Saturday, August 11, 2012

Pakistan: Rise in polio

Two more polio cases have been uncovered in Peshawar and Charsadda bringing the total number of cases this year in the country to 29. This is an improvement on the figures last year. But the steady rise of new cases indicates Pakistan still has a very long way to go in its battle against this crippling virus. What is most worrying of all is the number of problems that stand in the way of making Pakistan a polio-free country. Some of these were pointed out by the WHO’s regional chief Dr Ala Alwan during his brief visit to the country. As Dr Alwan has stated, we still have areas where teams cannot enter which is a major concern. These areas seem to be expanding beyond the tribal belts. Health experts have expressed concerns over the law and order situation in Balochistan which is holding back vaccination. There have also been more refusals in all parts of the country, linked to fears that the polio vaccination may cause harm. The recent shooting incident of a WHO doctor in Gadap Town in Karachi reveals how dangerous the job of polio workers is becoming. The incident led the anti-polio drive in that area being suspended temporarily. All these factors signal that the polio threat will not end so easily. Pakistan has still to find a way of removing itself from the list of the three countries in the world that remain polio-endemic and while it may this year record fewer cases than the 198 reported in 2011, many challenges still lie ahead of us.

Mute Indian stranded in Pakistan desperate for home

When South Asia's nuclear rivals celebrate 65 years of independence next week, a deaf and mute Indian woman stranded in Pakistan will be thinking of only one thing: how to get home to see her family. Geeta, now 21, was found by police 13 years ago, sitting alone and disorientated on a train that had come across the border into Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore. As no one claimed her, officers took Geeta to the Edhi Foundation, Pakistan's largest and best-known charity, in whose care she has remained ever since. Geeta, desperate to get back to India, has tried to run away several times but, defenceless and unable to explain where her family live, has failed. However, activists are now making a renewed push in the hope that Indian and Pakistani authorities can intervene to find her parents. "It is simple for her," Bilqees Edhi told AFP at the tiny apartment where she cares personally for Geeta in the same building as an orphanage and a hospital. "She thinks she'll be in India as soon as she leaves us. She desperately wants to meet her family but she only knows she lives in India, nothing else." At first, Geeta lived in a shelter in Lahore as the charity tried to track down her family, but years went by without success. After she tried to escape several times and quarrelled with staff, Bilqees, who always had an easy relationship with her, brought her to Karachi six months ago and welcomed her into her own home. Short and thin with a pale complexion, Geeta has her own form of sign language and can write in Hindi: "India, seven brothers, three sisters". She adopts the Hindi custom of greeting elders by touching their feet and pressing her two palms together close to her heart in the gesture of Namaste. Speaking through sign language, she said one day she became annoyed after being told off by her parents, left the house and kept walking for hours. "Then," she swings her hands back and forth in a loop, a sign for a moving train, "I boarded the train and slept." Geeta writes that her mother used to call her "Guddi", which means doll in Urdu and Punjabi. Through sign language, she says her home is next to a river, set in fields with the house behind a hospital and a restaurant. "You know, it could be any village or town. We have so many places like this," sighs Bilqees in quiet frustration. An official in the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, when contacted by AFP, said he would inquire into the case, but was unable to comment for the moment. Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, has offered to help by taking up the case with the High Commission, and calling on the Indian media to help find her family. Geeta is not the first Indian child to stray into Pakistan. Other cases of children straying across the border have previously been resolved with them handed back to their home country. One runaway teenager, who crossed over to Lahore then took the train to Karachi, was handed back in 2009 after police found him wandering around and he said he was from Kanpur city in the state of Uttar Pradesh, police official Afzal Khan said. Three years ago, Bilqees says she managed to repatriate another Indian girl, who had also strayed across the border after a row with her parents. "But, fortunately she could speak and tell us her whereabouts, which enabled us to arrange for her safe return." For now, Geeta watches Indian soap operas on a small TV, and observes the dawn to dusk fast of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, although she also prays at a small Hindu shrine in a corner of Bilqees' veranda. "She worships there and fasts as well with us," explains Bilqees. Geeta touches her lips and ears to indicate that her siblings can hear and speak. Then her smile tinges with sadness. She looks at the sky and moves her arm slowly upwards, mimicking a plane. "She says she wants to go home as soon as possible," interjects Ismat, a teenager who lives in the orphanage upstairs.

Bangladesh:Mysterious disappearance of opposition activists.

A political crisis is engulfing Bangladesh as opposition party members disappear under mysterious circumstances. Political turmoil escalates in Bangladesh amid growing calls for an independent investigation into the mysterious disappearance of scores of opposition activists. The BNP, Bangladesh's main opposition party, organised protests across the country after one of its regional leaders, Elias Ali, went missing on April 17. On 29 April, 2012, at least nine bombs were detonated in central Dhaka during a nationwide protest. About 100 opposition officials have been charged with carrying out the explosions at key government locations, while 27 others were arrested for violence, including Sirajul Haq, an ex-junior health minister, and Kamruzzaman Ratan, a former BNP student wing leader. Police have raided the homes of several top opposition members and some opposition leaders have gone into hiding.Human rights groups claim more than 100 opposition figures have gone missing since Bangladesh’s transition to democracy over four years ago. And local rights group Ain-O-Salish Kendra say that at least 22 people have disappeared this year. The elite anti-crime force Rapid Action Battalion, which has earned praise because of its fight against some radical Islamic groups in recent years, has been blamed for many disappearances. Ali is the highest profile opposition politician to have disappeared since Sheikh Hasina, the Bangladeshi prime minister, and her Bangladesh Awami League took power in January 2009. Today, the personal rivalry between Sheikh Hasina and opposition leader Khaleda Zia has split the country and analysts say the rule of law is weak with too much power allocated to security forces. As the political crisis deepens in this country of 160 million people, critics say not only its democracy but also its economy is at risk. Meanwhile, the opposition party and its 17 other allies say they plan to enforce "tougher" anti-government protests. They accuse police of using excessive force both during the recent anti-government protests and in police detention. Last August, MU Ahmed, an opposition lawyer, died in police custody. His wife Selina has filed a murder case against several high-ranking police and government officials. Statistics show that since the ruling Bangladesh Awami League came to power, murder in police custody has increased. Activists claim police are spared legal action as they act on directives from ruling party leaders. But the government denies the allegations.

Polls show Obama opens lead over Romney as negative ads take toll

New polls this week showed U.S. President Barack Obama has gained a considerable lead over presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney, as the president's re-election camp bombarded the GOP standard bearer with negative ads in recent months. A Fox News poll released Friday puts Obama ahead of Romney by nine points, with 49 percent support to Romney's 40 percent nationally. It follows a trend set by two other polls released earlier this week. Both CNN-ORC and Reuters-Ipsos polls gave Obama a seven-point lead over Romney. The polls point to a jump in support for Obama among independents. According to the Fox News poll, Obama's support among that voting bloc went from a four-point lead in its last survey to 11 percentage points in this one. But the main reason driving the numbers maybe Romney's climbing unfavorability ratings. The Fox News poll found 46 percent with an unfavorable opinion of Romney, up five points from last month. In contrast, Obama earned a positive opinion from 54 percent surveyed. It also found Romney's favorable ratings dropped 6 percentage points since last month and now sits at 46 percent, down from 52 percent in mid-July. Commentators have signaled the shift may have something to do with the barrage of negative ads Romney is enduring from the president's camp. The Obama campaign has spent heavily on advertising attacking Romney's time at the private equity firm Bain Capital and his tax returns. And it appears to be working.

Syria's new PM sworn in before Assad

Syria's newly appointed Prime Minister Wael al-Halki was sworn in Saturday before the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the state-run SANA news agency said. Assad appointed al-Halki Thursday after sacking the former breakaway Prime Minister Riad Hijab, who defected last Sunday and sought refuge in Jordan. Halki, a 48-year-old gynecologist, acted as secretary-general of the Baath party's branch in the southern Daraa province between 2000 and 2004. He was appointed as head of the doctors' syndicate in 2010 and later served as health minister. The defection of Hijab, despite attempts by the government to downplay its significance, is considered as a humiliating blow to the recently-formed government. On June 6, Assad issued a decree entitling Hijab, former agriculture minister, to form the new government. Hijab announced the formation of his cabinet on June 23.

Obama praises Huma Abedin
President Obama on Friday voiced strong support for Huma Abedin
, saying the top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been “nothing less than extraordinary in representing our country and the democratic values that we hold dear.” Obama praised Abedin during remarks at a White House iftar dinner to mark the end of the fasting during the Ramadan holiday observed by Muslims. Abedin has been subject to unproven accusations by some House Republicans, including Michelle Bachmann (Minn.), that she is part of a conspiracy by the Muslim Brotherhood to infiltrate the top reaches of the U.S. government. The president called Abedin an “American patriot” and added that the public owes her “a debt of gratitude” because she is “an example of what we need in this country -- more public servants with her sense of decency, her grace and her generosity of spirit.” In his remarks, Obama said diversity “makes us Americans,” but he warned that tolerance for such diversity is “threatened.” He cited the recent shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, in which six people were killed by a gunman who eventually shot himself. “Tonight, our prayers, in particular, are with our friends and fellow Americans in the Sikh community,” Obama said. “We mourn those who were senselessly murdered and injured in their place of worship. . .So tonight, we declare with one voice that such violence has no place in the United States of America. The attack on Americans of any faith is an attack on the freedom of all Americans. No American should ever have to fear for their safety in their place of worship. And every American has the right to practice their faith both openly and freely, and as they choose.” Bachmann and four colleagues have sent letters to inspectors general at the departments of Homeland Security, Justice and State asking about the U.S. government’s involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood, noting that the group calls for “civilization jihad. Bachmann has been criticized by some legislators in her own party, including Sen John McCain (Ariz.), who said Abedin “represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully.” Bachmann said McCain distorted her intent. “The intention of the letters was to outline the serious national security concerns I had and ask for answers to questions regarding the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical group’s access to top Obama administration officials,” Bachmann said last month. Bachmann cited her concerns that Egyptian Hani Nour Eldin, a known member of terror group Gamaa Islamiya, had been granted a visa to visit the United States and then meet with administration officials while in Washington. “This is just the latest example of the dangerous national security decisions made by the Obama administration,” Bachmann said. “I will not be silent as this administration appeases our enemies instead of telling the truth about the threats our country faces.”

Boy abducted in Qatar sends 'get me home' plea to David Cameron

A British schoolboy who was allegedly abducted in Qatar nearly three years ago has appealed to David Cameron to help reunite him with his mother. Adam Jones
was separated from his British mother while visiting his dead father's relatives in the Qatari capital Doha in October 2009. Since then the 13-year-old says he has been kept under virtual house arrest despite attempts by his mother, Rebecca Jones, to free him. Adam also claims he has been punched and kicked by family relatives. He says he is not allowed out alone, has no internet access and is unable to call his mother. Cameron has written to his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, and the Arab state's emir to demand that "Adam's voice is heard" and that the case is "speedily resolved". In a recent letter to Adam, the prime minister pledges that he will personally keep urging the Qatari royal family to ensure that his wish to return to his mother will be granted. Cameron states: "I was very sorry to read that you are still separated from your mum. This must be very hard for you, but I want you to know that you are still in my thoughts. I will keep trying as hard as I can to help you, and I hope your family situation will change for the better very soon." In a handwritten addendum, Cameron states: "I promise I have not forgotten about you – and will keep trying to make some progress." His letter followed a plea from Adam, who 11 months earlier had turned to him in desperation. Dated 25 April 2012, Adam states: "It is nearly one year since I wrote to you asking for your help. I was so happy when you wrote back and told me you would do your best to help me get home. Did you forget about me? "I want to go home now and I'm very sad and lonely." Adam reveals that he has also asked for Prince Charles's intervention because "nothing has happened and I think no one cares about me". The alleged abduction of Adam is a continuing focus of diplomacy between Britain and the Arab state, his case having being raised personally by the Queen during a meeting with Thani. The Foreign Office's child abduction section is also involved, with a spokesman saying it recognised the "enormous distress faced by Rebecca Jones in being separated from her son and we sincerely hope she is reunited with him soon". Yet Thani's written response to Cameron states only that he will try "to find an amicable solution that preserves the rights of all parties involved". Jones said her son was effectively a prisoner at the high-walled, gated home of his Qatari relatives and was forbidden to visit friends. Even at school, the 45-year-old from Sheffield claimed, Adam was escorted between classrooms and held in a room after lessons to be picked up by relatives. The ordeal began after she and Adam were invited to visit the parents of her late ex-husband on 3 October 2009. Rebecca was separated from Adam's Qatari father Jamal, who died in a motorbike accident in 2005, but stayed in contact with his family to allow them access to Adam. On the morning they were due to return to Bahrain, where Jones had taken a teaching job, she said she received a call asking if Adam could visit his sick grandmother. She agreed and a driver picked up Adam. Shortly after, his uncle, Fahad al-Mudhaki, rang and asked to meet her to discuss dividing up the proceeds of land belonging to Adam's father. Although the documents were in Arabic, Jones says she trusted Mudhaki's explanation that they comprised paperwork designed to safeguard Adam's inheritance and signed them. "I just wanted to go home with my son and was not interested in the lands or money my son had been left by his father. It did not occur to me what would happen." The documents were to be used to kickstart the Mudhakis' custody claim against her. Within minutes of signing, Jones says she realised she had been duped. She alleges that her husband's relatives told her that she had been deliberately deceived: "I'll never forget what Adam's uncle Fahad told me: 'I have lied to you and tricked you, Jamal did not take your son but I will'." The Mudhakis had made a court order in 2008 to win custody of Adam, confirming to her the abduction was premeditated. A custody hearing was already arranged for 13 October, days after the alleged kidnapping. "I felt sick to the stomach to realise that I had fallen easily into their trap." Adam, then 10, has been separated from his mother ever since, despite a series of custody appeals and Jones's offer to waive Adam's inheritance. A subsequent hearing ruled that Jones, who also has a four-year-old daughter Alex, is allowed to visit Adam twice weekly, but never unsupervised. She says the teenager is increasingly depressed. Since being taken, Adam has seen his sister twice, while the Mudhakis refuse to let Adam's British grandmother, 74, visit him. "For the last three years Alex won't sleep in her own bed," said Jones, "she's scared somebody is going to take her." Fahad Mudhaki is a senior police officer, a fact which Rebecca believes he has used against her. During her first visit to see Adam, eight weeks after he was taken, she said that 15 armed police officers surrounded the Mudhaki house and Jones was flanked by officers throughout their meeting. She says she has suffered a constant campaign of intimidation, sometimes receiving up to 20 calls a day from police, and each time she enters Qatar to visit Adam is terrified that she might be arrested. A document from the British embassy in Doha states "the child was kidnapped by his uncle Mr Fahad Juma Abdullah al-Mudhaki, a Qatari police officer". Jones said: "I've been terrorised and treated as a criminal. We are still suffering every day without our little boy. The pain has not gotten easier as time has passed because I cannot accept what has happened."

'Green-on-blue' attacks spike in Afghanistan

Seven international soldiers have been killed by their local colleagues in a bloody four days of violence in Afghanistan, further eroding trust between foreign troops and the Afghans they work with. Six died on Friday alone -- three American soldiers were shot by an Afghan policeman who invited them to a meal and three other troops were killed by an Afghan civilian employed on a NATO base, military and Afghan officials said. NATO has about 130,000 soldiers helping the Afghan government fight an insurgency by Taliban Islamists, but they are due to pull out in 2014 and are increasingly working with Afghans they are training to take over. "Clearly as far as the future partnering and training and mentoring of Afghan forces by NATO and the US is concerned, it is going to have a very negative effect and the lack of trust between the two sides is going to grow," said author and analyst Ahmed Rashid. "NATO will have to impose new security measures for its own troops when they are dealing with Afghans or training Afghans, which will put even more distance between the two sides," Rashid told AFP. Some of the attacks are claimed by the Taliban, who say they have infiltrated the ranks of Afghan security forces, but many are attributed to cultural differences and antagonism between local and US-led allied forces. "What we identified was that most of them were caused by personal grievances and stress situations," the chief spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, Brig-Gen Gunter Katz, told AFP. "Those isolated incidents don't reflect the overall security situation in Afghanistan. As we speak 500,000 soldiers and policemen are working together to contribute to a more secure and stable Afghanistan," he said. "We are confident that the morale (among international troops) is still good and those incidents will not affect our transition process." Katz agreed, however, that there had been an increase in so-called green-on-blue attacks this year in which Afghans turn their weapons against their NATO allies. NATO had recorded 26 incidents, in which 34 international soldiers were killed, he said. "Insurgents understand that this type of action is the most effective one, so they tend to use it as much as they can," a Western security source said. "But apart from that, there is a general feeling of Afghans being fed up with the foreign troops, cultural issues." On Tuesday, an American soldier died in the east when two men in Afghan army uniform opened fire, and on Thursday an Afghan soldier was killed after turning his weapon on NATO troops, also in the east. Then on Friday an Afghan police officer opened fire on four American soldiers he had invited for a meal, killing three of them, Afghan officials said. The Taliban claimed that attack and said the shooter had fled and joined their ranks. Katz said that the shooter had been detained, without giving further details. Also on Friday, an Afghan civilian employed on a NATO base shot dead three international coalition soldiers, ISAF said. "The shooter was not in uniform and our current reporting indicates he was a civilian employee authorised to be on the base, but there is no indication he was an Afghan service member," an ISAF spokesman said. The spokesman said he had no information on how the civilian got hold of a weapon on the shared Afghan-NATO base in southern Afghanistan, and provided no further details. A total of 17 foreign soldiers have been killed in the past week.

US must seal border for Waziristan push

Pakistan has told Washington that US forces must seal the Afghan border in the event of any offensive against the Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network in North Waziristan, an official said Saturday. The Haqqanis, blamed for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan and whose leaders are understood to be based in the Pakistani tribal district, is one of the thorniest issues between Islamabad and Washington. "The Americans have been repeatedly told that they will have to seal off the border on the Afghan side whenever an operation is launched in North Waziristan," a senior Pakistani security official told AFP. Without protecting the porous, mountainous border, militants would simply escape into Afghanistan, where Pakistan has no writ, the official explained. He claimed that Americans have "never been encouraging on this point" and accused them of failing to seal the border when operations were planned twice before in North Waziristan. On August 3, The Wall Street Journal reported that Pakistani and US officials were considering joint counter-terrorism campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan against the Haqqanis and Taliban fighters who attack Pakistan. The paper said the campaigns would mark an upturn in cooperation after more than a year of rancorous relations and stamp out major threats facing each country. Pakistani officials later denied any agreement with the United States for a joint operation in North Waziristan, and said "routine" actions on each side of the border "should not be mistaken for 'joint operations'". Washington has long demanded that Pakistan take action against the Haqqanis, whom the United States accused of attacking the US embassy in Kabul last September and acting like the "veritable arm" of Pakistani intelligence. Pakistan has in turn demanded that Afghan and US forces to do more to stop Pakistani Taliban crossing the Afghan border to relaunch attacks on its forces. The senior official told AFP that Pakistan had been able to "speak their heart and mind" on the issue during last week's visit to Washington by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief. Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam, in the first such visit for a year, and CIA director David Petraeus discussed some of the most intractable issues on both sides that have fractured the anti-terror alliance. "The Americans were clearly told that Pakistan will not allow American boots on its soil for any operation and whenever an offensive is launched, it will be done by us," the official told AFP. "We told the Americans that it is simply not possible for Pakistan to launch a fresh offensive in North Waziristan at the moment because it will have a very negative impact," he added. Some analysts question to what extent Pakistan can win a full-on battle against the disciplined Haqqani faction, particularly when its troops are already over-stretched against local Taliban elsewhere in the northwest. Islam gave the CIA in Washington "two loud and clear messages," said the official -- no American boots on Pakistani soil and that US drone strikes on Islamist militants, which Islamabad brands a violation of its sovereignty, must stop. Many in Pakistan accuse the Americans of demanding a Pakistani offensive to mask their own failings in the 10-year war in Afghanistan. "I will be surprised if Pakistan agrees to a joint operation," said political analyst Hasan Askari.


The Supreme Court had once again issued notice to the Prime Minister of Pakistan to appear before the court and explain his conduct for not obeying the orders of the court to write a letter to Swiss authorities reopening the money laundering cases against Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, the President of Pakistan. It had generated a lot of heat in politics and streets of major cities of Pakistan expecting a head-on collision between the Government and the judiciary. It is known to all that the PPP-led coalitions Government will never write letter to humiliate its Party president who is also head of the State. Earlier, the Supreme Court sent home the former Prime Minister, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, on the same charge. The money laundering case was instituted in 1990s when Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister and the principal accused was the former Prime Minister Shaheed Benazir Bhutto. Several Governments, including the military Government of General Pervez Musharraf, made frantic efforts to get the political couple convicted and humiliated only and not to bring back the money from Swiss banks. They failed though they spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the visits to western countries by Generals and officials, including former NAB chief, on the pretext of the making investigations and collecting evidence against Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and Mr. Asif Ali Zardari. They wasted the public money in tens of millions of dollar and they went scot-free and failed to get the case decide in months or a year in any court of law. It was the fault of the Government of the day and its investigators and not those who are accused in this case. The Government had failed to collect evidence and prove its case for over a decade and now the Supreme Court is insisting to reopen the case and it made it a prestige point to insult and humiliate the PPP and its leader Asif Ali Zardari. It is the public perception that the charge is a tool to continue propaganda against Zardari and his PPP reminding the people that a corrupt Government is ruling this country. It is the opinion among the common people we daily meet who ventilate their views barring a number of lawyers who support the Court verdict for their professional reasons. Some of the PPP sympathizers claimed that the establishment wanted to try Shaheed Benazir Bhutto in her grave. The PPP supporters complained that the Supreme Court had taken up cases against the PPP, its leaders, ministers, officials it posted and spared rest of Pakistan for political reasons. Similar opinion was expressed by Asma Jehangir and Yasin Azad, the two SCBA Presidents. The people charged that the Supreme Court is implementing its anti-PPP agenda for political reasons in order to get the PPP Government toppled down and a new set up is established to run country’s affairs. There is no precedence in the whole world that a court had sent the sitting Prime Minister home simply on the issue of having a different perception about the case. They never said that they will not reopen the case. As long as Asif Zardari is President of Pakistan, the PPP will not insult its leader by implicating him cases in foreign countries. There were some criticism on the Supreme Court verdict internationally and in international media and important personalities, including a former chief of International Crisis Group and a former Judge of Indian Supreme Court rejected the verdict claiming that it was politically motivated and the court had crossed its permissible constitutional limits by dismissing a Prime Minister. However, the country is at the crossroads at the moment and it is to be seen whether the Supreme Court will send another Prime Minister home on the same issue of interpretation of law and create political instability to the advantage of the enemies of Pakistan. It will be a complete disaster and it amounts to winding up the concept of representative democracy as a strong and very influential section of the society resent the PPP rule to this date. The PPP got the right to fight back bitterly using its millions of workers in the streets. We see no chance of any walk over to this game. It must be settle amicably otherwise the nation will face the disaster of an unprecedented level.

Balochistan doctors’ strike continues on 11th day

The strike of Balochistan’s doctors is being observed in government and private hospitals of the province on the eleventh consecutive day on Saturday. The doctors are observing strike on the call of Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), Balochistan chapter against the kidnapping of another doctor of Bolan Medical Complex (BMC). Unknown armed men abducted a psychiatrist Dr Ghulam Rasool of BMC hospital from Brewery Road around 12 days ago. On the other hand, patients across the province suffer from absence of the doctors in the hospitals. The academic activities also remained suspended in Bolan Medical College in the protest against doctor’s kidnapping.

Pakistan's Foreign policy shift

By joining the group of countries at an international conference called by Iran at Tehran to support the Syrian government and seeking no foreign intervention in Syria, Pakistan has not only ended months of ambiguity over the crisis in the Middle East but also taken a calculated risk of annoying the United States and some of its pro-West friends like Turkey and Saudi Arabia. About 25 countries attended the moot at Tehran and only three of them, including Pakistan, nominated their foreign minister to represent them. Others sent either their envoys or their ambassadors in Tehran. Pakistan also took a firm stand on the issue as Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar enunciated in no unequivocal terms that the international community must respect Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity as any intervention would further complicate an already very complex situation by endangering peace in the region. “Syria needs political space to find a peaceful solution and reestablish its societal equilibrium by engaging all sides. Syria must forge its own destiny in accordance with the aspirations of its people,” Ms Khar said. She used the Tehran meeting to remind the world that the conflict in Syria was entering a dangerous phase with al-Qaeda trying to benefit from the instability there. Besides Pakistan, representatives from Russia, China, Belarus, Mauritania, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Benin, Sri Lanka, Ecuador, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Oman, Venezuela, Tajikistan, India, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Sudan, Jordan, Tunisia and Palestine attended the conference. Western countries backing rebels had dismissed the Tehran meeting as an attempt to divert world attention from the bloody events in Syria. Islamabad’s participation in the moot substantiates the fact that Pakistan’s foreign policy has shifted eastwards and it is now focusing on enhancing relations with the countries in the region and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The participation of India and Sri Lanka in the moot confirms the anti-West sentiment of the South Asian states because the feelings in Bangladesh are also not hidden either. What polarizes the world in two camps is the participation of all the SCO states, which include Central Asian Republics, at the meeting. No doubt Pakistan’s new foreign policy now has a different pattern and this paradigm shift is manifest since the Pakistan People’s Party-led coalition government took over in March 2008. It is under the new policy that Pakistan has resisted all the American pressure on Pak-Iran gas pipelines project which is now in an advanced stage of execution. Pakistan has for decades been a staunch western supporter but always got a rebuff at crunch times more particularly when the western power had to choose between New Delhi and Islamabad. By making a foreign policy shift and by attending the Iran-sponsored moot, Pakistan has taken a courageous and principled stand.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa TV channel to go on air in four months

A departmental performance review meeting held here on Friday with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Information, Culture, Transport and Inter-Provincial Co-ordination (IPC) Mian Iftikhar Hussein in the chair was told that approval for the establishment of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa television channel has been given and will go on air in next four months. The meeting was attended by Secretary Information, Public Relations and Culture Azmat Hanif Orakzai, Secretary Transport Sikandar Qayyum and Secretary IPC Mushtaq Jadoon. The secretaries presented the performance of their respective departments and briefed about their future strategies. In his performance report, Secretary Information Azmat Hanif Orakzai told the meeting that radio channels had already started working in Peshawar and Mardan and it will start work in remaining district in phases. He said that for combating the ongoing terrorism and militancy they were paying proper attention to media in general and electronic media in particular, for this purpose besides establishing FM Radio in each district of KPK, television channel would also be established, he added. The Secretary Culture, besides unveiling annual calendar of activities in the sector, gave a detailed briefing on Traditional Hunarmand Scheme and other projects. The Secretary Transport said that in light of the recent visit of the minister to Turkey and Argentine and meetings with the ambassadors, a detailed summary for improvement in the transport of the province had been prepared. He said the summary would be sent to Chief Minister for approval. He further said that the transport had become a serious problem in the provincial metropolis and for bringing improvement the government had decided to consult both local and foreign experts for preparing future strategy. The Secretary Inter-Provincial Co-ordination said that under 18th constitutional amendment the process of devolution to province was near completion, but, certain departments were still facing difficulties in the transfer of their assets. He said the provincial government had completed homework for raising the issue in the next meeting of the Council of Common Interest (CCI). He also apprised the minister regarding reservations on the re-establishment of some departments at federal level. In his brief remarks, Provincial Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussein appreciated the efforts of the department of information for the elimination of terrorism and militancy and directed to complete both schemes of KPK TV and FM radio channels as soon as possible. He also termed culture as a most effective weapon against terrorism and directed to hold maximum positive cultural activities in the province. The provincial minister also directed preparation of maximum practical and useful plans in transport sector and urged to complete necessary file work in this regard and present them for approval to start work with immediate effect. Talking about 18th constitutional amendment, the minister said it was positive endeavour of all political parties for greater national interest and was aimed at strengthening of federating units and removal of longstanding sense of deprivation. He said that any decision sans taking province into confidence was against the spirit of 18th constitutional amendment and interest of the country. Therefore, he said that before taking any decision relating to the amendment, all federating units should be taken into confidence to obtain the desire results of the 18th constitutional amendment.

Pakistan: Our treatment of Hindus

The reports in the media that 60 Hindu families of Jacobabad, Sindh, have migrated to India because of insecurity are highly disturbing. In recent days, there have been a number of cases of Hindu girls converting to Islam because of the ostensible desire to marry Muslim boys. However, in almost all these cases, it is difficult to pin down the truth whether the conversions were freely undertaken or a combination of emotional, psychological, social and coercive factors. The increasing trend of Hindu traders and families’ complaints that their shops are looted, houses ransacked, women forcibly converted to Islam and kidnappings for ransom carried out paint a sorry picture of the plight of this peaceful and inoffensive minority community. What is even more disturbing than the actual ground realities that afflict the Hindu community in Sindh and Balochistan is the state of denial our authorities and government high officials are in. Chief Minister Sindh Qaim Ali Shah at least had the decency to respond to the reports by setting up a three-member committee led by Sindh Minister for Minority Affairs Mukesh Kumar Chawla to report back on the issue within a week.. However, the minister has already compromised the credibility of the committee even before it has started its work by stating that the reports of migration are exaggerated and Hindu girls are eloping with Muslim boys of their own free will. The SSP Jacobabad has delivered the priceless comment that security is being provided to the Hindu community. In other words all is well in the best of all possible worlds and the SSP can therefore go back to sleep. But the cake is taken by Interior Minister Rehman Malik. With his usual penchant for a strange and twisted take on most things, the interior minister sees conspiracies under every bed and behind every bush. This migration issue too, according to Rehman Malik’s wisdom, is a conspiracy involving the Indian High Commission for issuing visas for India to 250 Hindu citizens of Pakistan, ostensibly for religious pilgrimage. Interviews in the press with some of the departing Hindu families in Lahore, en route to Wagah, reveal a mixed picture. Some interviewees were quite candid that their lives had been turned into a living hell because of insecurity, and although they were travelling to India for a religious pilgrimage, might decide to stay on there if they found it convivial. Others were at pains to deny any intent to migrate. Those in the latter category may not have been speaking from the heart, or at least been cautious so as not to make matters for those staying behind even worse. Reports indicate that the 60 families who have torn themselves away from their and their forefathers’ homeland may only be the tip of the iceberg, or a possible tidal wave to follow. Ironically, while tearful relatives were bidding goodbye to the families leaving from the Lahore Railway Station, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US was reassuring an American audience that Pakistan protects the rights of religious minorities. On the very same day, President Asif Ali Zardari was speaking at a commemoration of National Minorities Day, declared on every August 11 in recognition of the message in the Quaid’s speech to the constituent assembly in 1947. The president stated that misuse of the blasphemy law would not be allowed. Both Ambassador Rehman and President Zardari’s statements are well intentioned and reflect the best of principles, but with due respect, they are divorced from our ground realities. Four decades of promotion of religious extremism in the name of jihad are now bearing their over-ripe malign fruit. Pakistani society today is riven with intolerance, religious prejudice and violence against religious minorities. In the case of the blasphemy law, it has not even spared Muslims. One only has to recall the tragedy of Governor Salmaan Taseer’s assassination to grasp the truth of this argument. So while the president and ambassador’s sentiments are praiseworthy, it must be stated without fear that the situation is far from sanguine or acceptable. Pakistan must roll back the tide of extremist darkness that increasingly threatens to drown out all rational, tolerant, inclusive views. The government and public will have to join hands if the extremists are to be held at bay and finally their inglorious and repressive ideology defeated.