Monday, September 3, 2012

Don't trust NAB, ask Scotland Yard to probe Arsalan Iftikhar

Asma Jahangir, the former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), on Monday criticised the role of the Supreme Court and its decision to form a one member commission to further investigate the Dr Arsalan Iftikhar case, suggesting the Court instead turn to foreign investigation agencies if it did not trust state institutions. Talking to reporters at the Lahore High Court premises, Jahangir alleged that the Supreme Court was not meeting the requirements enshrined for delivering justice in the case against Dr Arsalan Iftikhar, son of Chief Justice of Pakistan. She also rejected the appointment of Dr Shoaib Suddle, the officer tasked by the SC to investigate the case after barring the NAB from investigating into the matter. Jahangir alleged the apex court wanted to facilitate the investigations by appointing Suddle since he enjoyed close ties with Dr Iftikhar. Suddle could therefore, not be trusted to conduct a transparent investigation. “The Supreme Court should ask the Scotland Yard to conduct the investigation of Dr Arsalan Iftikhar case if it has no confidence in the national institutions”, she said. She added that Suddle was also known to be a regular attendant of Dr Iftikhar’s events. Therefore, he could not be expected to conduct a transparent investigation into the case. While maintaining that the law of benefit of doubt should be given to Dr Iftikhar, it should be treated equally for everyone. Criticising the court’s decision, she said if there were any questions over the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) investigating team, then the team could have been changed instead of changing the investigating authority. August 30, the Supreme Court had accepted a review petition against its own earlier order, appointing Federal Tax Ombudsman Dr Mohammad Shoaib Suddle as the one man-commission to probe the controversial case regarding a business deal worth Rs342 million between Dr Arsalan Iftikhar and business tycoon Malik Riaz.

Hilary Clinton Decries Violence in Northwestern Pakistan

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on an Asian tour, is condemning a suicide bomber for ramming his car into a U.S. government vehicle in northwestern Pakistan, injuring two Americans. Clinton, in the midst of an Asian tour, says at the outset of a news conference in Jakarta that she wants to "very clearly condemn the attack on our consulate personnel in Peshawar, Pakistan." Clinton adds, "We pray for the safe recovery of both American and Pakistani victims and once again we deplore the cowardly act of suidice bombing and terorrism that has affected so many around the world." Clinton was in Indonesia's capital Monday to offer U.S. support for a regionally endorsed plan to ease rising tensions by implementing a code of conduct for all claimants to disputed islands.

Labor Day: A Changed US Holiday
Americans are celebrating the Labor Day holiday, a moment born as a salute to the nation's unionized workers that now has often morphed into a day of family gatherings marking the unofficial end of summer. The first Monday in September became an official U.S. holiday in 1894 to celebrate a “wokingman's holiday,” and through the decades the country's industrialized centers often staged large parades honoring unionized factory workers. But with the growth of technology and the globalization of the world economy, the U.S. labor movement has declined sharply. Many benefits sought by unions over the years, such as the basic five-day work week and employer-paid health care and vacations, have long been enshrined in much of the U.S. workplace. Many U.S. corporations still actively oppose unionization of their workforces. Only about one-in-eight U.S. workers belongs to a union, about half the rate of 30 years ago. Many of union members work for local, state and federal governments in white-collar jobs, not in the gritty factories where the labor movement started. The U.S. Labor Day is often celebrated as a day off from work with family picnics and outings, and in some communities it is the last day before children head back to classes for the start of a new school year on Tuesday.

Afghan situation after 2014 remains challenging

"I'm a tailor. I've owned this tailor shop for eight years," said Sayed Jalal, who moved his small shop from Peshawar, Pakistan to Kabul eight years ago. "This was initially a small shop, but year after year, my business gets better. Now I own two other shops and have several workers working for me. The business is very good nowadays." Although the business is good, this shop-owner still feels concerned about his future. When asked about his prospect for post- 2014, he said, "I am a little worried about the future as the U.S. and NATO forces are getting ready to withdraw from Afghanistan. I am not optimistic and like many Afghans." "I am concerned that there might be another civil war after the pull out of the foreign forces at the end of 2014," explained Sayed. "We are afraid maybe Taliban would make a comeback and we would lose all progresses that were gained over the past 10 or 12 years." Sayed is not the only one that shares this concern. Amrullah Aman, a retired Afghan National Army general and a defense expert, told Xinhua, "If the world community once again leaves Afghanistan at lurch, it would plunge into chaos and thus all the progress we had made over the past 10 years would end in fiasco and the country will once again become the terrorists sanctuary which eventually threats the security of U.S. and the world." According to Aman, Afghan security forces haven't been ready in terms of equipment and capabilities. After coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, the Taliban insurgents would grow more active, worsening the currently fragile security situation. "If Taliban come back to power, it will be very difficult to work here as a tailor," said Sayed. "Because Taliban would not leave young men and women to wear new cloth and walk across the city." For others, the return of Taliban means they must once again engage in battle. "If Taliban returns, I would pick up arms and fight them once again." Abdul, a local driver, told Xinhua. In the past 10 years after Taliban regime was toppled, Afghanistan has made huge progress in all fields. Statistics from Afghan government and United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) shows that Afghan economy kept an annual growth rate of 8 percent while annual income per capita increased to 520 U.S. dollars in the past 9 years. Education, especially for girl students, has been greatly improved. The development of communication and energy industries also picked up paces. For the post-war reconstruction, the international community has offered huge amount of aid to Afghanistan. Figures from Oxfam, an international NGO, show that, although Afghanistan has made tremendous progress in terms of medical care and education, this Central Asian country is still one of the poorest countries in the world, with almost 97 percent of its GDP comes from foreign agencies in this country. Therefore, after foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, Afghan economy may very likely experience a huge blow. "Recently, and particularly since this summer, the housing business has gotten worse in comparison with the last year and the year before," said Gul Rahman, a real estate dealer in Kabul. "To be frank, there is a 50 percent decrease in the rental price for foreigners, international and non-governmental organizations agencies compared with the previous years. Why the price is cut? Because people think that majority of the aid organizations and foreign agencies are leaving the country as international aid is declining in Afghanistan." The prices of houses also dropped off at about 30 percent, according to Gul, because the investors are also not sure that the situation in the country gets better in future. They are afraid when the foreign forces leave the country, there will be no safe environment for their business. Their fear are not baseless, since the internal security situation in Afghanistan is still unstable after 10 years that Taliban regime was toppled. Peace and enduring security is still a dream for most Afghan people, causing many in Afghanistan to find their way out of the war-torn country. Homayon Shoib, a local correspondent in Afghanistan, has been working as a reporter for foreign news agencies in southern province of Kandahar since 2002. With the security situations get worse day by day, especially after Ahmad Wali Karzai, the then Governor of Kandahar province and brother of Afghan president Hamid Karzai, was assassinated in July, 2011, Shoib moved to the relative peaceful city of Kabul to continue his work. "I have had a difficult time when I was working in Kandahar office. Mostly, or to be frank in daily basis, I had covered hundreds of unpleasant incidents in the south over that period of time," Shoib told Xinhua. "One day I covered news about a huge blast in a dog fighting ground where hundreds of people were gathering to watch the dog fighting and the blast left over 200 people killed and injured." Like many Afghans who have worked for foreigners, Shoib decided to leave the country after 2014, out of the fear of Taliban's possible return. "I am a little afraid about the future, because I know, if the support of international community for Afghanistan decline, the situation here will be worse since this war-torn country still needs the help to stand on its feet," concluded Shoib.

Why 2013 will be a year of crisis

Prediction: 2013 will be a year of serious global crisis. That crisis is predictable, and in fact has already begun. It will inescapably confront the next president of the United States. Yet this emerging crisis got not a mention at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. We'll see if the Democrats do better. The crisis originates in this summer's extreme weather. Almost 80% of the continental United States experienced drought conditions. Russia and Australia experienced drought as well. The drought has ruined key crops. The corn harvest is expected to drop to the lowest level since 1995. In just July, prices for corn and wheat jumped about 25% each, prices for soybeans about 17%.These higher grain prices will flow through to higher food prices. For consumers in developed countries, higher food prices are a burden -- but in almost all cases, a manageable burden.Americans spend only about 10% of their after-tax incomes on food of all kinds, including restaurant meals and prepackaged foods. Surveys for Gallup find that the typical American family is spending one-third less on food today, adjusting for inflation, than in 1969. But step outside the developed world, and the price of food suddenly becomes the single most important fact of human economic life. In poor countries, people typically spend half their incomes on food -- and by "food," they mean first and foremost bread. When grain prices spiked in 2007-2008, bread riots shook 30 countries across the developing world, from Haiti to Bangladesh, according to the Financial Times. A drought in Russia in 2010 forced suspension of Russian grain exports that year and set in motion the so-called Arab spring. Since the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian government has provided subsidized bread to the population. A disk of round flat bread costs about a penny. In the later 2000s, however, the Mubarak government found it could not keep pace with surging grain costs. As Egypt's population doubled from 20 million in 1950 to 40 million in 1980 and now more than 80 million, Egypt has gained first place as the world's largest wheat importer. The price rises of 2007-2010 exceeded the Mubarak government's resources. Cheap bread vanished from the stores. Discontent gathered. In the August 18 issue of the British magazine The Spectator, John R. Bradley, an Arabic-speaking journalist long resident in Egypt, described what happened next: "The conversations of tiny groups of Cairo's English-speaking elites, and their Western drinking companions, were a world apart from talk among the Egyptian masses. ... The main hope of those who poured into Tahrir Square was shared by the revolutionaries in Tunisia: that sudden and radical change would miraculously mean affordable food." And if food prices surge again? China is especially vulnerable to food cost inflation. In just one month, July 2011, the cost of living jumped 6.5%. Inflation happily subsided over the course of 2012. Springtime hopes for a bumper U.S. grain crop in 2012 enabled the Chinese central bank to ease credit in the earlier part of the summer. Now the Chinese authorities will face some tough choices over what to do next. The Arab Spring of 2011 is sometimes compared to the revolutions of 1848. That's apter than people realize: the "hungry '40s" were years of bad harvests across Europe. Hungry people are angry people, and angry people bring governments down. Will 2013 bring us social turmoil in Brazil, strikes in China or revolution in Pakistan? The answer can probably be read in the price indexes of the commodities exchanges -- and it is anything but reassuring.

Egypt state TV gets 1st veiled news anchor

Move reflects shift in official media since overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, subsequent rise of Islamists A veiled anchorwoman read the news on Egypt's state television for the first time on Sunday, reflecting a shift in official media since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and the subsequent rise of Islamists. Fatma Nabil made her first appearance on the Channel 1 midday broadcast, wearing a black suit and a cream-colored scarf or hijab covering the hair and neck.Until the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak last year and brought a Muslim Brotherhood president to power, women in Islamic headscarves and particularly full-face veils had been kept firmly out of the media. Women who wore hijab were allowed to work in Egypt's Radio and Television Union as long as it was off-camera.But new Islamist Information Minister Salah Abdel Maqsud told a private satellite channel on Saturday he could see no reason why a woman in hijab could not present the national news. "Finally the revolution has reached" Egyptian media, Nabil told the Muslim Brotherhood's daily newspaper, Freedom and Justice. The 2011 uprising opened the way for the long-banned but powerful Brotherhood, as well as other Islamist movements, which won a crushing victory in parliamentary elections. President Mohamed Morsi resigned from the Brotherhood – Egypt's largest and most organized political force – when he was elected president in June. Most Muslim women in Egypt wear the hijab, which covers the hair. The niqab, which covers the entire face, is also becoming more popular on the country's streets.

Syrian crisis: clash between strategic interests of foreign powers

A Syrian parliamentarian said the 17-month-old crisis in Syria is not an internal conflict between the spectra of Syrian people, but a clash over the strategic interests between regional and international powers. In a recent interview with Xinhua, Khaled Aboud said the war is between Syria, Russia, Iran and other allies on one side, and the United States, Europe, Israel and Arabs on another side. Iran and Russia "don't play a role" in the Syrian crisis, but were dragged into the fighting over interests, "which happened to be in Syria's favor," according to Aboud. Aboud charged that the United States has used several "tools" in its engagement with the Syrian side, including economic, political and diplomatic sanctions. He noted that the United States has now moved toward another tactic, which is "creating a group of tools on ground to confront the state by violence." In order to achieve the latest tactic, Aboud said, the United States needed to create another part in order to make the conflict seems realistic between the Syrian state and the opposition. Aboud said the United States supports only the opposition that totally rejects the regime, while at the same time questions and regards as "not national" those opposition that went toward reconciliation with the regime and engaged with the regime in forming a new government. On the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, Aboud contended that the mission has been formed to create a political backdoor for the United States in case it failed to topple the regime using the tools that it has been using such as sanctions, and fanning the flames of fighting on ground. On the future of the Syrian crisis, Aboud expressed optimism that "we are heading towards arranging the Syrian table and a settlement." He made a connection between a possible settlement and the regional visit of Saeed Jalili, Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, expecting that it would prepare the settlement table for the confronting parties in the Syrian issue.

“Why I support Bashar al-Assad”

As fighting in Syria grows fiercer and the death toll continues to mount, President Bashar al-Assad still enjoys support from parts of the Syrian population. We spoke to a number of people who continue to rally behind the embattled leader.
There’s no easy political solution to ending more than 17 months of conflict in Syria, a feat made complicated partly because of deep divisions within the international community. While Western countries have called for Assad to step down, Russia, China and Iran – which all back the Syrian regime – continue to advocate for negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition forces. More than 25,000 Syrians, the vast majority of whom are civilians, have been killed since the beginning of the conflict, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), while a further two million have been forced to flee their homes. In a report published on August 15, a panel appointed by the UN Human Rights Council found that there was enough evidence to believe that the Syrian government and pro-Assad forces had committed “crimes against humanity”. The report examined several incidents, including a May 25 Houla massacre, where 108 people – including 49 children – were slaughtered. Opposition forces have also been accused of war crimes, though not on the same scale as the Assad regime. Because the Observers Team has repeatedly given opposition activists the opportunity to shed light on atrocities committed by government forces, we felt it was important to also give Assad’s supporters a chance to express their views.
“I prefer Assad to the jihadists”
Louaï, 40, is a film editor. I support Bashar al-Assad because I am against the opposition. The only chance this country has of getting out of this crisis is if the opposition stops using violence and takes a seat at the negotiation table without any preconditions [the Syrian National Council, an opposition organisation, has said they will only enter negotiations if Assad quits power]. I am not opposed to a transfer of power, but it can’t happen without Assad. He is the only one capable of finding a solution. Those who are fighting the regime did not take up arms to fight for democracy, they are simply trying to take over power. The Free Syrian Army is made up of jihadist Salafists, many of whom have come from abroad to wreak havoc in our country. “I worry when I look at what is going on in countries that have recently had revolutions” Personally, when I look at what is going on in countries where revolutions have spurred regime change, like in Tunisia where Salafists are now trying to impose their law through violence, I find the prospect of an opposition victory in Syria is worrisome. Jaramana, where I live [about 10 kilometers or six miles outside the capital Damascus], was the calmest city in Syria until three days ago, when a car bomb exploded near a funeral convoy. Here, different communities – Christians, Sunnis, Alawites, Druze – have always lived in complete harmony. I am Shiitte, and my wife is Christian. Our peaceful coexistence, however, is now under threat. I doubt that the jihadists will adhere to democratic values and from attacking Syrians with different beliefs if they succeed in overthrowing the government.
“Assad has undertaken democratic reforms”
Nourane, 30, lives in Damascus. We must not forget that Assad was responsible for launching democratic reforms. He abolished the state of emergency [in a bid to appease opposition factions, the government adopted a series of reforms in April 2011 that brought an end to the state of emergency, abolished the Supreme State Security Court and implemented a new constitution based on political pluralism (February 26, 2012)]. I voted democratically for his reelection [Assad was reelected president in May, 2007 with 97.62 percent of the vote. The election was widely believed to be fraudulent] and for the new constitution. Should the opposition really have the right to remove an elected president? We cannot blame Assad for all of Syria’s problems. Mistakes are often made by local officials, as the president cannot be everywhere at once. Remember that the crisis started in March, 2011 in Deraa. Government forces had opened fire on protesters who were advocating the release of several teenagers that had been arrested for spray painting slogans of the Egyptian Revolution. That is what originally set things off. But we forget that the president dismissed and sanctioned the governor of Derra, Faisal Kalthoum, who was responsible for imprisoning the teenagers and opening fire on protesters. The president even made an effort to address the issue by meeting with Derra’s clan chiefs. We are all against corruption and bureaucracy, and in favour of greater liberties in Syria. But we do not want these people, who are massacring the Syrian people in the name of freedom. The president has already tried to put in place exactly these kind of reforms [faced with mounting tensions, Assad announced in February of last year plans to reduce taxes, create 67,000 government jobs, and his intention to fire hundreds of civil servants accused of corruption].

Russia, U.S. differ on Assad's future: Russian FM

Russia and the United States shared common goals on solving the Syrian crisis but differed on the future of President Bashar al-Assad, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday. Ahead of his participation at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Russia's Far Eastern city of Vladivostok, Lavrov told local media Moscow and Washington did not "contradict each other in principle" on Syria. Both of the two countries wanted to see a peaceful transition via intra-Syria negotiations while "respecting the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the country," RIA Novosti news agency quoted Lavrov as saying. However, the two sides held different views on whether President Assad should go and how, said the senior Russian diplomat. Lavrov called for the crisis to be solved at the negotiating table by the Syrian people, calling the intention to dictate the future of Syria by outsiders as "counterproductive." The Russian minister is expected to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the sidelines of the APEC summit. Lavrov said Saturday that the Western approach of demanding external interference and the resignation of Assad as a precondition of negotiations was rather unrealistic. He reiterated Russia's stance, saying Moscow "was not backing any regime or any individuals" in the Syrian crisis. Meanwhile, those "players" who spurred the opposition to fight the Syrian authorities did not care about the interests of the Syrian people and were guided by their own "geopolitical considerations," said Lavrov.

Obama eyes future with convention speech

The Greek columns may be banished and the "hope" and "change" signs gone, but President Barack Obama's
pitch to American voters at the Democratic National Convention this week will have echoes of his 2008 speech, when he cast himself as a visionary leader in touch with the nation's priorities. Dogged by a sluggish economy and in a tight race with Republican rival Mitt Romney, Obama will use his time in the spotlight on Thursday to focus on education, tax cuts for those making less than $250,000, energy, immigration and social issues, his advisers indicated. By talking in more specific terms than Romney did last week, Obama's team hopes to draw a contrast between the two men. The president's team believes that Romney missed a big chance during the Republican convention to lay out a blueprint for fixing the U.S. economy. Romney called for fewer government regulations and lower taxes but offered few details in a speech that emphasized his biography and amounted to a rebuttal of months of attacks from Obama's team. The Obama campaign has cast the former private equity executive as an aloof tycoon who is out of touch with middle-class America. Unlike the former Massachusetts governor, Obama needs no re-introduction to the American public, his campaign advisers say. So as Romney's campaign casts Obama as a failure in improving the economy, the president - trying to become the first since World War II to be re-elected with an unemployment rate above 8 percent - will argue that he has better ideas to help the country recover from the recession that began under Republican George W. Bush. "This Thursday night, I will offer you what I believe is a better path forward - a path that grows this economy, creates more good jobs, strengthens the middle class," Obama said in a preview of his remarks at a campaign stop in Iowa. "The good news is, you get to choose which path we take. We can take their path or we can take the path that I'm going to present." Obama's team aims to fill the nearly 74,000-seat Bank of America stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the president will deliver his speech, and produce a populist feel that contrasts with Romney's convention. RECAPTURING MOMENTUM With tens of thousands in the stadium and millions watching on television, the prime time speech will be Obama's most prominent opportunity to date to make his case for re-election. Advisers and outside analysts said the president will use the opportunity to highlight elements from his campaign speeches: his support of a bailout that saved the U.S. auto industry, ending the war in Iraq, presiding over the death of Osama bin Laden, and championing women's rights. "Most Americans aren't hearing his stump speech except in little bits and pieces," said Jeff Shesol, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton who worked on convention speeches in 2000, 2004, and 2008. "He absolutely shouldn't come up with a brand new message, a brand new take on who he is, where he comes from, what he's been doing and what he plans to do in the next term," Shesol said. Obama vaulted onto the national stage as an Illinois state senator in 2004, when he gave a well-received address for the Democratic presidential nominee that year, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Four years later in Denver, Obama delivered his own acceptance speech, drawing criticism from Republicans for the setting - a stage adorned with faux Greek columns. Still, Obama basked in the energy of a huge stadium crowd, a symbol of the momentum that helped propel him to victory that year. A lot of that momentum is gone now. Unemployment is at 8.3 percent, raising questions about whether Obama can match the huge support he received among minorities and young people four years ago. Meanwhile, new Republican-backed voter ID laws in several states could undermine turnout for minority and low-income voters in particular, as they are among the groups most likely to have difficulty obtaining the required identification. MAKING HIS CASE In Charlotte, Obama will have some significant help in making his case. His popular wife, Michelle, former president Bill Clinton and others will offer testimonials with forward-looking themes. Clark Judge, a former speechwriter for Republican President Ronald Reagan, said Obama was unlikely to dwell on the themes of "hope" and "change" because that would require him to defend promises he did not keep from 2008. "The problem with doing too much of that is he's then got to explain failure, and I'm not sure that they want to get into that," Judge said. He added that he expects Obama to keep on attacking Romney's plan to revamp Social Security and Medicare, popular safety net programs for the elderly. Obama's advisers watched the Republican convention closely but said they will not change their plans for Charlotte in response. "In terms of rebutting Republicans or altering what we're going to achieve (this) week, really, there's no impact" on the Democrats' convention strategy, said Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter. "I think the American people are smarter than that." David Axelrod, Obama's chief campaign strategist, said Romney's speech was filled with "snarky lines" and "gauzy reminiscences of the past." He said Obama's address would be markedly different. "This speech is going to reflect the thinking of a leader who has great confidence in this country and a ... clear sense of what we need to do to continue to repair the damage that was done by the recession and to reclaim the economic security that many Americans have lost," Axelrod said.

Blasphemy case: Still no bail for Rimsha

The Express Tribune
A young Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy in a case that has prompted international concern will stay in jail until at least Friday, after a bail hearing on Monday was adjourned. Rimsha has been in custody since being arrested in a poor Islamabad suburb, Mehrabadia, two and a half weeks ago, accused of burning papers containing verses from the Holy Quran, in breach of Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws. Judge Muhammad Azam Khan adjourned the case until September 7 because of a lawyers’ strike, following a request from the lawyer for Rimsha’s neighbour Hammad Malik, who filed the original complaint against her. Police on Saturday arrested Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, the imam of the mosque in Rimsha’s area who first submitted the burnt papers as evidence against her, after his deputy told the police that he had tampered with the evidence. Chishti’s deputy Maulvi Hafiz Mohammad Zubair and two others, Mohammad Shahzad and Awais Ahmed, told a magistrate the cleric added pages from the Holy Quran to the burnt pages brought to him by a witness to beef up the case against her. A medical report last week said Rimsha appeared to be around 14 years old, which would make her a minor, and had a mental age below her true age, but the court has yet to decide whether to accept the assessment. Some reports have said Rimsha has Down’s Syndrome and her case has prompted concern from Western governments and anger from rights groups, who warn the blasphemy legislation is often abused to settle personal vendettas.

No American killed in Peshawar blast: US embassy

The US embassy in Islamabad Monday denied reports that two Americans had been killed in a suicide car bomb attack in Pakistan s northwestern city of Peshawar. An embassy spokesman said they had no reports of any Americans killed in the blast, after provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said two had died. "The blast killed two Americans. This is a dangerous move from the terrorists -- they want to terrorise the foreigners," Mian Iftikhar Hussain told AFP, adding that two Americans were also wounded in the blast. Police have recovered a half-burnt US passport from a car badly damaged in the blast, officials said. The blast took place near residential quarters for the US consulate and foreign aid organisations, senior police officer Tahir Ayub said, adding that at least five people were killed. "The car targeted was a US consulate vehicle," one intelligence official said.

PPP to continue working for people's welfare

Pakistan People's Party is taking solid measures to improve the life of common man by providing all the basic necessities of life. Member of the PPP central executive committee Ch. Manzoor Ahmed said this while addressing a gathering after inaugurating Sui gas connections here in Gulberg colony on Monday. He assured the public gathering that PPP led government was making efforts to ease out power crisis. However, he criticised that Nawaz Sharif government disbanded the project initiated by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to create 40,000 MW electricity with the cooperation of France. Ch Manzoor further criticised PML-N for politicising the loadshedding situation. However, he re-affirmed his party's resolve to continue working for democracy in the country and people's welfare.

Pakistani cleric faces possible blasphemy charge
Pakistani police say they are investigating whether a Muslim cleric who allegedly tried to frame a Christian girl for blasphemy should be charged with insulting Islam himself. Police officer Munir Jafferi says officials registered the blasphemy case against Khalid Chisti on Monday. Police arrested Chisti on Saturday after a member of the cleric’s mosque accused him of stashing pages of a Quran in a Christian girl’s bag to make it seem like she burned the Islamic holy book. He has denied the allegation. Jafferi says Chisti could be sentenced to life in prison if he is convicted of desecrating the Quran. The Christian girl’s lawyer, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, says his client will remain in prison until at least Friday after her bail hearing was delayed for the second time Monday.

Car bomb hits US vehicle in Pakistan

Journalist Shaukat Paracha reports on an explosion in Peshawar, Pakistan, in which an American vehicle was targeted.

Afghan refugees

The problem with being a refugee anywhere is that sooner or later — and it could be a lot later — it will be time to go home. The Afghans living in Pakistan, still the largest population of refugees anywhere in the world, now face the difficulty of leaving what for many is ‘home’ and returning to their own country — which for many is not home at all. Broadly speaking, Afghan refugees in Pakistan fall into two categories: registered and unregistered. Many of them are second-generation and were born here. Those that remain are mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but they are scattered across the entire country to a greater or lesser degree. There may be as many as three million, and Pakistan has decided it is time for them to go home. Those that wanted to go home already have, which leaves a significant population of Afghans who have little or no desire to return to their home country.
Those registered have a valid status only until December 31 2012, those unregistered have no status whatsoever. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had directed all unregistered Afghans to leave by August 31, a deadline now past. The statement is unequivocal in saying that all Afghans, registered and unregistered have to leave by December 31 2012 and a humanitarian crisis is before us. There are reports that other provinces have already been moving to clear their Afghan refugee populations, deporting them via Torkham. Those with businesses — and there are many — are being advised to pack up, liquidate their assets and move back whence they came. The statement flies in the face of that made by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) last month. The UNHCR was quick to deny a report in a foreign newspaper that Pakistan was planning to repatriate the Afghans by the end of the year, a denial now clearly at variance with ground realities. There is going to be no happy or tidy end to the story and persuading — or forcing — nearly three million people back across the border in the next four months is going to be a huge logistical task. The government and the UNHCR need to be reading off the same page which is apparently not the case at the moment; and a joint statement defining the true nature and future of Afghan refugees in Pakistan would be greatly welcomed. This issue must be handled with maturity and with proper planning and resources else it turns into a major source of disturbance and violence in an already troubled situation.

US to fund Torkham road reconstruction

The US government has agreed to finance construction of Peshawar-Torkham Highway, which serves as main supply route for Nato forces in Afghanistan. According to an official statement issued here on Sunday, the US government will provide Rs5.60 billion for construction of the 45-kilometre road. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Barrister Masood Kausar has directed the quarters concerned to start work on this vital project immediately. The project, to be started this year, will be completed within 18 months. The statement said that Frontier Works Organisation, a subsidiary of army, would construct the road as National Highway Authority (NHA) would work as executing agency. To ensure timely completion of the project, Fata Secretariat would play a lead role. Work on the highway will be started on war footing as staff has been hired for the purpose. The statement said that principal agreement with United States Assistance for International Development (USAID) had been reached and an accord with the donor agency would be signed in the second week of September. After the agreement, work would be starred on the much delayed project immediately. The USAID is already helping Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government in Expansion and Refurbishing of Ring Road Project and provided Rs2 billion for the scheme that according to officials would be completed soon. Construction of Peshawar-Torkham Highway is perhaps the first major development project to be financed by the US government following melting of ice after Salala attack for which Islamabad was demanding an apology from Washington for killing its 24 officers and soldiers. The government said that transportation of supplies for Nato forces in Afghanistan was damaging road network, asking the US to rehabilitate those major highways. Officials said that roughly 10,000 small and heavy vehicles were passing through Peshawar-Torkham Highway daily. The construction of highway that passes through Khyber Agency and also serves as a trade route for Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics has been under consideration since 2001. Work on the project could not be started because of financial constraints. An official said that NHA had already completed PC-1 and conducted environmental impact assessment survey of the project. He said that the government had allocated Rs120 million for land acquisition. Initially it was planned to construct an alternate dual carriageway between Peshawar and Torkham that was to pass through Malagori and Loi Shalman. Asian Development Bank had made commitment to bear 60 per cent of the total cost of the project and Pakistan government pledged 40 per cent share. Pre-feasibility study of the proposed carriageway was carried out in 2007-08 while detailed survey was dropped. Sources in NHA that carried out pre-feasibility survey said that estimated length of the carriageway was 90 kilometres through Malagori and Shalman, while distance of existing Peshawar-Torkham Highway was about 50 kilometres.

Peshawar: Two Americans killed in blast

Two Americans were killed in a suicide car bomb attack targeting a US consulate vehicle in Peshawar on Monday, the provincial information minister said. "The blast killed two Americans. This is a dangerous move from the terrorists -- they want to terrorise the foreigners," Mian Iftikhar Hussain told AFP, adding that two Americans were also wounded in the blast.

Afghan commanders defy night operations

Frontier post
Afghan commanders have refused more than a dozen times within the past two months to act on U.S. intelligence regarding high-level insurgents, arguing that night-time operations to target the men would result in civilian casualties, Afghan officials say.The defiance highlights the shift underway in Afghanistan as Afghan commanders make use of their newfound power to veto operations proposed by their NATO counterparts.For much of the past decade, NATO commanders have dictated most aspects of the allied war strategy, with Afghan military officers playing a far more marginal role. But with the signing of an agreement last month, Afghans have now inherited responsibility for so-called night raids - a crucial feature of the war effort.To Afghan leaders, the decisions made by their commanders reflect growing Afghan autonomy from Western forces as NATO draws down, and prove that Afghan forces are willing to exercise more caution than foreign troops when civilian lives are at stake, The Washington Post reported."In the last two months, 14 to 16 [night] operations have been rejected by the Afghans," said Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, the top Afghan army officer. "The U.S. has said, 'This operation better be conducted. It's a high-value target.' Then my people said, 'It's a high-value target. I agree with you. But there are so many civilian children and women [in the area].' "Many of the rejected night operations are later conducted once civilians are no longer in the vicinity of the targets, Karimi said.U.S. officials point to progress they have made in their own efforts to reduce civilian casualties, and say that while the Afghans occasionally choose not to act on American intelligence, night operations are nonetheless frequently conducted. Americans continue to provide logistical support and backup, U.S. officials say, using their aircraft to deposit Afghan soldiers at the targets."The Afghans are the ones who give final say on whether or not the mission gets conducted. That's how the process works now," said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue. "The operational tempo hasn't been affected by this. I don't think there's been a night when they haven't conducted a good number of operations."But the resistance to American guidance on night operations represents the clearest indication to date that Afghan military commanders are heeding a directive from President Hamid Karzai last month. Just a day after signing a 10-year bilateral agreement with the United States, Karzai said Afghan soldiers should discard questionable information provided by the U.S. military. "If you have any doubt about an American intelligence report, do not conduct any operation based on it," he told officials at the Interior Ministry.The Afghan president grew even more disenchanted over the last week, when separate NATO airstrikes killed 18 civilians in Logar, Kapisa, Badghis and Helmand provinces, according to Afghan officials. The president and his advisers said the attacks raise questions about the newly minted partnership agreement."Karzai signed the strategic pact with the United States to avoid such incidents and if Afghans do not feel safe, the strategic partnership loses its meaning," said a presidential statement.In the past, such complaints would have been unlikely to affect military operations. But the transition to greater Afghan control of security has left Karzai and his military in a stronger position to stymie the American strategy.The transition will continue in the coming months. This summer, a number of districts and provinces will be formally entrusted to Afghan security forces, the third round of regional transitions. In September, Afghans will assume responsibility for the U.S. military prison at Bagram, with about 3,000 detainees.In the past, Western officials questioned whether Karzai's opposition to night raids and other U.S.-led operations was politically driven - aimed at proving to his people that he was capable of resisting American demands.Now, with more transitional milestones looming, Afghan political and military leaders say their growing responsibility has made the issue of civilian casualties even more delicate."Most of the people will say, 'I don't blame the foreigners if they kill us, but why do you kill me?' " Karimi said. "We have to be concerned. We have to have people on our side."Each time civilians are killed in either a NATO or Afghan operation, Karzai or one of his advisers calls the Defense Ministry for an explanation. Karimi said the president's involvement in military affairs centers largely on reducing civilian casualties rather than on dictating troop levels or strategy.NATO officials say they have greatly reduced the number of civilians killed in operations in recent years. The United Nations last year attributed 400 civilian deaths to NATO and Afghan forces, a slight decrease from 2010."We have significantly improved attention to detail when it comes to targeting," a U.S. official said.Human rights organizations say they fear that the methods and institutions developed by NATO to both track and prevent civilian casualties will not be replicated by the Afghan security forces."Right now, Afghan forces don't have systems in place to prevent and respond to civilian casualties they may cause. International forces evolved their thinking over a decade, realizing they needed a civilian casualty tracking team and policies to investigate civilian harm caused by their own forces," said Sarah Holewinski, executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. "Without those systems in place, verbal commitments from the Afghan government to not harm civilians are likely to fall flat as Afghan forces take over."

Smith contradicts Karzai over deadly Afghan raid

Defence Minister Stephen Smith has directly contradicted claims by Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai that a deadly Australian raid on suspected insurgents was carried out without proper approvals. Two men - identified by the Afghan government as 70-year-old imam Haji Raz Mohammad and his 30-year-old son Abdul Jalil - were killed during the raid, which was carried out as part of the search for a rogue Afghan soldier who shot dead three Australians last week. Twelve other people were detained during Friday night's raid in Uruzgan province, although 11 have since been released.Mr Karzai has issued a statement strongly condemning the deaths, describing Australia's actions as a "unilateral military operation" that was carried out "without any prior coordination or approval of the provincial authorities". "The President condemns the operation as a breach of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Afghanistan and NATO on the special military operations," the Afghan government statement says. But Mr Smith has strongly rejected the accusations, saying the partnered raid was fully authorised by the Uruzgan chief of police and the local governor. Mr Smith said the raid involved 60 Australian Defence Force personnel and 80 Afghan National Army soldiers, and the two men who were killed have been confirmed as insurgents by both Australian and Afghan sources. "The statement which has been issued by president Karzai's palace over the weekend in Kabul that this operation was not authorised is wrong," Mr Smith told reporters in Perth this morning. "That is not factually correct, and this point has been made strongly by Australia's ambassador to Afghanistan to palace and presidential officials." The raid was part of a wider search for rogue Afghan soldier Hek Matullah, who killed three Australians in a so-called green on blue attack last week. Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic, Sapper James Martin and Private Robert Poate were shot dead, and two other Australians were wounded, when Matullah turned his gun on them at a patrol base in Uruzgan province last Wednesday. The shooting has heightened concerns among coalition forces about the threat of insider attacks, and has prompted the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to suspend training for 1,000 Afghan Local Police recruits. ISAF says the move is a "precautionary measure" that will allow for an intensive re-vetting process to take place for the 16,300 current members of the local police force. Australian troops are not involved in training Afghan police, and so are not affected by the suspension. The 11,000 members of the recently inaugurated Afghan National Army Special Operations Division are also having their vetting status checked, but are continuing to carry out their duties. Mr Smith says that means partnered operations between Australian and Afghan forces will continue. The bodies of the Brisbane-based soldiers are now returning to Australia, along with those of two other diggers who died in a helicopter crash the same day. Matullah is still at large but is being hunted by Coalition and Afghan troops. A suspected insurgent leader who is accused of helping him evade the manhunt was captured during the raid. In a statement posted online, the International Security Assistance Force said: "The insurgent leader who was detained by the combined Afghan-Coalition operation in Uruzgan early on Saturday morning is confirmed to be an "IED emplacer" and was previously involved in kidnapping, murder and attacks on Afghan National Security Forces". "At the time of his capture, he was attempting to support and move the insider threat shooter who killed three Australian soldiers and wounded two on Aug[ust] 29."

Afghanistan condems Australian military for killing alleged civilians
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has condemned the Australian military over a raid in which two Afghan men were killed. Australian soldiers had been searching for the rogue Afghan sergeant who shot dead three Australian soldiers last week, and during their mission they captured a suspected insurgent leader who is thought to have helped the killer to escape. The Australian Defence Department says the two men who died during that operation were also suspected insurgents, but villagers have told the media they were civilians. The bodies of the five soldiers who died last week in the deadliest day for Australian forces since Vietnam are returning home. They were farewelled by their comrades in a ceremony at Tarin Kowt. Capturing Sergeant Hek Matullah, the Afghan soldier suspected of shooting Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic, Sapper James Martin and Private Robert Poate, remains a high priority. Sergeant Hek Matullah escaped from the patrol base straight after the killings and he's suspected to have been aided by the Taliban. After an extensive search Australian troops aided by Afghan forces have detained a suspected insurgent they say helped with the escape. But the raid has come at a cost. Two Afghan men were killed by Australian troops. The ADF says all the proper rules of engagement were followed but Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai is furious. Local reports say those killed were a 70 year old Imam and his son. It's also been reported that the Australian troops detained a number of locals, including a woman, during the operation. President Karzai says the Australian forces acted unilaterally and he wants a full inquiry into the situation. The latest incidents have highlighted the problems "green on blue" killings are causing for western forces in Afghanistan. At least 45 Western soldiers have died at the hands of Afghan allies this year. Now ISAF has suspended the training of new recruits to the Afghan local police. NATO spokesman Colonel Thomas Collins: THOMAS COLLINS: As you know we've had a problem here with some security challenges. Eventually there will be a tightening of the vetting procedures across the force and we've already begun working with the Afghan government on how we can make the vetting process better. MICHAEL EDWARDS: Complaints about Afghan local police range from corruption within its ranks to allegations its members rape and kill innocent civilians. Heather Barr from Human Rights Watch in Afghanistan says it's a program with a range of serious problems. HEATHER BARR: First is with the vetting, which is the issue that's come up today and has finally caused a reaction. There are also serious problems with the command and control structures for the Afghan local police as well as in terms of accountability mechanisms for what's in place when something goes wrong. MICHAEL EDWARDS: ISAF has high hopes that the Afghan local police will be an effective force against the Taliban at a local level after 2014. But Heather Barr is sceptical that it can be turned into an efficient and reliable counterbalance to the insurgents. HEATHER BARR: It's really difficult to repair a program at this stage and especially with this 2014 deadline looming. So it's certainly big news that the US has seen that there are issues and is working to resolve them. But it's frustrating indeed that it took so long and that there are so many abuses and lives that have been lost in the process. MICHAEL EDWARDS: ISAF says it could take a couple of months before training of Afghan local police recruits resumes. It says training of other Afghan security forces - including the army - continues.

Peshawar: Car bomb hits US vehicle, 3 killed

Three people died while five others injured with a blast in a UNO van on Peshawar University Road. Police say a car filled with explosives rammed into a U.S. government vehicle in northwest Pakistan, killing three people and wounding ten others. Police officer Pervez Khan says the vehicle was attacked in the northwest city of Peshawar on Monday after it left the U.S. Consulate. Khan said some of the wounded were foreigners. The identities of those killed were unclear. The attack occurred in an area of Peshawar hosting several foreign organizations, including the United Nations. Local TV footage showed an SUV at the site that was completely destroyed and burned. U.S. officials could not immediately be reached for comment.