Saturday, August 25, 2012

Non-Aligned Movement summit opens in Tehran

The 16th Non-Aligned Movement summit will start in the Iranian capital Tehran on Sunday. According to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, nuclear disarmament, human rights and regional issues will be the main topics. During the summit, Iran may draw up a new peace resolution aiming to resolve the Syrian crisis. And Iran will take over the leadership role for three years from Egypt. The summit will last for 6 days. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will attend the summit. Founded in 1961, the Non-Aligned Movement now has 120 members, most of which are developing countries from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Some observer countries and organizations are also included. The movement, which represents nearly two-thirds of UN member countries focuses on striving for interests of developing countries around the world.

New poll shows Obama with a significant lead over Romney

Ten weeks before the election, a voter poll commissioned by The Inquirer finds President Obama leading Republican rival Mitt Romney by a significant margin in Pennsylvania, raising the question of whether the Keystone State is up for grabs on Nov. 6. The Inquirer Pennsylvania Poll, led by a bipartisan team of top political analysts, concluded that if the election were held now, Obama would win the state by nine percentage points - 51-42 - with 7 percent of voters undecided. The telephone survey of 601 likely voters, conducted from Tuesday through Thursday, had a statistical margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. The results, which include firmly committed supporters and those leaning toward one candidate or the other, are comparable to those of other recent polls, including one released Thursday by Muhlenberg College, which also had Obama leading by nine points in the state. Jeffrey Plaut of Global Strategy Group, a Democratic polling firm, said the results may indicate Pennsylvania has lost some of its "swingy-ness." He said Friday that Democrats would have to fail to turn out their base voters to "put the state in play." His survey partner, Republican Adam Geller of National Research Inc., said Romney clearly was behind in the state. But he said Obama's current lead could be less - perhaps six, five, or four points - in light of the margin of error and the proven tendency of undecided voters ultimately to vote against incumbents. "Maybe if Romney decided to spend more time and resources in the state of Pennsylvania, the state certainly could be in play," Geller said. Barely half of poll respondents approved of the job Obama has done as president, a finding that Romney could build on, Geller said. He said he expected the race to tighten. But only about four in 10 respondents had a favorable view of Romney, who, starting with this week's Republican National Convention, must burnish a personal image tarnished by a summer's worth of negative Obama ads. Romney's choice of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate does not appear to have given him a Pennsylvania boost. Plaut said the numbers showed Romney might have done better here if he had picked Gov. Christie, who has a strong favorability rating across the Delaware from his home turf. Plaut said it was significant that 57 percent of poll respondents said they believed Obama would win Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes; only 29 percent said they thought Romney would. That expectation could become self-fulfilling if it influences Election Day turnout. The country's sixth-largest state, Pennsylvania has not favored a Republican for president since 1988, when it picked George H.W. Bush over Michael S. Dukakis. Yet with its combination of East Coast and Midwest influences, its two big cities and myriad small towns, its union halls and farmers' markets, Pennsylvania has appeared a ripe target for both major parties every four years. The state is heavily Democratic in voter registration, but has both a Republican governor and a Republican legislature. Its voters have a history of party switching and ticket-splitting. A solid majority of those polled said they thought the state and the nation were on the wrong track. On average, they gave the economy of Pennsylvania a grade of D-plus; they gave the nation's roughly a D. A year from now, voters said, they expected both the national and state outlook to be in the C range. Most gave their own economic situation fair to poor grades. But a majority were optimistic that their situation would be slightly better a year from now. The poll gave Obama a substantial lead among women; he was statistically tied with Romney among men. One poll participant, Mary Hughes, a Democrat from Philadelphia's East Mount Airy section, said in a follow-up interview Friday that it was easy to explain the so-called gender gap. "Mr. Obama has tried to show that he cares about women and women's rights," said Hughes, 70, a registered nurse. "This is more than what I'm hearing from Mitt Romney and the Republicans in general." Obama led among all age groups, with his strongest edge among those 45 to 64. He led among those with a college education and those without. Eighty-five percent of black respondents said they would vote for Obama. Among whites, the split was 46 percent for Obama and 47 percent for Romney, a statistical tie. More than any other factor, geography shaped the results. Obama's lead was largely built on his strength in Philadelphia, the state's largest city, in which he was ahead by almost 8-1. In the crucial suburbs of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties, all of which voted for Obama in 2008, he led by just three points. That is well within the higher margin of error, plus or minus 8.6 percent, for polling in those four counties.iCOUNTIES.COUNTIES.counties.Andrew Reilly, the Republican chairman of Delaware County, said he was not surprised that Romney trailed in the state. Many voters who don't like Obama have not gotten to know Romney yet, he said. They will do so, starting this week with the GOP convention, he said. "People know Obama; they have made the decision they are looking for an alternative," Reilly said Friday. "But Romney has not made the sale that he is that alternative. He has to make the sale." Too late, said Marcel Groen, veteran Democratic chairman of Montgomery County. He said many suburban voters had already made up their minds that the Republican Party had moved too far right for them. Groen noted the recent comment by Rep. Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican Senate candidate, that women rarely get pregnant from "legitimate rape." He said that notwithstanding Akin's later apology, the comment had helped solidify an impression "that elements of the Republican Party have declared war on women." Suburban voters - especially women - tend to be moderates, Groen said. They want "solutions," not "ideology," he said, and right now the Republicans seem more ideological. Poll participant Nick Polidori, 64, of Glenolden, Delaware County, said that America's future prosperity depended on the economy growing and that only Romney had faith in American enterprise. "I like what he wants to do to try to create jobs and the tax breaks he wants to give and all," Polidori, a Republican, said. As a retired postal worker, he might not need a tax break as much as some. But, he said, "my children will and my grandchildren will." Hughes, the nurse from Philadelphia, who said, "I vote every single time," said she did not think much could draw her to Romney between now and when she casts her vote Nov. 6. "He's not a people person," she said. "He's more focused on the guys who make a lot of money and their wishes. He could care less about the middle guy." Another Obama fan, Michael Hafter, a software architect from Narberth, Montgomery County, said Republicans were fooling people in promising to cut the deficit without tax increases. Obama "is less of a bald-face liar than Romney," Hafter said. "He appears to have math skills, whereas Romney and Ryan believe in voodoo for numbers, and [Obama] speaks honestly when he says people have to pay taxes." In Chester County, first-time presidential voter Dane Hill said he will cast his lot with fellow Republican Romney. Hill, 21, of Chadds Ford, said he was not against Obama but believed Romney knew better how to jump-start the economy. He said jobs were important to a person such as himself, who will graduate next spring with a degree in human development and family studies from the Brandywine campus of Pennsylvania State University. "Romney has a drive to succeed," Hill said, "and he wants to turn this country around."

Obama hails 'great American hero' Neil Armstrong

A "deeply saddened" President Barack Obama on Saturday hailed late US space pioneer Neil Armstrong as one of the nation's greatest ever heroes, for having inspired a generation to reach for the stars. Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon, died after suffering complications from cardiovascular surgery, his family said earlier. He was 82. "When he and his fellow crew members lifted off aboard Apollo 11 in 1969, they carried with them the aspirations of an entire nation," Obama said in a statement. "They set out to show the world that the American spirit can see beyond what seems unimaginable -- that with enough drive and ingenuity, anything is possible. And when Neil stepped foot on the surface of the moon for the first time, he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten." Armstrong and fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, with an estimated 500 million television viewers looking on in astonishment worldwide. Armstrong's first words upon stepping on the lunar surface have since been etched in history: "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind." Obama, who was just under eight years old at the time of the historic Apollo 11 mission, said: "Neil was among the greatest of American heroes -- not just of his time, but of all time. "Today, Neil's spirit of discovery lives on in all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploring the unknown -- including those who are ensuring that we reach higher and go further in space. "That legacy will endure -- sparked by a man who taught us the enormous power of one small step." Obama's Republican challenger for the White House, Mitt Romney, said Armstrong now "takes his place in the hall of heroes." "With courage unmeasured and unbounded love for his country, he walked where man had never walked before," Romney said. "The moon will miss its first son of Earth." The former Massachusetts governor, who spoke with Armstrong just a few weeks ago, said the astronaut's patriotism and passion for space, science and discovery "will inspire me through my lifetime." Republican House Speaker John Boehner paid tribute to one of Ohio's "proudest sons." "A true hero has returned to the heavens to which he once flew," Boehner said. "Neil Armstrong blazed trails not just for America, but for all of mankind. He inspired generations of boys and girls worldwide not just through his monumental feat, but with the humility and grace with which he carried himself to the end. "Ohio has lost one of her proudest sons. Humanity has gained a legend." And Pentagon chief Leon Panetta bid farewell on behalf of the US military to one of its own. "As a decorated Korean War veteran, as an astronaut for NASA, and as the first man to walk on the moon, Neil inspired generations of Americans to believe that as a nation we are capable of achieving greatness that only comes with determination, perseverance and hard work," the US defense secretary said. "As a true pioneer, his one small step showed all mankind the great feats we can accomplish when we set ourselves to the task."

Ragtag Revolts in Parts of Afghanistan Repel Taliban

In small mountain villages on Taliban turf in eastern Afghanistan, Pashtun tribesmen took up arms to fight the insurgents this summer, fed up with their heavy-handed tactics of closing schools and threatening families whose sons had joined the Afghan Army. “They wanted to make our children illiterate and miserable,” Malik Ghulam Rusal, a district elder, said about the Taliban. “We told them that if you want to wage jihad, go and fight the foreigners, not ordinary people. But they did not listen.” What began as a ragtag uprising by rural woodcutters and shopkeepers in a few villages in Laghman Province expanded into something extraordinary: in just the past two months, the Taliban presence in the entire district, and then in a neighboring one, has been largely silenced. And in another eastern province, Ghazni, villagers ignited a similar movement to drive the Taliban away. The uprisings, however, are far from a simple case of outrage growing into action. They spread quickly, but in considerable part because commanders from a rival militant faction, Hezb-i-Islami, saw a chance to gain ground against the Taliban, and because Afghan government officials saw the movement as a valuable opportunity to help local leaders organize against the insurgents. For close watchers of Afghanistan’s complex factional landscape, the movement has become another case study of a classic Afghan problem that directly challenges the Western goal of a stable country after the 2014 troop withdrawal: a threat posed by an armed group is answered by arming another group, which in turn becomes a game piece to be fought over by larger forces. “Now it’s a bit of a mess,” said one Western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It started as an anti-Taliban type thing, then Hezb-i-Islami moved in, then the government and the N.D.S. got involved and there are lots of different players, and that makes the people who started the whole thing suspicious.” The N.D.S. is the National Directorate of Security, the main Afghan spy agency. At its heart, the uprising in the Laghman villages began not because of support for the government, or even because of hatred of the Taliban as a whole, but because the wrong Taliban had come to power: Locals like Ghulam Rusal say they resented the more extreme religious teachings and draconian enforcement by militants who had come from far-off provinces and from Pakistan. Similar resentment factored in the uprising in Ghazni Province this summer. There, in an area that has been locked under Taliban control for at least three years, the uprising started when a couple of Taliban with roots in the local community split off from the others and began to form completely indigenous groups to oppose control by what they saw as foreign Taliban leaders. Now at least 40 villages in Ghazni’s Andar district have broken away from the mainstream Taliban, though small-scale shootings still occur at times, according to local commanders and residents. Such local resentment presented fertile opportunities for both Hezb-i-Islami and government officials. For Hezb-i-Islami, it was a continuation of an on-and-off battle with the Taliban for dominance. The group is part militant faction, part legitimate political party — one wing fights both the Afghan government and the Taliban, another takes part in the national government based in Kabul. Though Hezb-i-Islami is rooted in a conservative Islamist worldview, it is seen as generally less rigid than the Taliban, allowing girls to attend school and permitting some other aspects of modern life. In any possible future reconciliation with the insurgency, the faction most likely to engage in a peace deal would be Hezb-i-Islami, former Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker said in a recent interview. In that light, both the Afghan government and the Americans are inclined to support the group’s fight against the Taliban. In both Ghazni and Laghman, there is a long history of deep aversion to the Kabul government, as well as a sense of hurt: many feel abandoned by the government and only reluctantly turned to the Taliban. That is true even of Hezb-i-Islami fighters who live in those areas, said Abdul Jabar Shilgari, a former Parliament member from Ghazni who is a member of the Hezb-i-Islami party. “The people there did not have any thought of coming over to the government, because they were fed up with the government,” Mr. Shilgari said. “But that was not a logical thought on their part — we knew they couldn’t stand up to the Taliban for long.” Hezb-i-Islami activated former commanders and sent them into the fight with rifles and ammunition, and with orders to make more contacts and expand the effort, members of the group said. For the government, it has been a chance to try to encourage local forces to organize against the Taliban. In Laghman, the governor, Mohammed Iqbal Azizi, said the government had given mostly food and ammunition to the fighters, but only relatively small quantities of ammunition. The man bearing the government’s standard in the Ghazni uprising is Asadullah Khalid, the minister of tribal and border affairs, a confidant of President Hamid Karzai’s, a Ghazni native as well as a former governor of the province. Although he is a charismatic, implacable foe of the Taliban, locals in Ghazni say they have mixed feelings about his involvement, and many see him as corrupt. He was dismissed in 2008 from his position as Kandahar governor after allegations of corruption and human-rights abuses. “I am leading this in part because I am a son of Ghazni, and because I am a minister of tribal affairs and there are tribes living in Ghazni,” Mr. Khalid said during a recent interview in his Kabul office. “Ghazni and the south of Afghanistan are burning in the same fire — you cannot talk with the Taliban, you have to be their slave or fight with them.” He has brought both government money and local allies into the Ghazni fight. But there has been controversy, too: at least three commanders and several local officials say that he has distributed large amounts of cash — perhaps as much as $200,000, they say — to just a few close allies, and very little has made it to individual fighters. “We have heard many complaints from local uprising commanders that thousands of dollars have come from the minister of tribal and border affairs, but the commanders are only receiving 4,000 Pakistani rupees” — roughly $42 — “for each fighter,” said Sher Khan, the district governor of Andar in Ghazni Province. Mr. Khalid denies those accusations. “I wish I had $200,000, but all we could do was help some of the martyrs’ families,” he said. Locals also complained about the men Mr. Khalid had brought to run the uprising, who, while from Ghazni, were not part of the early days of fighting. They said that the National Directorate of Security was involved in supplying money and ammunition — and that suspicion has brought concerns that the United States, which helps support the N.D.S., may be getting involved, too. American diplomats and NATO military officials have welcomed the developments in Laghman and Ghazni, although diplomats especially have been careful to keep their comments spare in part, it seems, to avoid raising hopes given all the uncertainties of local politics here. “What I hope happens is that the local people will decide they have had enough and will act to get the Taliban out of their villages,” the new ambassador, James B. Cunningham, said at a recent news conference. “Whether that will happen or not, I don’t know, but hope that it would.” Although locals may want to keep control of the movement, it is unlikely that the movement could spread without help from the government, local officials say, because the fighters have insufficient arms and resources to take on the Taliban for a sustained period. Even given that, though, the officials are uneasy about the Afghan government’s growing involvement and worry aloud that it may drive people away rather than encourage more confidence. “We are tired of the government’s corruption, and we are tired of the Taliban’s tortures,” said Juma Khan, 50, a commander from the Ghazni village of Omarzai, who takes exception to the commanders Mr. Khalid has backed. “We don’t want anyone here, just leave us the way we are and let us fight for our people ourselves,” he said. “Now they are trying to change this into a national uprising and into a business and these corrupt officials are trying to make money from it, not to help the people.”

Zardari to meet Karzai, Singh in Tehran

President Asif Zardari will represent Pakistan at the 16th NAM summit in Tehran today. President Asif Zardari will have important meetings with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Iran’ President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit which will begin in the Iranian capital Tehran today. Sources said that Zardari and Manmohan will have discussions with regard to the recent developments in the bilateral relations of the two countries and of region during their interaction. President Zardari will have some other meetings including with host counterpart Ahmedinejad and Afghan President Hamid Kazai.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Unicef to observe 'world breastfeeding week' from August 27

Department of Health, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in collaboration with Unicef will observe World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) from August 27 to September 1 to highlight the critical role of breastfeeding in child survival, growth and development. The main theme of WBW 2012 is "Understanding the past, planning the future". Important activities to be undertaken during WBW will include dissemination of these important messages related infant and young child feeding. - Early initiation of breastfeeding within first half hour of life. - Exclusive breastfeeding for first six months of life. - Appropriate complementary feeding from age of six months along with continued breastfeeding till age of two years. According to Unicef's state of the World's Children Report 2011, 136.7 million babies are born world-wide and only 32.6 percent of them are breastfed exclusively in the first six months. Despite compelling evidence on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and sustained efforts to encourage it, progress is patchy. Global rates for exclusive breastfeeding for infants under six months of age crept from 32 percent in 1995 to 39 percent in 2010. Situation is not different for Pakistan where the exclusive breastfeeding rate sneaked from 26 percent in 1995 to 36 percent in 2006-07 which is indicative of the fact that the rates have barely improved. Each year Pakistan witnesses preventable deaths of 432,000 children under-five. Among the under-five deaths 11 percent are caused by diarrhoea. In KPK province 100 of every 1,000 children die before their fifth birthday. Of these, the majority (76) die in the first year of life due to preventable diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia. These diseases are seasonal calamities and preventable. Most of these precious lives can be saved by simple knowledge about prevention and promotion of key messages related to breastfeeding and measures at home and health care seeking practices relating to these diseases. World Breastfeeding Week is an opportunity to renew focus on the critical role of breastfeeding in reducing childhood illness and mortality. In order to achieve success to improve exclusive breastfeeding rates, there is a need of combination of strong Government leadership, comprehensive programmes, community engagement and broad partnerships. To attain and build on success to achieve results for infants and young children, especially hardest to reach we must better monitor our progress. This echoes the theme of this year's. World Breastfeeding Week "Understanding the past, planning for the future". The main objective of WBW 2012 is to recall what has happened in past 20 years on infant and young child feeding and to assess the status of implementation of Global strategy for Infant and Young child feeding (IYCF). This event is important to call for action in order to bridge the remaining gaps in policy and programme on breastfeeding and IYCF. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) jointly developed and launched the Global Strategy for IYCF in 2002 reaffirming the four innocent targets set in 1995 and setting additional targets. The global strategy has identified a clear need for optimal infant feeding practices in reducing malnutrition as well as poverty. It is based on human rights approach and calls for the development of comprehensive national policies on infant and young child feeding. It provides guidance on how to protect, promote and support exclusive breastfeeding for first six months and continued breastfeeding for two years or beyond together with adequate, appropriate and local complementary foods starting from the age of six months. Provincial Nutrition cell at Department of Health KP is launching the World Breastfeeding Week 2012 from August 27 to September 1.

Imran Khan mis-declared his assets

Dubbing Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf leader as “Establishment Khan” Provincial Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Rana Sanaullah Khan Saturday said that Imran Khan’s declaration of assets was just a mockery.

Bahraini human rights activist sentenced to three years

Bahrain sentenced prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab to three years in jail Aug. 16 for "inciting" anti-government protests. "The unexpectedly harsh sentence is likely to raise questions about the Western-backed Sunni monarchy's commitment to reform and embolden anti-government protesters who have been demonstrating for the past 18 months calling for greater rights in this Gulf island kingdom that is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet," The Associated Press wrote in its report on the sentencing. Arrested July 9, Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was already serving a three-month sentence for a tweet criticizing the Bahraini prime minister. In the state-run media, the government denounced Rajab, saying he provoked his supporters to violence against security personnel. On Aug. 16, the Lower Court of Manama, the Bahraini capital, found him guilty of organizing "unlicensed demonstrations" using social media and ordered three one-year jail sentences, one for each protest he was accused of leading. The stiff sentence surprised defense attorney Mohammed al-Jishi, who plans to appeal. "They are peaceful protests, not violent ones," he told Reuters, adding that others found guilty of similar charges were given six months or released. U.S. and European officials criticized the decision to imprison the widely admired Rajab, as did several human rights organization. On Aug. 10, 17 members of Congress and two senators sent a letter to Bahraini King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, urging him to order Rajab's release "under the universal principle that all citizens should have the right to peacefully express disagreement." The U.S. State Department said it was "deeply troubled" by the verdict and has said it will ask the Bahraini government to vacate the sentence, according to The Cable, a blog of the magazine Foreign Policy. Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui told The Lede, a New York Times blog, that Rajab's harsh sentence "marks the end of the façade of reform in Bahrain. The international community can no longer be under the illusion that Bahrain is on the path of reform when confronted with such blatant and ruthless tactics of suppressing dissenting voices. Bahrain's international partners need to make this loud and clear to the Bahraini authorities." I first learned of Rajab in February. I was among a dozen internationals who responded to his invitation to come to his homeland to accompany human rights activists during demonstrations that marked the one-year anniversary of the country's uprising. He paid my airfare to Bahrain as well as that of another American activist. Inspired by the popular rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt, thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets in February 2011 to demand constitutional and economic reforms that would limit the powers of the monarchy and narrow the divide between the country's Sunni elite and Shia majority. The monarchy's early efforts at dialogue failed to quell the unrest, and a severe crackdown followed. According to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, hundreds of people were jailed, many tortured, and thousands more fired from their jobs for supporting the demonstrations. Over the past 18 months, at least 50 people, some security personnel as well as protesters, have been killed in the near-daily protests. Rajab hoped the presence of internationals might restrain the repressive actions of the security personnel and give heart to youthful protestors, increasingly impatient with his call to maintain a discipline of nonviolence. But I never made it into Bahrain. Along with a number of Western correspondents and observers, I was denied entry. (See my blog post on the subject.) A fellow Catholic Worker, Brian Terrell, who spent a week in the Gulf Kingdom as a human rights monitor before the government deported him, saw Rajab in action and described him as a man of integrity and impressive courage. Until recently, Rajab was one of the few Bahraini human rights defenders not behind bars. Earlier this year, a military court sentenced Abdulwadhi al-Khawaja, former president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, to life imprisonment for his role in the protests. That verdict was voided in April and al-Khawaja, along with other activists, is waiting for a new sentence after his retrial. His daughter, Zainab, one of the top tweeters in the Arab pro-democracy movement, was jailed last month. The tragedy here is that in Bahrain, as in Syria, the popular uprising initially called for the reform, not overthrow, of the government. In attempting to silence voices like Rajab and al-Khawaja, Bahraini authorities make a peaceful resolution of the country's political conflicts less likely. Repression breeds a hardening of positions and cultivates militancy. The best way for the Bahraini government to reverse this deadening process is to release Rajab, al-Khawaja, Zainab and all who have engaged in peaceful dissent. During a December interview with The Cable, Rajab spoke about the inconsistency and shortsightedness of U.S. tolerance for repressive regimes in the Gulf. "There is full support for revolutions in countries where [the U.S. government] has a problem with their leadership, but when it comes to allied dictators in the Gulf countries, they have a much softer position and that was very upsetting to many people in Bahrain and the Gulf region," he said. "This will not serve your long strategic interest, to strengthen and continue your relations with dictators and repressive regimes. ... You should have taken a lesson from Tunisia and Egypt, but now you are repeating the same thing by ignoring all those people struggling for democracy and human rights. ... Those dictators will not be there forever. Relationships should be maintained with people, not families."

Afghan returnees find little hope at home

Al Jazeera
For many Afghans, the fall of the Taliban meant a return home away from the hardships of life as a refugee. Yet the vast majority have returned to live in poverty in isolated parts of the Afghan capital with only basic services. Now, with Pakistan threatening not to renew the refugee status of 1.7 million Afghan refugees living within their borders, many Afghans from Pakistan have returned home to find hardship. In many cases, the food, shelter and money promised to them by Pakistani authorities were not waiting for them in their homeland. Al Jazeera's Jennifer Glasse reports from Kabul.

Bill Clinton to take Obama message to battleground states
Do you look back fondly on Bill Clinton's
time in office as an era of prosperity? President Barack Obama's re-election campaign hopes you do—because it will be unleashing the gifted politician, sometimes known as "the Big Dog," in battleground states. "I anticipate that he'll be one of our principal surrogates in the fall," a senior Obama campaign official told several dozen reporters at a briefing held in Washington. The session, which included six top Obama campaign officials, was held on condition that they not be named. "Obviously, President Clinton has extraordinary credibility on these issues of how you build a strong economy," the official said. "He faced some of the same forces when he was president that president Obama is facing now, the same opposition to dealing with a fiscal challenge by taxing the wealthy to pay a little more, the same opposition to the kind of investments we need to make in order to grow the economy." His hopes for a second term weighed down by the sour economy, the current president frequently invokes Clinton in his stump speech and paints the Obama-Romney choice in November as being between Clinton's economy and George W. Bush's. And Clinton appears to have set aside any bad blood from the 2008 campaign, when Obama beat Hillary Clinton in a frequently harsh campaign. Clinton has starred in Obama campaign ads, helped Obama raise funds and defended Obama in media interviews. (It hasn't always gone perfectly. Republicans gleefully seized on Clinton's description of Romney's business record as "sterling.") Next up, Clinton will play a starring role at the Democratic convention—formally nominating Obama for re-election and defending his economic policies. To hear the Obama campaign aides tell it, Clinton will play such as big role that the fall campaign may start to feel like an Obama/Biden/Clinton ticket. "We want as much of his time as he's willing to give. And he's been very generous so far," said the official. "He's indicated to us that he's willing to give us a significant amount of time moving forward." Clinton's broad appeal—a July 2012 Gallup poll found 66 percent of Americans regard him favorably, against 28 unfavorably—includes many white working-class voters, a demographic Obama sometimes struggles to reach. "He plays everywhere," said a second Obama campaign official. "You've seen his numbers, his economic message. There isn't a battleground state it doesn't play well. Bill Clinton can go anywhere."

Mitt Romney's Plan: Dump It on the States

On Thursday, Mitt Romney unveiled the latest in a series of bad ideas for taking government duties out of Washington and hiding them in the back rooms of state capitols. Mostly, Mr. Romney wants to allow states to quietly smother social programs the federal government has run for decades. In the case of his new energy policy, he wants to give states power to bypass Washington’s caution in burrowing for oil, gas and coal on federal lands. States, he said, could accelerate the permitting process for energy extraction, resulting in far more production than Washington has allowed. That’s probably true because many states have traditionally been poor stewards of their resources. They are far more captive than the federal government to the energy and timber interests that have long pressed for this concession and have far less oversight by government inspectors and journalists. No state, on its own, has an interest in preventing global climate change or reducing energy imports for strategic reasons. Those are national issues that need to be closely supervised by a government with broader interests than competing with the next state for oil leases. Bypassing those controls, which frustrates Mr. Romney and his generous supporters in the energy industry, are at the heart of his new energy policy. Mr. Romney has a long list of other core federal functions that he wants to dump onto the states. He has proposed offloading Medicaid and food stamps by writing a sharply reduced check to the states to take care of the health and nutrition needs of poor people. He wants to repeal health care reform and let the states design their own programs for the uninsured (or not). He wants to turn over federal job-training programs to the states, let them design their own unemployment insurance programs and give them a bigger role in designing immigration controls. (Of course, he is strongly opposed to giving the states flexibility in their welfare programs, lest they give money to a low-income family that isn’t working up to Republican standards.) Don’t be fooled by his claims that states can perform these vital functions “more efficiently” than Washington. They can’t. Battered by the downturn, states can barely perform the core functions they have. They have been laying off teachers and school personnel by the tens of thousands, cutting services to the poor past the bone and falling far behind on needed public works. Mr. Romney is really saying that education and safety-net programs are so low on his priority list that he doesn’t care what states do with them. If a blue state wants to pay for an adequate Medicaid and food stamp program, it is free to do so. But many red states care more about low taxes, and will not pay a price, no matter how much residents suffer. Many states are likely to compete in a race to the bottom to drive the poor into other states with governments that have a more enlightened sense of their role. In many ways, that is already happening. To use one measure, the Southwest region has had the nation’s greatest increase in child poverty over the last five years. But as Thomas Gais of the Rockefeller Institute notes in a forthcoming paper in the journal First Focus, states in the region have taken little action to deal with increasingly poor health and nutrition, along with declining education standards. Texas has been particularly disdainful of helping its huge uninsured population and cannot be relied upon to continue the new load of programs Mr. Romney wants to place on its shoulders. The true hollowness of these proposals can be seen in the demands by Mr. Romney and Representative Paul Ryan to drastically slash the amount of state aid provided by Washington. Ronald Reagan had a misguided idea in 1982 when he proposed a “new federalism” that would give states control of welfare programs in exchange for complete federal control of Medicaid, but at least he wasn’t proposing an abdication of Washington’s responsibility for the safety net. Mr. Romney wants to put these programs on the backs of state governments he knows cannot handle the load, then reduce the resources they have now. That may thrill a few die-hard opponents of government, but it could have disastrous consequences.

U.S : Drought killing off family farms

A severe drought has gripped much of the nation this summer, but small-scale farmers might be feeling its effects more than anyone else, as many of them are being pushed from the only line of work they know

Mitt Romney ‘birther’ joke outrages President Barack Obama’s campaign
Mitt Romney outraged the Obama’s campaign on Friday by telling a Michigan crowd that “no one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate,” in what appeared to be a wink at persistent conspiracy theories about the president’s birthplace. Romney made the controversial comment as he was reminiscing about his childhood before a home-state crowd. “I love being home, in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born,” Romney said, naming the local hospitals where he and his wife were delivered. “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place where we were born and raised.” The line prompted laughter and cheers from the audience, gasps from reporters and a speedy denunciation from the Obama campaign. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement that “Governor Romney’s decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America.” The Obama campaign then released a more succinct response by Twitter - a link to a live video of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” Romney advisers insisted that the line was nothing more than an innocent, off-the-cuff quip. "The governor has always said, and has repeatedly said, he believes the president was born here in the United States," an adviser told The Washington Post. And later, on CBS News, Romney also said the line was meant as a joke. “We’ve got to have a little humor in a campaign,” he said. But Rush Limbaugh was among those who believed the “birther” line may have been a calculated effort to appeal to the chunk of Republicans who still believe Obama was not born in the U.S. and is therefore not qualified to be president. “I think this line is a test drive,” Limbaugh said on his radio show. While Romney has said he trusts that Obama was born in Hawaii, he has also embraced Donald Trump, who has been an outspoken proponent of “birther” theories.

Romney stirs up anti-China vote

US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney continues to push a tough stance toward China as the US elections draw close, but observers downplayed his sharp rhetoric as pandering to voters. Romney's policy toward China is coming into focus after he advanced a set of military strategies that include arms sales to Taiwan, following previously announced blueprints mainly pointing to trade relations with Beijing. The candidate, locked in firece competition with sitting president Barack Obama, stated that the US under his administration would maintain adequate military power with its regional partners and expand its naval force in the west Pacific, Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV reported Thursday. He also stressed that the country would provide Taiwan with enough fighters and other military facilities, according to the report. "I don't think the governor support for Taiwan is new. We have a commitment to Taiwan and we take it seriously," Romney's counselor on security policy told Phoenix TV in a phone interview. During a campaign event in New Hampshire on Monday, Romney again claimed that he would crack down on "cheaters like China" and would work to open new market for US goods, according to CNN. "It has become a tradition for the candidates to attack each other by targeting China, which is aimed at stoking up the voters," said Da Wei, an American studies expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. Da noted that with a different political system and ideology, China is easily targeted, especially as its power grows. "But the actual policies after taking office won't be as harsh as candidates claim during the stump speeches. Their rhetoric may even be weakened in the later stage of the campaign when they realize the complexity and importance of the relationship between the two powers," Da told the Global Times. Romney has been repeatedly hammering China. He even taunted China on its moon landing plans during an election rally in Miami on August 13. "I know the Chinese are planning on getting to the Moon … when they do they will find an American flag that has been there for 43 years," he told the crowd. During the speech to the National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in July, he pointed a finger at China's human rights issues and accused it of conniving in "flagrant patent and copyrights violations." "The cheating must finally be brought to a stop. President Obama hasn't done it and won't do it. I will," he said, while once again labeling China as a "currency manipulator." Romney has claimed he will take action on the issue on his first day in office if elected. Ni Feng, deputy director of the Institute of American Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that it is unlikely the US would adopt tough measures against Beijing regarding mutual trade, as a trade war will result in "serious consequences" for both countries. "The US should seek cooperation with China rather than more confrontation, which will definitely be harmful for its both domestic and foreign affairs," Ni remarked. An editorial published by the Wall Street Journal on August 16 criticized the US politicians' attitude toward China on trade, saying "rallying against imported Chinese goods is especially shortsighted" and protectionist polices would only hurt millions of US companies and consumers who benefit from China trade. But analysts also caution that Beijing needs to be wary of any policy change if Romney finally defeats Obama. Romney is expected to use an iron hand in dealing with China-related affairs, especially on currency and national security, said Da. "So we also need to take some precautions and prepare for any potential battles."

Pakistan:UN voices grave concern over human rights violations

The United Nations has raised concern over the escalating instances of human rights violations in Pakistan, including the increasing number of missing persons in the province of Balochistan, a report has said. The UN, in a letter to Pakistan’s Interior Ministry expressed serious concerns over missing persons and their non-recovery and target killings in Balochistan and other parts of the country. Sources in the Ministry revealed that a seven-member high-powered UN delegation would visit Pakistan from September 10 to 20, the Daily Times reports. The delegation is likely to visit Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar to get first-hand information about the human rights violations in the country. The sources further said that the delegation would hold meetings with the Prime Minister, Interior Minister, Minister for Religious Affairs, Attorney General and other officials concerned of all provinces, the paper said. According to the paper, the UN, in its letter has urged Pakistan to play its role to help stop human rights violations and recover missing persons.

ISAF confirms killing Taliban leader Mulla Dadullah

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on Saturday confirmed killing a Taliban leader namely Dadullah in the eastern Kunar province. "The Taliban leader Dadullah was one of several insurgents killed in a precision airstrike in Shigal district, Kunar province, yesterday," a statement of the alliance released here Saturday said. Maulawi Dadullah, also known as Jamal, was responsible for the movement of fighters and weapons, as well as attacks against Afghan and coalition forces, the statement added. It also noted that after the strike, the Afghan and coalition security force conducted a post-strike assessment and determined no civilians had been injured and no civilian property had been damaged. Earlier police chief of Kunar province Awaz Mohammad Nazari said that air strike carried out by ISAF's unmanned plane in Shalton village of Shigal district on Friday evening left dead 12 Pakistani Taliban militants including their commander Mullah Dadullah.

Pakistani Taliban figure killed in Afghanistan

Associated Press
A NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan killed a dozen militants including a senior leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, the international military coalition said Saturday, dealing a blow to armed extremists operating on both sides of the countries' porous border. The strike in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province killed Mullah Dadullah, the self-proclaimed Taliban leader in Pakistan's Bajur tribal area that lies across the border, late Friday afternoon, coalition spokesman Maj. Martyn Crighton said. Dadullah reportedly took over after Bajur's former Pakistani Taliban leader, Maulvi Faqir Mohammed, fled to Afghanistan to avoid Pakistani army operations. He was responsible for the movement of fighters and weapons, as well as attacks against Afghan and coalition forces, a coalition statement said Saturday. It added that Dadullah's deputy, identified only as Shakir, was also killed in the strike along with 10 other militants, and that an assessment made in conjunction with Afghan security forces determined no civilians had been killed or injured. The airstrike was in Kunar's Shigal district, which lies about 15 kilometers (about nine miles) from the Pakistani border, but Crighton would not say whether an unmanned drone or manned aircraft had launched the missiles. A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Ahsanullah Ahsan, said Dadullah was killed in a drone strike in Kunar. He said Maulana Abu Bakar has been named as the new chief of the Bajur region. Pakistani intelligence officials said Dadullah and 19 others were killed in the attack. Initially, they said the strike was on Pakistani territory, but later they conceded it was in Afghanistan. Militant hideouts along the Afghan-Pakistan border have been a source of tension for both governments as well as for the coalition, with each saying the others are not doing enough to expel the various pro-Taliban factions. The Pakistani intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, said Friday's coalition airstrike occurred after a cross-border attack by Pakistani Taliban militants who came from Afghanistan. The Pakistani intelligence officials said the militiamen and army soldiers fought the militants for hours but eventually repelled the attack. Jahangir Azam Khattak, a local Pakistani government official, said dozens of militants attacked a Pakistani post manned by anti-Taliban militiamen in the Salarzai area of Bajur. He said six militants were killed and four tribesmen were wounded. However, Crighton said there was no coordination between Pakistani and coalition military leaders on the airstrike. "This was an independent operation and not associated with any others," he said. Taliban-affiliated militants operate on both sides of the porous border, with various groups targeting both coalition forces in Afghanistan and the Pakistani military. Pakistan has complained of cross-border attacks by militants hiding out in eastern Afghanistan and has criticized Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces for not doing enough to stop them or expel them from Afghan territory. The U.S. and Afghanistan, however, have long criticized Pakistan for its failure to prevent militants from carrying out attacks in the opposite direction. A Kunar provincial government spokesman, Wasifullah Wasifi, said four wounded Pakistani citizens have been hospitalized in Kunar and will be questioned about the activities of the Taliban inside Afghan territory. "They were exactly where this incident happened yesterday, so I am sure they were with these who were killed," Wasifi said. He added, "We are trying to find out how long these people have been here and why they were here."

Quetta: Doctors’ strike enters 25th day

Doctors continue their strike for the twenty fifth consecutive day. Doctors in all public and private hospitals of Balochistan including Quetta are protesting to beef up the security of all hospitals. Patients are facing problems as outdoor patient departments (OPDs) of civil hospital, BMCH, Fatima Jinnah hospital and eye centre have been shut. The doctors have demanded to tighten the security of hospitals, arrest the criminals involved in the killing of doctors and recover the ransom they had paid for the release of their colleagues. Earlier, the doctors were protesting for the recovery of thier colleague Dr. Rasool.

Pakistan rupee sinks to record low against dollar
The Pakistani rupee sank to an all-time low against the dollar Friday on high oil prices and forex reserve fears as the country repaid nearly $400 million to the International Monetary Fund. The rupee fell to 94.75 to the greenback in trading in Karachi on Friday, down from 94.70 on Thursday, and has now lost 33 percent of its value against the US currency since March 2008. "The increase in the international oil price... has affected Pakistan's foreign exchange reserves and they could suffer further with the repayment of IMF's installment due today," said analyst Mohammad Sohail of Topline Securities. "These factors have contributed to the panic in the currency market." In Asian oil markets on Friday, Brent North Sea crude for October delivery stood at $114.54 a barrel, while New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in October was at $95.68. Syed Wasimuddin, spokesman for Pakistan's central bank, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), told AFP the country had repaid $397.2 million to the IMF on Friday afternoon. He said so far Pakistan has repaid $1.3 billion to the IMF. Pakistan had already paid 901.4 million in three instalments previously. An official in the Ministry of Finance corroborated the repayment and hoped it would have a "minimal effect" on the forex reserves, which stood at $15.18 billion before the IMF payment. The Washington-based fund bailed out Pakistan with an $11.3 billion loan package launched in November 2008 as the country faced 30-year-high inflation rates and fast-depleting reserves, as well as a deadly insurgency. Sohail said the panic in the currency market may continue next week, if the international oil and commodity prices do not stabilise to a comfortable level.

The 'Wahabi Republic' of Pakistan

There are many people in Pakistan who oppose the Taliban and their militant activities; however, ironically, not all of them question the Saudi-Wahabi ideology that provides impetus to militant Islamists. It is not so difficult to find people in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan who despise the Taliban and their suicide bombings that have killed scores of Pakistanis over the past few years. Yet, it is not common to hear voices opposing Saudi Arabia and its Wahabi state ideology. The Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, which is also home to the sacred Islamic site Kaaba, is one of the most revered cities for Muslims in the world. That alone is enough to make Saudi Arabia a holy country for millions of Pakistanis. Therefore, for many Pakistani Muslims, criticizing Saudi Arabia is synonymous with criticizing Islam.Previous to Ayatollah Khomeini's Shiite revolution in Iran in 1979, the Pakistani state maintained good relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia. After the revolution, it became much closer to the latter. Saudi-Pakistani ties deepened during the Afghan War against the Soviet Union during the 1908s. At that time, both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia became close allies with the US and wholeheartedly supported the mujahedeen in Afghanistan. What did not change after the Afghan War was Pakistan's inclination toward Saudi Arabia and militant Wahabi organizations. The root of extremism Pakistan's former law minister Iqbal Haider told DW that most jihadist and terrorist organizations operating in Pakistan were Wahabis. "Whether they are the Taliban or the Lashkar-e-Taiba, their ideology is Saudi-Wahabi without an iota of doubt," Haider said. "All these organizations get their backing from the Pakistani military and its security agencies." Haider, who served as law minister under former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (who was allegedly assassinated in 2007 by the Taliban) blamed the former military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq for making it a state policy to fund and arm Wahabi groups in the 1980s. He said that the General used these organizations against minority groups, including the Shiites, who, according to Haider had sympathies with Iran. He said there was no doubt that Saudi Arabia was supporting Wahabi groups through General Haq to kill Iran's support in Pakistan.But Pakistani historian Dr. Mubarak Ali said the Wahabi influence in the Indian sub-continent was as old as Wahhabism itself. "Abdul Wahab, the Arabian Salafi theologian and the founder of the hard-line Wahabi ideology, died in the late 18th century. Wahabi preachers started coming to British India in the 1880s. They motivated many Indian Muslims to fight against the British rule," Ali said, adding that the puritan Deobandi sect was also an offshoot of Wahhabism's influence in India. "In Pakistan, Wahabi groups and organizations enjoyed state patronage and flourished at the expense of other groups, which were snubbed by various Pakistani regimes. It is a bit strange because Wahhabism is a minority Sunni sect in Pakistani," Ali said. The historian also said that Wahhabism not only affected the polity of Pakistan but also damaged the pluralistic Indo-Pakistani culture. "Wahabis are against any cultural plurality so they attack shrines, music festivals and other cultural centers that are not Islamic in their view," he said. Wahhabism has seeped into the psyche of many Pakistanis, causing an "Arabization" of many traditions. "People now say 'Allah Hafiz' (May Allah protect you) instead of 'Khuda Hafiz' (May God protect you) and 'Ramadan' instead of 'Ramzan' in an attempt to imitate Saudis," said Ali. The Saudi-US alliance Western countries accuse Pakistan - the Pakistani military's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in particular - of backing the Taliban, who they say have safe havens in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas, which border Afghanistan. The say the Islamist militants launch attacks on the Afghan soil from their hideouts in Pakistan, and that the Pakistani government is not doing enough to destroy the terrorists' sanctuaries. But Iqbal Haider said it was paradoxical that the West criticized Pakistan but said nothing against Saudi Arabia, which was the main financer of the militant Wahabi organizations in Pakistan."Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest allies of the United States in the Middle East. It also serves the role of a mediator between Washington and Islamabad. During the Shah of Iran's rule, Iran was acting out this role; it is now Riyadh," Haider said. Haider also accused the Pakistani state of massacring Shiites in the country's northwestern Gilgit-Baltistan area. Last week, 22 Shiite Muslims were brutally murdered by the Taliban in Mansehra while they were travelling in a passenger bus from Rawalpindi to Gilgit. The gunmen first identified them as Shiites and then killed them at point blank range. Some Pakistani experts call it "sectarian cleansing" of the Shiites by Wahabi groups and the state. Haider told DW that the state wanted the Wahabi monopoly in Pakistan for its geo-political and strategic interests, so it had been systematically killing those who could be a hindrance in the implementation of its agenda. "These attacks are not new. Taliban launched several attacks on the Gilgit Shiites during Pervez Musharraf's (former military dictator) government too. The army never tries to stop them," said Haider, adding that he conducted his own research on this issue and found out that the Taliban militants from Afghanistan could enter Gilgit-Baltistan unhindered and unopposed by Pakistani security forces.

NATO airstrike kills 12 militants in Afghanistan
A NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan targeting a group of insurgents near the Pakistani border killed at least 12 militants Friday, the international military coalition said. Pakistani intelligence and Afghan officials said Mullah Dadullah, the self-proclaimed leader of the Pakistani Taliban in Pakistan's Bajur tribal area was killed, although they offered conflicting reports on the exact location of the strike. NATO could not confirm that a senior militant had been killed. Coalition spokesman Maj. Adam Wojack said the attack took place late Friday afternoon in Kunar province near the Pakistan border, killing 12 militants. Conflicting reports out of the rugged and remote regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border are common shortly after an attack. Kunar provincial official Aslam Gul Mujahid said the airstrike killed 20 people, including Dadullah. Pakistani intelligence officials said Dadullah and 19 others were killed, but they said the airstrike took place in Pakistan's Bajur region, just across the border from Kunar. The Pakistani intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, said the strike occurred after a cross-border attack by Pakistani Taliban militants who came from Afghanistan. Jahangir Azam Khattak, a local Pakistani government official, said dozens of militants attacked a Pakistani post manned by anti-Taliban militiamen in the Salarzai area of Bajur. He said six militants were killed and four tribesmen were wounded. Two Pakistani militiamen also were killed, local tribesmen said on condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety. The Pakistani intelligence officials said the militiamen and army soldiers fought the militants for hours but eventually repelled the attack. Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the attack on the outpost in a telephone call to The Associated Press. It was unclear whether Pakistani and coalition officials coordinated the strike or whether NATO fired on the militants after noticing activity on the border. Pakistan has criticized Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces for not doing enough to stop cross-border attacks by Taliban militants against targets inside Pakistan. The U.S. and Afghanistan have long criticized Pakistan for its failure to prevent militants from carrying out attacks in the opposite direction. Also in the east, authorities said Friday that insurgents kidnapped three Afghan soldiers and another man from a bus in eastern Afghanistan and killed all four. Militants stopped the bus as it was traveling in Paktia province's Ahmad Khil district and forced the four men off the vehicle Thursday, provincial deputy police chief Mohammad Zaman said. Their bullet-ridden bodies were found lying on a road later in the day. Three of the men were off-duty soldiers who were traveling to see their families, and the fourth victim's identity was unclear, Zaman said. The Taliban and their allies frequently kill Afghan police and soldiers to counter the plan to strengthen national security forces. They are due to take over main responsibility for fighting militants after international combat troops leave in 2014. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, six civilians were killed when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb as they traveled in the southern province of Kandahar, police said. The civilians were riding on a motorcycle-drawn cart when it hit the bomb Thursday in the town of Spin Boldak, provincial police chief Abdul Razaq said. Roadside bombs are a favorite Taliban weapon to target international and Afghan forces, but the explosives often kill ordinary Afghans instead. A U.N. report says 1,145 civilians were killed during the first half of the year, 80 percent of them by militants. Insurgent-placed homemade bombs continued to be the biggest killer of civilians, accounting for 29 percent of all noncombatant deaths during the first six months of 2012.

Ahmed Faraz being remembered

Ahmed Faraz, one of the greatest Pakistani Urdu poets, is being remembered on his fourth death anniversary, SAMAA reports on Saturday. Ahmad Faraz was born in Kohat, Pakistan on 14th January 1931. He was considered one of the greatest modern Urdu poets of the last century. Faraz is his pseudonym 'takhallus', whereas his real name is Syed Ahmad Shah. Outspoken about politics, he went into self-imposed exile during the Zia-ul-Haq era after he was arrested for reciting certain poems at a mushaira criticizing the military rule. He stayed for 6 years in Britain, Canada and Europe before returning to Pakistan, where he was initially appointed Chairman Academy of Letters and later chairperson of the Islamabad-based National Book Foundation for several years. He has been awarded with numerous national and international awards. He was awarded the Hilal-e-Imtiaz in 2004, in recognition of his literary achievements. He returned the award in 2006 after becoming disenchanted with the government and its policies. Ahmed Faraz, who has been compared with Faiz Ahmed Faiz, holds a unique position as one of the best poets of current times, with a fine but simple style of writing. Even common people can easily understand. Ethnically a Hindko speaking Pashtoon, Ahmed Faraz studied Persian and Urdu at the Peshawar University. He later became lecturer at the Peshawar University.

PM Ashraf, Karzai pledge to 'give peace a chance'

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday reaffirmed their resolve to work for peace and stability in the region. They expressed this during a telephonic conversation. Karzai called Raja to convey Eid greetings. The prime minister thanked the Afghan president and extended Eid greeting to him as well. The premier said a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan was in Pakistan's interest. The two leaders also discussed situation in the bordering areas. Official sources said that all issue were discussed in a very friendly tone and the two sides understood each other's stances. Separately, the US general leading NATO forces in Afghanistan acknowledged on Thursday that the Taliban could be traced to more "insider attacks" against Western troops than previously acknowledged, accounting for about a quarter of the cases. The increasing number of killings of NATO soldiers by Afghan security forces, or those impersonating them, have eroded trust between Western forces and their Afghan allies and threaten to complicate plans for a transition to Afghan security within two years. Last week, the Pentagon, citing NATO data, said only about 11 percent of so-called "insider attacks" by Afghans against NATO troops are due to Taliban infiltration, with the rest caused by other motives, such as personal grudges. But Marine General John Allen said the figure was actually closer to 25 percent. "Our view is it's about 25 percent," Allen said. "If it's just pure Taliban infiltration, that is one number. If you add to that impersonation, the potential that someone is pulling the trigger because the Taliban have coerced the family members, that's a different number." Allen's NATO-led force later issued a clarification, suggesting that Allen's data and the 11 percent figure did not contradict each other, however it did not provide a year-by-year breakdown. "The Taliban try to take credit for every one of these attacks, whether it's a personal grievance or whether it's a successful infiltration," he said. NATO has struggled to stem the so-called "green-on-blue" attacks in which uniformed Afghans turn their weapons against their international 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. He said that the recent spate of assaults may have been related to Ramazan, as Afghan soldiers were under strain from fasting in intense heat while engaged in combat.

Arsalan Iftikhar: ANSWER 11 QUESTIONS???

Dr Arsalan Iftikhar is not going to get it any easier as he is not only on trial in the court, but also outside the court, with some asking him questions that perhaps should be the sole responsibility of the court. Bringing a twist to the whole episode, a private TV channel anchor Kamran Khan has listed 11 questions that he wants to be answered by Chief Justice’s son, Dr Asalan, to prove his innocence as well as to prove that judiciary is independent. Kamran Khan asked these questions in his program the other night. The questions are:- 1. How did you earn Rs 900 million in three to four years through your small business? How did you manage to employ 400 people and how did the business flourish? 2. Do you have any business links with any private companies whose cases are pending with the Supreme Court? 3. Are your business activities confined to Pakistan and all your foreign trips were of non business nature? 4. Do your companies have any direct or indirect link with Bahria Town as all Bahria Town cases are under trial in higher courts? 5. Did you take any help from ISI officer or officers to solve personal business problems? 6. Prove that while staying with your family in London Flat No 63 at Fits Harding House in 2010 all expenditures were paid from your own account? 7. Prove that expenditures for your trip to Monte Carlo in 2010, where you spent four days at the lavish Hotel De Paris, were paid from your own pocket? Also disclose the identity of the woman who accompanied you during the trip? 8. Did you pay the bill from your account during your 9-day stay in Hotel Hilton in London in 2011? 9. Prove that expenditures of your entire family’s stay for one month in London Marriott Hotel Park Lane’s Suite in 2011 were paid by you? 10. Is it true that there is no mention of your overseas trips in the Income Tax Return filed by you? 11. Is it true that despite not being a Civil Servant, you travel on blue official passport? The anchorperson has requested the CJ’s son to give a written response to the 11 questions to satisfy the public.

PPP ‘won’t let anyone throw out second PM’

The ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on Friday night finalized its strategy with a commitment to not let anyone “throw out” its second elected prime minister out of Prime Minister’s House within a time-span of two months, Pakistan Today has learnt. “The PPP core committee meeting, which was co-chaired by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf at the Presidency, decided in principle to defend the prime minister through thick or thin as he was the elected chief executive of the country. However, a proposal was also discussed to find a middle way to write a letter to the Swiss authorities if the court also attaches a note about the international immunity enjoyed by the president,” a source said requesting anonymity. The source however added that majority view of the party leaders was that the government should not discuss any option about writing the letter as the matter was a closed transaction. However, some saner voices supported the idea of finding a solution to the issue which was haunting the PPP-led government since 2009 and was also affecting the performance of the government,” the source added. The source said that the final strategy would be evolved after a meeting likely to be held with the leaders of the allied parties, as the core committee authorized the president to take a final decision in this regard. Earlier in the day, Attorney General for Pakistan Irfan Qadir said that under Article 248 (1) of the Constitution, the prime minister is not answerable to any court for the exercise of powers and official functioning of his office. The attorney general said this while talking to reporters in his office in the Supreme Court. Responding to a question about the appearance of the prime minister before the apex court on the forthcoming hearing of the National Reconciliation Order (NRO) decision implementation case fixed for August 27, the attorney general said, “I don’t know about this and this will be the decision of the prime minister purely.” To another question asking what he was expecting from the court if the prime minister did not appear before the court on August 27, he said, “This question has no sense as these are hypothetical questions and I don’t comment on such questions relying on ifs and buts.” It may be mentioned here that a five-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa will hear the NRO implementation case on August 27 and the prime minister had already been issued notice by the bench to appear before the court in person on the said date. Justice Ijaz Afzal Khan, Justice Ejaz Ahmed Chaudhry, Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Muhammad Athar Saeed are members of the bench.


It had become a routine feature that IEDs are exploding daily claiming growing number of life of the ordinary people, all non combatants or passersby. Five women and four children were among 17 persons injured in an IED blast on main Saryab Road. The militants presumably targeted the convoy of the Frontier Corps passing through the area. Since a jammar was fitted in the FC vehicle, it neutralized the bomb attack by jamming the explosive device and it exploded afterwards killing two persons and wounding 17 others, all civilians and passersby. Such reports are pouring into the newspaper offices from all parts of Balochistan, mainly from the conflict zones, where landmines and IEDs are planted by the combatants to inflict losses to their rival. The growing civilian casualties are a cause of serious concern for the common people and expected that this practice should discontinue planting roadside bombs as it kill ordinary people, including women and children. We hope that the lives of the civilian people, mainly women and children, are fully protected by all forces involved in the Baloch conflict. The Supreme Court had ordered de-mining of all areas, mainly in Bugti Tribal Territory, for the safety and security of the ordinary people. We hope that the authorities will implement the Supreme Court order and they will not show contempt towards the Supreme Court to remove all landmines. It is the duty of the State and the State should do it earliest before more lives are lost in landmine blasts.

Troubled Fata agencies No audit of admin accounts for years

The Auditor General of Pakistan Revenues hasn’t audited the income and expenditure accounts of Kurram and North Waziristan tribal agencies’ civil administrations for a long period due to lawlessness and lack of cooperation from the relevant departments, according to officials. Officials have told Dawn that audit of the accounts of political administration and militia in the restive Kurram and North Waziristan agencies hadn’t been undertaken for four and more than five years respectively. “Our auditors could not travel to the two troubled areas owing to lack of security,” said an AGPR official. He said auditors couldn’t travel to Parachinar town in Kurram Agency to audit the administration accounts because the road to this headquarters of the agency had been closed for more than two years due to attacks by militants associated with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. The official said though the auditors could have traveled to Parachinar by air to scrutinise the administration accounts, AGPR selected to keep its auditors away from the troubled area. Same was the case with North Waziristan Agency, where visit by government auditors and civilian officials dealing with the tribal region is not without risk. “We asked them (civil authorities) to send us details of some of their accounts, but they chose not to accept our requests,” the official said. People tasked with auditing the accounts of the government departments and civil administration of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) said they didn’t travel to the restive areas fearing for their lives. According to them, the only viable option for auditing the administration accounts of the two agencies was that the relevant record should be sent to AGPR offices in Peshawar. The auditors, however, said the Kurram and North Waziristan authorities ignored their suggestion and didn’t provide them with the sought-after record and thus, preventing audit. “Had the account books been provided to us, it would have taken a week to audit the accounts of the political agent’s office,” he said. Apart from money provided for undertaking annual development programme in Fata, the civil administration of all seven agencies individually raise revenue of hundreds of millions of rupees through the agency development fund. Under the Federal Government’s General Financial Rules, all government departments, their attached wings and administrative entities are required to get their accounts audited every year by providing their account books to the official auditors.According to the AGPR auditors, they usually audit 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the accounts of all departments. “We can’t scrutinise all accounts due to the availability of tons of information, so we go for selective audit,” said the official. He said that’s why, the civil authorities of the two agencies were asked to provide ‘some’ of their account books and not all. “But they ignored our suggestion,” he said, adding that it had kept an important official obligation to remain unfulfilled, showing weakening governance in tribal areas. “Since we have not seen their accounts, we are not in a position to make any comment on the validity or flaws in their accounts,” said a senior AGPR official. He, however, said the general financial rules were clear about how the government money could be used. “The government’s money cannot be spent on unofficial business and even the government’s land cannot be lent to a school, a religious seminary, or a mosque without required official approval,” said the official. On the basis of their past experience with the Fata authorities, auditors said the political administrations and the relevant militia force authorities had grossly violated financial rules in several instances. Giving an example, an auditor said a CNG (compressed natural gas) station had been established in Peshawar on a land owned by a militia force. He added that the facility was set up without taking the required permission from the federal authorities concerned, said the official. “Whenever we ask for the accounts of the CNG station, they refuse to provide us the accounts, saying these were regimental accounts and hence, the same are not auditable,” said the auditor. He said the matter was discussed at the Public Accounts Committee level, but to no avail.

Threat to social protection programmes

We don't know whether the federal and provincial governments have given enough attention to the impending obstacles to various social protection programmes in the wake of the 18th Amendment of the Constitution, but the World Bank in a report titled "Pakistan towards an Integrated National Safety Net System" has identified certain important issues, which need to be attended to urgently. According to the report, overall funding to the provinces will be a critical issue for programmes that depend on resource mobilisation, rather than budgetary allocations, and where resources to-date have been centrally pooled and then distributed among the provinces. This includes Zakat and the Workers Welfare Boards. As per the 18th Amendment, the Federal Ministry of Zakat and Ushr as well as the Ministry of Social Welfare and Special Education have been disbanded, while the Ministry of Labour and Manpower, under which the Workers Welfare Fund fell, has been devolved. One of the major concerns of the World Bank is that it still remains to be decided who will support/compensate for the weaker capacities and finances, especially in the smaller provinces. As needs are greatest in the smaller provinces, mechanisms will have to be found to facilitate these provinces to take on devolved responsibilities, so that their population is not further disadvantaged. The World Bank is, however, hopeful about the utility of the poverty data base of the BISP in streamlining the thrust of social protection programmes. To cite an example, in order to address its needs and priorities, one province may want to operate with a more generous poverty score-based eligibility criteria covering extra households; another province may run a skills programme for a subset of BISP eligible households; and yet another one may provide additional health insurance to some group. The integrated database of BISP would enable provinces to minimise unintentional overlaps and duplication of interventions. Considering the externalities to education and health investments, the Federal government may also encourage the use of the available database by providing matching grants for selected provincial grants that serve to achieve national human development goals. As widely reported, there is already a great deal of confusion both at the federal and provincial levels about the division of responsibilities and the modus operandi to be followed under the new arrangement. Sometimes, it appears that provinces had made a lot of hue and cry for the devolution of powers to score political points, but they had not done the necessary spadework beforehand and were not fully prepared to assume new obligations. Although their share from the divisible pool has been raised from 46 percent to 57 percent under the latest NFC Award, but the responsibilities entrusted to the provinces after the 18th Amendment are also quite burdensome and crying out for concrete efforts and focused attention on the part of provincial governments to meet people's expectations. The need to avoid glitches to ensure continuity in social protection programmes, in particular, is certainly the most urgent, since it involves the provision of basic human needs without which people could suffer immensely and even lose their lives in extreme cases. The World Bank, in our view, has done a service to the policymakers of the country to identify likely problems in the social sector in the wake of the 18th Amendment so that necessary measures could be taken in time by the federal and provincial governments to streamline the situation which could get complex, if left unattended. There is no denying the fact that after the 18th Amendment, provinces have to mobilise a higher level of resources for social protection programmes through various means, develop or upgrade the capacity to ensure their spending in the most efficient manner and maintain a close relationship with the federal government to seek advice and more assistance in certain cases. Of course, smaller provinces would find themselves at a disadvantaged position to start with but have to be compensated somehow to maintain their original programmes intact. This is necessary so that people in the smaller provinces, who are dependent on social protection programmes in some way or the other, do not feel discriminated against. The World Bank may not have touched upon all the aspects of the problem, but has certainly identified an issue which requires a very careful examination and probably some revision in the relevant rules to ensure that at least social protection programmes continue to get the priority they deserve in all the nooks and corners of the country.

Pakistani Politicians: Will they ever?

Will they ever have time for the masses? Just listen to the discourse of the politicos over these days? It is all about their petty politics; to be more precise, about their electoral politics. They are haggling over the timing of the impending general election, over its transparency, over the interim government to oversee it and what not. What is the missing outright from their discourse are the awam, the people. Then, is this whole of talk all about the change of faces, not the change of style in governance? And does this country exist only for their loathsome political games and power plays, and not for those 180 million people, mostly living in abject poverty and crying for some relief to their doleful lots? Why don’t the power contenders tell the people what have they in their plans for their betterment and uplift? Isn’t it because the masses have never ever figured any compellingly in their political calculus? Although they ostensibly do all their politics in the name of the people, the people actually are no any critical or decisive factor in their real calculations. Only capturing power is. What else could it be when a political eminence dishes out impetuously the slogan that if returned to power he would make a new Pakistan? Couldn’t it be a mere pretence, just a deceit when he doesn’t explain how would he go about his intent of remaking of Pakistan? More awfully, doesn’t it tell that the eminence doesn’t even know what he is talking? But do any of the political eminences have any idea how much people are disgusted of them, particularly for giving them such a short shrift as have they over these times? The people are going through the worst of times in their lives during these past nearly five years. Yet these grandees have on their tongues only their own politics, not the people’s woes. They talk of elections, not the people’s unenviable economic plight. They talk of transparency of elections, not of the people’s snowballing sense of insecurity. They talk of impartial interim governments, but not of the ways of addressing the people’s grievances and wants. These indeed are the times when the political eminences should have at least spoken of the people, of whom they have spoken not all through these years. Ideas should have been floating as to how to give a pushup to the nation’s sagging economy. Suggestions should have been flowing out from various political quarters on how to create jobs and opportunities for the masses and the multitudes of the educated unemployed. The political players should have been in a real competition of proposing ways and means for educating the nation’s children and providing facilities for healthcare to its citizens. And they should have been in a scramble in mooting innovative ideas to fight out extremism and intolerance that has taken away all sense of safety and security from the masses to live in constant fear and fright. But none of this is happening at all. It is the politics, not the people, that stays on the tip of the politicos’ tongue even at this point in time. Little wonder, the people have washed these political eminences off their minds as completely as have these eminence wiped out the masses from their high minds. None of the eminences comes across to the people as leaders. They all are taken by the masses as mere chicaners and charlatans. It is only the select constellation of the media, the commentariat, the chattering classes and the civil society groups that pays court them. On the street, they all have become a big, big zero. Over there, nobody takes notice of them. Nobody listens what they speak. Nobody cares what they talk. And yet these eminences behave as if they are tall figures while in the popular estimation they have become even lesser than dwarfs. Still, these eminences have a chance to rehabilitate themselves with the masses. But for that they have to become relevant to the masses. That necessarily postulates that they talk less of politics and more of people. Will they? Perhaps, they will not, simply because they are incapable of talking things serious. They know only playing to the gallery, which comes natural to the minds feeble. Anyway, let’s hope.

Pakistan: The scope and tapestry of religious extremism

Ayaz Amir
Gen Kayani’s speech at PMA Kakul on August 14 repays a close study. The war against religious extremism was our war, he said. This was the kernel of his remarks. It would have helped if this clarity had come much earlier...but better late than never. Extremism gone wild and threatening to become virulent is our most serious problem, dwarfing all others, including our economic woes. Indeed it is no exaggeration to say that this derangement of the Pakistani mind, expressed in extremism, threatens the foundations of the state. We survived the loss of East Pakistan. Germany has survived the loss of territory. Russia is still Russia despite the breakup of the Soviet Union. But Pakistan will not remain Pakistan if the havoc being wrought in the name of religion and by religious extremism is allowed to go unchecked. Pakistan was created in the name of religion. Is it to be undone in the name of religion? And we are still caught up in the debate whether this is our war or not. If this is not our war there never will be a war we can call our own. Imran Khan wouldn’t be able to survive a day in Hakimullah Mehsud’s Islamic Emirate. So what is he talking about? North Waziristan today, for all practical purposes, is an independent emirate where the Pakistan flag does not fly, where the authority of the Pakistan state, such as it is, is not recognised. And politicians of all hues, from left to right, beat their breasts and shed copious tears regarding drone strikes in this territory whose control has passed out of our hands. The comic sentimentality on which they feed, and whose flag-bearers they are ever ready to be, is equalled only by their tunnel vision. But mediocre men mouthing meaningless clichés can be forgiven their petty sins. The larger sin rests with the mighty institution now revising its doctrine and entering the realm of second thoughts. Extremism in Pakistan did not spread through the medium of the stars or the application of cosmic rays. The engine of this growth – and my heart sinks as I write this – was the Pakistan Army, from General Zia to General Beg, with ISI chiefs leading the charge. To our lasting ill luck, jihad was promoted as an instrument of national policy and extremist organisations, whose names we have come to know and dread, were encouraged to set up camp and recruit followers, and spread the message of hate and bigotry. This policy, if it can be distinguished by that name, was meant as an external instrument – jihad as an extension of foreign policy. But as happens with such things the fallout it created fell back on us, the fallout or blowback proving hotter than the original flames. But this is history and let it pass. Even if late in the day, the ideological re-emphasis – I almost said ideological turnaround – mirrored in Gen Kayani’s remarks on extremism needs to be welcomed. It should have been the task of the political leadership to voice such thoughts. Gen Kayani’s speech should have come from the president (let’s leave the prime minister alone, he is caught up in other things) or from national leaders-in-waiting. If they choose to remain silent, emphasising the intellectual vacuum that exists in Pakistan today, the army command is not to be blamed if it seeks to fill the void. And there is no use blaming American visitors for making a bee-line for General Headquarters when they come visiting Pakistan. Taking decisions is one thing. But even if the churning of ideas – or what pass for ideas in this country – is to take place there, then it is obvious that quality time they will choose to spend in Rawalpindi rather than in the vacuous corridors of Islamabad. Anyway, let’s hope the PMA speech is not just rhetoric but marks a turning point, a change of direction. Even so, we should be clear what extremism has come to mean in Pakistan. It is not just the waves of violence emanating from the independent emirate of North Waziristan. That would be no great matter. The cancer could be isolated and treated (lanced is the better word) when circumstances permitted. But the problem is more complicated than that. North Waziristan extremism has ideological sympathisers, sleeper cells and a support network, a mosque support network, running from one end of Pakistan to the other. And it is thriving in an atmosphere of radicalisation marked by such incidents as the killing of Shias in Quetta, the murder of Shias in Kohistan. When the misuse of mosque loudspeakers becomes a national pastime, and the spewing of hatred against different sects an everyday occurrence; when a poor Christian girl such as Aasia Bibi in Sheikhupura is held on a blasphemy charge, setting off a train of events leading ultimately to the murder of governor Salmaan Taseer at the hands of one of his guards, and the guard is hailed as a hero of the faith, and lawyers shower him with rose petals when he appears before a magistrate; when someone in Bahawalpur is held on a blasphemy charge and after being sprung from police lockup is set on fire by an enraged mob; when another poor Christian girl is held on a blasphemy charge near Islamabad; and the Muslim community, which should be moved to outrage at such outrages, chooses to remain silent and do nothing; and when, in a comic interlude, the highest security agencies use clerical windbags to whip up the froth of a false nationalism; then be not surprised if religious radicalisation keeps receiving shots in the arm, and extremism as an ideological force turns into a more poisonous brew. When the next bunch of Shias is murdered we read it as a newspaper item and shrug our shoulders and carry on as usual. And the call to prayers is sounded and it makes not the slightest difference to our collective conduct. The kingdom of dread which religious extremism has created is much wider than the geographic confines of North Waziristan. Has America done this to us? Is America the sole agent of our misfortunes? Or, painful thought, did we sow the dragon’s teeth ourselves? And if that was the past, are we not watering the spreading plant even now? The task at hand, it should be clear at this stage, is much larger than the necessity of any single military operation. Pakistan’s face has been distorted and it is that which must be set right if we are serious about rescuing what we like to call Iqbal and Jinnah’s Pakistan. Our minds have become twisted and a part of them are numb, incapable of feeling and thought, and that is why we choose to keep silent when our hearts should be brimming with outrage. If we want to emerge from the shadows, into the dustbin of history must be cast the shibboleths and attitudes of our eminently forgettable past. This war now upon us can be won only if the first order of business is the liberation and emancipation of the Pakistani mind.