Sunday, August 12, 2012

A tale of Iftikhar Chaudhry, Imran Khan and Nawaz

Let Us Build Pakistan
The Judiciary-Right-Wing-Taliban Apologists alliance
by Kumail Ahmed
Iftikhar Chaudhry has brought democracy into a cul-de-sac, through his unconstitutional persistence forcing the Prime Minister to write a letter to the Swiss authorities. Why is he silent on the Shaukat Khanum issue? I believe this silence isn’t unintentional; rather, it’s a simple manifestation of the balance of power in Pakistan. Mr. Khawaja’s Asif allegations against Mr. Imran Khan are making a headline. The pro-PTI youth, especially in Punjab, has taken these allegations with unconcealed disgust. Caricatures have been made in order to belittle Mr. Nawaz Shareef’s personality. The PTI youth is also preoccupied with senseless sloganeering against Mr. Asif. It seems as if Imran Khan will try to use these corruption allegations as a weapon against PML(N). Khawaja Asif has oft-repeatedly said that his allegations were not against Shukat Khanoom Hospital; he wanted to underscore Imran Khan’s illegal use of donation funds abroad. On the other hand, Imran Khan with the support of Pakistani electronic media has totally distorted Khawaja’s argument to gain political benefits. With this entire story aside, there is another important aspect to this issue that isn’t being questioned. This unquestioned aspect might help in understanding the power nexus between military, judiciary, and Punjab’s ruling party. The prime question which an “unbiased” media should ask is, “Why isn’t Mr. Iftikhar Chaudhry taking a Suo Motto action on such serious allegations?” We all know that he took a Suo Motto notice on two alcohol bottles. He took another one against PEMRA, as according to his view, fashion shows are unethical. He has brought democracy into a cul-de-sac, through his unconstitutional persistence forcing the Prime Minister to write a letter to the Swiss authorities. Why is he silent on this issue? This issue is on the media screen for the last eight days. I believe this silence isn’t unintentional; rather, it’s a simple manifestation of the balance of power in Pakistan. If Mr. Chaudhry jumps into this ‘Shaukat Khanum issue’, he’ll have to play a very delicate balancing. On the one hand is Imran Khan, he has a complete support of Pakistan Army and the Islamic right that is extremely active nowadays. Moreover, speaking against Imran Khan means to upset the Punjabi speaking PTI youth. The Chief Justice will never put his publicity on the line in order to carry on his “Justice Job”. On the other hand is Nawaz Shareef. How can Mr. Chaudhry upset him?! He has never done this before. He bailed him in the hijacking issue, he never talks about Hudabiyya paper mills, he never questions Mr. Shareef alleged corruption of six billion rupees, the Mehran bank scandal has moved into oblivion. Iftikhar Chaudhry has never brought Mr. Shareef into his court. Furthermore, what history proves is that he decided a case that was put forward by Mr. Shareef against President Zardari just in a few hours. CJP never wants to upset the rulers of Punjab, as Punjab holds the power to control Pakistan. In brief, Chaudhry Shaib is now in an imbroglio. He can neither go against Imran Khan nor against Nawaz Shareef. Following are the possibles option in his bag: 1) Take No Suo Motto — just remain quiet This is the very strategy Iftikhar Chaudhry is following. The media isn’t questioning him as he is the strongest man in the town. Yet, at the same time, his power rests on the very pillars against whom he should take a Suo Motto notice. Iftikhar Chaudhry will remain quiet unless someone files in a case. Whoever files this case will be putting Iftikhar Chaudhry into a very difficult situation. 2) A case is filed — kill the weakest bird! Let’s assume someone else files a case. Now what? Iftikhar Chaudhry will try to solve the power equation in a way that no major power centre feels the pain. Hence, my prediction is neither Imran nor Nawaz will be called into the court. In the worst case scenario, it will be Khawaja Asif who’ll have to face the court’s anger. 3) Iftikhar Chaudhry does the unexpected If Mr. Chaudhry decides against Mr. Khan or Nawaz Shareef — he’ll never do this — it will be a beginning of an end for him. He will not be able to handle the public outcry. Large parts of Sindh aren’t happy with him, as he goes on his anti-PPP marathon.

PPP to resist if PM is ousted, warns Gilani

Yousaf Raza Gilani has said if present PM is ousted,the PPP would resist and protest demonstration. While talking to the media in Lahore, ex-prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani warned that the present prime minister has not been elected as bounty; if the elected representative is terminated from his office, it would be equal to disintegrate the country. Furthering his statement he said that if the prime minister is bound to be sent to home, there is no need of general elections, adding that the system of the government and democracy should be packed diametrically. He said that the establishment expelled one Gilani and the PPP have sent two Gilanis to the parliament to continue democratic system according to general will of the masses. After this, it has become crystal clear that the parliament is supreme, he concluded.

Arab League postpones meeting on Syria
Arab League foreign ministers have postponed to a later date a meeting in Saudi Arabia to discuss Syrian conflict, AFP sites top Arab League official as saying. Ministers were scheduled to meet on Sunday in the city of Jeddah. Arab bloc's Deputy Secretary General Ahmed Ben Helli said that they were going to discuss the latest developments in Syria and which policy actions to take after the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, resigned earlier this month.

Obama pledges major response to drought

President Barack Obama
on Saturday addressed the issue of the drought that has plagued farmers throughout the nation this summer, calling it one of the worst droughts in over 50 years. “We’re also suffering through one of the worst droughts in over 50 years. More than a fifth of this country is experiencing what we call ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ drought – with states like Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas getting hit harder than most,” said Mr. Obama. The president said that the drought could cause grocery prices to rise and farmers to lose their ability to properly feed their animals, essentially creating a rippling effect that could be felt throughout the nation, unless the drought ends soon enough. “And if we don’t get relief soon, Americans everywhere will start feeling the pinch, with higher prices on grocery store shelves all across the country,” said Mr. Obama. “We can’t let that happen. That’s why, at my direction, the Department of Agriculture, led by Secretary Vilsack, has been working with other agencies across the federal government to make sure we’re doing everything we can to help farmers and ranchers fight back and recover from this disaster. Already, we’ve given farmers across 32 states access to low-interest emergency loans,” added the president. The Department of Agriculture recently released a graphic showing how food price inflation is expected to be close to the historical average in 2012, and slightly above that in 2013 because of the drought. The Obama administration has opened up more federal land for grazing throughout the summer, and it is also working with crop insurance companies to give some farmers a grace period on their premiums. Additionally, this past week the government announced it would be spending $30 million to get water to farm animals and to help restore lands that have been adversely effected by the drought. In his weekly address, the president called on Congress to provide action on the drought when they return from the summer recess period. “Congress needs to do its part, too. They need to pass a farm bill that not only helps farmers and ranchers respond to these kinds of disasters, but also makes necessary reforms and gives them some certainty year-round. That’s the single best way we can help rural communities right now, and also in the long-term,” said Mr. Obama. The president said that this is an “all hands on deck” response from his administration, and that there will be more action provided in the coming weeks.

Michelle Obama visits Aurora theater shooting victims in hospital

First Lady Michelle Obama made a surprise visit Saturday to a hospital in Aurora, Colo., where she met victims wounded in last month’s shootings at a premiere screening of"The Dark Knight Rises." At the Medical Center of Aurora, Obama thanked doctors, nurses and staff who took care of some of those wounded in the July 20 attack. She also met with some of the shooting victims and their families, including one of the two patients who remain in the intensive care unit. Police say James E. Holmes, 24, opened fire during a midnight screening of the new Batman movie, killing 12 people and wounding 58. Holmes faces 142 criminal charges, including 24 counts of first-degree murder. In the hours following the shooting, 18 patients were sent to the emergency room at the Medical Center of Aurora with wounds to the head, neck, torso and legs. About 50 people gathered in a conference room to meet Obama, the Denver Post reported. She shook hands with each of them and listened to stories about the night of the attack. From the hospital, Obama headed to Denver for a fundraiser for her husband's reelection campaign. Two days after the shooting, President Obama visited another medical facility, the University of Colorado Hospital, which also treated some of the victims. Upon leaving the hospital, he quoted from the Bible, Revelation 21:4: "Scripture says that 'He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'"

Bahrainis continue anti-regime protest in Boori village

Bahraini protesters have once again taken to the streets in the village of Boori to demand democratic changes and downfall of the Al Khalifa regime. The anti-regime protesters chanted slogans against the ruling regimes in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and condemned the persecution of protesters. The protesters also called for an end to Manama’s Saudi-backed crackdown on peaceful protests in the Persian Gulf island state. Protesters blocked a road by torching tires in the village on Saturday. On the same day, security forces attacked protesters in several villages, including Sitra, Dar Kulaib, and al-Malikiyah, wounding and arresting a number of demonstrators. Anti-regime protests continue in Bahrain, despite the heavy-handed crackdown by the Western-backed monarchy. Scores of people have been killed and many others injured or arrested in the campaign of suppression. Since mid-February 2011, thousands of anti-government protesters have been staging regular demonstrations across the country, calling for the Al Khalifa family to relinquish power. The anti-regime demonstrators hold King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa responsible for the deaths of the protesters during the popular uprising.

Does Russia need so much alcohol?

Afghan Girl Finds Rare Justice

When she refused to prostitute herself or have sex with the man she was forced to marry when she was about 13, officials said, Sahar Gul’s in-laws tortured her and threw her into a dirty, windowless cellar for months until the police discovered her lying in hay and animal dung. In July, an appeals court upheld prison sentences of 10 years each for three of her in-laws, a decision heralded as a legal triumph underscoring the advances for women’s rights in the past decade. She is recovering from her wounds, physical and emotional, in a women’s shelter in Kabul. But to many rights advocates, Sahar Gul’s case, which drew attention from President Hamid Karzai and the international news media, is the exception that proves the rule: a small victory that masks a still-depressing picture of widespread instances of abuse of women that never come to light. Further, advocacy groups fear that even the tentative progress that has been achieved in protecting some women could be undone if the West’s focus on Afghanistan now begins to shift away as NATO troops withdraw and the international money pumped into the economy diminishes. “If you take away that funding and pressure, it is not sustainable,” said Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch. As more details of Sahar Gul’s case have come to light — including the fact that the abuse continued even as, time and again, neighbors, police officers and her family members voiced suspicions that something was wrong — it has only reinforced how vulnerable women and girls still are in Afghanistan, particularly in rural areas where under-age marriages are common and forced ones are typical. Sahar Gul, who is now about 14, grew up in Badakhshan, a poor, mountainous province in the north. As a young child she was shuffled around after her father died, ending up with her stepbrother, Mohammad, when she was about 9. She helped with the hard work — tending cows, sheep and an orchard of walnut and apricot trees, and making dung bricks for the fire — but her stepbrother’s wife resented her presence. The woman pressured Mohammad to give Sahar Gul up for marriage after he was contacted by a man, about 30, named Ghulam Sakhi — even though she had not yet reached the legal marriage age of 16, or 15 with a father’s consent. In effect, Ghulam Sakhi bought her: he paid at least $5,000, according to government officials and prosecutors, an illegal exchange. He drove off with Sahar Gul to his parents’ home in Baghlan, another northern province hundreds of miles away. Ghulam Sakhi’s first wife had fled after he and his mother beat her for not bearing children, according to Rahima Zarifi, the chairwoman of Baghlan’s women’s affairs department, and the mullah in the mosque in the town in Baghlan. In his search for a new wife, there may have been a reason Ghulam Sakhi’s family looked so far afield: they intended to force her into prostitution, according to Ms. Zarifi, who followed the case closely, and officials at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul. In Baghlan, the girl was immediately put to work cooking and cleaning, but she was able to resist consummating the marriage for weeks. She ran away to the house of a neighbor, who alerted both the police and her husband’s family. Ghulam Sakhi’s neighbors and the police forced him to sign a letter promising not to mistreat Sahar Gul, though they let him take her back. The warning had little effect. One day, when she complained of a headache, her mother-in-law, Siyamoi, tricked her into taking a sedative that she thought was medicine, said Mushtari Daqiq, a lawyer for the aid group Women for Afghan Women and also Sahar Gul’s lawyer. “When she woke up in the morning, she realized she had been used by her husband,” Ms. Daqiq said. A neighbor named Ehsanullah said that one evening last summer, as his family ate dinner, they heard screaming coming from the house. The following morning his mother called at the house. He recounted what she saw: “Sahar Gul had lost a lot of weight, her hands were covered with bruises and wounds, one of her hands was broken, but her mother-in-law was forcing her to do the laundry.” He added, “She kept her head down the whole time my mother was there.” After a group of elders confronted Ghulam Sakhi, the screaming stopped. Frustrated that the girl could not perform the housework they expected, the family put her in the cellar, where she slept on the floor without a mattress, her hands and feet tied with rope. She was given only bread and water to eat. She was also beaten regularly. According to Sahar Gul and Ms. Daqiq, most of the beatings were at the hand of Amanullah, Ghulam Sakhi’s elderly father. They described grotesque crimes, accusing Amanullah of hitting Sahar Gul with sticks, biting her chest, inserting hot irons in her ears and vagina, and pulling out two fingernails. “She was helpless,” Ms. Daqiq said. “She had no hope for her life.” Sahar Gul’s uncle Khwaja, who lived nearby in the same province, and her stepbrother, Mohammad, tried to visit her a few times, but the family told them the girl was not home. The family then threatened Mohammad, warning that he had illegally given his sister to be married. “He had to accept and run back to Badakhshan without meeting his sister,” Khwaja said. Then, last December, about six months after the marriage, they finally got to see her when they called at the house with two police officers and heard a voice coming from the cellar. “In the light of our flashlight, we found Sahar Gul lying on a pile of hay,” said Shirullah, one of the police officers. Her dress was in rags, she was barely conscious and she could not stand after weeks in the dark. “She was constantly moaning,” Shirullah said. “She was in a horrible situation. She couldn’t move her body parts, and we carried her to the hospital in our arms.” Ms. Zarifi and three nurses washed her and gave her soup and dates. “When she saw the food, she became very excited,” Ms. Zarifi said. The police arrested the mother-in-law, Siyamoi, her daughter Mahkhurd and finally Amanullah, the father-in-law — who was discovered hiding in a burqa and a blanket. The family told the police that Ghulam Sakhi was in the Afghan Army in Helmand. That was later found to be untrue, according to local residents and Afghan officials, but the claim bought enough time for him to slip away from the authorities along with his brother, Darmak. They remain at large. With her mistreatment a big story in the Afghan news media, Mr. Karzai called for swift justice. In a district court in Kabul on May 1, the judge, speaking in front of a bank of microphones on national television, declared Sahar Gul’s three in-laws guilty. According to neighbors and to officials who heard the in-laws’ arguments in court, they acted the way they did mostly because they felt they had paid good money for a girl who they said was not pretty, who misbehaved and who would neither work as they demanded nor bear them children. Lawyers for the family members say that they deny beating or drugging Sahar Gul, and that her wounds were self-inflicted. They deny confining her in the cellar, and say they had no plans to send her into prostitution. The prostitution accusation was not addressed in court. The lawyers, who were provided by the legal group Da Qanoon Ghushtonky, or Demanders of Law, which is financed by international aid, argue that the political outcry caused the trial to be rushed through without due process. Rather than showing the lack of legal protections for women, they argued, Sahar Gul’s case underscores the weakness of Afghanistan’s still-developing legal system, one that can easily be swayed by politicians like Mr. Karzai. Siyamoi and Mahkhurd are now 2 of 171 prisoners in a women’s prison in Kabul. On a recent morning there, the two women insisted they were innocent and railed ferociously at their accusers. “We are being cheated by the court,” Siyamoi said. “If you think I am a criminal, why don’t you pull out my fingernails?” A few miles away across Kabul, Sahar Gul lives in a shelter provided by Women for Afghan Women, one of seven shelters the organization has established nationally for abuse victims. Sahar Gul played in the sun in the garden in a golden dress and purple shawl and pink bracelets, a round-cheeked, gangly girl. She had made a new friend at the shelter, a 14-year-old girl whose face was scarred by acid by a sister’s thwarted suitor. Sahar Gul still bears the scars and bruises of her ordeal, but her caregivers said she was recovering and becoming gradually more independent. She said she had ambitions. “I want to become a politician and stop other women suffering the same,” she said. Now, however, rights groups fear that schools and clinics for girls may close as international money dries up and the political climate in Afghanistan becomes more religiously conservative, undermining the fragile lattice of pro-women support groups, government ministries and nongovernmental organizations as well as laws specifically created in the past few years to protect women. A new 2009 law to eliminate violence against women was cited in the sentencing of Sahar Gul’s abusers, but the law is still barely applied, according to a United Nations report published in November, and it has not been formally adopted. Women’s shelters are under threat, with a conservative justice minister describing them as “brothels,” while a new family law that could make it easier for abused women to divorce is being held up. In such a climate, the fear is that Sahar Gul’s successful rescue may turn out to be an aberration rather than a new norm, and that it will not help those women whose suffering is not discovered. “We have many cases perhaps graver than this where women are murdered,” Ms. Zarifi said. “No one hears anything about them.” Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting from Kabul, and an employee of The New York Times from Baghlan Province, Afghanistan.

Series of attacks on Kabul foiled

Afghan and NATO forces foiled a series of suicide attacks on Kabul planned for Sunday The coalition forces captured five insurgents allegedly linked to militants in Pakistan, officials said. The group was "finalizing plans for an attack in the capital" and a large cache of explosives, suicide vest parts, weapons and ammunition were seized in the overnight operation, NATO s International Security Assistance Force said. The "sophisticated suicide attacks" would have targeted the Afghan parliament and the residence of Second Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili, Afghanistan s intelligence agency said. One of the five was a Pakistani national and the group was in possession of Afghan army uniforms and Pakistani identity documents, currency and cellphone numbers, the National Directorate for Security said. "The evidence indicates they had connections with the terrorists beyond the border with Pakistan," the agency said. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of harbouring Taliban Islamist insurgents fighting to overthrow the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai. Earlier this month, Afghan officials said five insurgents planning a major attack on an area of Kabul home to Western embassies were killed in a pre-dawn gunbattle in the capital.

Afghan officials met key Taliban figure in Pakistan

Afghan officials have held secret talks with the Taliban's former second in command who is in detention in Pakistan in a move which could help rekindle stalled peace talks with the insurgents, according to senior officials from both countries. Afghan officials have often seen Pakistan as a reluctant partner in attempts to broker talks with the Taliban but its decision to grant access to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar may signal Islamabad's willingness to play a more active role. Rangin Spanta, the national security adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and an architect of peace-building efforts, said an Afghan delegation had met Mullah Baradar in Pakistan two months ago. Baradar has been in detention since he was captured in the Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010. "We have met Mullah Baradar," Spanta told Reuters in Kabul. "Our delegation has spoken to him to know his view on peace talks." Afghan officials have publicly been demanding access to Baradar, the Taliban's top military commander until he was captured in Karachi, but Spanta's revelation shows preliminary contact has already been made. Rehman Malik, Pakistan's interior minister, also said that Pakistan had granted Afghan officials access to Baradar. "They had access at the required and appropriate level," Malik told Reuters. "We are fully cooperating with Afghanistan and whatever they are asking for the peace process, for developing peace in Afghanistan. We are giving every kind of help." Pakistan is seen as crucial to stability in Afghanistan as most foreign combat troops look to leave the country in 2014, given its close political and economic ties and because militant sanctuaries straddle the mountainous border. Afghan officials hope Baradar could play a key role in any negotiations to end the Afghan conflict, acting as a go-between with senior Taliban leaders including the movement's reclusive one-eyed leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed last month to resume regular talks on Afghanistan's peace process, with the new Pakistani prime minister promising to help arrange meetings between Afghan and Taliban representatives.

Aftermath of two quakes in Iran

US lawmakers call on Bahrain king to free activist
Nineteen members of the U.S. Congress have written to Bahrain’s king to call for the release of prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, who is currently serving a three-month jail sentence for making anti-government statements on Twitter. Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center For Human Rights, is due in court Sunday in a separate case that relates to him allegedly calling for and participating in an illegal gathering. The letter sent Friday to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa acknowledges the country has introduced reforms since last year’s anti-government protests. But it also said Rajab’s prosecution runs ‘‘counter to the government’s assurances that individuals will not be prosecuted for peaceful political speech.’’ Several other prominent rights groups including U.S.-based Human Rights First have also called for his release.

BJP, Bollywood Accept Veena Malik
No more outrages for
Veena Malik in India. Bollywood has accepted her as an eye-candy and now slightly Indian politician accepting her to be the part of Hindu Celebration. BJP Mumbai President Raj Purohit had invited Veena Malik at holy celebration of “Krishna Janmastami” in Mumbai. She gear up as Radha and throbbed many hearts.
Excited Veena said, “It was a great day of my life. I never thought of been a special guest on such an auspicious day of India. Mumbai people are very loveable and they are very close to my heart. Mumbai is very lucky for me where my next film “Mumbai 125Kms” is going to release very soon.” Citizen of India and Political Party’s slenderly accepting Pakistani actresses to make their mark in India. After so many political outrages between India and Pakistan now they are ready to forget all the past and start a new exuberance.

Pakistan: HRCP outraged at minorities’ flight

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed alarm and a strong sense of outrage at the continued exodus of religious minority communities from Sindh and Balochistan and said that the state has consistently failed to allay the concerns of these communities despite repeated reminders by the civil society. In a statement issued on Friday, the Commission said: "The state of anger and panic caused by the reports that several hundred Hindu citizens from Sindh and Balochistan were migrating to India has subsided somewhat by the disclosure that they were on a pilgrimage. Most of them said they would return to Pakistan while some said they might not. "In any case, reports of Hindu citizens' migration to India have been coming from Sindh and Balochistan fairly regularly. Some spokespersons of minorities have argued that vested interests are threatening and frightening the non-Muslim citizens with a view to forcing them to migrate. Some of these elements are said to be religious extremists while others have plans to grab the minorities' property. In any case there is little doubt that the minorities have been driven to despair. "Religious minorities' continued migration from Sindh and Balochistan is a reflection of the state's failure to save these citizens from violence, discrimination and disgusting excesses such as forced conversion of young women. "HRCP desperately hopes that the government shares its distress in this respect and reiterates its call for the state to address, in consultation with the communities in question, the reasons forcing religious minorities to flee the country. HRCP also urges civil society organisations and the media to keep the spotlight firmly trained on the raw deal these communities are getting. Ahead of the forthcoming elections, the political parties also have an opportunity, through their manifestos, and more than that through their actions now, to articulate their vision for religious minorities in Pakistan."

Experts extol Pakistan’s Syria policy

Pakistan’s initiative to seek peaceful resolution of Syria crisis based on the principles of non-intervention and non-interference is being hailed as Islamabad’s careful attempt to build a broad based consensus among the members of Muslim Ummah while maintaining its neutrality. Background discussions with senior diplomats suggest that Islamabad stance on Syria was quite logical and its participation in international conference hosted by Iran was in line with the national security interest. “The situation in Balochsitan province bordering Iran warrants that Islamabad should have good working relations with Tehran as Pakistan’s important neighbour”, a senior diplomat said while requesting anonymity. He was of the view that Pakistan has limited options on crises in Syria because of the complexity of the issue, adding that Pakistan’s efforts to build broad based consensus among important OIC members including Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia was the best available policy option. This follows Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts ahead of the extraordinary meeting of 57-member Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) convened by Saudi King Abdullah in Makah (Mecca) on August 14 and 15 aimed at evolving a broad-based consensus on crucial Syrian crises. President Asif Ali Zardari along with foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar will attend the conference on the invitation of King Abdullah. Pakistan’s efforts to keep neutrality – as it did by abstaining from US-sponsored resolution on Syria which was vetoed by Russia and China – is the best approach to prevent misunderstanding between Saudi Arabia and Iran as to strive for a broad based consensus in order to ensure unity in the OIC. “Pakistan cannot ignore the important role of Iran in stabilising Balochistan, therefore its neutrality on Syrian situation is the best policy option it’s employing to address the issue,” another sources said. He elaborated that in case Syria is destabilised as a result of a one-sided imposed solution, it would have far reaching implications for other regional countries including Iran and Pakistan, therefore, Islamabad has to follow a cautious diplomatic approach, he added. “It is complex situation in Syria where major world powers stand divided and so are the divergent positions between the Arab League and Islamic republic of Iran, therefore Pakistan can only play a role of consensus builder rather than taking sides with any of the foreign stakeholders.” Sources further said that since initiative of Saudi King is also aimed at seeking a consensus solution to the Syrian crisis, Pakistan’s efforts to build consensus among the members of the OIC was imperative. “Pakistan should strive to keep the OIC united,” veteran diplomat and former foreign secretary-general Akram Zaki opined while talking to The Nation. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has also stepped up efforts to keep the OIC united on Syria question and is striving to push for a consensus Mecca Declaration to be adopted at the end of the OIC extraordinary meeting. Apart from thorny Syrian crisis, the OIC would also take up for deliberations important issues including plight of Muslims in Myanmar, issues of Palestine as well as Kashmir.

HINA: Kabul more important than Washington

Foreign Minister
Hina Rabbani Khar on Saturday said that Kabul is more important for Pakistan than Washington. In an interview with Aljazeera TV, Hina does not hide the fact that other capitals around the world are just as important to her as Washington DC. The foreign minister said she wanted better relations with Iran, that it was ‘always a delight to meet with the Russians’ and that it is time to stop fighting and start building with New Delhi. “We are more concerned about what is in the long-term and medium-term interests for Pakistan than we are about what is popular,” she maintained. “Instead of typically undermining the importance of the democratic process and what we are trying to achieve in Pakistan we should try and recognise, if not celebrate, the change that is taking place in Pakistan.” To a question, Hina ascertained fate of Pakistan was attached to Afghanistan being a neighbour and Pakistan always seeks friendly and close relations with its neighbouring polities. She said anything happens in Afghanistan it directly influence affairs of Pakistan, adding that on daily basis at least 53,000 people travel on Pak-Afghan border. She claimed it was a fact that if Taliban came into power, it would not be in the best interest of Pakistan. She said the Afghan elders are well aware of their interests in the region, adding “We cannot dictate or inform them that what should be their interests.” To a question regarding India, the minister expressed that the relations between Pakistan and India have improved and moreover the trust level has also developed between both the countries. AFP adds: 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, 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 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. There are also reports in media, that the military establishment has categorically spurned the possibility of joint Pak-US operations against Haqqani Network in North Waziristan. Pakistan’s top spymaster, during his recent visit to Washington, clearly told his US counterpart that “US boots on Pakistani soil will never be conceded.”

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa social protection strategy on the anvil

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has undertaken a task to evolve a social protection strategy and guide its public policy formulation process to achieve poverty alleviation through cohesive social protection measures, according to officials. Apart from introducing reforms in the public policy preparation process, the new initiative will also monitor the effectiveness of the provincial government’s existing poverty alleviation initiatives and social protection programmes and harmonise them with the provincial Comprehensive Development Strategy (CDS) 2010-17, working to achieve its goals by stimulating economic growth through poverty alleviation. “Though the provincial government has undertaken several initiatives to protect the poor and reduce their vulnerabilities, it is difficult to gauge their effectiveness as the government’s effort has been compromised due to fragmentation of such programmes and adequacies resulted by their overlapping impact,” said an official. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has seen a variety of small grants programmes that the sitting provincial government launched to create self employment opportunities at the grassroots, countering joblessness and the negative effects of militancy. Some of these initiatives are Bacha Khan Khapal Rozgar Scheme, Stoori da Pakhtunkhwa Programme, and Hunarmand Rozgar Programme. The provincial government distributed billions of rupees among the deserving youth, jobless skilled workers, and artisans to make them economically productive, encountering poverty in the province. Some question the efficacy of these programmes because the provincial government launched these small grants programmes at a time when the federal government is running identical schemes, including its multi-billion rupees Benazir income support programme and Zakat fund. An official said these programmes lacked strategic harmony and were not governed by a holistic policy framework or a strategy, undermining their effectiveness. The significance of such programmes, said another development planner, could not be denied when economic stagnancy and an unfavorable law and order situation in the province had severely impacted Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, triggering unemployment. “There is a growing need that the public policy should put more emphasis on social protection to answer some of the more depressing economic problems faced by people,” said the official, adding that was what several countries had done by achieving a cohesion in their public policy and social protection requirements of the lower segments of the society. In a move to remove the existing systemic flaws by introducing reforms and achieve desired results of its existing and future social protection initiatives, the provincial government has decided to assemble experts from public and private sectors to prepare policy frameworks for its development departments, effecting cohesion in their effort to achieve CDS goals. In this respect, a ‘public policy and social protection reforms unit’ is being established in the provincial planning and development department that would work to achieve the desired results through a variety of targeted activities, guiding the development departments’ policy framing process to achieve cohesion in social protection policies. The initiative has specifically been designed to address the governance issues in development sector, achieving the improvement of service delivery system. The cell’s job would set up expert groups and think tanks, involving professionals and experts from the government sector, academia, industrial sector, education institutions, legislature, financial institutions, environmental organisations, media, and lawyers. Small working groups to be established by the cell would assist in suggesting reforms, review and update the existing laws and regulations in the post 18th Constitutional amendment scenario. An official said the reform cell’s main job would be to formulate policies for all the development departments. Besides, it would work to allay cross sectoral concerns to ensure ‘rights based approaches,’ ‘gender equality,’ ‘protection of climate,’ ‘public sector development’ for the effective implementation of public policies. Similarly, it will put in place a comprehensive social protection strategy and develop a management information system, evolve monitoring and evaluation mechanism, and would do mapping of the government’s social protection interventions. A ‘knowledge management centre’ will also be established in the planning department to facilitate research-based planning practices in the development departments, according to an official document. “The move is holistic and integrated in nature to respond to the growing needs of undertaking effective social protection measures, aiming to achieve social empowerment and work towards lowering poverty,” said the official. The province needed to have policies that laid emphasis on social protection, said a planner, because its existing social protection programmes and small grant schemes could be effective to reduce poverty by promoting efficient labor markets, diminishing people’s exposure to risks. Besides, the existing initiatives, if run prudently, could also enhance the beneficiaries’ capacity to protect themselves against hazards and loss of income.

PAK-U.S. : Coordinated operations

ISI chief Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam’s visit to Washington seems to be bearing fruit. In a briefing to the Corps Commanders conference chaired by COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, General Islam reported on his discussions with the CIA chief and other top American officials. The issue that took up the most time in the conference was the problem of increasing cross-border attacks by Pakistani Taliban elements that have found safe havens in Afghanistan after they were routed from Swat and South Waziristan. In a general climate of improving Pakistan-US relations after a year or more of acrimony, reflected also in the foreign office spokesman’s regular briefing to the media, coordination in counter-terrorism efforts seems to be on the agenda. On the political/diplomatic front, preparations are afoot for Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s visit to Washington, a trip expected to pave the way for a late September meeting between President Asif Ali Zardari and US President Barack Obama when the former is in New York on a three-day sojourn to attend the UN General Assembly. The reopening of NATO’s supply lines is credited with the improved atmospherics between Islamabad and Washington. The long-pressed demand by the US for military operations against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan has been resisted so far by the Pakistani military on two counts: one, Pakistani troops are too stretched for a major offensive; two, any operation in North Waziristan will be mounted by and at the will of the Pakistani military and not under any pressure from the US. The latter contention has once again been reiterated in ISPR’s press release on the Corps Commanders’ deliberations. Nevertheless, reports state that the military command is contemplating a nuanced operation in North Waziristan after Eid. Drawing on the experience (most of its bad) of previous operations in FATA, the military command envisages scaled-up and targeted operations in North Waziristan with additional troops from other formations and areas. In order to avoid the risk of a wider tribal uprising, the military is planning a two-phase low intensity targeted campaign with ground penetration engaging and securing militants launching direct attacks on the security forces and threatening the ground presence of troops. The success of the operation depends crucially on air operations coordinated with moves on the ground as well as intelligence and border coordination with ISAF forces across the divide. Being a notoriously porous line, the border needs sealing or at the very least forces of the two allies on either side to prevent militants under attack from fleeing across the border. General Islam pressed his US counterparts in Washington to take action against the Pakistani Taliban in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan. So far, so good. However, what has not found mention in any of the reports is the quid pro quo demanded of (or received) by the US. Since the Haqqani network has proved the bête noir of the US/ISAF, the silence on what will happen to them is both intriguing and perhaps ominous. If the Pakistani military is receiving cooperation from across the border against the militants attacking it, has it offered the counter-cooperation demanded against the Haqqanis? Only time will tell. GHQ seems to have take cognizance of the Haqqanis’ treachery in giving the Pakistani Taliban safe havens in eastern Afghanistan in areas controlled by them. Whether this is a sufficient condition for ditching these erstwhile proxies is still, however, an open question.

Secular Pakistan: ‘Pakistanis should know Quaid’s Aug 11 speech by heart’

Speakers and the audience at a seminar Jinnah ka Pakistan (Jinnah’s Pakistan) on Saturday agreed that the Quaid had wanted to keep religion and state separate. The seminar was organised by the Awami Party in Model Town to mark Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech. Jamil Omar, the party’s general secretary, compared Jinnah’s August 11 speech with the Gettysburg address by Abraham Lincoln and Jawaharal Nehru’s August 15 speech. Every child in the United States and India knows these speeches by heart since it is part of their syllabi, Omar said, but in Pakistan this speech has been censored from the press and never included in school syllabi. The people of Pakistan should know the speech by heart, he said, but the few who know about it have seen only a censored version of it. Omar said the speech had touched upon four important points: that nepotism will not be tolerated; that the government’s “first, second and last” responsibility is the people’s welfare; that citizens of all faiths will be treated equally; and that Pakistan is an independent and a self-sufficient country. He said it was the third point which had led to the speech being blacked out. Jinnah had reiterated secularism and wanted to keep state and religion apart, said Omar. If these four points had been adhered to, he said, Pakistan could have been the best country in the world. Wajahat Masood cited references from several books quoting from Jinnah’s speeches that promote a tolerant Pakistan where religious minorities had equal rights. He said the Quaid had objected to slogan Pakistan ka matlab kia, La ilaha illallah. Quoting from Malik Ghulam Nabi’s book Daghon ki Bahar he said during his last address to All India Muslim League in December, 1947, a man had asked the Quaid if the slogan was the foundation of Pakistan’s ideology. The Quaid had told him that was not what Pakistan stood for, Masood said. He said three articles of the national constitution needed to be expunged – Article 2 (a) upholding the Objectives Resolution; Article 227, which says that no law can be repugnant to Quran or Sunnah and Article 203 that gives the Federal Shariat Court the power to strike down any law passed by the parliament that is repugnant to Quran or Sunnah. He also quoted Thomas Jefferson who had warned that if church was not separated from the state half the people will be hypocrites and the other half stupid. “We should not care if Jinnah was a mullah, a secularist or a pluralist; a nation-state by definition is a secular entity,” he said. He ended his speech by quoting Jinnah, “In the course of time, Muslims will cease being Muslims; Hindus will cease being Hindus, not religiously, but politically.” IA Rehman urged the participants to reflect on Jinnah’s views. He said Jinnah had wanted a government that worked for the citizens’ welfare and a country where everyone had equal rights. After the speeches, the participants asked the party to demand that the clauses added to constitution during General Zia’s rule be removed and the Objectives Resolution declaring Pakistan an Islamic state be denounced. They also demanded that the federation should retain minimal authority and give more powers to the provinces. Published in The Express Tribune

Education conditions Sindh public schools in shambles:

The Express Tribune
According to a report submitted before the Supreme Court this week, the condition of public schools across Sindh appears to be in shambles. As a result, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has asked for a complete record on the matter from the chief secretary of Sindh. Classrooms have been turned into hujras (community centers) at 21 schools in Sukkur, while the rest of Sindh is home to some 10,000 schools that are functioning without shelter or basic facilities, a report on the Sindh education department revealed. A three-judge bench of the apex court headed by the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad chaudhry is hearing the case. Sukkur is the constituency of Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Khursheed Ahmad Shah, who is also chief whip of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party. Taking stern notice of the miserable conditions of public schools across the country, the Supreme Court took suo motu action on Thursday and directed the provincial governments to improve their conditions on a priority basis. During a hearing on August 8, the chief justice observed that a large number of schools in the country are not functional and students are being forced to study without any shelter. The court then asked the provinces for legislation to fulfill their Constitutional obligation. The provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Balochistan submitted their reports and assured the Supreme Court that they will implement required legislation in order to provide free education to children aged 5 to 16 years as per article 25A of the Constitution. The K-P government’s report said that a large number of schools in the province had been destroyed due to disasters and militancy. The report added that a total of 2,905 schools were damaged during the 2005 earthquake, out of which only 1,141 schools have been rehabilitated so far. On Friday, Punjab submitted their detailed report and Punjab Additional Advocate General Jawad Hassan said that the the Punjab government has spent Rs350 million on Daanish schools so far and the cost of running each school is roughly Rs1.5 million.

Syrian troops kill several insurgents

Syrian forces have killed several insurgents during clashes in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour as fighting continues between government troops and armed groups. The Syrian forces engaged the insurgents in Deir al-Zour on Saturday. There have been clashes in the city for several days. In May, nine people were killed and about 100 others injured when a car bomb was detonated outside the security headquarters in Deir al-Zour. Meanwhile, Syrian troops have cleared more areas in the northern city of Aleppo of foreign-backed insurgents. Government troops have taken control of Aleppo's Bab al-Hadid and Salaheddin neighborhoods, but heavy clashes are underway in other districts. A number of insurgents were also killed in an army attack in the southern city of Dara’a. Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011. Damascus says outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorists are the driving factor behind the unrest and deadly violence while the opposition accuses the security forces of being behind the killings. The Syrian government says that the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of the armed militants are foreign nationals.

Iran Quake death toll reaches 220, more than 1,500 injured

East Azerbaijan provincial Director General for Crisis Management said that death toll in Ahar and Varzagan cities have reached 220 and more than 1,500 have been injured.

Iran's Two quakes kill 180 and injure 1,500

Two strong earthquakes killed 180 people and injured about 1,500 in northwest Iran where rescuers frantically combed the rubble of dozens of villages through the night into Sunday. Thousands fled their homes and remained outdoors after Saturday's quakes, as at least 40 aftershocks hit the area. Casualty figures could rise, Iranian officials said, as some of the injured were in a critical condition while other people were still trapped under the rubble and rescuers - hampered by the darkness - had yet to reach some affected villages. Six villages had been destroyed and about 60 had sustained more than 50 percent damage, Iranian media said. Photographs posted by Iranian news websites showed bodies lying on the floor in the corner of a white-tiled morgue in the town of Ahar, and medical staff, surrounded by anxious residents, treating the injured in the open air as dusk fell. Other images showed collapsed buildings and cars flattened by rubble. Iran is situated on major fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 which turned the southeastern historic city of Bam into dust and killed more than 25,000 people. The U.S. Geological Survey measured Saturday's first quake at 6.4 magnitude and said it struck 60 km (37 miles) northeast of the city of Tabriz at a depth of 9.9 km (6.2 miles). A second quake measuring 6.3 struck 49 km (30 miles) northeast of Tabriz 11 minutes later at a similar depth. Officials said 180 people had been killed and about 1,500 injured, the semi-official Fars news agency reported. The second quake struck near the town of Varzaghan. "The quake was so intense that people poured into the streets through fear," Fars said. COLLAPSED BUILDINGS Hundreds of people were rescued from under the rubble of collapsed buildings but night-time severely disrupted emergency efforts. "Unfortunately there are still a number of people trapped in the rubble but finding them is very difficult because of the darkness," national emergency head Gholam Reza Masoumi was quoted as saying by Fars. The state news agency IRNA quoted Bahram Samadirad, a provincial official from the coroner's office, as saying: "Since some people are in a critical condition ... it is possible for the number of casualties to rise." The hospital in Varzaghan, manned by just two doctors and suffering from shortages of medical supplies and food, was struggling to cope with about 500 injured, the Mehr news agency reported. "I was just on the phone talking to my mother when she said, 'There's just been an earthquake', then the line was cut," one woman from Tabriz, who lives outside Iran, wrote on Facebook after telephoning her mother in the city. "God, what has happened? After that I couldn't get through. God has also given me a slap, and it was very hard." Tabriz is a major city and trading hub far from Iran's oil-producing areas and known nuclear facilities. Buildings in the city are substantially built, and the Iranian Students' News Agency said nobody in the city had been killed or hurt. Homes and business premises in Iranian villages, however, are often made of concrete blocks or mud brick that can crumble and collapse in a strong quake. Red Crescent official Mahmoud Mozafar was quoted by Mehr news agency as saying about 16,000 people in the quake-hit area had been given emergency shelter. Fars quoted Iranian lawmaker Abbas Falahi as saying he believed rescue workers had not yet been able to reach between 10 and 20 villages. Falahi said people in the region were in need of bread, tents and drinking water. A local provincial official urged people in the area to stay outdoors during the night for fear of aftershocks, according to IRNA. The Turkish Red Crescent said it was sending a truck full of emergency supplies to the border. Turkey's Foreign Ministry said it had informed Iran it was ready to help.