were to be successful political talks and if the insurgency was to come to an end on that way." Although fighting has not abated in the south, it has escalated in the east where coalition forces have focused their efforts against insurgents. NATO said two of its service members were killed by roadside bombs in eastern Afghanistan. It provided no other details, but the killings brought the death toll among foreign troops to 27 so far this month and 242 this year. In other violence on Thursday, a roadside bomb in northwestern Faryab province killed eight civilians and wounded six others, a spokesman for the governor said. They were in a mini-bus headed on a shopping trip one day ahead of the start of the holy month of Ramadan. Cameron also discussed the issue of "green-on-blue" killings on Wednesday in Helmand, southern Afghanistan, where British forces are mainly based. The term refers to the targeting of NATO troops by Afghan members of the security forces. There has been a rash of such killings in the last years. He and Karzai also signed an agreement for 90 British military officials to staff an Afghan army officer training academy to be opened near Kabul. A total of 30 Danish, Australian and New Zealand soldiers also will staff the center, due to open before international forces leave at the end of 2014. "I believe this is an important step for the Afghan people, this means having a stronger Afghan army, which is better trained, equipped and skilled," Karzai said. ___

Peshawar roads in total chaos
Chaotic traffic in the provincial capital is causing road users a lot of stress but the relevant authorities have yet to put in place a reliable, effective traffic management system. Soon after its formation, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government announced construction of 11 overhead bridges and underpasses to manage traffic, but work could begin on two overhead bridges and two underpasses only. Work on two overhead bridges on GT Road and Courts Road has disrupted the entire traffic system to the misery of motorists, who usually cover a distance of 15 minutes in one hour during rush hours. However, traffic police are pessimistic about traffic management in view of the construction of two main overhead bridges in the city. Some traffic sergeants deployed on different roads told Dawn that overhead bridges or flyovers could bring positive change to traffic system but the problem was very complex in Peshawar mainly due to massive roadside encroachments and presence of illegal vehicles on the roads. They said a strong will was required to resolve the problem as local politicians didn’t let police take action against those responsible for messy traffic. “We launched campaigns against illegal vehicles, horse-driven carts and encroachments in collaboration with the relevant town municipal administrations but had to abandon them due to political interference,” a police officer said. He said four years ago, the government had announced 11 projects, including overhead bridges and underpasses, but it avoided them and work was initiated simultaneously on the two overhead bridges, two underpasses on University Road, sewerage lines and footpaths in different areas, which caused problems to motorists and pedestrians as well. For effectively controlling traffic chaos, the officer stressed the need for increasing traffic police manpower, closure of illegal bus and wagon stands, removal of encroachments, specification of designated bus stops, removal of illegal vehicles from Peshawar and grant of full authority to police to proceed against rule violators. According to the Regional Transport Authority (RTA) officials, no action against thousands of illegal vehicles plying the city roads was the major reason for traffic jams. They said despite a decision, the government could not restore the magisterial powers of the transport department to check traffic violations but all powers were with police officials, who generated money by not taking action against traffic rule breakers. However, RTA secretary Naseem Bacha told Dawn that the authority regularly examined route permits with transporters and responded to overcharging complaints. He said currently, there were 526 permit holder buses, 1146 minibuses on Peshawar roads but the actual number of vehicles might be higher. “The taxis with permit are 3,065 and 10626 auto-rickshaws only in Peshawar but the actual number is around 50,000,” Mr Shah said, adding that the rest of all rickshaws illegally plied the roads. The SSP traffic said police were doing best to regulate the traffic but the ongoing construction work had its impact on movement of the vehicles, saying traffic engineering had main role in the system. Peshawar Development Authority deputy director Shakeel said work on the Arbab Sikandar Khan Khalil overhead bridge at Gulbahar had been in progress and would be opened for traffic on August 14. He said its stipulated time was 24 months but the PDA completed it almost in 14 months. He said work on the Mufti Mehmood overhead bridge near Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly was also in progress and it would be completed until December 2013. He said there were some hurdles near Radio Pakistan building and Livestock Department, saying after completion of the projects, major issues of traffic in Peshawar would be solved. He said the groundbreaking ceremony of another overhead bridge at Phase III Hayatabad would be held on August 14, while two underpasses were also being constructed for pedestrians on Tehkal and Abdara roads. In charge of PDA traffic engineering Siraj Anwar said his department had planned the construction of overhead bridges after finalisation of their feasibility reports but the most important thing for solution to the problems was political will. He said enforcement of laws was basic things but there seemed no enforcement of traffic rules in Peshawar. Mr Siraj suggested that encroachments, illegal vehicles, especially auto-rickshaws, be removed for smooth flow of traffic.

Afghan refugees: Incentives fail to expedite repatriation of Afghans

Despite offering incentives, repatriation process of Afghan refugees is going with slow pace as around 41,000 individuals of total 1.7 million registered Afghans have returned to their country under the UNHCR’s facilitated voluntary repatriation programme so far this year. However, UNHCR spokesperson Duniya Aslam Khan said that last year total 35,000 refugees had returned in the same period. She said that there were multiple factors owing to which refugees did not want to go back to their country. Security situation and tribal feuds were major factors, she said. The UN agency said in a press release issued here Wednesday that of the total returned Afghans from Pakistan this year, 23,664 refugees went back from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 8,578 from Balochistan, 2,883 from Sindh and 5,916 from Punjab, including Islamabad. Nearly one third of these refugees have returned to their homes in northern Afghanistan, particularly the provinces of Baghlan, Jowzjan, Balkh and Takhar. About 26 per cent of the repatriated Afghans went to the eastern provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar and Laghman. There were also a significant number of Afghans returning to Ghazni, Kabul, Logar and Parwan provinces in central Afghanistan. To facilitate return of Afghan refugees, UNHCR operates three voluntary repatriation centres in Pakistan with two in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The press release said that UNHCR was also helping communities in Pakistan that hosted large numbers of refugees. The UN agency said that 3.7 Afghans had returned from Pakistan since 2002. “Refugees Affected and Housing Areas (RAHA) was designed to enable the local communities, which have hosted refugees, to benefit from the support to ensure that the extra burden on social services and utilities does not result in a lower standard of living for the residents of those villages and towns that have so generously welcomed Afghan refugees,” it said. The spokesperson said that the UN agency was taking certain steps to expedite voluntary repatriation process from Pakistan. She said that it had been decided that return programme would not suspended in the upcoming winter and would continue throughout the year.

The Balochistan tangle

As the acutely disturbing situation in Balochistan fails to get any better, it arouses widespread concern across the country. Official circles, political as well as military, judicial authorities, the media and intellectuals and even the common citizens, are getting increasingly worried about the shape of things to come. Reports of a foreign hand at work, discontented chieftains stirring trouble while sitting abroad, the militants who have sought refuge from the army action in Fata and other vested interests wanting to keep the pot boiling – these are, indeed, confusing reports that demonstrate how complex the situation is. There has been a lot of talk about these challenges and the sense of deprivation of the local population being the cause of disturbances and, of course, of solutions. Yet hardly does it seem that the issue has been thought through. Beyond asserting that the problem calls for a political approach and not an armed action, nothing of substance that could really turn the corner has happened. On Tuesday, both Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and Director-General Military Operations Maj-General Ashfaq Nadeem Ahmad, went to the National Defence University to address the participants of a workshop on “Balochistan situation – Perceptions and realities and the way forward”. Mr Ashraf’s apprehension that the sore might spread to the country at least created the feeling that he realized the urgency with which the issue needed to be tackled. His intuition appears to be guiding him correctly as he invited the disaffected elements to come forward and talk over their grievances to the government, telling them “The entirety of Pakistan is yours.” Like quite a few other government functionaries, including former Interior Minister and now Advisor Rehman Malik, the Prime Minister also referred to the Balochistan woes as “foreign abetted”. Yet, it is evident that the government has been unable to prove or come to grips with the troublemakers. And one reason why the local rogue elements do not lend credence to the official utterances is that the previous commitments have shown little of benefit coming to the ordinary man. Be it the President’s apology, the Haqooq-e-Aghaz-Balochistan Package or the Gwadar Port, there has been no change for the better in his life. Unless radical steps are taken to give him affordable facilities of education, health, travel, etc. there is little scope of any reconciliation occurring. The DG MO has conveniently denied that any military operation was going on in the province and advocated a political solution. At the same time, he asserted, contrary to the evidence that the Supreme Court says it possesses, that most of the missing persons were either in Ferrari camps or in Afghan jails. Before anything else this confusion, perhaps, needs to be clarified.

14 Shia killed in Orakzai

Daily Times
A bomb blast killed 14 passengers, including a woman and three children, on board a pick-up in Orakzai on Wednesday, officials said, adding that the vehicle was carrying Shia passengers. "It was a remote-controlled bomb planted on the road. The bomb exploded near a pick-up van carrying passengers," senior administration official Zakir Hussain said of the incident in Sepoy village, Orakzai district. Shias have been targeted in the region for a long time, with Taliban militants exploiting Sunnis’ sentiments to gain influence in this strategic region, experts say. Eight people were killed on the spot and six died in hospital in the nearby city of Kohat, Hussain told Daily Times by phone. The dead included three women, two 11-year-old boys and a three-year-old girl, he said. All the victims were part of the same clan or same extended family. "It was a militant attack, the aim was to create panic in the area by killing ordinary people," Hussain said. He said that the victims were Shias, but ruled out a sectarian motive because it happened in a Shia-controlled area. Doctor Muhammad Naeem of Kohat District Hospital confirmed the toll and said an 11-year-old boy with serious injuries was transferred to Peshawar for specialist care. Meanwhile, a faction of the Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for the bomb attack, a spokesman for the group said. "We targeted them because they were Shias, and they are enemies of Islam," Muhammed Afridi, spokesman for the Darra Adam Khel faction of the Pakistan Taliban told Reuters by telephone. Sunni militants loyal to al Qaeda and the Taliban have carried out high-profile attacks on members of the Shia community in the past. "This appears to be part of a series of attacks by militants against one particular sect," said Khushal Khan, a senior government official in Orakzai. Orakzai is one of seven districts in the tribal belt on the Afghan border that is home to Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds. Washington has dubbed the area the most dangerous region on Earth. The government ordered the military to move against the militants in Orakzai two years ago, however, the situation still remains unstable there and Taliban continue to target Shias on the main Kurram-Kohat highway through Orakzai.

Pakistan: Who will name foreign hands?

Even the prime minister has spoken up. He too has said that the unrest in Balochistan is "foreign-abetted". But he also has not named the foreign hands involved? Why this secrecy? Shouldn't those vile hands be identified specifically when they are playing so maliciously with the very territorial integrity of this nation and its solidarity and cohesion? Shouldn't our people know of this? Shouldn't the world be told of this? Why indeed this newly-wed damsel-like shyness to call her bridegroom by name? Is it because the names are too big that the rulers dread to name? But does anyone in Islamabad have an idea how hurtfully this stupidity of theirs is damaging Pakistan nationally and internationally? Off and on, someone in Islamabad whispers inaudibly that the Indian intelligence agency RAW is involved. But is that all? What base does it use to infest Balochistan and fan the separatist sentiments in Balochistan? What else if not Afghanistan? And could the Indian spy agency employ our western neighbour as the springboard for its vile activities in Balochistan all surreptitiously? And could it be acting all alone? We must be kidding ourselves. It has to have the local or foreign collusion in Afghanistan to carry out from there its subversion and infestation in bordering Balochistan. Our own hierarchs could be coy and reticent to our people. But not the objective realities. For years, the US viceroy and real effective power in Afghanistan after its US-led invasion and occupation was the American intelligence agency CIA. It indeed had conducted the invasion and was berthed by the Bush administration in Afghanistan to administer the occupied country thereon. Not a leave could flap on the security front in Afghanistan without the consent and acquiescence of CIA. For reasons known to it, the CIA at once shunted aside the Pakistani establishment, especially the ISI, and embraced alien agencies hostile to Pakistan. RAW was one of them, which had a free hand to subvert Balochistan as well as Pakistan's tribal and adjoining settled areas. But that was not all. In one fatal "terrorist" strike, several Chinese engineers and technicians building the key Gwadar port, which the American have been eyeing covetously all along, were killed and wounded. The Pakistani investigators must have found the hands responsible for this carnage. But they did not make their finding public, while the thinking public has still been pointing the finger at the CIA for that deadly attack. In any case, contrary to the general expectation that on completion the port would be handed over to the Chinese to operate, Pervez Musharraf, then ruling the roost, contracted it out to the Singapore Port Authority at throwaway terms and conditions. This he is widely believed to have done at the behest of the Americans. Pertinently, the Baloch dissidents, snuggled up in the warm laps of American spooks and lawmakers advocating deviously Balochistan's secession from Pakistan, have been giving out telltale utterances. When Balochistan secedes, they promise, they would not allow the gas pipeline from Iran pass through Balochistan to Pakistan. And the Gwadar port they would hand over to America. Anyway, our own spooks are still to tell the nation who were the merchants in human loyalties, who started descending on Balochistan in the mid-2000s with bags brimming with greenbacks. They were hawking to buy every Baloch youthful loyalty at the running rate of $10,000 per head plus a lot of goodies later on. This is a widely known fact in Balochistan, even though not much spoken of for the reasons not hard to fathom. And surely the government's ears and eyes must be knowing all about those merchants in human loyalties and their trading. Yet neither Musharraf ever dared to speak out nor our spooks have ever alluded to it, not even now. Why indeed are they so mum about something that they should have blared out at the top of the voice from the rooftop? They must take a lesson or two from the Indian establishment. With loud-mouthed surmises and allegations, it has successfully demonised the Kashmiris' palpably indigenous uprising for freedom as Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and India's own homegrown terrorism as Pakistan-abetted. And likewise the US administration officials, congressmen and intelligence community have peddled fictions so dexterously that the world has come to believe that everything is okay with Afghanistan except the Afghan insurgents' safe havens in Pakistan from where they crawl out and attack the Afghan and NATO forces. Someone in Islamabad has to break this silence fast and cry out the home truths. A lot is at stake in Balochistan for this nation's security and stability. A lot of foreign interference is occurring there to hurt us grievously, with Afghanistan serving as the nestling place of hostile alien agencies. And it is sinful not to tell the world what actually is happening there. Both Quetta and Islamabad must speak of it, but specifically and persistently, not vaguely or generally.

Poverty breeding extremism in tribal areas

The Express Tribune News Network.
A sense of deprivation and poverty are responsible for extremism and radicalisation in the tribal areas. There is need to address their socio-economic problems and empower them economically and politically by including them in legislation and consultation process of policy making. This was the crux of a seminar organised by the Fata Research Centre (CRC) for the launch of a research report titled, “Extremism and Radicalisation: An Overview of the Social, Political, Cultural and Economic Landscape of FATA” here on Tuesday, said a press release issued by the centre. The report was aimed at seeking public view on conflict in Afghanistan and war against terrorism and extremism in Fata. Further, it zeroed in on the social, political, cultural, economic, infrastructure and gender issues among communities to determine the factors that lead to the spread of extremism in the region. For the study, some 200 interviews were conducted while 2,000 survey forms were distributed amongst the participants from the seven agencies of Fata and the six frontier regions (FRs). A majority (72%) of the research respondents were aged 22 to 50 years, followed by 17% aged 16 to 21 years, while 11% of the participants were aged 50 or above. The study reveals that after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 by NATO, and its spread to the Fata region in 2003, different views emerged on extremism and radicalisation. There is a consensus on resting focus on youth to harness peace and development activities in the region as a large number of people (89%) stressed the importance of youth role in bringing prosperity to the region. Unemployment among the youth is one of the key socio-economic issues of the area that ultimately finds linkages with issues like insecurity and extremism. Among the respondents, 67% totally and 11% partially, were of the view that youth did not have adequate employment opportunities. About peace and security, 53%, reported concerns over the persisting security situation in the region, while another 25%, also partially agreed that the peace and security situation is comparatively worse than in the rest of the country, while 20% contrasted the statement. Majority (61%) of the people reflected that empowerment of women through provision of health and education facilities is imperative for development. The view is contrasted by some 24% who see no role of women in development; the remaining partially either agreeing or disagreeing. However, the reflection on empowerment was relative with tribal traditions in which women are exclusively treated and their mixing with male counterparts is highly discouraged. More than three-quarter (76%) of the respondents were of the view that the activities of political parties need to be enhanced in their areas. Only 20% among the respondents disagreed on the extension of political party activity in Fata, while 4% of respondents were unable to present their view on the matter. About 94% of respondents considered poverty a major issue of the area. Only 3% of respondents who do not mull over poverty as a major problem, while 1% who did not respond. Majority of the respondents (68%) see no improvement in economic stipulation of their areas, while a fraction of respondents believe that the economic conditions have been improved during the past five years. Majority among the respondents (81%) noted existence of corruption and misuse of power by government officials and only 14% among the respondents denied the notion.

Politicians, the country is going to dogs

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Tuesday expressed concern at looming dangers for the democratic dispensation in the country and called upon the political parties to realise their responsibility to avert threats to democracy. The HRCP Policy Planning Committee, the highest policy making body of HRCP, urged the political parties to ensure a smooth transfer of power and to beware of those who wanted to install a democratic façade without elected representatives and democracy without the electoral process. HRCP said in a statement that, “the political parties must realise the gravity of the situation and the challenges it poses to the sustenance of the democratic dispensation. They must know that their present attitude is not helping. Endemic corruption and poor governance have lost political parties considerable support and half-baked and misdirected policies for short-term gains are also harming the political process. The political parties must know that tendency to either be passive spectators or indulge in meaningless fighting among themselves is not going to lead to positive developments. The present contentious issues can neither be resolved through force nor judicial action alone. The stakes are high for all and unpredictability at this juncture is aggravating the state of lawlessness, ethnic and sectarian killings as well as impunity for those killings. This is a watershed moment for the country and there is little doubt that we have reached the edge of the precipice. The answer to the challenges for democracy lies in expressing confidence in the electoral process and in the establishment of a consensus caretaker setup. HRCP hopes and expects that the political parties will realise their responsibility and will not become party to any scheme to take away the people’s right to elect their representatives.”

Politicians, the country is going to dogs

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Tuesday expressed concern at looming dangers for the democratic dispensation in the country and called upon the political parties to realise their responsibility to avert threats to democracy. The HRCP Policy Planning Committee, the highest policy making body of HRCP, urged the political parties to ensure a smooth transfer of power and to beware of those who wanted to install a democratic façade without elected representatives and democracy without the electoral process. HRCP said in a statement that, “the political parties must realise the gravity of the situation and the challenges it poses to the sustenance of the democratic dispensation. They must know that their present attitude is not helping. Endemic corruption and poor governance have lost political parties considerable support and half-baked and misdirected policies for short-term gains are also harming the political process. The political parties must know that tendency to either be passive spectators or indulge in meaningless fighting among themselves is not going to lead to positive developments. The present contentious issues can neither be resolved through force nor judicial action alone. The stakes are high for all and unpredictability at this juncture is aggravating the state of lawlessness, ethnic and sectarian killings as well as impunity for those killings. This is a watershed moment for the country and there is little doubt that we have reached the edge of the precipice. The answer to the challenges for democracy lies in expressing confidence in the electoral process and in the establishment of a consensus caretaker setup. HRCP hopes and expects that the political parties will realise their responsibility and will not become party to any scheme to take away the people’s right to elect their representatives.”

PM Ashraf in Afghanistan for trilateral summit

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf left here Thursday for Kabul to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai and participate in the trilateral summit, also to be attended by British Prime Minister David Cameron. The Prime Minister who is visiting Kabul on a day-long official visit, was accompanied by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Advisor to the PM on Interior Rehman Malik and Minister of State for Commerce Abbas Ahmed Afridi. Talking to reporters prior to his departure at the Chaklala Air Base, the Prime Minister said his first visit to the “brotherly” neighbouring country Afghanistan on the invitation of President Karzai would help strengthen relations between both the countries. PM Ashraf said the agenda of his visit to Afghanistan is focused on bilateral ties, political stability in Afghanistan and efforts to counter terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Answering a question on trilateral summit, Prime Minister Ashraf said he would also discuss important issues with Prime Minister Cameron including measures to check terrorism and extremism in the region. He termed the visit “very important” in the current circumstances and hoped for a positive outcome. He said Pakistan as a frontline state had rendered enormous sacrifices to ensure peace in the region. He also said Pakistan was not only fighting its own war but was also contributing for the sake of global peace. He said the forbearance and persistence of the Pakistani nation was exemplary and added that the sacrifices must be acknowledged by the international community.