Thursday, August 23, 2012

U.S., Pakistan must "divorce" as allies

The United States and Pakistan should stop pretending they are allies and amicably "divorce," Pakistan's former ambassador to Washington said on Wednesday, citing unrealistic expectations in both countries that include U.S. hopes Islamabad will sever its links to extremists. "If in 65 years, you haven't been able to find sufficient common ground to live together, and you had three separations and four reaffirmations of marriage, then maybe the better way is to find friendship outside of the marital bond," Husain Haqqani said, addressing the Center for the National Interest, a Washington think tank. Haqqani's recommendation that the United States and Pakistan essentially downgrade their status was based on the premise that it may be the only way to break from what has been a dysfunctional relationship. A post-alliance future would allow both countries to hold more realistic expectations of each other, cooperating where possible but perhaps without the sense of betrayal, which has become acute in Pakistan. He cited a survey by the Pew Research Center released in June showing roughly three-in-four Pakistanis consider the United States an enemy, even though the United States pours billions of dollars of aid into the country. "If this was an election campaign ... you would advise the senator with these kinds of favorability ratings to pull out of the race, instead of spending more money," said Haqqani, who plans to publish a book entitled "Magnificent Delusions" next year about the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. His candid remarks represented Haqqani's first address in Washington since he resigned as Pakistan's envoy last year after, he says, being framed for drafting a memo that accused the Pakistani army of plotting a coup -- allegations he defended himself against before Pakistan's Supreme Court. Many of Haqqani's comments underscored the friction between Pakistan's civilian government and military, which have bedeviled the nuclear-armed South Asian country for almost its entire existence. Haqqani, who served as an adviser to four Pakistani prime ministers, identified himself among a small minority who support good relations with the United States but "who do not have the ability to influence the course of policy at home." He said Pakistan's military needed to be under greater civilian control, adding Pakistan's national interests are defined "by generals, not by civilian leaders." But he also doled out criticism of U.S. policymaking, saying it was too often short-sighted, lacking the necessary historic perspective needed to appreciate realistically what Pakistan might do in return for aid and cooperation. The depths of the strained U.S.-Pakistan relationship have come into full public view since the United States, without telling Pakistan, secretly staged a raid to kill Osama bin Laden last year. Haqqani was ambassador at the time. He repeatedly said someone in Pakistan knew of bin Laden's presence, even though he stopped far short of blaming Pakistan's principal intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). "I still think a full proper investigation on the Pakistani side is needed to find out how Osama bin Laden lived in Pakistan and who supported him -- within or outside the government," he said. "I really do not know (who helped bin Laden). All I am saying is that somebody knew." UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS He said it was just as unrealistic for Pakistanis to think that the United States would side with Pakistan by launching war on India as it was for the United States to think Pakistan would give up its nuclear weapons or sever ties with extremists. "Equally unrealistic is that Pakistan ... will give up support for jihadi groups that it deems to be a subconventional force multiplier for regional influence," Haqqani said. Describing his vision for a post-alliance future for the United States and Pakistan, Haqqani appeared to downplay U.S. security concerns. He said Pakistan's eight-month shut-off of ground supply lines for NATO forces in Afghanistan showed the United States it could rely on more costly routes to the North. And when it comes to unpopular U.S. drone strikes against militants, Haqqani believed the United States would press ahead with the campaign even in a post-alliance future. "I have no realistic expectation of the United States ending the drone campaign and (no realistic expectation of) Pakistan accepting it," he said.

Kabul blames 'foreign spy agencies' for insider attacks

Afghan officials on Wednesday blamed "infiltration by foreign spy agencies" into the ranks of its security forces for a rise in attacks by Afghan soldiers on US-led NATO forces. The announcement came after President Barack Obama and top US military officers expressed growing concern over the so-called "green-on-blue" attacks in which uniformed Afghans turn their weapons against their NATO allies. A total of 10 soldiers, mostly Americans, have lost their lives at the hands of their Afghan colleagues in the past two weeks, and the attacks have caused almost one in four coalition deaths in the war so far this month. President Hamid Karzai held a meeting of the country's National Security Council on Wednesday to discuss the matter. Senior Afghan officials told Karzai their months-long investigation had shown that "foreign spy agencies" including those of Afghanistan's neighbours were behind the rise in insider attacks, presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi said. Faizi did not name a specific country, but Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of harbouring Taliban insurgents fighting to overthrow Karzai's Western-backed government. "Reports presented by security officials in this meeting blamed infiltration by foreign spy agencies into the ranks of Afghan security forces as responsible for the rise in the individual shootings," Faizi told reporters. "Its shows that majority of the these attacks is the result of such infiltration. "The reports further highlighted that foreign spy agencies are increasingly fearful of the empowerment of the Afghans security agencies." Faizi said Afghan security officials had pledged to tighten the vetting process for army and police recruits to help prevent attacks and Karzai would meet NATO commander General John Allen to discuss the issue. America's top military officer flew to Kabul for talks on the issue on Monday with NATO commanders and Afghan top brass. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he came away "reassured" after discussions with his Afghan counterpart, General Shir Mohammad Karimi. The total death toll from insider attacks this year has already reached 40, which makes up 13 per cent of all international coalition deaths for 2012.

Islamabad Christians afraid after blasphemy arrest

A week after a young Christian girl was arrested on blasphemy charges in a poor suburb of Islamabad, her fellow believers fear they may have celebrated their last service in the area. Mehrabad, on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital, has been home to a Christian community for 20 years, and less than a year ago Muslims helped them build a simple church. But last Thursday local Muslims erupted in fury after Rimsha, a young Christian girl who reportedly suffers from Down's Syndrome, was accused of burning pages from a children's religious instruction book containing verses from the Koran. Neighbours accused her of blasphemy, a grave crime in the Islamic republic, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim and the tiny Christian minority has long suffered poverty and discrimination. The imam of the local mosque heard of the incident on the same day and led a furious crowd of dozens of Muslims to the girl's family home, witnesses said. Police intervened and took Rimsha, who is aged between 11 and 16, into custody for 14 days on blasphemy charges. Memories are still fresh of an incident in 2009 in Gojra, also in Punjab province, when young Muslim radicals burned around 40 Christian houses, killing seven, after a rumour that a page from the Koran had been desecrated during a wedding. Last Thursday's events sent a chill wind of fear through the 500 Christian families who live in Mehrabad, where motorbike tracks furrow the puddle-dotted streets between monochrome concrete houses. "Some people ran away straight after the incident because they were afraid the Muslims would react like they did in Gojra," said Rafaqet Masih, 42, whose wife and five children fled the area. There were few indications that tensions were about to erupt in Mehrabad, where barely seven months ago Muslims helped the local Christians build their church, a small nondescript building tucked away in a maze of streets. Believers were given permission to hold services in the building -- which bears no visible clue that it is a house of worship -- only on Sundays. But music coming from inside during services began to annoy Muslims praying at the same time, locals said, and a week before the incident involving Rimsha they demanded it be closed. The Christians have continued to meet but did not hold a service on Sunday to avoid stoking tensions while trying to reach a negotiated solution to the crisis. In the meantime they fear for the future. "If we can't pray here any more, we'll have to leave the area," Ashraf Masih told AFP at the door of his modest home. Some Muslims were keen to distance themselves from the fury surrounding Rimsha and demands for the Christians to leave. The Christians rent their homes -- and the building they use as a church -- from Muslim landlords, who would lose out in the event of an exodus. "I don't want them to leave," said Mohamed Mehtab Awan, a Muslim who rents around 30 run-down shacks to Christians. Malik Amjad, the owner of Rimsha's family home, agreed. Rimsha's case has prompted concern from Western governments and anger from rights groups, who say the blasphemy law is abused in personal disputes and should be reformed. Under the law, insulting the prophet Mohammed is punishable by death and burning a sacred text by life imprisonment, but the government has resisted pressure to change it and religious groups defend it fiercely. Two leading politicians who spoke out against the law were assassinated last year and the killer of one -- Punjab governor Salman Taseer -- was feted as a hero.

President Zardari: Govt will ensure safety of citizens at all costs

Radio Pakistan
President Asif Ali Zardari has said that the Government will ensure safety and security of the citizens at all costs. This he said in his felicitation message to Interior Minister Rehman Malik‚ the law enforcing personnel of the four provinces‚ Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir for their efforts to maintain peace on the occasion of Eid. The President said the democracy is about exercising political options freely through ballot and not under threat or coercion. He said no one will be allowed to use force‚ coercion and intimidation in the exercise of political choices and options. President Zardari said it was a matter of satisfaction that no major untoward incident of law and order happened in the country during Eid days and people were able to celebrate Eid with their near and dear ones in a peaceful atmosphere. He expressed the hope that the same level of vigilance will be observed in future for ensuring law and order and to foil the designs of militants and extremists to threaten peace and security.

764 Pakistanis given Indian citizenship
India’s Home Minister P Chidambaram has said that during the past three years 764 Pakistanis had been given Indian citizenship, DawnNews reported. In a statement the Indian Home Minister told authorities that between 2009 and 2011, 1990 Pakistanis had applied for Indian citizenship and that these applications had been submitted in various Indian states. Out of the total, 764 applicants had been given Indian citizenship.

Pakistan: Fixing oil prices

The formula for fixing oil prices in the country has come under a lot of criticism. While the government is generally forced to increase domestic oil prices due to rising oil prices in the international market, ordinary people criticise the government for its apathy towards the plight of average consumers; they also accuse it of stoking inflation. In order to avoid this blame-game, the government is reported to have decided to pull itself out of the process of fixing prices of major oil products, limit the role of the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) and allow marketing companies to fix retail prices with effect from 1st September, 2012. According to officials of Ministry of Petroleum and Ogra, the Economic Co-ordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet had decided as far back as in 2009 to deregulate oil pricing and gradually transfer the responsibility of determining prices to marketing companies. For some time the companies have been fixing the prices of High Speed Diesel (HSD) themselves while prices of other oil products were adjusted by the government; previously on a monthly basis but presently on a fortnightly basis. According to certain officials, a recent ECC decision to revise oil prices on a weekly basis, which has not been implemented so far, has made it very difficult for Ogra to complete the process within a week and submit it to the ministries of petroleum and finance for approval in time. Moreover, the price revision on a weekly basis would make it even harder to ensure regular supplies of oil products to the consumers. Already, whenever the government was in the process of determining the prices for the coming fortnight, the media leaked the expected announcement which resulted in scarcity of products as retailers took recourse to hoarding and black-marketing. Permission to allow companies to fix prices themselves would also redress all such issues. The adoption of new framework for oil prices in the domestic market by the government has certainly some merit. It could be justified on purely economic grounds since the economy is supposed to operate at a more optimal level when prices of inputs and other commodities are determined by market forces and their consumption responds to price signals. However, from government's point of view, such a decision would be preferable since it would divert public anger over oil price increases from the government towards oil marketing agencies, without having any adverse impact on the fiscal situation. The government currently charges a levy of Rs 10 per litre on petrol, Rs 14 on HOBC, Rs 6 on kerosene and Rs 8 on HSD in addition to 16 percent general sales tax on these products. The total tax collection on account of petroleum levy and GST is about Rs 25 billion per month. It is widely believed that if at any time, the government felt that the impact of price hike was too high it could always step in by lowering its share of petroleum levy by advising the marketing companies accordingly. However, it is quite clear that such a step could only be taken when the government's fiscal position is comfortable to provide such a space. In any case, consequent to the implementation of the decision, the prices of oil products could be much more erratic as these could vary almost every day and according to the location of sales outlets of a company. It could create some public unrest but the focus of such irritation this time would not be the government but other players in the market and international agencies, including the Opec. However, while implementing the new pricing mechanism, the government cannot absolve itself completely of its responsibility to keep a close watch on the oil price trends in the domestic market. It must ask Ogra to continuously monitor prices at retail outlets through its enforcement wing in order to ensure that retailers are providing fuel regularly throughout the country at reasonable prices. The CCP has also to play a more active role in thwarting any hidden ploy to form monopolies in the oil sector. Chances of such a collusion cannot be ruled out due to a very limited number of oil suppliers in the market. At the same time, the government must strive to improve country's fiscal position so that it could intervene in the market if there are excessive price fluctuations or prices in the international market rise to a level where subsidies are seen to be unavoidable.

Pashto Movies: Pollywood industry entertains Peshawarites despite odds

Pashto film industry this time produced five movies as compared to only three flicks last year on the auspices occasion of Eid. A few years ago the Pashto movie-business had gone down the drain owing to many factors including vulgarity, substandard contents, weak storylines, and inappropriate casts bringing a very bad name to representation of pure Pashtun culture on the big screen. Pashto films based on social themes launched in early 70s had heralded a golden era for the industry as senior poets like Ali Haider Joshi a popular folk poet, Amir Hamza Baba a Sufi Pashto proponent poet, his only son Murad Shinwari- song writer/fictionist, Amir Ghulam Sadiq, Ghazi Sial and a few other noted men of letters were associated with the Pashto film industry -pollywood as they called it now who had penned down scripts, scenes and best storylines for the Pashto flicks. Mega stars like Badar Munir, Yasmeen Khan, Asif Khan, Suriya Khan, Baidar Bakht and Jamil Babar became instant households for Pashtuns across the globe. Film Producers, directors, payback singers - Khayal Mohammad, Gulnar Begum, Kishwar Sultan and Mashooq Sultan became trade marks of Pashto movies of which music and storylines were great business strength. Seasoned music directors Rafiq Shinwari, ST Sunny and Rahdat Hussain's music arrangement would drive romantic scenes. There was no miscast, porn dialogue delivery or any substandard stuff on big screen. Cinegoers would throng cinema houses in cities after new runs roll up on the silver screens and even old runs would do better business for years. Most had bagged huge business and has had never encountered a single flop. But then vested interests entered the film scene and plagued the pollywood with obscenity, suggestive dialogues and so called music and forced many to quit Pashto silver screen forever. Of late extremism, CD, cable culture, militancy coupled with philistinism and cinemas razing trend accelerated the process of erosion of cinegoing culture. But everything was not lost. Some individuals took some steps and success came its way, though pollywood still has a long to do list. Despite all odds the Pashto entertainment industry is still rumbling through its thorny track. Shahid Khan noted Pashto film star while talking to the Frontier Post on Wednesday said: "I have received a very encouraging response from cinegoers and this is a sign that Pashto flicks have once again to have good days. Bad Amla and Har dam Khair grabbed run -of the mill response because they are based on social themes. The former is a story of a gambler who gambles out everything and is reduced to a scoundrel thus faces worst consequences of his bad actions while the latter is a romantic subject that we need today to get rid of increasing depression , anxiety caused by violence , corruption and other numerous social problems." He added that Shamaa cinema was screening a Pashto flick for the first time after a long time based on a social theme that has a reformative aspect. It is pertinent to mention that the said cine-theatre has had earlier allegedly a bad reputation for showing clips of porno videos. "I enjoy watching movies on the big screen as it has a unique flavour, this time Pashto flicks are significant by dance choreography and music arrangement. I don't enjoy Pashto movies on CDs because they are loaded with excessive violence and irrelevant dialogues and most often don't have even a distant relationship to our Pashtun culture," commented. Bilal Khan 10th grader hailing from district Kohat. 14 -year old Kamran Khan belonging to district Nowshera while sharing his views said that he had a special taste for watching films on the big screen adding movies and telefilms should not screen violence as he observed it had been casting very bad impression on the minds of the youngsters. "We are fed with guns culture in the movies, I have my personal computer, its music folders are full of such stuffs but being tired of it I drained it out and now plan to upload flicks containing good music and reformative aspect," he maintained. Arbaz Khan told The Frontier Post: "I took courage and instant success came my way I think vulgarity and violence are deemed to doom and never to get victory. Pashtun flick avid now know that violence cannot be their culture. Peace runs through Pashtun's blood. A medley of the strong characterization, action and soothing music tunes are the strengths of my film 'Qasam'." Soon after Eid prayers and enjoying eateries, cine buffs flocked to the different city cine-theatres to watch new Pashto runs. Great rush was witnessed outside cine houses with tight security arrangements. "I feel secure when I enter cinema house as there is proper security, also this time I have brought my children so that they could enjoy watching a big silver screen for which during my school days I used to secretly scale up wall boundary to get to last show of Pashto movie in a city cine-theatre. Pollywood's hey-days could return if good stuff comes on the market," 50-year old Atlas Khan -resident of Chasarada recalled and suggested.