Monday, July 30, 2012

Democrats look to back gay marriage at convention

The Democratic Party is aiming to include support for gay marriage in its party platform this year for the first time in its history, a Democratic source said on Monday. The platform drafting committee unanimously approved language on Sunday endorsing same-sex marriage among the policy positions that will be presented to the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, where President Barack Obama will formally accept the party's nomination in early September to run for re-election. The approval was first reported in The Washington Blade, which said the language also rejected the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 1996 that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman and denies federal benefits to lawfully married same-sex couples. The Obama administration said last year it would no longer support DOMA. Obama's Republican opponent, Republican Mitt Romney, is a gay-marriage opponent who supports the statute and promises to defend "traditional marriage" if he is elected on November 6. In May, Obama became the first U.S. president to say he believes same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. The largest U.S. civil rights group, the NAACP, has also endorsed gay marriage, saying the fight for gay rights is a civil rights issue. Six U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage, but 30 have banned it. The 15-member Democratic Party platform drafting committee met in Minneapolis during the weekend. A draft will be considered in Detroit on August 10, and it will then go to convention delegates for final approval. Religious conservatives, an important component of the Republican Party base, staunchly oppose gay marriage, but polls show support for the issue rising, especially among younger Americans.

Romney Comments on Palestinians Draw Criticism

Mitt Romney found himself on the defensive yet again on his overseas trip, this time after offending Palestinian leaders with comments he made at a breakfast fund-raiser here on Monday. Speaking to roughly four dozen donors at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, Mr. Romney suggested that cultural differences between the Israelis and the Palestinians were the reason the Israelis were so much more economically successful than the Palestinians, without mentioning the impact that deep trade restrictions imposed by the Israeli government have had on the Palestinian economy. He also vastly understated the income disparities between the two groups. In his speech, Mr. Romney mentioned two books that had influenced his thinking about nations — “Guns, Germs and Steel,” by Jared Diamond, and “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” by David S. Landes. Mr. Diamond’s book, Mr. Romney said, argues that the physical characteristics of the land account for the success of the people living there, while Mr. Landes’s book, he continued, argues that culture is the defining factor. “Culture makes all the difference,” Mr. Romney said. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.” “As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” he said. In an interview with The Associated Press, Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, called Mr. Romney’s remarks “racist.” “It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation,” Mr. Erekat said. “It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people.” The Palestinians live under deep trade restrictions put in place by the Israeli government: After the militant group Hamas in 2007 took control of Gaza – home to about 1.7 million Palestinians – the Israelis imposed a near-total blockade on people and goods in Gaza. The blockade has been eased, and now many consumer goods are allowed in. But aid organizations say the restrictions still cripple Gaza’s economy. The West Bank, where 2.5 million Palestinians reside, is also subject to trade restrictions imposed by the Israelis. In Gaza, according to the C.I.A., “Israeli-imposed border closures, which became more restrictive after Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007, have resulted in high unemployment, elevated poverty rates, and the near collapse of the private sector that had relied on export markets.” The agency added that “changes to Israeli restrictions on imports in 2010 resulted in a rebound in some economic activity, but regular exports from Gaza still are not permitted.” And in the West Bank, “Israeli closure policies continue to disrupt labor and trade flows, industrial capacity, and basic commerce, eroding the productive capacity” of the economy. On Monday afternoon, Romney campaign officials did not respond to a query about whether Mr. Romney believes that the blockade of Gaza or trade restrictions in the West Bank have had any dampening effect on economic activity in those areas. Mr. Romney also understated the difference between per capita G.D.P. by a wide margin, suggesting that Israelis produce about twice what Palestinians do. In fact, according to an estimate by the Central Intelligence Agency, in 2009 Israel had a per capita G.D.P. of roughly $29,800, while in 2008 — the last year the C.I.A. has numbers on their Web site for the Palestinians — the per capita G.D.P. of the West Bank and Gaza was $2,900. Though Mr. Romney came to Israel to offer his support for the country, delivering a speech Sunday night in Jerusalem in which he offered a strong defense of Israel’s right to protect itself against the threat of a nuclear Iran, Mr. Romney also met Sunday with the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, Salam Fayyad. In public, the two men made small talk about the London Olympics. After Mr. Romney’s remarks drew criticism, his campaign said that The Associated Press had “grossly mischaracterized” the remarks by not providing the full context. For instance, the campaign said, after mentioning the per capita G.D.P. of Israel and Palestine, Mr. Romney also said: “And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.” The comments Monday are the second time that Mr. Romney has unwittingly offended a group of people in a part of the world he was visiting. When he arrived in London on the first stop of his trip, Mr. Romney set off a media firestorm when he seemed to cast question on the city’s preparedness for the Olympic Games. Obama campaign officials criticized Mr. Romney’s latest remarks, describing them as the sort of thing that could make it more difficult for Mr. Romney to ever play a credible role in the Middle East peace process, which depends on having buy-in not from just Israelis but from Palestinian officials as well. American credibility and influence in that arena depend on “us being seen as an honest broker,” said Colin Kahl, an Obama campaign foreign policy adviser who served as the top Middle East policy official in the Pentagon from 2009 to 2011. “But in this case, Romney fell off the tightrope pretty dramatically.” “It was a really strange comment,” Mr. Kahl added, noting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict encompasses “extraordinarily complicated and delicate issues and is not something you can just wing it on and expect not to make some mistakes, and Governor Romney made a big one.”

Polish Solidarity distances itself from Romney visit

Solidarity, the trade union movement which led the Polish struggle against communist rule, distanced itself on Monday from a visit to Poland by U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, saying he supported attacks on unions in his own country. Romney was in Poland on the third and final leg of a tour aimed at burnishing his foreign policy credentials and demonstrating that he would be a viable alternative to President Barack Obama on the world stage. Romney visited the Baltic port of Gdansk, cradle of Solidarity which toppled Poland's communist government in the late 1980s, where he met Lech Walesa, the shipyard electrician who led the union movement during the struggle seen as the start of the end of Soviet domination of eastern Europe. "Regretfully, we were informed by our friends from the American headquarters of (trade union federation) AFL-CIO, which represents more than 12 million employees ... that Mitt Romney supported attacks on trade unions and employees' rights," Solidarity said in a statement. "Solidarity was not involved in organizing Romney's meeting with Walesa and did not invite him to visit Poland." Romney has in the past complained about "union bosses" who he said have donated large sums of money to Obama's re-election campaign. Romney is trying to avoid any further missteps after gaffes during the first leg of his tour, in Britain, generated negative newspaper headlines and criticism even from some of his own supporters. He came to Poland from Israel, his second stop. In Gdansk, Romney, who has called Poland's neighbor Russia the top "geopolitical foe" of the United States, tried to show that if elected president he would be a stronger ally to Moscow-wary Poland than Obama. The White House incumbent angered some Poles by making conciliatory moves aimed at "re-setting" strained ties with the Kremlin. Walesa, who was Polish president for five years in the 1990s, effectively endorsed Romney at their meeting. "I wish you to be successful because this success is needed for the United States of course, but for Europe and the rest of the world too. Governor Romney, get your success. Be successful," Walesa said. Walesa ended his association with the Solidarity movement several years ago following disputes over policy. DIVIDED OPINION Romney, a former governor of the U.S. state of Massachusetts, also had a 45-minute meeting at the Gdansk Old Town Hall with Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Later, with his wife and son, Romney placed flowers at the foot of a memorial to trade union activists killed by the Moscow-backed communist authorities. There, Romney got a taste of divided opinion about his candidacy. "Good luck Mr. Romney," a male onlooker shouted as the Romneys walked back to their motorcade. "Obama," a woman shouted. "No, no more Obama," a man shouted. "Obama," the woman insisted. On Tuesday, the final day of his week-long foreign tour, Romney is to give a speech in the capital, Warsaw, on liberty and Washington's ties with Poland. "The relationship that our countries have is very important and it would be a high priority in a Romney administration," said a senior Romney campaign adviser. However, it may prove difficult in Poland for Romney to draw a sharp contrast with his Democratic rival in the presidential election because Polish leaders enjoy fairly strong ties with the Obama White House. Solidarity is still known abroad because of its historic role in the collapse of Communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall. At home, it is now closely linked with Poland's biggest opposition party, which promotes conservative social values.

Afghan construction way behind schedule

A new US government report has found major reconstruction projects in Afghanistan are so behind schedule they will not yield results before most combat troops leave, The Washington Post said Monday. The daily said the report by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, due to be released Monday, also states that the Afghan government will not have the money or skills to maintain many of the projects. "Implementing projects that the Afghan government is unable to sustain may be counter­productive" to the US counterinsurgency mission, the inspector general is quoted as saying. "If goals are set and not achieved, both the US and Afghan governments can lose the populace's support." The analysis examines the Afghan Infrastructure Fund, which was authorized by Congress in 2010, the paper said. Over the past two years, Congress has invested $800 million into the fund, and the State Department has committed about $1 billion of its funds to related infrastructure programs. The report comes as NATO countries have already started to withdraw their 130,000 troops after more than 10 years of war and ahead of a 2014 deadline for an end to combat operations. According to The Post, the report suggests that Washington may have attempted to build too much in a country with limited maintenance resources. Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Kabul called the document "speculative," the paper said.

Pakistan ranks third in the world with estimated number of maternal deaths
"Globally more than 350000 women die every year from preventable complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Pakistan ranks third in the world with estimated number of maternal deaths after India and Nigeria. The Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) mostly caused by Post-Partum hemorrhage (PPH) in Pakistan is 276 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The Post-Partum Hemorrhage means severe bleeding after birth that takes the precious life of many women around the world." It was the crux of a media briefing by health experts. According to Pakistan Demographic Household Survey (PDHS) 380 women in Fata while 275 mothers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa settled districts have lost their lives during the year 2007-08. Mercy Corps, an international organisation working on the project 'Saving mothers in communities' has launched its campaign Maternal and Neonatal Health Community Advocacy Dialogue Forum in Peshawar district. Programme Manager for Mercy Corps Shouaib while briefing the media persons held at a hotel here said that every hour three women die due to maternal causes because 80% deliveries take place in homes in rural communities while 70% deliveries are conducted by unskilled birth attendants. He said that the Post-Partum period is one of the most vulnerable for mothers, yet neither health programmes nor mother-families have recognized this. He added that concerned community efforts were needed to overcome the problem and save mothers from quite preventable complications. He said that most of these deaths occur among women who are outside of the skilled care at labour/delivery or in the immediate Post-Partum care maintaining that different interventions needed to reduce Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) by providing skilled birth attendants and Community Midwives (CMWs) and comprehensive family planning. The programme manager also stressed the need for the careful use of Misoprostol, a drug that has been associated with significant decrease in the rate of acute PPH in home deliveries. The World Health Organization WHO recommends that Misoprostol can be used by trained birth attendants, the expert explained. He said that the provincial DoHs did not have a policy on the use of the Misoprostol for the prevention of PPH; also there is lack of awareness of at the district and community level and the participation of poor and marginalized populations, especially women in decision making policy formulation was not being practised at the moment. The programme manager said that Mercy Corps Pakistan and its implementing partners would work together to reduce MMR caused by PPH by addressing policies and practices in the provinces of Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Jammu &Kasmir , Fata. "The project is being implemented in the districts of Quetta, Gwadar, Kech in Balochistan, Bagh and Bhimber in AJK Lower Dir and Peshawar in KP and Khyber of Fata," he said. The Khwendo Kor will be the implementing partner in Fata and KP, the purpose of the community advocacy dialogue forum (CADF) is to engage key stake holders to muster up their support for overcoming the issue. Dr Saeedur Rehman, project coordinator expressed the hope that Khwendo Kor would work together with other stakeholders to carry out the project and meet the target of reducing the number of MMR in KP and Fata to minimum by April 2013. "I hope that the project will achieve the target set by Mercy Corps of bringing it down to a minimum level. Hopefully we shall have to bring it down to 120 within the stipulated time," he conduced. Dr Abdur Rashid Khattak, Executive District Officer Health (EDOH) district Peshawar and Wilayat Shah, Chief Drugs Inspector Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also attended the briefing in addition to other stakeholders.

Pakistan Democracy Review: Pro-women legislation by the PPP government

Let Us Build Pakistan
Here is a list of pro-women legislation enacted by the present PPP Government which is implementing the vision of Benazir Bhutto Shaheed under the leadership of President and Co-Chairman Asif Zardari. 1. The National Commission on the Status of Women, 2012 2. The Women in Distress and Detention Fund (Amendment) Act, 2011 3. The Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010 4. The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011 5. Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill 2009 6. The National Commission of Human Rights Act, 2012 7. ‘The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill 2010 The above list was compiled by Mr. Munawar Ali Rind. We congratulate Pakistani women as well as our elected representatives on this legislations. However, mere legislation to protect women rights is not enough. The government and its various institutions must also ensure effective implementation of these pro-women laws. The above list is in addition to several other government policies which have directly or indirectly helped women, e.g., Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), Benazir Women Support Programme (BWSP) (by the Sindh Government), Waseela-e-Haq Scheme, Benazir Basti Scheme, Land Allotment to the Farmers (an area of 56,186 acres land has been distributed among the 6,100 women allottees under PPP government’s programme of distribution of free of cost land to the farmers.) Here is an overview by UN Women (a United National entity for gender equality and empowerment of women) on progress on pro-women legislation in Pakistan. Pro-women laws take hold in Pakistan Women in Pakistan have faced formidable challenges in their efforts to achieve gender equality and address gender-based violence in their country, with particular problems posed by elements among customary norms and practices. Yet throughout the past few years, breakthroughs in pro-women legislation have shown that both the efforts of Pakistan’s government, and the advocacy of groups working toward women’s empowerment in the country, are taking effect. On International Women’s Day, 8 March, the President of Pakistan signed the National Commission on the Status of Women Bill 2012 into law, which has afforded the Commission new financial and administrative autonomy, and therefore better scope to investigate women’s rights violations. A year earlier the Prevention of Anti Women Practices Bill became part of national law, explicitly recognizing practices from acid violence and forced marriage to so-called ‘honour killings’ as criminal acts, and affording protection and legal action for victims. Women are also now better protected from sexual harassment in the workplace and from domestic violence, since Acts on these issues were passed in 2010 and 2011 respectively. And to be sure that the laws on sexual harrassment are built structurally into the system, a code of conduct is being monitored by a watch committee formed by the National Commission on the Status of Women in 2010, which is made up of representatives from the government, civil society and UN Women. The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention (Amendment) Bill was passed in the Senate on December 2011, and for the first time gives guidance on how the State should punish offenders and support victims of this violent gender-based crime.

Kaira urges Punjab CM to avoid political point scoring

Federal minister for information and broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira has urged PML-N leaders to avoid political point scoring on the issue of loadshedding and advised them to help strengthen the federation. While addressing a press conference along with federal minister for water and power Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar at Muzaffargarh Thermal Power Station, he said that last Friday a cyclone-type windstorm damaged around 19 steel structure transmission towers of Wapda in Muzaffargarh that excluded 1800 Mega Watt of power from the national grid, which disrupted the power supply. However, the Punjab CM tried to score political points on this unprecedented natural disaster that had extremely damaged four main transmission lines including one 500 KV line and three 220 KV lines. Kaira praised Wapda engineers who rushed to the desert-like site from all over the country and managed to restore supply of 1100 Mega Watt of electricity supply. Another 350 MW of power supply would be restored by today evening and the rest of the 350 MW by Tuesday evening, he added. Referring to the statement of Mian Shahbaz Sharif, he said that all the provinces are part of Pakistan and the government believes in equitable distribution of electricity on the basis of needs in accordance with the population and industry. He said that the government was custodian of all the provinces and it was this government that introduced 18th constitutional amendment that acknowledged the right of provinces over their resources. He said that Punjab was utilizing over 60 per cent of the electricity and majority portion of the national gas production. Kaira said that doing life with loadshedding in Ramadan Ul Mubarak was difficult amid extreme hot weather conditions but appealed the people to remain calm and avoid violence adding that government was putting its all energies and resources to bridge the electricity shortfall problem. He said that people own this country and by resorting to violent protests they would be hurting none other but their own infrastructure. He said that people should cooperate with Wapda officials as due to their hard work restoration of 1100 Mega Watt of power within hours was ensured despite unprecedented damage to transmission line. He expressed grave concerns that PML-N leaders were leading the protest processions of baton-wielding men. The Information Minister Qamar Zaman kaira said that the President and Prime Minister have already issued instructions to ensure availability of funds to maintain oil supply for electricity generation by thermal power plants. He said that oil supply has been enhanced from 12000 M ton to 25000 M ton and allocation of funds to power sector was enhanced. Kaira said that the country was passing through acute electricity shortage that prompted the government to opt for load management plan. However, the windstorm-led damage to transmission lines resulted in suspension of power supply by 1800 Megawatt that worsened the situation further during last few days. He said that now the Chashma nuclear power plant that was closed due to maintenance has again started 300 MW power generation after tripping once while wind mill project was also producing 100 Megawatt of power that would be enhanced up to 600 megawatt next year. Information Minister said that hydal power generation that used to 6000 Megawatt was 4500 Megawatt these days, however, situation would improve with more inflow of water. He said that the government wants to provide electricity at cheaper cost to the people and was focusing on power generation through coal and water. He said that none of the democratic or military governments added even a single unit of electricity to the national grid from 1996 to 2008. Federal Minister for Water and Power Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar said that the government was focusing on electricity generation through wood and coal. He added that coal generated electricity has a share of only 0.36 per cent in Pakistan compared to 46 per cent in India and 65 per cent in China. He said that the government was also committed to eliminate power theft. On this occasion, Qamar Zaman Kaira said that the government’s commitment to provide electricity to the people at cheaper cost was evident from its efforts to explore alternate means of electricity generation. When asked about coal gasification project in Thar, Qamar Zaman kaira said that two fields with potential 50-MW capacity have been allocated on trial basis in Thar where engineers and researchers led by Dr. Samar Mubarakmand were trying to employing a new technology to gasify coal while it remains under ground or under water and government was providing funds for the purpose. He added that the government also moved ahead with agreements for import of electricity and gas from Iran to resolve energy crisis to solve problems of the people and industry. He said that it was the incumbent government that initiated work on Neelam-Jhelum and Bhasha dam projects. Kaira said that we all are passing through difficult times and have to come out of it together. Later, the Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Qamar Zaman Kaira and Minister for Water and Power, Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar visited the two sites where windstorm had destroyed 19 steel structure towers of transmission lines of Wapda in Muzaffargarh district and reviewed pace of progress on the repair work. MD NTDC Naveed Ismail, chief executive Multan Electric power Company (Mepco) Chaudhry Guftar Ahmad and other senior officials accompanied the ministers.

"Nawaz Sharif took Rs 1.5 from Osama Bin Ladin"

‘British-born jihadists fighting Assad in Syria’
Radical Islamists with “British accents” are among the coalition forces looking to topple Bashar Assad, says Jeroen Oerlemans, a photographer who was held hostage in Syria for a week. The UK Foreign Office has launched an investigation. Oerlemans, a famous Dutch photo journalist, and John Cantlie, another photographer from the UK, were captured by a group of between 30 and 100 anti-Assad fighters when crossing the Syrian border from Turkey last week. They were then blindfolded. "One of the black jihadists freaked out and shouted: 'These are journalists and now they will see we are preparing an international jihad in this place.'" Oerlemans told NRC Handelsblatt newspaper. He said that none of the fighters was Syrian. "They all claimed they came from countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh and Chechnya and they said there was some vague 'emir' at the head of the group." About 40 per cent of the militants spoke English. In fact, several apparently talked with recognizable regional British accents, from Birmingham and London. The two photographers suspected that a ransom would be demanded for their release and tried to escape. Oerlemans was shot twice in the leg during the failed attempt and Cantlie, who has so far not spoken to any media, was wounded in the arm. The pair’s ordeal ended when the Free Syrian Army, the main anti-Assad force, demanded that their nominal allies hand them over. "They took us with them like a bunch of gangsters," Oerlemans said, "Shooting in the air as we rode out of there.” The Free Syrian Army released the men and the two are now resting in Turkey. They expect to travel home in the coming days. If it is confirmed, Oerleman’s story will add to reports that Syria has become a magnet for radical Islamists, who are there either as mercenaries or because of ideology. "As soon as Assad has fallen, these fighters want to introduce Islamic law, Sharia, in Syria," said Oerlemans.

Turkey’s Syria policy backfires
As Syrian crisis deepens, Turkey is confronted with the risk of a PKK-controlled Kurdish state in Turkey’s immediate neighborhood. Ankara’s fear is not a Greater Kurdistan, but a PKK controlled semi-state, analysts say.Ankara's support for a regime change in Syria has started to backfire, threatening Turkey's own national security, with Syrian Kurdish groups forming a de facto state in the north of Syria. Turkish media reported last week that the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), with its alleged Syrian branch the Democratic Union Party (PYD), took control of several provinces on Turkey's border. Several reports published photos of Kurdish flags and posters of the PKK's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan flying from buildings in northern Syria towns. "We will not allow the formation of a terrorist structuring near our border," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkish media on Sunday. "We reserve every right.... No matter if it is al-Qaeda or PKK we would consider it a matter of national security and take every measure," said Davutoglu. Alarm bells ringing The PKK's growing influence in Syria border has alarmed Turkey, prompting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to convene a security summit with senior government and security officials. Following the meeting, he accused the Syrian regime of allowing the PKK a free hand in the north of the country and warned that Ankara would not hesitate to strike. "Recent developments have come as an unpleasant surprise to Turkish officials," Deniz Zeyrek, foreign policy columnist of the liberal left daily newspaper Radikal, told DW. "When Syrian Kurdish groups distanced themselves from the Assad regime, Turkey welcomed this development. But Ankara did not expect these Kurdish groups would soon unite around the PKK-affiliated political groups," he said. Turkey has been fighting against the PKK since 1984, and the conflict has so far claimed some 45,000 lives. The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Ankara and by much of the international community, enjoyed the support of Damascus during the 80's and 90's. Since early 2000, the PKK has been effectively using its bases in the mountainous region of northern Iraq. With its growing influence and strength in Syria's Kurdish populated regions, the PKK is now seen working toward an autonomous administration, or even an independent "Western Kurdistan" in Syrian territories.Autonomy in Turkey The recent developments have also sparked stronger demands by Turkish Kurds from Ankara and further increased tension in Turkey's southeast region. Diyarbakir Major Osman Baydemir, an influential Kurdish politician in Turkey, recently called for a new political and administrative status for Kurd. "The only way ahead is the creation of autonomous Kurdistan regions in Turkey, in Syria and in Iran, just as the one in Iraq," Baydemir said. "For sure there will soon be an autonomous Kurdistan in Syria," he stressed, suggesting the abolition of borders among these entities, the creation of a customs union, and a new political partnership with the regional countries, including Turkey. Syria is home to some 2 million Kurds. In Iraq, the Kurdish population is around 5 million and in Iran, 5.5 million. Turkey has the largest Kurdish population, estimated to be around 15 million. For years, Turkey's Kurds were deprived of their basic political and cultural rights. In the course of its EU membership process, particularly in the last decade, Turkey has expanded political and cultural rights for its Kurdish citizens. But Ankara strictly opposes demands for Kurdish autonomy. Turkish public opinion is highly suspicious of Kurdish movements in the region and see them as a threat to Turkey's territorial integrity. Deployment on the border As concerns grow in Turkey about a PKK-controlled Kurdish state in Syria, the Turkish military has stepped up its deployment on the border. Despite Turkey's moves, analysts do not foresee an immediate military cross-border operation which would further complicate the crisis. Ankara's first option is to use all diplomatic and political channels to isolate the PKK and the affiliated PYD group in Syria. According to some Turkish analysts, the growing concern of Turkish officials is not so much the prospect of a Greater Kurdistan, which they see as unlikely, but the PKK's increasing role and strength in Syria. "Turkish officials are saying that they will not remain silent about a Kurdish administration in Syria under the control of the PKK," columnist Zeyrek said. "But they say that Turkey will establish a dialogue with a possible new Kurdish entity in Syria, resembling the regional government in Iraq." For years Turkey has feared the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq and has tried to prevent Kurdish groups there from forming an autonomous regional government. But soon after the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) was established and gained international acknowledgement after it democratically adopted the Iraqi constitution, the Turkish government changed its policy. Today, the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, Massud Barzani, is an important political ally for Turkey, not only with his efforts to eliminate the threat by the PKK but also on the Syria crisis. 'Dead-end street' Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will visit Erbil on Wednesday and meet Barzani, where he is expected to ask the Iraqi Kurdish leader to use his influence on Syrian Kurds and persuade them not to cooperate with the PKK. According to Cengiz Candar, a senior foreign policy analyst, Turkey's efforts are like "a journey in a dead-end street." "Turkey is trying to solve its own Kurdish problem, as well the Syrian Kurdish problem, with the help of Massud Barzani. This is mission impossible," Candar wrote in his column in Turkey's Hurriyet daily. "The Turkish state is deceiving itself and public opinion." According to Candar, Kurds will have a "new status" with the formation of a new state in the post-Assad era and there are suggestions that Barzani will come to an implicit agreement with the PKK in order to maintain his influence in the region. "This process of change in Syria is inevitable," Candar said. "And if the Turkish government wants to turn this change into an advantage for itself, it should first take genuine steps to solving its own Kurdish problem."

Romney’s ‘racist’ economic statement outrages Palestinians

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told Jewish donors Monday that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the Palestinians, outraging Palestinian leaders who called his comments racist and out of touch. “As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who breakfasted at the luxurious King David Hotel.

Key role for Bill Clinton at Democratic convention

Former President Bill Clinton
will have a marquee role in this summer's Democratic National Convention, where he will make a forceful case for President Barack Obama's re-election and his economic vision for the country, several Obama campaign and Democratic party officials said Sunday. The move gives the Obama campaign an opportunity to take advantage of the former president's immense popularity and remind voters that a Democrat was in the White House the last time the American economy was thriving. Obama personally asked Clinton to speak at the convention and place Obama's name in nomination, and Clinton enthusiastically accepted, officials said. Clinton speaks regularly to Obama and to campaign officials about strategy. Clinton's prominent role at the convention will also allow Democrats to embrace party unity in a way that is impossible for Republican rival Mitt Romney. George W. Bush, the last Republican to hold the White House, remains politically toxic in some circles. While Bush has endorsed Romney, he is not involved in his campaign and has said he does not plan to attend the GOP convention. Clinton will speak in prime-time at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 5, the night before Obama formally accepts the party nomination. While the number two on the ticket often speaks that night, the Obama campaign has instead decided that Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will speak on the same night. Biden will speak before Obama on Sept. 6, in front of tens of thousands of people expected to fill an outdoor stadium in Charlotte, and millions more on television. The vice president's speech will focus on outlining many of the challenges the White House has faced over the past four years and the decisions Obama made to address them, officials said. "To us it's about deploying our assets in the most effective way," Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod said. "To have President Clinton on Wednesday night laying out the choice facing voters, and then having Vice President Biden speak right before the president in prime time on Thursday, giving a testimony to the decisions the president has made, the character of his leadership and the battle to rebuild the middle class that's so central to our message." Clinton's role at the convention was to be formally announced Monday. It was first reported by The New York Times. Clinton spoke at the 2008 convention, part of a healing process for the Democratic party following the heated primary battle between Obama and the former president's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Since then, the ties between Obama and Bill Clinton have strengthened significantly. Obama has called on the former president for advice several times during his term and the two have appeared together this year at campaign fundraisers for Obama's re-election bid.

U.S. construction projects in Afghanistan challenged by inspector general’s report

A U.S. initiative to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on construction projects in Afghanistan, originally pitched as a vital tool in the military campaign against the Taliban, is running so far behind schedule that it will not yield benefits until most U.S. combat forces have departed the country, according to a government inspection report to be released Monday. The report, by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, also concludes that the Afghan government will not have the money or skill to maintain many of the projects, creating an “expectations gap” among the population that could harm overall stabilization efforts. “Implementing projects that the Afghan government is unable to sustain may be counter­productive” to the U.S. counterinsurgency mission, the inspector general wrote. “If goals are set and not achieved, both the U.S. and Afghan governments can lose the populace’s support.” The study calls into question a fundamental premise of the U.S. strategy to counter the Taliban insurgency — that expensive new roads and power plants can be funded and constructed quickly enough to help turn the tide of war — and it poses a sobering, counterintuitive question for policymakers in Washington: whether the massive influx of American spending in Afghanistan is actually making problems worse. Many U.S. military commanders, diplomats and reconstruction experts have long believed that large infrastructure projects were essential to fixing Iraq and Afghanistan. Now-retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former top commander in both wars who is now director of the CIA, used to say that cash was one of his most important weapons. But the latest report adds new weight to the argument — voiced by independent development specialists and even a few government officials — that the United States attempted to build too much in a country with limited means to assume responsibility for those projects. All U.S. combat forces are expected to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Until now, most critiques have asserted only that the massive U.S. foreign assistance program has led to waste and fueled corruption. The new report goes further by suggesting that some projects may ultimately prove detrimental. In a written response to the report, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said it was “speculative” for the inspector general to conclude that some of the projects would have adverse effects. The top Pentagon official responsible for Afghanistan called the report premature and insisted that the announcement of the projects, even though they have not been completed, has generated goodwill and excitement among the Afghan people. The inspector general’s examination focuses on the Afghan Infrastructure Fund, which was authorized by Congress in 2010 in part to prevent the Defense Department from dipping into a discretionary account for military commanders to bankroll large projects. The infrastructure fund was supposed to allow the Defense and State departments to collaboratively plan and pool money for large infrastructure improvements aimed at supporting the U.S. counter­insurgency campaign. Since then, Congress has poured $800 million into the fund and the State Department has committed about $1 billion of its funds to related infrastructure programs. Among the projects criticized by the inspector general is a plan to use costly diesel generators to provide electricity to residents of Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city, until the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers install a new hydropower turbine at a dam in the violence-plagued hills of neighboring Helmand province. Purchasing diesel to run the generators, which produce about 25 megawatts of electricity each — enough to power about 2,500 Afghan homes or small businesses — is projected to cost U.S. taxpayers about $220 million through 2013. Senior U.S. commanders argued that increasing electricity through the “Kandahar Bridging Solution” would be an important part of the overall American military effort to beat back the Taliban in Kandahar province. Those commanders asserted that more power to operate lights, television sets and fans would please residents and lead many of them to throw their support behind the Afghan government. But other civilian and military officials have questioned that logic. When U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl was the deputy commander of U.S. forces in Kandahar last year, he said he could not find any evidence that the additional electricity was yielding greater employment, stability or support for the government. “This is a bridge to nowhere,” he declared to his staff in 2011. Back then, Dahl also noticed a disturbing disparity: The installation of the turbine at the dam, which will not occur for at least two more years, will produce significantly less power than the city receives from the generators. Since the Afghan government will not have the financial ability to buy diesel for the generators, that means the city’s power supply will inevitably ebb once the turbine is operational and U.S. funding for diesel ends. That gap was seized upon by the inspector general. “While the Kandahar Bridging Solution may achieve some immediate [counter­insurgency] benefits because — as stated by USAID officials — ‘people like having their lights on,’ the U.S. government may be building an expectations gap that cannot be met in a timely manner,” the report states. The inspector general’s report also questions whether a new $23 million road in Helmand province will have adverse effects because the Afghan government has not compensated landowners for the destruction of their property. In addition, the report reveals that four electricity projects — costing a total of more than $300 million from the infrastructure fund — have not yet been awarded to contractors, despite claims from the military and USAID that they will have important counterinsurgency benefits. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a frequent critic of Afghan reconstruction efforts, said the report raises fundamental questions about the strategic rationale of U.S. development programs in the war-torn nation. “There’s no data that shows these major projects have changed the security environment in the country,” she said. “We cannot just throw money at a country like this and expect it to have a good ending.” In its response to the report, the U.S. Embassy defended the importance of large-scale development initiatives. “These critical infrastructure projects have signaled to Afghan populations the U.S. government’s long term commitment to Afghanistan.” Although the United States has spent almost $90 billion on Afghan reconstruction and development over the past decade, such examinations traditionally had not been conducted by the special inspector general’s office, which was more interested in contracting waste and fraud. This report was approved by a new inspector, former federal prosecutor John F. Sopko, who took charge of the office this month. He has vowed to scrutinize how projects are conceptualized and designed, not just how they are implemented.

Computer analysis predicted rises, ebbs in Afghanistan violence

In August 2010, shortly after WikiLeaks released tens of thousands of classified documents that cataloged the harsh realities of the war in Afghanistan, a group of friends — all computer experts — gathered at the New York City headquarters of the Internet company Bitly Inc. to try and make sense of the data. The programmers used simple code to extract dates and locations from about 77,000 incident reports that detailed everything from simple stop-and-search operations to full-fledged battles. The resulting map revealed the outlines of the country's ongoing violence: hot spots near the Pakistani border but not near the Iranian border, and extensive bloodshed along the country's main highway. They did it all in just one night. Now one member of that group has teamed up with mathematicians and computer scientists and taken the project one major step further: They have used the WikiLeaks data to predict the future. Based solely on written reports of violence from 2004 to 2009, the researchers built a model that was able to foresee which provinces would experience more violence in 2010 and which would have less. They could also anticipate how much the level of violence went up or down. The project, whose results were published online Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is part of a growing movement to understand and predict episodes of political and military conflict using automated computational techniques. The availability of huge amounts of data combined with steady increases in computing power has prompted experts to bring the rigor of objective quantitative analysis to realms that were once considered fundamentally subjective, including literature and the study of social groups. "For the first time, we have large data sets from places like Facebook and Twitter that we can analyze with high-powered computers and get meaningful results," said Paulo Shakarian, a computer scientist at the United States Military Academy at West Point, who is working on an algorithm to predict the location of insurgent weapons caches. "Iraq and Afghanistan are the very first conflicts where we have been collecting as much data as we possibly can." In the case of the WikiLeaks data, the researchers sought to find a general pattern to the violence in Afghanistan and use it to predict how violence would change in each province in 2010 — the year President Obama increased the number of U.S. troops in the country. "The model we employed is both complex and simple," said Guido Sanguinetti, an expert in computational sciences at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the study's senior author. "It doesn't take in any knowledge of military operations or political events, and it treats all types of violence exactly the same, whether it's a stop-and-search or a big battle." Even with these ostensibly key details missing, the researchers found that they could predict 2010's events with striking accuracy. And the model wasn't tripped up by Obama's decision to send 30,000 additional troops, which introduced a new dimension to the Afghanistan conflict. "Our findings seem to prove that the insurgency is self-sustaining," Sanguinetti said. "You may throw a large military offensive, but this doesn't seem to disturb the system." The study authors said they were most surprised that the model could predict activity even in Afghanistan's relatively quiet northern provinces, where there were fewer data points available to analyze. "This shows that the escalation we see isn't just attributed to the noise in the data," said study leader Andrew Zammit Mangion, a computational sciences researcher at the University of Edinburgh. Instead, he said, patterns existed nearly everywhere. Michael Ward, a political scientist at Duke University who has shown that location data can improve predictions of conflicts, said the study pointed the way to future research. "Suppose you could say, 'This is the effect on violence if you build different types of infrastructure,' " he said. "They don't do that, but they've set up the framework to do it." The study also shows why it's important to make as much data public as possible, Ward said. Without WikiLeaks, he said, a study like this would have been far more difficult to carry out. Clionadh Raleigh of Trinity College Dublin, who uses data to predict violence in Africa based on factors such as the outcomes of local elections, said the Afghanistan model could be made even better by including variables such as the political party in power. "Violence, in general, is a really good predictor of future violence," she said. But even better would be "to figure out what stops the cycle of conflict." Quantitative rigor is making its way into some surprising fields of study. In 2010, just a few months after the WikiLeaks data dump, Google released a database of every single word contained in thousands of books published between 1800 and 2000 — about 4% of all books ever printed. That has enabled some intrepid researchers to close in on the final frontier: Studying literature with advanced math. In a study published last year in Science, experts from Harvard University and Google were able to detect evidence of censorship regarding controversial historical figures and events, such as early Soviet official and Stalin foe Leon Trotsky and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in China. "That's what this digital humanities focus is being driven toward: uncovering trends in data that have just never been available before," Raleigh said.

Saudi woman converted to Christianity

Didn’t expect this but then, it seems to be the first time it’s come up in Saudi Arabia… Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that a Saudi woman has repudiated Islam, converted to Christianity, and then fled the country (although she may have converted after leaving the country). I cannot recall any earlier, similar cases. Nor was I at all expecting Saudi media to cover the story. Not at all surprising, though, is that the woman’s family is claiming that she was forced to convert and was spirited out of the country by miscreants. Who are now under arrest in the Kingdom. Somewhat surprisingly, the accused – a Saudi and a Lebanese – were granted bail. It will be interesting to see how this case plays out, both for the woman and in Saudi media, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see the story disappear, either.
A Saudi girl who recently embraced Christianity and fled the country for refuge in Lebanon, told the host of a religious program on an Arabic TV channel that she was tired of performing prayers and fasting during Ramadan. The girl, who said her name was Maryam, said praying and fasting did not bring her any benefits. She also criticized the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Hai’a) and claimed that she was raised to hate Judaism and Christianity but fell in love with the religions after she found peace in Christianity. She said she became a Christian after she had a dream one night. In it, she climbed to the skies and heard God telling her that Jesus is His son. She said that she had been living in the Kingdom since she was 17. … Maryam’s father filed a complaint against her two former co-workers, a Saudi and a Lebanese, accusing them of helping his daughter illegally flee the Kingdom and embrace Christianity. The Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution (BIP) in Al-Khobar accused the men of forcing the girl to convert and arrested them. However, both men were later released on bail while their case has been referred to a court in Al-Khobar. … The Saudi Embassy in Beirut is coordinating with the concerned authorities in the country to convince the girl to return to the Kingdom. It is expected that the Al-Khobar District Court will look into the case, the first of its kind in the Kingdom, soon.

Saudi Arabia continues its suppression policy against peaceful demonstrations

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) condemns the continuity of the Saudi regime to use, Thursday night of July 26, 2012, excessive violence and power against the peaceful demonstrations, which organized by the people of “Qatif” that calls for the release of the detainees in violation of the law. They were arrested as they expressed their opinions and peaceful activity. The use of violence resulted in several injures and arrests. The Saudi security forces used the excessive powers against the peaceful protesters during a peaceful demonstrations that calls for the release of some detainees. In Qatif and fter a long time of non-existence of the security, the security forces and armed vehicles started to surrounding the protesters and used the tear gas bombs to dispense a hundreds of protesters. They also use rubber and live bullets, which resulted in several deep injuries among youth as well as a large number of arrest, among them was the “Mohamed El-Shakhowry”, the rights activist, who was shot then sent to the military hospital. Previously, The Saudi regime accused him and 22 persons, known as the “23” group, arbitrary accused them due to their participation in peaceful demonstrations in the eastern side. Such accusations include inciting riots, demagoguery assemble, obstruction of traffic within neighborhoods, the destruction of public and private property, possession of firearms illegally, and opened fire against citizens and security men, covered by innocent citizens and try to drag them into absurd confrontations with security forces in implementation of foreign agendas as well as the security services raided a number of houses and unlawfully searched them claiming that they search for wanted people and the arrest of a number of young people in their homes without press any charges. It is worthy to be noted that the Eastern side, Qatif in particular, “Shiite Majority”, witness continued protest since a long time. The protest increased after the arrest of “Nemr Baqer Nemr” the clergyman. The protests calls for social and political reforms and to stop the sectarian assault against the Shiite in “Saudi Arabia” and the to allow them to perform their rituals freely and to release the political detainees of “Qatif” ANHRI said “the use of excessive power against the demonstrators proves that the suppressive and abusive policy that has been adopted for long by the Saudi regime against all the opposition, which call for freedoms in the light of complicity and silence of the Arab and International community in order to preserve the interests of some governments with Saudi Arabia”. ANHRI added “the suppressive policy adopted by the Saudi regime will not succeed to infanticide the peoples movement in the country but will increase it to reach the people’s hope of the Arab Spring”. ANHRI called all those who are interested in human rights in the middle east and the world to press the Saudi regime and expose its crimes and violations against human rights, in order to the immediate release of the political detainees, guarantee their safety, respect the freedom of opinion and expression as well as the peaceful demonstrations.

Bahrainis will continue revolution despite crackdown

Bahrainis will continue their revolution against the repressive regime of Al Khalifa despite the incessant crackdown on peaceful demonstrations. Press TV has conducted an interview with Ibrahim Mousawi, political analyst, Beirut about the cover up or lack of international concern on the human rights abuses toward the peoples’ revolution in Bahrain. The other guest to this news analysis includes Bahraini political activist in London, Jaffar al-Hesabi. The following is an approximate transcription of the interview. Press TV: Mainstream media are not pointing their camera lens in the direction of Bahrain, but on the other hand we see that they’re in full zoom focus when it comes to Syria. What is the difference - why do we see a vast difference in the way that various countries are being covered? Mousawi: It’s very evident for everyone who watches what is really going on in the region that there is evident and clear double standards led by the Western governments and the so-called international community. I would urge everybody to make reservation while using this abbreviation or this terminology ‘the international community’ because it does not represent those who we consider the international community, they do not represent the international community. Now what is happening is that they are focusing or zooming in on Syria and not on Bahrain simply because the western governments i.e. the USA, Britain, the powerful capitals in the West they support the Bahraini regime and the Bahraini regime is their ally. That’s why they are turning a blind eye. It’s not that they are turning a blind eye; I would say that the Western government along with the USA are responsible; they are equally responsible and they share the responsibility for all the suffering, the brutality and the torturing that is happening to the Bahrainis. This is a very vivid and clear historical example about the inconsistency, the double standards and the hypocrisy of the Western governments. Just to notify about what my colleague said from London, Mr. Jaffar Hesabi... It’s not true that the Bahraini government is misleading the international community. This so-called international community - and we mean by it the USA, Britain and France and other western governments, all those who follow the same axis - they know in detail what is happening there. They have their embassies there; they can send any envoy or delegation to see what is really happening there; they know for sure what is really going on, but it is very evident that petroleum and oil is more important to them than the blood of the Bahraini people. Press TV: When we look at what is referred to as the so-called international community and the inundation by the Western media on the airwaves and how lots of times even the images are created in dealing with certain countries and then images are never shown on others... and so many people seem to be influenced by what you called the so-called international community… What is the answer then? What is the answer in order to get the truth to be shown that people all over the world realize the suffering that is taking place on the ground in Bahrain? Mousawi: I would urge that we have to find a way in order to inform the public opinion, the international community, when we mean the government, the governments have their tools, their embassies, consulates and delegations and they know very well what is happening. May be the public, the people - the ordinary people don’t know much about what is happening, they are being spoon fed by the bombardment of the media misleading them on Syria, Bahrain, on Palestine and different other place, we know about that very well. We have to be creative as to form our own alternative media. Our people who are outside, the ambassadors who have sympathy towards the cause i.e. the cause of the Bahrainis, the journalists the students, we have to go to the internet and to the alternative media in order to make this word spread all over. I want to say that when we are strong enough as people, as people who are fighting the repressive regimes, we will be able one way or another to find a way in order to make the message reach. Otherwise, if we are going to depend on the media we know that they are hostile, these are communities and governments who have put themselves in the shoes of our enemies and they deal with us as if we are their enemies. That’s why they want to gag our mouths; they don’t want the word to get out in any way. We have to find a way in order to reach… Press TV: On the same line I was asking our guest in London and talking about Saudi Arabia’s role, how responsible do you think the Saudi regime is for what is happening in general right now in Bahrain? Mousawi: They know they have taken the decision to interfere and to go into Bahrain. This is a turning point actually. They share full responsibility with the Bahraini regime about all the actions taken against the Bahraini people. I will tell you one simple thing - when we have this kind of genuine steadfastness by the Bahraini people; when we have this resolve, this determination, this continuation of the struggle against the repressive coercive regime of Bahrain; when they are continuing their peaceful demonstrations and they insist to be peaceful; and when the system itself, the government, tries to depict it as un-peaceful and they want to distort the image of the Bahraini revolution, this is something that will tell you exactly how afraid they are of the kind of fear the extent of fear they suffer from the Bahraini revolution. I believe it’s a matter of time only when they all will subdue and they all will surrender to the resolve and the determination. The people in Bahrain have to continue their patience, continue their perseverance and I’m sure their victory and triumph will be their fate and their destiny no matter how much brutality the government of Bahrain would exercise against them. Press TV: What exactly does it mean as our guest in London has talked about that John Yates (former UK head of counter terrorism), he was accused of corruption back in the UK, but then seemed rewarded by the Bahraini regime, brought to Manama and now spearheading, it seems, this crackdown. What type of respect does that say that the West in general has for the Bahraini people when someone was accused of such negative actions in their own country and yet now is heading the security force in Bahrain? Mousawi: Again and again we are revolving over the same point. We have not to pin any hope, not to bank on any positive engagement with the Western governments. We’re talking about hypocrites, we’re talking about double standards policies, we’re talking about inconsistency and we’re talking about insecurity. What do we expect from them? It’s the same that applies to Israel for example, I mean we all know when we talk about the judiciary for example in Britain they said they are trying to make certain amendments for judiciary rules so they will not go after the Israeli leaders. It’s the same everywhere and when it comes to their interests, their interests are number one, and the people and their blood and their rights... If we believe this so-called western democracy that they care for the human rights and care for the people, then we are misled. Press TV: Mr. Hesabi said that perhaps they will lose, the US will lose Bahrain as they lost Iran, but in the meantime what will it take for the Bahraini human rights protesters to reach their goal, which is basically human rights; one person one vote; and to have a say in the direction of their country? Mousawi: They have to continue their determination, they have to be as determined and have the same resolve as they did since the beginning of this revolution. I have an unshaken conviction that things are going to end and boil down to the interests of the Bahraini people. It is something that Allah has promised all the believers that if they continue to persevere on the path of Allah they are going to get their victory. It’s a matter of patience and perseverance and determination and all things are going to come to their interests. They have only to continue and to continue relying on Allah and their own fists and their own patience and their own determination.

Syrian army clears two Aleppo districts of armed gangs

Syrian security forces have cleared the Salahuddin and Hamdaniya neighborhoods in the northwestern city of Aleppo of foreign-sponsored armed gangs. The Syrian army said on Monday that most of the city is now under its control. Meanwhile, fighting continues in the southern district of Sokari and the central neighborhood of Bab al-Hadid. Clashes have continued between Syrian troops and armed rebels in Aleppo over the past few days. The Syrian army began a major operation on Saturday from the southwestern outskirts of Aleppo to clear the city of armed groups. On Sunday, the security forces killed a large number of terrorists attempting to enter the country from neighboring Turkey. Many people, including large numbers of security forces, have been killed in the turmoil in Syria that began in March 2011. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said on July 29, “We believe that all the anti-Syrian forces have gathered in Aleppo to fight the government… and they will definitely be defeated.” Muallem made the remarks in a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in Tehran. Over the past few days, Syrian troops have reportedly inflicted heavy losses on the rebels in the southwestern city of Dara’a, about 114 kilometers (70 miles) south of the capital, Damascus. The anti-Syria Western regimes have been calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, but Russia and China remain strongly opposed to the Western drive to oust Assad. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on July 28, “Our Western partners… together with some of Syria’s neighbors are essentially encouraging, supporting and directing an armed struggle against [the Syrian government].”

THIEF MINISTER SHABAZ:Don't do politics on load shedding issue

Don't do politics on load shedding issue, Kaira tells Shahbaz
The minister said that windstorm damaged main lines of 500 KV and 220 KVs in Muzaffargarh. Talking to media in Muzzaffargarh on Monday, Minister for Information and Broadcasting asked the Punjab Chief Minister to avoid doing politics on the issue of load shedding. He said under the 18th amendment‚ the provinces are empowered to generate electricity on their own. To a question‚ Kaira said the government has started short‚ medium and long term measures to overcome the electricity crisis. He also said that no power plant running on fuel is closed due to the shortage of oil, adding that supply of oil to the plants have been increased to twenty five thousand metric tonne from twelve thousand metric tonne to operate the power plants in maximum capacity. The Information Minister said windstorm damaged main lines of 500 KV and 220 KVs in Muzaffargarh‚ causing loss of 1800 megawatt. He said two lines have been restored which have added 1100 megawatt of electricity to the national grid. By this evening‚ 350 power plant of Lal Peer will also be restored. Besides two power plants of Chasma have also resumed production due to which power generation capacity has improved and stabilized.

Being Young and Baloch

The Baloch Hal
By Malik Siraj Akbar
In a chapter focusing on the Pakistani youth in the newly published book The Future of Pakistan, Moeed W. Yusuf, the South Asia Advisor at the Washington-based United States Institute for Peace (USIP), says 79 per cent of the youth in Pakistan “feels proud to be a Pakistani”. The response of the youth from Pakistan’s largest province of Balochistan, nonetheless, stands strikingly different from the rest of the country. “The figures from Balochistan [about being proud to be a Pakistani] were the bleakest,” he concluded, after analysing three recent major youth surveys. According to Mr Yusuf, the findings of these surveys conducted by the British Council, Centre for Civic Education and Herald magazine do not collectively bode well for the Pakistani federation in the coming years. “Baloch youth stand out as most distraught with the federation. Except for a minority, they are least enthusiastic about being part of Pakistan and are least proud to be Pakistanis,” he wrote. “They are the keenest to leave Pakistan and they oppose the military and state institutions more staunchly than youth in other provinces.” Parveen Naz, a social activist in Quetta, says the Baloch generally see a “very bleak” future for themselves in Pakistan. While no access to quality education or employment opportunities is one thing, she says, the “kill and dump” policies have further poisoned the minds of a new generation of the Baloch. “The security apparatus in the country has made life miserable for the Baloch. They cannot enter in any walk of life, nor can they undertake entrepreneurial initiatives because the federal government has waged a war against the Baloch. The youth is punished whether it is politically involved or totally indifferent. Islamabad sees no difference and treats all the Baloch with the same stick.” According to Abdullah Jan, a youth development expert based in Quetta, there is a “huge cultural and political difference” between the Baloch youth and their compatriots in the rest of Pakistan. The Baloch youth does not see any opportunity in the state institutions. They are disappointed and ever disparate against the state policies. According to him, a “communication gap” between the Baloch youth and the state policymakers at the official level has remarkably widened the gulf. Since the inception of the current military operation, desperation, alienation and frustration among the Baloch youth has dramatically increased. While economic marginalisation, inadequate health and education opportunities and underrepresentation in the mainstream state institutions have remained some of the key factors for the disillusionment of the Baloch youth, the military operation in the province has generated new alarming trends. Mr Jan estimates that nearly 60 per cent of Baloch students have become “psychologically ill,” alluding to depression caused by increasing incidents of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture and killing of hundreds of Baloch youths allegedly by security forces. “These kids see their peers, friends getting killed or disappeared every day. They see the bullet-riddled dead bodies of their class fellows on a regular basis. Depression and anxiety are a natural byproduct of such a situation,” he says. Mr Jan, who has worked with several non-governmental organisations for more than two decades, argues that the Baloch youth is deeply involved in politics and political discussions. Yet, the youth politics in Balochistan is different from the rest of the country because most of the Baloch have a Leftist approach and their political heroes are Che Guevera and Baloch guerillas, such as Dr Allah Nazar and Balach Marri who support an independent Balochistan. A lecturer of sociology at the University of Balochistan, who did not wish to be named, says it was not possible to discuss the economic marginalisation of the Baloch youth by keeping aside the country’s politics. For instance, he says, there is no proper mechanism in the Pakistan army and other security forces to hire and accommodate Baloch youths in the country’s security forces. “Most of the vacancies in Balochistan in the army, the Frontier Corps (FC) and the Coast Guards are filled by non-natives coming from other parts of the country. The Baloch youth sees no opportunity in the armed forces,” he says. According to him, some young Baloch had joined the Pakistan army but eventually quit their jobs and returned home. They complained about the use of abusive language by senior army officers about Baloch leaders like Nawab Akbar Bugti, Bramadagh Bugti and Hairbayar Marri. “The people the Baloch youth see as their heroes are generally depicted as the enemies of Pakistan by the army,” he said. “Religiosity is another issue that often compels Baloch youths to quit the military because the former are secular in nature. Some of them even do not pray five times a day or fast in the month of Ramzan which does not position them in the good books of their senior officers. Frankly, most Baloch are not anti-India either.” The youth in Balochistan complain about the scarcity of opportunities and avenues to present and promote their talent. Qaisar Roonjha, a young trainer who comes from a village in Lasbela District but offers services to highly reputable organisations such as the British Council as a Global Change maker, says the youth in Balochistan is full of talent but they face lack of encouragement. While the absence of official encouragement prevents some from taking initiatives, Mr Roonjha says he still knows many young people who are embracing the challenge to pursue their personal and professional dreams. “Instead of waiting for the right time, everyone should play their role towards a fairer society,” he suggests, referring to a quote by Mother Teresa: “Don’t wait for leaders; do it person to person.’’ In Quetta, when Eeman Sahal Baloch, a young talk show host, started Subh-e-Bolan, a Balochi language morning show on Pakistan Television (PTV-Bolan), to explore the hidden talent among the youth in Balochistan, she was amazed at the extraordinary wealth of talent. “Five months into the show, I had hosted around 1,000 talented boys and girls from across Balochistan. We found talented youth from remote towns of Panjgur, Turbat, Awaran, Gwadar, Mund, Hub, Quetta, Sibi, Mastung, Lasbela and other places,” she said. “They were all smart and talented people who offer much promise if empowered and trusted. The youth in these rural areas urgently need help and government attention for a better future.” These are indeed defining times for the youth in Balochistan. Youth development and empowerment do not seem to be a priority of the governments in Islamabad and Quetta. The provincial assembly in Balochistan rarely debates the issues of the youth. Thus, the Baloch youth is easily available to be exploited either by the government with job offers and scholarships or the nationalists to avenge the killings of their peers and seek an independent Balochistan. The government’s timely response, not with military operations but with respect and abundant opportunities for the Baloch, will decide who the young Baloch will support and join in near future. Islamabad must act swiftly because Balochistan does not seem to have much time left.


Railways system suffered a lot over a period of time and naïve rulers and decision-makers should be blamed for the collapse of railways in Pakistan. The rulers preferred to launch the National Logistic Cell, a subsidiary of the Pakistan Army, to deny Pakistan commercial cargo for the railways making it sustainable financially. It was a disservice to the people and the country by plunging the Pakistan Railways into a serious financial crisis. As a result of this crisis, Pakistan railways viability had been risked and no major efforts are being made to revitalize the Pakistan railways in the service of poor people and the country as a whole. Railways all over the world earn profit from commercial cargo service as a single engine drag 70 bogies loaded with cargo making it a cheap mode to goods transport in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world. The naïve rulers and decision-makers had deliberately tried to wind it up the Railways for the benefits of thugs and dishonest transporters. Years ago, the Muslim League Government had tried to close the railways system to benefit its corrupt constituents in transport business. But the Muslim League Government was afraid of the public backlash and thus Railways had been saved from the final and deadly attack. The Government had virtually patronized rampant corruption in the Pakistan Railways and the railway engines were sold as scrap to dubious foundries in Lahore. There were reports of stealing diesel, pilferage in railway revenue and spare parts. Some former generals had sold the land of Pakistan Railways to private people at throw away prices only to inflict maximum harm to the Railways and its system working for over 150 years. There is massive corruption in railways and maximum efforts should be made to curb corruption so that it should earn profit and revitalize the railways in the interest of the poor people. The National Logistic Cell should be confined to take the cargo of the defence forces only disallowing it from picking up commercial cargo from any part of Pakistan. Pakistan Railways had served the Pakistan Army as a national institution by providing all possible facilities and concessions in travel and transporting defence cargo at nominal charges in the past. There was no need of launching the NLC to harm the interest of Pakistan Railways and the poor people. There should be one time major investment to improve and revitalize Pakistan Railways in the service of the nation and the people by inducting new railway engines, new bogies, both passengers and cargo, and double track of railway line by constructed to make its operations more efficient. Since poor people are in need the service of Pakistan Railways as the cheapest mode of public transport, it service should be improved by running and operating trains on time. New train service should be launched in all directions. In Balochistan, the Quetta-Zahedan Section should be rebuilt on international standards so that it match the railway system of neighbouring Iran and trains, both for passenger and cargo, should operate between Balochistan and Iran boosting trade and commerce. Similarly, Gwadar Port city should be linked with the Pakistan National Railway network at Kuchaki near Naushki and also with Afghanistan via Nimroz Province catering the future needs of land locked countries of Central Asia. The Government of Pakistan should seek financial and technical assistance from the Asian Development Bank. The ADB had offered an investment of over 11 billion dollars for development of railroad infrastructure linking Central Asian countries with the Gwadar Port. The old offer should be revived so that Gwadar is used as the major hub of economic activities in the whole region. There should be two-way construction of railway lines one to connect the national railway system within Pakistan and secondly connecting with rail and road the central Asian countries, mainly Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.

Pakistan: Lesson from Passco's losses

The doctrine in contemporary economics that government should not be in the business of doing business fits perfectly well in the instant case. According to a report compiled by the Auditor General as revealed by the "Business Recorder" on 27th July, 2012, the procurement of substandard rice and its late disposal by Pakistan Agriculture Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) had inflicted a loss of over Rs 11 billion to the national exchequer. The details of the story indicated that Passco had arranged to purchase Basmati Rice (Super) at Rs 75,000 per ton and the Corporation suffered huge losses because the paddy, particularly purchased in Sindh, was of poor quality, wet and substandard. As if this oversight was not enough, the sale of the commodity was delayed for a considerable time. Passco was required to sell its rice stocks in March or April, 2009 but the management stocked the rice for about two years and then sold it slowly without realising that Passco/government was bearing heavy interest charges. The last batch of rice stock was disposed of as late as in October last year. The Audit was of the view that the management should have investigated the procurement and disposal process itself which had caused huge losses. The matter was reported to the Passco management on 28th November, 2011 but it rejected allegations on the ground that losses sustained by Passco had been picked up by the Federal Government because "wet rice" was procured and disposed of in accordance with the instructions of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. The above report as published in the "Business Recorder" is a classic example of the working of the Public Sector Enterprises (PSEs) in Pakistan where inefficiency and mismanagement is the order of the day and huge financial losses suffered due to ineptitude, negligence or corrupt practices of their managements are picked up routinely by the national exchequer. To make the matters worse or more complicated, there is a general tendency of buck-passing to save one's own skin and blame the other party for omissions and failures at various stages. In the instant case, a highly substandard commodity, inferior to the actual specifications, was procured; its sale was delayed for an unduly long period without realising that interest charges had to be paid to the banks for stocking the commodity and then Passco had the cheek to say that such an unwise decision was taken in accordance with the instructions from the relevant ministry of the government. All of this seems unbelievable and obviously a lot of people are involved in such dubious practices, making a lot of money and bleeding the government exchequer profusely and mercilessly. If the government was made to suffer a loss of over Rs 11 billion in only one transaction, it is not surprising that managements of the PSEs in Pakistan were bleeding the country's budget like a pig every year. Since structural fiscal deficit is already quite substantial, added burden due to the mismanagement in the PSEs is usually financed through bank borrowings, which are highly inflationary and make the lives of ordinary people more miserable, who had no role in stealing the money from government exchequer. Although there is a lot of criticism on the working of the PSEs, no bold efforts have so far been made to set the things right and save the nation from this crooked game. There could be certain merit in the argument that certain PSEs providing essential services to the public at large need to be restructured and retained in the public sector, but organisations like Passco which are primarily engaged in trading and ordinary business do not qualify for such treatment. They need to be disbanded because their functions could easily be taken over by the private sector without the involvement of the government. The sooner it is done, the better to alleviate the heavy burden now carried by the government/ordinary tax payers. No private trader would buy wet and substandard paddy without a huge discount in price and as a rational agent would sell it at the appropriate time to economise on bank charges. Above all, he will not blame anybody else but only himself if there is a loss by the end of the day. Our fiscal position is so precarious that we cannot afford to feed endlessly white elephants like Passco. It is time to say farewell to such animals and lighten the burden on the nation's fragile back. Certain landlords or vested interests may not be happy with such an approach but this is now the accepted norm in almost all the countries of the world.

Pakistan:Women’s protection and empowerment

The government has shown, once again, its unwavering support for the elevation of women’s stature in society. The PPP has a good record of inclusion of women even on high-level posts. President Asif Ali Zardari the other day signed on the One Million Signatures campaign undertaken to create awareness about violence against women. Speaking on the occasion, Mr Zardari, expressing his acceptance and endorsement, stated that his party and government would take all necessary steps to put an end to discrimination against women. Already, legislation for the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010, Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2010, adoption of the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act 2011, Acid Control and Acid Crime Act and Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Act 2011 and the Prevention of Anti-women Practices Act have been passed, to the credit of the government. Albeit the bill against domestic violence is still hanging fire, its presentation marks the need to provide security to millions of women who become victims of everyday abuse in their homes. The stereotype of the woman as the victim and the man as the aggressor has not changed considerably for a vast majority of females, who owing to their family background, educational status, financial dependence and lack of options remain chained in a cul-de-sac for life. In large segments of society, in a pre-modern state, where patriarchy is alive and kicking, it is of utmost importance that women have the education, wherewithal and means to break free of an offensive and discriminatory system, with the full knowledge that the law is on their side and effective to provide justice to them. Despite the difficulties and challenges the government faces to pass all bills in favour of women’s rights and empowerment, the ongoing efforts must be appreciated. The need to have women as members of the superior courts is also being considered. The absence of female judges in the superior judiciary reflects the unspoken discrimination against women in a male-controlled domain. Commemorating the legacy of the former prime minister and co-chairperson of the PPP, the late Ms Benazir Bhutto, whose government was a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the promulgation of the Women in Distress and Detention Fund Act 2011 and establishment of 26 Benazir Bhutto Centres for Women are positive signs of the PPP’s stance to provide opportunities for women in terms of security and employment. While all these initiatives are of great significance, it is the duty of the lawmakers to ensure implementation of these laws favouring womenfolk. Without implementation in practice, these protections would remain mere words, and ultimately redundant.

USAID provides solar energy system to 115 households

Speakers Sunday highlighted the need to promote alternate energy sources to combat growing energy crisis in the country. Speaking at a project launching ceremony under which 115 household solar systems would be provided in villages of union council Jhimpir district Thatta, CEAD Chief Executive Prof Qalander Shah said that alternate energy is the need of the hour. He said that Pakistan is among the sunniest countries and solar energy is highly localisable. This can benefit rural areas in the country, where access to central power grid is sparse. He hoped that household solar system would be more beneficial for rural women who are engaged in multiple chores and they can give more time to traditional handicraft making to improve their livelihood. The project is implemented by Centre for Environment & Development with the support of USAID. Executive Director of CEAD Nasir Ali Panhwar said that power crisis can be managed through exploiting indigenous resources including natural resources like solar and wind. The solution would be long lasting and sustainable as it is based on our own resources. He said that till today thousands of villages are not electrified and the routines activities of villagers are limited up to sunlight. He said that solar energy is not only cost effective but also environmental friendly and is without any operation and maintenance cost. He said that provision of solar systems at household level would certainly bring far reaching benefits to communities, who do not have any source of electricity and spend major source of income on purchasing kerosene oil for lighting purpose. Zahid Hussain Jalbani said that use of kerosene oil for lighting brings many health problems and as a result poor people in rural areas are afflicted with many diseases. He said that solar energy is efficient and farmers as well as fishermen can spend more time on enhancing their livelihood opportunities. Dr Ali Murtaza Dharejo said that all economic activities are directly dependent on energy. He hoped that with provision of 115 household solar systems, life of 115 families would be changed. Ghazala Panhwar said that community participation is imperative for success of the initiative. She urged the need for women participation. Rasool Bux Dars said that Jhimpir is neglected area and many development schemes have not been implemented and as a result funds have been lapsed. He said that provision of solar system is unique initiative and would be highly beneficial at local community. Raza Mohammad Palari said that due to non-availability of light, children cannot study after sunset. But after provision of solar lights, they would be in better position to give time to their studies. He appreciated the support of American people through USAID. Qadir Palari, Ghulam Mustafa Shah, Fateh Mohammad Behrani, Kamal Palari and other also spoke at the occasion

Punjab THIEF MINISTER on police culture

Punjab CM on police culture
PUNJAB Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has once again spoken about further improving the thana culture. May I ask the chief minister about how he will change the thana culture when the police force already stands politicised and has ceased to work as an independent institution that protects the people and their properties without any interference from the political government? When a posting or transfer of a police officer depends on the discretion of the chief minister, it is unlikely that a police officer will perform his duties according to the prescribed rules. When hundreds of policemen are for the personal security of the chief minister and other officials, expecting the police force to serve the citizens is a contradiction. Is the life of an ordinary citizen not as precious as that of a political leader who is a representative of the people? Why are politicians afraid of the people who elected them and entrusted them with the power of ruling them? In order to change the thana culture it is imperative to change the present system of police recruitment, training, responsibilities and service structure. The rules of the system date back to the colonial era, though the need of the day is an independent police institution where recruitment of officers is based on qualifications and merit. In my opinion, a police officer should be at least a graduate, and a policeman should have at least completed his high school. Police officers should study and be trained for a minimum of two years before being made in charge of a police station. Similarly, policemen should undergo at least one year’s training. The service structure should follow the model of the army. Only then can police performance change, followed by a change in the thana culture. The other important factor missing is the participation of the community in police working and performance evaluations. Those new residential colonies which have their own security arrangements must be made part of police functions such as protecting the property and maintaining law and order. Why are people afraid of seeking help from the police? Why does each police station have a price when SHOs are willing to pay for their transfers? Developing and encouraging community policing and revamping the whole police system are the need of the hour. Unfortunately, our political leaders are so busy in political scoring with each other that they do not have time to think and implement those policies which contribute to the welfare of the people and which can really make a difference in the performance of the government. Lastly, I suggest that the chief minister should also establish women police stations that are managed by women alone so that 50 per cent of the population is given its due importance and equal rights. SYED TASADUQ Lahore

ISAF Calls Criticism From Pakistan 'Incorrect'
The International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) has denied a claim by Pakistan's military that ISAF is failing to help stop militants from crossing the Afghan-Pakistan border. Pakistan's military says it has notified the NATO-led force in Afghanistan 52 times about crossborder movement from Pakistan into Afghanistan by militants, without any response from the ISAF. In a statement, ISAF said that claim is "incorrect." The NATO-led force says it immediately dispatches troops to deal with crossborder militants whenever Pakistan's military requests assistance. The statement says ISAF has a mutual interest to coordinate action with Pakistan against crossborder attacks from North Waziristan by members of the Haqqani network. It says ISAF is "committed to working together with Pakistan" for security, stability and efforts toward reconciliation.