Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Obama’s Speech Will Be Outdoors, Unless Safety Is an Issue, Aides Say

If the Carolina Panthers can play in the rain, President Obama can speak in the rain. That is the guiding principle behind one of the biggest questions here at the Democratic National Convention: Will the weather allow Mr. Obama to carry through with delivering his acceptance speech on Thursday evening to an outdoor stadium crowd of about 65,000 people? Jim Messina, the president’s campaign manager, has a quick answer to that question. “We plan to be there rain or shine — unless there’s a safety issue,” Mr. Messina said, speaking to reporters at a Bloomberg News breakfast here on Tuesday. “We’ll continue to monitor the weather. It’s going to be a special moment, and we’re really excited about it.” A week after Tropical Storm Isaac forced Republicans to cancel the first day of their convention, storms are also threatening Charlotte. A driving rain here on Monday afternoon and evening welcomed the convention delegates as they arrived. The threat of storm is not a concern for the first two days of the convention, which will be held indoors here at the Time Warner Cable Arena. But the president is reprising a move from the Democratic convention four years ago and taking his acceptance speech outdoors to Bank of America Stadium. Convention organizers are checking weather reports on the hour. Some forecasts for Thursday call for a 30 percent chance of rain. If that comes true, the president will speak. His aides note that he has delivered some of his best speeches in the rain. If lightning or tornadoes threaten the area on Thursday, plans may change, since supporters will begin arriving about 10 hours before the speech to clear security. But campaign officials are turning to local officials for guidance with this overriding thought in mind: If the weather would be good enough for the Carolina Panthers to play in the rain, it will be good enough for the president.

Better off? You bet, top Democrats say

Democratic leaders including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Obama economic advisor Austan Goolsbee tell Robert Wolf that the economy has made significant progress since President Obama took office. In a Google+ Hangout, the two and other party officials also talk healthcare and women’s issues with the Reuters TV Impact Players host.

Romney lacks ‘economic patriotism’

Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland offered up one of the most blistering critiques of the night against Mitt Romney's bid for the presidency, accusing him of lacking "economic patriotism" for investing his money overseas and being an "outsourcing pioneer" while he was head of Bain Capital. "Mitt Romney, he lives by a different code," Strickland said in his speech at the Democratic National Convention. "To him, American workers are just numbers on a spreadsheet. To him, all profits are created equal, whether made on our shores or off." Strickland slammed Romney for opposing the bailout of the auto industry in Detroit, insisting that if Romney had gotten his way "devastation" would have "cascaded" across the nation. "Mitt Romney never saw the point of building something when he could profit from tearing it down. If Mitt was Santa Claus, he'd fire the reindeer and outsource the elves," the Democratic governor said. But Strickland saved his toughest critique for Romney's overseas investments, telling Democrats the Republican nominee "has so little economic patriotism that even his money needs a passport." Citing Scripture, Strickland said "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." "Any man who aspires to be our president should keep both his treasure and his heart in the United States of America," Strickland said. He called the upcoming election "a true choice." "Barack Obama is betting on the American worker. Mitt Romney is betting on a Bermuda shell corporation," Strickland said. "Barack Obama saved the American auto industry. Mitt Romney saved on his taxes. Barack Obama is an economic patriot. Mitt Romney is an outsourcing pioneer."

Michelle Obama: ‘Barack knows the American dream because he’s lived it’

First Lady Michelle Obama never once mentioned Mitt Romney's name. But in her speech before the Democratic National Convention speech Monday night, she offered a dramatic contrast between her husband, Barack Obama, and his Republican opponent, insisting he understands the struggles of average Americans because he's lived through those tough times, too. "Barack knows the American Dream because he's lived it, and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we're from, or what we look like, or who we love," Michelle Obama said. "He believes that when you've worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed." It was a speech meant to bolster her husband's legislative accomplishments — and it did, as the first lady touted the president's push for health care reform, the auto industry bailout and efforts to keep down student loan interest rates. But not unlike Ann Romney's speech on behalf of her husband at last week's Republican National Convention, Michelle Obama also sought to humanize the president, and to remind voters of the working class background she and her husband came from. With tears in her eyes, she spoke of her father, a pump operator at a Chicago water plant, and how her husband was raised by a single mother and by his grandparents. "We learned about dignity and decency -- that how hard you work matters more than how much you make, that helping others means more than just getting ahead yourself. We learned about honesty and integrity; that the truth matters; that you don't take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules, and success doesn't count unless you earn it fair and square," she said. "We learned about gratitude and humility; that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean, and we were taught to value everyone's contribution and treat everyone with respect." Those are the values they are trying to pass on to their own children — and values that inform her husband's job as president, she said. "After so many struggles and triumphs and moments that have tested my husband in ways I never could have imagined, I have seen firsthand that being president doesn't change who you are -- it reveals who you are," said Michelle Obama. "As president, you can get all kinds of advice from all kinds of people. But at the end of the day, when it comes time to make that decision, as president, all you have to guide you are your values, and your vision, and the life experiences that make you who you are." Her husband, she said, "is thinking about folks like my dad and his grandmother" and is "thinking about the pride that comes from a hard day's work." It was a line meant to push back against Romney's claims that Obama doesn't understand how to create jobs because he's never worked in the private sector. But it also offered a subtle contrast between her husband and Romney, who came from a well-off background. She spoke of the student loan debts they incurred as a young married couple: "We were so young, so in love, and so in debt," she said. And she spoke of her husband's skills as a father — which she insisted have been unchanged even despite the pressures of the presidency. "People ask me whether being in the White House has changed my husband, I can honestly say that when it comes to his character, and his convictions, and his heart, Barack Obama is still the same man I fell in love with all those years ago," she said, her eyes wet with tears. Pushing back against GOP charges that her husband is driven by politics, Obama insisted there is no "us and them" for the president, that "he doesn't care whether you're a Democrat, a Republican or none of the above." She told voters her husband never lets himself "get distracted by the chatter and the noise." He just keeps "getting up and moving forward," she said. "He reminds me that we are playing a long game here, and that change is hard, and change is slow, and it never happens all at once," she said. "Many of us stand here tonight because of their sacrifice, and longing, and steadfast love because time and again, they swallowed their fears and doubts and did what was hard." That has been the story of the American dream, the first lady said. "That is what has made my story, and Barack's story, and so many other American stories possible."

Violence Cripples Pakistan's Economic Hub

Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi is the country’s economic engine and home to some 20 million people. It is also the country’s most violent city, where gangs aligned with local political parties settle scores with shoot-outs. The violence is taking a toll on the country's commercial hub. Political killings, honor killings, kidnappings and gang warfare are not uncommon in this city. Violence taking a toll According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, more than 1,450 people including children were killed in Karachi in the first six months of this year. That’s an average of about 6 people a day. Karachi produces more than 50 percent of Pakistan’s revenue. Businessmen like Naeem Ahmed, a member of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce, say the daily violence is impacting the country’s economy. “If Karachi is not working well, it does not just mean that Karachi is not working, it means Pakistan is not working,” he explained. Police say they don’t have the manpower to secure such a large city, where there is high unemployment and poverty-driven crime. Beyond law enforcement Businessmen say political parties also are also using violence to gain economic power. Police chief Ahmed Farooqi says political violence is beyond law enforcement's ability to control. “Police can stop them for a little while, [stop] this violence to happen, but for larger stability, and a larger improvement in the law and order situation, the political forces must come into play,” he said. There is also a lot of wealth in Karachi. And people want protection. Despite strict licensing procedures, gun sales are up. And not only among men, says shop manager Mahmoud Salim. “Besides hunting and paper target shooting at the range, people also buy guns for personal protection, and that also includes women, even young women," he added. "They come and they want to have a license, they want to have a weapon for their personal security.” Businessmen say the only solution will come from political parties joining forces, and tackling the problems, rather than being a part of them.

China to take charge of Pakistan’s Gwadar Port

Ahead of Pakistan's Premier Raja Pervez Ashraf's visit, China on Tuesday tacitly confirmed reports that it was taking over the strategic Gwadar deep water port in Balochistan, which it may convert into an oil pipeline hub to augment its energy supplies from the Gulf. Talking about Pakistan's Shipping Minister Babar Khan Ghauri's remarks that China may take over the port operations with USD 10 billion investment following pullout of Singapore Port Authority (SPA); Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said both countries are engaged in cooperation to build infrastructure projects. "China and Pakistan are neighbours of traditional friendship. Over the years, China and Pakistan have engaged in wide-ranging cooperation in all fields including infrastructure construction with a view to helping Pakistan improve people's well-being and promote social and economic development," Hong said in a written response to a query. "Such cooperation is also beneficial to regional stability and development," he said, without directly referring to Babar's comments. He also did not say whether the issue would be discussed during Ashraf's visit to attend the World Economic Forum 2012, also known as Summer Davos, starting from September 11 at Tianjin city. The forum would be inaugurated by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who is expected to hold talks with Ashraf on its sidelines.

First Lady Headlines Democratic Convention Opening

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama is set to make the case for her husband's re-election Tuesday as Democrats open their national convention to nominate President Barack Obama for a second White House term. Obama is the headline speaker on the opening night of the three-day Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Party officials say she will present a behind-the-scenes look at the Obamas' life in the White House. In addition, she plans to recount how the president's early background, and his relatives' employment setbacks, helped shape his governing policies as president. Obama told a campaign rally at a college in Norfolk, Virginia, that his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, "did not offer a single new idea" at last week's Republican National Convention about restoring the U.S. economy. The president recounted his version of the Republican gathering. "First of all, everything's bad. And it's Obama's fault. And Governor Romney knows the secret to creating jobs and growing the economy. The only problem was, he kept it secret. There was a lot of talk about hard truths and bold choices. But they never bothered to tell you what they were," he said. Former president Bill Clinton will formally place Obama's name up for nomination on Wednesday night. Obama will accept his nomination Thursday night during a nationally-televised speech held at the city's 74,000-seat outdoor football stadium, as will his running mate, Vice President Joe Biden. A rising Hispanic figure in the Democratic party, Julian Castro, the mayor of the southwestern city of San Antonio, Texas, is giving the convention's keynote address. The party staged a pre-convention festival Monday in downtown Charlotte that featured Grammy-nominated R&B singer Janelle Monae and Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges. The November 6 presidential election pits Obama against Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Recent voter surveys show the two are virtually tied.

Obama aide: ‘The country is better off’

As the Democratic National Convention opens on the heels of some of President Barack Obama's surrogates fumbling when asked if the country is better off than it was four years ago, Obama campaign aides took the question head-on Tuesday morning. "The country is better off," the president's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter declared. Joined by fellow Obama campaign architects Ben LaBolt and Jim Messina, Cutter sat down with Yahoo News' Olivier Knox and ABC News' Diane Sawyer and Jake Tapper for a live "Newsmakers" broadcast. Summing up their point, Obama's aides reinforced the "bumper sticker" line credited to Vice President Joe Biden: "Osama bin Laden is dead, GM is alive." "We broke the back of al Qaida," Cutter said. "The auto industry was on the verge of bankruptcy…and now they're creating hundreds of thousands of jobs." Cutter also hit back at a Mitt Romney campaign aide's contention during last week's "Newsmakers" at the Republican National Convention that "we're not going let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers." "We do care about fact checks. We do care about the honesty of our ads," she said.
At the RNC last week, Romney's wife, Ann, took the stage tasked with humanizing her husband, and the role is no different for Obama's wife, Michelle, who speaks tonight. "I think that what the first lady can do better than anybody else is give a lens into the values that drive the president," Cutter said.
And, like their Romney counterparts, the Obama advisers were mum on yet another convention-speaker mystery: who will introduce the president on Thursday night at the Bank of America Stadium--a venue with nearly 74,000 seats that Team Obama said again on Tuesday they will be able to fill up amid questions about enthusiasm and weather. Looking toward November, Obama's aides agreed that it's going to be a tight race that they're careful to characterize as a "choice" for voters. "We're confident in the choice, and we're confident when people understand that choice that we're going to win this election," Messina said. "Confident," Cutter said. "Ditto," LaBolt agreed.

Michelle Obama’s convention task: Reach out to women without seeming too partisan

Michelle Obama comes to the 2012 Democratic National Convention with a delicate task: helping her husband’s campaign reach out to women, who are a vital part of his coalition, without veering too far into an increasingly polarized battle over women’s issues. The first lady, who is scheduled to speak Tuesday night, has been circumspect about what liberals call the Republican “war on women.” She did not participate in the Obama campaign’s “Romney/Ryan: Wrong for Women” tour last week, which condemned the Republican ticket’s positions on abortion. When she appeared on David Letterman’s show Wednesday as a bit of counterprogramming to the GOP convention, she responded to a question about Rep. Todd Akin (R) — the Senate candidate in Missouri who said that women who are raped are unlikely to get pregnant — by allowing that “dumb guys” say “dumb things.” But that was it.As she prepares for the convention, Obama is one of the most popular political figures in the country, viewed favorably by nearly seven in 10 Americans. That means she can sell her husband, who is considerably less popular, rather than having to sell herself, as she did four years ago, when she was the less liked of the two. But she must be careful to advocate for him without appearing too partisan. The 2008 convention “was very much about introducing her and in many ways the president to the country through an unfiltered lens,” said Stephanie Cutter, deputy manager of the Obama campaign. “This convention is more about just reminding people about the values and vision that drive the president every day and some of the decisions that have been made over the last four years that have moved us forward.” But refreshing the public’s memory of the man behind the presidency is a more challenging task than the one Obama faced last time, when she acknowledged Barack Obama’s “funny name” while vouching for his values. In her convention speech Tuesday night, advisers said, she will try to speak to her husband’s disaffected supporters, giving them, as she says on the campaign trail, “the chance to see up close and personal what being president looks like . . . the problems with no easy solutions, the judgment calls where the stakes are so high and there is no margin for error.” She will have to find new anecdotes that give insight into the president’s character to reach those people — particularly women, said Jennifer Lawless, director of American University’s Women and Politics Institute. “The fact that she is pretty honest about him and calls attention to some of his flaws and makes him seem like a real person is appealing,” Lawless said. At the same time, she will be tasked with bringing attention to Barack Obama the family man, trotting out onstage with perfectly styled first daughters Sasha, 11, and Malia, 14. In the campaign speech the first lady gives as she rallies supporters across the country, she talks about the “brilliant” women sitting on the Supreme Court because of her husband, about his administration’s support for equal pay for women in the workplace, and about how “Barack Obama believes women should be able to make our own choices about our health care.” At a moment when women’s reproductive health has unexpectedly become one of the highest-profile issues of the campaign, and when women’s votes are expected to be critical to deciding the tight race, Michelle Obama will have to step gingerly, discussing the issue without seeming overly partisan. The tougher talk about abortion rights has come from the president, who said recently that “we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health-care decisions on behalf of women.”Michelle Obama’s appeal to voters has been shaped more by television interviews, magazine covers and her best-selling gardening book, “American Grown.” During the 2008 campaign, her favorability ratings took a hit when she said that “for the first time” in her adult life, she was proud of her country. Conservatives repeatedly brought up the statement and called her unpatriotic. But since moving into the White House and adopting her role as mom in chief, her popularity has soared. “The good news is her likability factor is high, so she doesn’t have to sell herself as a likable, good person. She can sell the idea of ‘why you need to reelect my husband,’ ” said Elizabeth Mehren, a professor of journalism at Boston University who has written extensively about first ladies. “This is her moment to step forward and talk about the fundamental concerns that working women have with the economy.” Obama has not directly tackled such concerns. Instead, she recently acted as “guest editor” of iVillage, a Web site that caters to women. In an extensive interview there, the first lady kicked off her shoes and curled her bare feet up on the couch in her East Wing office. She gave tips for healthy eating, discussed the ways she talks to her daughters about body image and talked about how her husband quit smoking. “His ability to ultimately kick the habit was because of the girls, because they’re at the age now where you can’t hide,” Obama told iVillage. “I think that he didn’t want to look his girls in the eye and tell them that they shouldn’t do something that he was still doing.” Michelle Obama is less well-liked by Republicans. Only 38 percent of them give her a favorable rating, and conservative commentators have accused her of advocating a “nanny state” in her push for healthier school lunches. But the approach has made Obama a public figure in her own right, with “a popularity that transcends partisanship to a certain degree,” said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, a historian who studies first ladies and presidential families. “What she brings to her [convention] speech is not just her role as the wife of the candidate, the partisan, the spokesman, but also almost a certain rational objectivity [and] this larger-than-life charismatic public personality,” Anthony said. “She has a real credibility, and she comes to that podium with those factors intact. Whether the campaign will seek to maximize that, we’ll have to see.” Obama’s appeal seems aimed squarely at women — mothers in particular — who will be key decision-makers in this election. The Romney campaign acknowledged the importance of moms last week as well, with Ann Romney using her remarks at the Republican National Convention to talk about love and give a shout-out to “the moms of this nation — single, married, widowed — who really hold this country together.” On Wednesday, while Republicans were making their case in Tampa, the first lady used part of her time on Letterman’s show to talk about parenting. The interview kicked off with Obama and Letterman chatting about summer sleep-away camp and healthier school-lunch standards. Pizza “is going to be served on a whole-wheat crust” with strips of green peppers or carrots on the side, she said. She stuck to the approach that Obama campaign aides have called “relentlessly positive.” In response to Letterman’s question about whether the close race is stressing out her husband, she said: “Barack is so — the levelheadedness that you see is real. He doesn’t bring that energy home.” Camille Johnston, the first lady’s former communications director, said the convention speech will show Obama’s fun-loving personality while making the case for her husband’s administration. “The speech that she will give will be something that she has crafted in her own voice and with her own attention to detail and with her own style,” Johnston said. “She prepares diligently for important moments.” On Letterman’s show, the first lady said her convention speech will be serious, adding that she will not be cracking any jokes. “I’m still taking it in,” she said of her prepared remarks. “So over the next couple of days, I’ll just get the words and understand. . . . “You know, it’s feeling what I’m saying,” Obama said, closing her eyes, “not just learning the words.”

Pukhtunkhwa Times endorses barack obama

Pukhtunkhwa Times is Proud to Endorse President Barack Obama as President for next four years.
President Obama is bold and courageous and can makes right decisions in any situation. Barack Obama should be re-elected President in 2012
President Obama’s Top 10 Achievements

Democrats Say U.S. Is Better Off Than Four Years Ago

A day after fumbling a predictable and straightforward question posed by Mitt Romney last week — are Americans better off than they were four years ago — the Obama campaign provided a response on Monday that it said would be hammered home during the Democratic convention here this week: “Absolutely.” The focus on the campaign’s handling of the question, after halting and contradictory responses from Democrats on Sunday, complicated the White House’s effort to begin striking a set of themes the president intends to highlight here and carry through the general election. That effort starts with an argument that Mr. Romney, the Republican nominee, would raise taxes on the middle class while cutting them for the wealthy. It seeks to pitch forward to the next four years the case that Mr. Obama and his allies have made over the spring and summer — that Mr. Romney’s business career showed him intent on profit even at the expense of workers and that his wealth has given him tax advantages not enjoyed by regular people. “The problem is everybody’s already seen his economic playbook,” Mr. Obama said at a campaign stop in Ohio before a Labor Day audience largely consisting of United Auto Workers union members. “On first down he hikes taxes by nearly $2,000 on the average family with kids in order to pay for a massive tax cut for multimillionaires.” The Obama campaign began running a new commercial making the same point, and asserting, “The middle class is carrying a heavy load in America, but Romney doesn’t see it.” As delegates streamed in for the opening of the convention on Tuesday, Mr. Obama and his team were putting the finishing touches on a program that requires a different kind of political daring from the one they showed four years ago, when Mr. Obama gave his speech in a stadium on a stage compared by some to a Greek temple. This week Mr. Obama is planning to undertake a tricky two-step of convincing wavering supporters being aggressively courted by Mr. Romney that they made the right decision in choosing him four years ago and that he has the country on its way to a sustainable recovery even if they do not always feel it. He will make the argument in an outdoor stadium again, on Thursday night under the threat of rain, but aides say there will be no Greek columns. Obama campaign aides indicated they were moving into a new phase, applying their case that Mr. Romney has no history of looking out for the middle class to the question of what the next four years would look like under a Romney presidency. But Republicans showed that they were not going to give Mr. Obama a free ride this week, with Mr. Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, coming to North Carolina to keep the focus on the last four years. “The president can say a lot of things, and he will, but he can’t tell you that you’re better off,” Mr. Ryan said on Monday at a rally in Greenville, N.C. “Simply put, the Jimmy Carter years look like the good old days compared to where we are right now.” Mr. Obama’s aides initially appeared to stumble when television interviewers asked them to respond to Mr. Romney’s charge in his nomination acceptance speech Thursday night that Americans were not better off under Mr. Obama. On Fox News Channel, Mr. Obama’s top strategist, David Axelrod, said, “We’re in a better position than we were four years ago in our economy.” But Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, a Democrat, answered “no” on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” though he blamed Republicans. Other aides equivocated. Mr. O’Malley provided another answer on Monday on CNN: “We are clearly better off as a country because we’re creating jobs rather than losing them. We have not recovered all that we lost in the Bush recession. That’s why we need to continue to move forward.” In fact, on Monday the campaign settled on a definitive answer of, as the deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter put it, “Absolutely.” Followed down a hallway by a local news crew asking the “better off” question in the convention center here, Ms. Cutter described the economic scene four years ago — the auto companies teetering near bankruptcy, bank failures — and said, “Does anyone want to go back to 2008? I don’t think so.” Speaking in Detroit on Monday, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said during a union rally, “You want to know whether we’re better off?” He answered: “I’ve got a little bumper sticker for you: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.” Aides said that over the next three days they would show video testimonials of people who have been helped by Mr. Obama’s policies, hammering home the success of his auto bailout and the benefits of his health care overhaul. “We’re not running from our record, which we’re proud of,” Mr. Axelrod said in an interview. But, he added, “We’re also going to burnish the choice — it’s fair to say there will be more discussion of their ideas at our convention than there was at theirs.” While Democrats pointed to polls showing that Mr. Romney appeared to get little polling “bounce” out of his convention, some Democratic strategists here conceded that Republicans had succeeded in muddying the waters on a traditional Democratic strong point, Medicare. Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan support a plan that would change the program into one in which beneficiaries would get a fixed amount of money from the government each year to use to purchase private health insurance or traditional Medicare, a shift that Democrats say would leave the elderly vulnerable to rising health care costs. Many Democrats had assumed the issue would be a major political help to them, but some Democratic strategists said Republican claims that Mr. Obama had cut $716 billion from the program had at least partly neutralized the Democratic advantage and constrained their ability to emphasize Medicare in their campaign message. In a brief interview, the minority leader in the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, seemed to acknowledge as much when she said of Republicans, “Confusion is the name of their game,” though she added that the Democrats could regain the advantage. “We don’t agonize over that, so we’re organized to make sure the truth is known by the public.” Democrats here expressed relief that Mr. Obama took some potentially contentious issues out of the intraparty debate here — supporting gay marriage, ending the military policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and easing the threat of deportation for many young immigrants in the country illegally — and those were expected to be highlighted here, as well. Produced by the same team that put on Mr. Obama’s last convention — the strategists Jim Margolis and Erik Smith — the program this week will include a video version of Mr. Obama’s logo, now overlaid with silhouettes of people, which loomed over the empty Time Warner Cable Arena on Monday. The theme emblazoned on the hall is “Americans Coming Together.” In a nod to austerity, there will be no band, but, rather, a DJ — more specifically, Deejay Cassidy, a favorite of the Obamas. Where the main priority for Mr. Obama’s team four years ago was to prove he could be president, this year it is to show that he is connected to the middle class. So, organizers said, the stages in the arena and the Bank of America Stadium, where Mr. Obama speaks Thursday night, will be smaller and “intimate,” allowing speakers “to be surrounded by delegates,” Theo LeCompte, the chief operations officer of the convention, said in a statement. But this convention will be less about stagecraft than about the argument Mr. Obama will make to woo back straying supporters and recast his presidency in a light of accomplishment amid often gloomy monthly job reports. The next report is to come out Friday, less than 10 hours after Mr. Obama finishes speaking.

U.S. Democratic National Convention to open amid tight security

The U.S. Democratic National Convention is to kick off amid tight security on Tuesday in Charlotte, North Carolina, as supporters and protestors of President Barrack Obama have also prepared themselves for the event. Democrats hope the three-day convention would generate a renewed enthusiasm for Obama's re-election bid and help him win the battleground of North Carolina, which he won in 2008. First Lady Michelle Obama will give a prime-time speech on Tuesday to woo woman and minority supporters for her husband. Former President Bill Clinton will give the nominating address for Obama Wednesday night. Thursday night, Obama will go forward with his acceptance speech at an open-air football stadium whether it "rains or shines", said Steve Kerrigan, CEO of the Democratic National Convention. Organizers of the convention said nearly 6,000 people would attend the three-day convention, among which half would be woman voters. More Latinos are also expected to appear at the venues. Recent polls show the Democratic incumbent's healthcare reform and less stringent immigration policy give him an edge over his Republican rival Mitt Romney among woman and Latino constituents in the swing states, including North Carolina. The city's Democratic Mayor Anthony Foxx said he believed Obama could win the state, but acknowledged it wouldn't be easy. North Carolina, a traditional Republican stronghold, was a surprise victory for Obama in 2008. Security is tight in Charlotte, as thousands of police officers have been put on high alert for the big moment of Obama, who will be officially nominated at the convention as the Democratic presidency candidate. Federal and local law enforcement officials are prepared to face thousands of demonstrators this week. Thousands of local and state police will line the streets as protesters speak out for their causes. The FBI is charged with the overall crisis management, including terrorist attacks and hostage rescue operations, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinating response to and recovery from possible disturbance. Thousands of Obama supporters and protestors have also braced themselves for the convention. More than 40 groups representing a wide swath of causes have planned rallies along a parade route in downtown Charlotte. About 600 people marched Sunday through the city's central area to protest corporate greed. Besides, around 50 demonstrators are expected to march the parade route with the Doctors for America group, which advocates for the Democrats' healthcare reform measure that recently went into effect. To mark the Labor Day, the city on Monday held a "Carolina Fest" to boost local business and set up a stage for labor unions to show their support for Obama.

Hillary reinforces US-China mistrust

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will arrive in China today. Some have labeled her latest Asia-Pacific trip as a "closing" one, because she may step down as secretary of state even if Barack Obama is reelected again in November's presidential elections. The biggest "contribution" that she has brought to US diplomacy is the "pivot" to Asia. But besides greatly raising the mutual mistrust with China, the move hasn't yet brought pragmatic benefits to the US. It seems that the US is trying to realize two goals, namely renewing domestic economic vigor and checking China's rise, so as to maintain its world hegemony, which is its ultimate strategic goal. Checking China's rise is the wrong strategic goal for the US. This leading power, despite all its advantages, has limited strength but quite a few thorny tasks in its diplomacy. Superficially, Clinton's proposal to restrain China with "smart power" diplomacy works on the South China Sea issue. But it appears to be merely a small trick from the perspective of the strategy of a superpower. As for the economic recovery back home, the Obama administration has nothing to brag about. Clinton's rhetoric such as a "pivot to Asia" and "Internet diplomacy" helps attract public opinion and weave illusions for domestic voters who believe that the true crisis stems from China's "rapid growth" and "lack of democracy." As secretary of state, Clinton fails to present Americans with this simple logic: In the long run, the US can only compete and cooperate with China on an equal footing, and it will have fewer and fewer resources to dominate and curb China. Clinton has thrown around various slogans during her frequent visits abroad, but failed to contribute to innovating US strategic thought in regard to China. Properly placing China within its diplomatic framework tests the US mentality, rather than its military strength or how many alliances it has. If US elites believe their own democracy can eternally guarantee their dominance of the world and that China's path of development will come to a dead end sooner or later, the US does not need to conduct reform at all. Clinton's "smart power" diplomacy has fomented frictions between China and some surrounding countries in regard to territorial disputes. As a result, Chinese have felt more clearly the strategic pressure from the US. However, it is precisely during the last few years that the Chinese have become more cool-headed regarding small frictions. Clinton, to a certain degree, has helped boost China's diplomatic maturity. How the US and China look at each other will largely decide international relations in the Asia Pacific in the new century. We hope Clinton can reflect upon the deep harm she is bringing to the Sino-US relationship in the last few months before she leaves office and try to make up for it

China warns U.S. not to take sides in sea disputes

China warned the United States not to get involved in South China Sea territorial disputes on Tuesday as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed to Beijing pledging to pass on a strong message on the need to calm regional tension. The last time Clinton visited the Chinese capital, plans to highlight improving U.S.-China ties were derailed by a blind Chinese dissident whose dramatic flight to the U.S. embassy exposed the deeply uneasy relationship. The irritants this time are disputes over tiny islets and craggy outcrops in oil- and gas-rich areas of the South and East China Seas that have set China against U.S. regional allies such as the Philippines and Taiwan. As Clinton travelled back to Beijing on Tuesday, U.S. officials say the message is once again one of cooperation and partnership - and an important chance to compare notes during a year of political transition. But the unease remains, sharpened by disputes in the South and East China Seas that have rattled nerves across the region and led to testy exchanges with Washington just as the Obama administration "pivots" to the Asia-Pacific region following years of military engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei suggested at a daily news briefing that Washington was not a helpful force in the maritime disputes. "We have noted that the United States has stated many times that it does not take sides," he said when asked about the U.S. role. "We hope that the United States will abide by its promises and do more that is beneficial to regional peace and stability, and not the opposite." Chinese newspapers, including Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, have suggested the South China Sea territorial claims are among Beijing's "core national interests" - a term suggesting they share the same importance as sovereignty over Tibet and Xinjiang. Hong did not directly answer a question about whether that was the government's official position. "China, like any other country in the world, has the duty to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said. "WITHOUT COERCION" In Jakarta on Monday, Clinton urged China and its Southeast Asian neighbors to move quickly on a code of conduct for the South China Sea and stressed that disputes should be resolved "without coercion, without intimidation, without threats and certainly without the use of force". But progress has been thwarted in recent months by China's increasingly assertive posture, which has included establishing a garrison on a disputed island and stepping up patrols of contested waters. That suggests Beijing has no intention of backing down on its unilateral claim to sovereignty over a huge stretch of ocean and potentially equally large energy reserves. Clinton faces a balancing act, pushing on the territorial disputes while keeping cooperation on track on other issues including reining in the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, the Syria crisis and economic disputes that have long bedeviled the two countries. "One of the challenges before us is to demonstrate how we deal with areas in which we have different perceptions and where we face challenging issues on the ground, or in this case on the water," one senior U.S. official said. But some Chinese media have been blunt in their opposition to Clinton. The Global Times, a popular, nationalist tabloid, accused her of "deeply intensifying mutual suspicion". "Many Chinese people dislike Hillary Clinton," it said in an editorial. "She has brought new and extremely profound mutual distrust between the mainstream societies of the two countries, and removing that will not be easy." WHAT NEXT? Clinton on Wednesday will meet outgoing President Hu Jintao and Vice President Xi Jinping, the man who will likely succeed him as paramount leader following a Communist Party congress this year. Xi visited the United States in February on a get-acquainted tour and U.S. officials expect him to be a steady-handed leader. But concerns over China's fast-expanding influence and its belligerent tone in the regional disputes have Washington scrambling to assess how Beijing's political stars are lining up. China, too, has its concerns and has pushed back against U.S. attempts to referee the South China Sea dispute and insert itself into similar rows between China, Japan and South Korea over islands in the East China Sea. While Washington has stressed that it takes no position on the competing claims and simply wants to see a mechanism established to resolve them, its forceful calls on China to play along have had a cool reception in Beijing. Mark Valencia, a Hawaii-based expert on Asia-Pacific maritime disputes, said the recent exchanges left "no doubt that the U.S. is siding with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) -- not necessarily saying that their claim is correct, but that the bases of their claims have more merit than those of China". During Clinton's last China visit in April, dissident Chen Guangcheng stole the headlines with his made-for-TV escape from house arrest, flight to the U.S. embassy and eventual decision to take a U.S.-brokered deal to travel to New York. U.S. officials are hoping for no such surprises during Clinton's 24-hour visit to Beijing this week, saying this is a moment for stability, not stirring the waters. "I think the secretary intends very clearly to underscore our continuing interest in maintaining a strong, positive relationship," the senior U.S. official said.

Balochistan’s Unprotected Hindus

The Baloch Hal
BY:Yousaf Ajab Baloch
The July 28, 2012 abduction of three Hindu traders of the same family in Kalat District has caused intense fear among the Hindu community in Balochistan. The kidnapping of Sunil Kumar 25, Ratan Kumar 23 and Ramish Kumar, 35,has not received much official or media attention as such incidents have unfortunately become the order of the day in the province. Hindus are considered as kidnapper’s ‘soft targets’. Refusal to pay ransom irks the kidnappers who immediately kill the abducted people and throw their dead bodies in order to teach the rest of the community a lesson about the consequences of noncompliance with their demands. The unpredictable situation has plunged the Hindus into a state of unrest and uncertainty. Those who are financially strong enough, they either flee to relatively safer places such as Balochistan’s Lasbela District or parts of Sindh or decide to permanently move to India.Many Hindus in Balochistan prefer Lasbela District because of its proximity with Karachi as it also promises better economic incentives once they start a new life. Hindus in Balochistan enormously contribute to Balochistan’s economy. The Hindus have historically owned major businesses in the districts of Kalat, JhalMagsi ,Jaffarabad, Naseerabad, Bolan, Sibi, Khuzdar, Dera Bugti, Mastung, Quetta and Lasbela. As the state of law and order began to deteriorate in 2006, the Hindu community has also begun to feel the heat of the military operation and increasing lawlessness. In its 2005 report “Conflict in Balochistan” the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (H.R.C.P) issued a list of 31 Hindus, including 19 children, 3 women and 11 men, who were killed by the security forces in an attack on the fort of Nawab Akbar Bugtion March 17, 2005, According to recent media reports, about the exodus of Hindusfrom Sindh and Balochistan,at least 100 families from Balochistan have migrated to India. Balochistan’s former Chief Secretary, Ahmed Bakhsh Lehri, had once told the media that most of the kidnappings took place in Kalat which is the home to a major Hindu temple dedicated to goddess Kali. The abducted Hindus are normally taken to neighboring Khuzdar district that borders Sindh and has limited presence of the police force. The Chief Secretary had said “common criminals”, not the Baloch separatists, were behind these kidnappings. A prominent Hindu religious leader,Maharaj Lakshmi Chand Garji, had been kidnapped, along with his four companions on December 21, 2010, near Surab. The Hindu community across Pakistan values his spiritual leadership. While the kidnappers released three people within hours, they detained Maharaj and Venud Kumar, the son of a well-known Quetta-based Hindu trader, for more than three months. The Maharaj, while recalling the kidnapping ordeal, said the kidnappers tied his hands with a rope and blindfolded them throughout this period.They were eventually released on 25 March 26, 2011. “Hindus are the natives of Balochistan but now they feel unprotected, “says Maharaj Lakshmi, who attributes such a change in local people’s behavior to “deviation from the Baloch culture and traditions.”. He says gone are the days when Balochistan’stribal society was regarded as a “safe haven” for religious minorities. The Hindus say they are left with “no option” but to flee the country once the government fails to provide them any kind of protection from the criminals. Maharaj Lakshmi says breakdown of law and order and an upsurge in cases of abduction for ransom has compelled 100 families to migrate to India while another 200 families have left various districts of Balochistan and settled in Hub, Balochistan’s industrial town bordering Sindh, and other parts of the country. “I don’t think these families, mainly those who are migrating to India, will be able to adjust themselves in the new environment,” fears the Maharaj. During the past four years, according to local Hindu community leaders, more than 50 traders, doctors, and professionals have been kidnapped for ransom. What further contributes to the community’s pessimism is the fact that local security institutions, such as the police, were not involved in even one case that successfully secured the release of a kidnapped Hindu. Every time, the community had to pay ransom to ensure the release of a kidnapped member. Zahoor Shahwani, the president of the Balochistan High Court Bar Association, says these abductions become an “alarming issue”. The government has failed to in its responsibilities and it has not taken any tangible measures for which it should be appreciated, he said. Mr. Shahwani, who is also a Council Member of the H.R.C.P., says, “We urge the government to make immediate efforts to protect thelife and property of the Hindus. So far, the authorities have not responded positively to our calls.” BurjLal, a notable of the community in Noshki District, said that they had lived in Balochistan for thousands of years but now his relatives had begun to leave Noshki and settle in other cities. “The Hindus do not feel safe when they go out to do a job nor are their children secure when they go out to get education. They are afraid of traveling inside Balochistan. Many of the Hindus are now selling off their properties and shops half the price and leaving Balochistan,” BurjLal informed. Rajeve,22, a Hindu from Kalat who recently migrated to India with his family, said that they did not make their decision willingly but were compelled to do so. He says his family did not want to leave Balochistan but regular cases of abduction and looting of shops belonging to the Hindus forced them to flee to India. “We find India a safe place for us,” he says, “We do not face serious hardships here and we can go wherever we want. We also plan to bring our other relatives to India as we consider ourselves very protected here.” According to Malik Siraj Akbar, the editor of online newspaper, TheBaloch Hal, kidnapping of the Hindus in Balochistan is not directly motivated on religious lines. The Hindus have traditionally enjoyed a good social status and owned businesses in the province which made them vulnerable to kidnapping. “Since the State failed to protect the Hindus elsewhere in Pakistan, criminals in Balochistan were also emboldened to take advantage of the vulnerability of the Hindus. “They are compelled to go to the local Jirgas and tribal chiefs for justice instead of having faith in the police and courts where they are often treated on religious lines and this treatment is even far worse than how the local tribal chiefs treat them.” Malik, who is currently a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington D.C. with rich reporting experience of human rights issues in Balochistan, says there is an overall breakdown of law and order in Balochistan. “When the State organs such as the Frontier Corps and intelligence agencies are blamed for not respecting human rights and the rule of law, then they also fail to set a positive precedence for the ordinary citizens to abide by the law. Criminals realize that state institutions do not have their priorities right and they are unlikely to move swiftly to protect the rights of religious minorities at a time when these institutions even have no respect for the rights of the majority (Muslim) population.” Senior Karachi-based journalist Veengas, says, the judiciary is independent now, even than thugs have been given free hand to kidnap and kill to the peaceful citizens, chiefly those who belong to the minority groups. “The support to the criminals is questionable. Hindus who are the real natives of Balochistan have become unprotected after the military operation against Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti,” she says. Saeed Yousaf Baloch, vice chairman of the Baloch Nation al Movement (B.N.M.) blames the “security establishment” for the crisis the Hindu community is facing today. The Establishment patronizes kidnappers and criminals to loot minorities to defame Baloch nationalist, he says, adding that the Hindus played a good role in economics of Balochistan. “Harming the Hindus amounts to harming Balochistan’s society and economy,” says the Baloch nationalist leader. Some tribal chiefs, anti-nationalist underground groups and even members of the provincial assembly are blamed for harassing the Hindus. There is an urgent need for collective efforts to end the state of insecurity among the Hindus in Balochistan and offer them a sense of protection so that they are not forced to leave their native land. Yousaf Ajab Baloch is a Staff Member at The Baloch Hal. To read more articles by him, please click here

For Afghan Girl, Going To School Is Act Of Bravery

In Afghanistan, girls are required by law to go to school. However, many of them never do. Death threats, acid attacks and bombings by Taliban militants and other extremists lead many parents who support female education to keep their daughters at home. Sometimes, it's the families themselves who stand in the way. School officials in conservative communities say relatives are often more interested in marrying off their daughters or sisters than in helping them get an education.But some girls, like 18-year-old Rahmaniya, are fighting back. The 10th-grader in the southern city of Kandahar province says the moments she savors most in her life are those she spends learning. Rahmaniya, whose last name is being withheld to protect her, says she didn't dare go to school until her father passed away five years ago. He had vowed to disown her if she tried to get an education. These days, the slight girl with big brown eyes dreams of going to college to study journalism. But she adds that it's hard to think about the future when her older brother keeps threatening to stab her to death with a knife he carries in his pocket. "Several times he has beaten me up," she says. "He tells me, 'You go ahead and go to school, and I'll throw acid on you like the Taliban. I'll go to the Taliban, and they'll protect me if I do this in this land of infidels where girls go to school.' " Driven Into Hiding Rahmaniya believes her brother's anger is rooted in jealousy, since he quit school a long time ago. Her family, like many in Kandahar, is also struggling to make ends meet, and the teen says her brother wants her to marry. In Afghanistan, dowries bring in a lot of cash for the bride's family. "But I don't want to get married, at least not before I finish my studies," Rahmaniya says.Her brother's insistence that she wed is something Rahmaniya says she uses against him. She explains that when he threatens to blind or maim her, she reminds him that disfiguring her will make it impossible to find a husband. Still, the threats and beatings have driven Rahmaniya into hiding. She moves every few days from one sympathetic relative's house to another to avoid being found by her brother. Societal Taboos, Taliban Last week, her mother agreed to help plan her daughter's escape to a women's shelter in Kabul so she could continue her studies in safety. The plan fell apart when Rahmaniya's mother caved in to family pressure that her daughter marry a relative. The mother says the man will allow Rahmaniya to attend school after they wed. But her daughter believes that's a lie and refuses to marry the relative. Saying she feels trapped, Rahmaniya begins to cry. "If it wasn't a sin to commit suicide, I would," she says. "Life has become very bitter." Ehsanullah Ehsan, who is director of the Kandahar Institute of Modern Studies, where some 800 girls go to school, says Rahmaniya's case is not unique. He adds that societal taboos are oftentimes as problematic for his students as the Taliban. "There are many other threats ... extremist threats, warlord threats, tribal lord threats, family honor threats, because still there are families in which education is an honor problem. So these women who are coming here, they are brave to come here for an education," he says. Ehsan says that bravery has translated into a brighter future for many young women; 300 of his graduates have gotten jobs in Kandahar. But Rahmaniya says she doesn't want to stay in Afghanistan. She says she yearns to go abroad, but that she's found no one who can help her.

Koreans ready for joint ventures in agriculture

South Korean investors on Monday showed interest for joint ventures in agriculture sector, as Pakistani mangoes have great demand in South Korean markets.A delegation of South Korean investors, led by Lee Jae Ho, visited Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI) for B2B meetings with Pakistani entrepreneurs having common interest in various fields. Speaking on the occasion, Lee Jae Ho identified a number of areas for mutual co-operation and said that there is a need for enhanced trade ties between Pakistan and South Korea as current volume of trade stood around $1.5 billion which is not up to the mark.Korean investors said that Pakistan and South Korea need to improve their commercial and economic relations to promote bilateral trade and investment by taking advantage of new business opportunities.Yassar Sakhi Butt, President ICCI, said that Pakistan being an agricultural country has an agricultural and canal infrastructure second to none and agriculture continues to play a central role in our economic growth, feeding domestic industry as well as an important source of foreign exchange earnings.He said that South Korea being an important trade partner and having advanced expertise in the field of agriculture could assist us in setting up joint ventures along with latest technology transfers and introduction to latest agriculture practices, saying that Korean investors could earn lucrative profits in Pakistan.Yassar Sakhi Butt said that Pakistan is home to a diverse number of tourist attractions which include very beautiful landscapes, ancient civilizations like Indus Valley and Gandhara civilization as well as Buddha sculptures. Therefore, tourism also offers huge business opportunities to foreign investors, he added.ICCI President urged the Korean investors to bring their capital and technology to Pakistan, establish joint ventures, share their experience and expertise, earn good profits and contribute to further strengthening bilateral trade and economic relations between Pakistan and South Korea.

Rimsha, a test case to correct misuse of blasphemy laws

BY: Ansar Abbasi
Rimsha case speaks volume of the failure and inefficiency of the Islamabad police but its latest turns and twists have made it a perfect study case that can help prevent misuse of the blasphemy law in the country. Though it is for the courts to judge the facts of the case, the latest evidence reported by the media against Imam Masjid Khalid Jadoon allegedly shows him stage-managing the whole episode to get the area vacated from Christian community. Here is a test for the police, prosecution and the courts to make Khalid Jadoon, if he is proven guilty, an example for others, which on the one hand would help deter people from registering fabricated cases of blasphemy against anyone and, on the other, pave the way to devise a foolproof procedure for registration of FIR under this law. However, because of the failure of the police or owing to the fraudulence of a person like Khalid Jadoon, there is no reason to support the west-led campaign to quash the blasphemy law. Certain NGOs and some voices in the media, it is expected, would try to fuel the Rimsha case to target the blasphemy law as per the western agenda. Reports are also making rounds in the capital that some NGOs are in contact with some western embassies to get Rimsha fly outside Pakistan along with her family as soon as she is released so that the anti-blasphemy law campaign is fuelled globally against Pakistan and Islamic laws. The facts of the case as reflected in the media so far confirm that the Islamabad police did not properly investigate the case before booking the eleven-year old Rimsha in the blashphemy case. It is said that police was under pressure to register the case despite its findings otherwise. Why was it done and under whose pressure? The Islamabad police needs to answer the question to help expose the real culprit behind this episode. Under the law such a case could only be registered following SP-level investigation but in this case seriously flawed investigation is apparently done with ulterior motives. Why did not the police discover before the registration of the FIR what is revealed now after media had highlighted the case? Just recently police have found three witnesses including the Moazan of the same mosque to expose the alleged dirty role of Khalid Jadoon but who would answer the basic question as to why in such a loose case an eleven-year girl was booked under extremely serious charges of blasphemy. Some heads must roll in the Islamabad police if the government is really interested to avoid resurfacing of such a flawed case. Religious scholars should also put their heads together to issue an edict for the person like Khalid Jadoon, who according to his Moazan had fabricated the evidence by adding a page of Quran that he had torn himself, in small plastic bag already containing burnt papers, to make it a perfect blasphemy case against the young girl. According to the Moazam, Khalid Jadoon was of the view that it would help get the area vacated from the Christian community.It is a shame that a person, who is an Imam masjid and should have been a model for others, has touched such lows of immorality and criminality. Such elements deserve to be given serious punishment for misusing an Islamic law to target the minority members of an Islamic society.

‘PML-N is only about politics of revenge’

Leader of the opposition in Punjab Assembly Raja Riaz has said that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Chief Nawaz Sharif desires to crush his opponents before general elections and the first phase of his tactic has been initiated. Addressing a press conference along with Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) MPA Shaukat Basra here on Monday, he said the PML-N leadership had asked police authorities to implicate cases against PPP and PML-Q leaders in fake cases. He added that the N-League was following the policy of political revenge against him and other leaders’ part of the opposition benches in Punjab assembly. Raja said that emperors of Raiwind were worried about their rule as they had not paid any heed towards the problems of the masses.

Pakistan: Soaring food prices

Soaring food prices in the international markets have been a major cause of concern for policymakers all over the world in recent months. Obviously, multilateral financial institutions cannot remain indifferent to such a negative development and have to lead the way for redefining policy priorities. Expressing alarm over the situation, the World Bank said on 30th August that drought in the US and European crop centres had sent global food prices soaring by 10 percent last month, raising a food security threat to the world's poorest people. The surge in prices due mainly to the devastating heatwave across the central US, which produces the largest crops of corn (maize) and soybeans, places in danger millions around the world, especially in countries greatly dependent on imported grains. From June to July 2012 (in just one month), the prices of both corn and wheat jumped by 25 percent while those of soybeans soared by 17 percent, topping their previous record highs in June, 2008. The price of other key global staple, rice, was four percent lower, however. The World Bank's food price index was six percent higher than a year earlier and one percent higher than the February 2011 peak. Region-wise, Africa and the Middle East, according to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, were particularly vulnerable together with people in certain other countries where prices had gone up abruptly. These countries generally have large food import bills; food consumption constitutes a large share of their average household spending, and they have limited fiscal space and comparatively weaker protective mechanisms. Domestic prices in these regions had already experienced sharp increases even before the global shock due to seasonal trends, poor harvests and conflicts in certain areas. It was also observed that the diversion of corn to produce ethanol bio-fuel - which takes upto 40 percent of US corn production - was also a key factor behind a sharp rise in corn prices which had also indirectly tightened the market of its substitute, wheat, and raised its price. As highlighted by the World Bank, there is no denying the fact that dangerously soaring food prices are threatening the well-being of millions of people around the globe, particularly in those countries which are already poor and have weak protective mechanisms to face such kinds of sudden shocks. In certain cases, the crisis could even become a matter of life and death and lead to social and political chaos. The average or poor households in the developed countries could also face problems but they can be shielded by certain adjustments in fiscal policies by the respective governments, and volunteer groups which usually become quite active in such situations. A very sad aspect of the crisis is that there are no initiatives at international levels to help reduce the severity of its impact and alleviate the sufferings of those who have been badly hit by soaring grain prices. The G20 has decided to wait for September's US crop report before deciding whether to take action on food prices or think about some other measures. The lack of any initiative from the Group of 20 leading economies to address the soaring food prices on an urgent basis is really depressing, to say the least. They should have given proper attention to the matter before food prices threatened to spiral out of control and push more people into hunger. The multilateral financial institutions would obviously not take any concrete measures and extend credit facilities in suitable cases unless the G20 calls upon them to do so. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation's Chief has, however, asked Washington to rescind its mandate for fuel producers to use ethanol in gasoline and other fuel products to ease pressure on corn prices but it seems to have no effect on US policymakers. In the meantime, millions of people continue to slip into starvation bed, perhaps hoping that the world leaders would realise the gravity of the situation and come to their rescue. We could only hope and pray that their expectations are fulfilled and their agony alleviated, sooner rather than later. Experience suggests that humankind is normally not devoid of compassion, especially at such critical junctures. Fortunately, Pakistan is not very much affected by this crisis due mainly to self-sufficiency in food crops. Occasional exports of wheat could fetch higher level of foreign exchange in a soaring global market.

Pakistan: Afghan refugees

The deadline issued by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government last week that unregistered Afghan nationals should return to Afghanistan within three days (by Aug 31, 2011) looks like a joke for many because it was not implementable going by all previous records. Pakistan continues to be the home of about three million Afghans who fled their country during the 1980s Soviet Union (now defunct) invasion of Afghanistan and settled in many parts of Pakistan. Their biggest concentration, said to be more than two-thirds, is Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Those designated as refugees are under the protection and care of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and provided legal status by the government of Pakistan to remain in the country until the end of 2012. Some one million unregistered Afghan nationals have been living in Pakistan illegally and 60 per cent of them reside in KP alone. Only Peshawar has their population of around 400,000. What happened to the provincial government’s warning is obvious; no-one from illegal refugees left. How can a government seek the return of such refugees, no matter they are legal or illegal, in three days when most of them have settled their business, purchased property and are pursuing their full socio-economic life for nearly three decades. On the other hand the federal government, in consultation with the UNHCR and Afghanistan, has extended till December 31, 2012 the stay of 1.7 million Afghan refugees who have been registered and are in possession of the Proof of Registration cards. It has also been agreed that the provincial government would not send bonafide Afghan refugees. The refugees are not only Afghans, they are also nationals of Central Asian countries, including Tajikistan and Uzbekistan who, in some cases, disguised themselves as Afghan nationals. Besides KP, they also settled in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) while several thousand have also spread out to Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan. One reason why are they returning, is uncertainty about the future of their country particularly after the withdrawal of foreign armies; they fear Afghanistan might plunge into another civil war subsequently. What, however, appears behind the panic-stricken decision of the KP government is that its leadership and officialdom may have been frustrated with more frequent terrorist attacks in Peshawar and elsewhere across the province and suspected the Afghans and other nationals’ hand behind them. Although the ultimatum had no response, a crackdown on refugees is expected any time after the passage of the deadline. However, it is not going to be an easy sailing as the past record shows. For example, the UNHCR sent back some 20,000 of them last year with subsistence money. Most of them returned. District administration Peshawar gave them a deadline on April 25 this year seeing their return by May 25 this year. After the expiry of the deadline, only a few Afghans illegally staying in Peshawar left for Afghanistan.

Pakistan:...Terrorist Malik Ishaq and the state

The scourge of Pakistan’s Shia community, Malik Ishaq of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) — an offshoot of ‘renamed’ Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), which is in a legal penumbra of state ban — has been arrested upon his return from Saudi Arabia, where he could have gone to perform a religious ritual but could also have touched base there with the ‘donors’ who finance the massacre of the Shia in Pakistan. The charges against him of hate speech followed by sectarian killings are quite serious. He was acquitted of the same category last year and let out of jail after remaining there for 14 years. He was wanted in connection with a case at a housing colony under Section 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Pakistan Penal Code. The speech was against the Shia sect in Kamahan village on August 9 and he had avoided arrest by going underground. He had done this in many places in the country; in Chiniot, an incident of firing on a mosque followed a speech by Ishaq. Police officers don’t want to be named when they offer information about Ishaq, even the bit about Ishaq leaving the country without informing the police — in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Clearly, the officers are scared of getting killed by SSP activists as well as the state hierarchy, which is alleged to have a ‘special relationship’ with him as a warrior of the sectarian organisations based in Punjab. One officer let it be known that “Ishaq had remained in touch with a couple of provincial ministers”. The man was involved in over 40 cases relating to sectarianism and terrorism in which 70 people, most of them Shias, were killed. He is now being reported as a member of the SSP, probably to remove him from the heat produced by a recent video released by his LeJ gang announcing that almost all of the Shia killed so far in the length and breadth of the country were its victims. The LeJ proudly claims affiliation with the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar — who the world says is living in Karachi — and al Qaeda, whose Egyptian leader Aiman al Zawahiri the world suspects could also be living somewhere in Pakistan. This means Ishaq is a part of the elements that have blown Pakistan’s internal sovereignty to smithereens and could be ruling the streets of Karachi. In February 2012, a spokesperson for the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), Yahya Mujahid, told this newspaper that Ishaq was present on the stage of a Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) rally in Multan. An ex-ISI boss, Hamid Gul, who attended the rally denied that Ishaq was present on the occasion and charged that a photo revealing the truth was actually a ‘doctored one’. The DPC held long marches at great expense to the JuD’s chief Hafiz Saeed — with American bounty on him — to protest against the reopening of the Nato supply route and was rumoured to be supported by elements within the ‘deep state’. After the final retirement of ISI chief General Shuja Pasha and after the excessively threatening posture of the non-state actors in the DPC, the policy of fielding the extremists was modified, throwing the DPC in an eclipse which could actually be a lull before a big terminal storm in luckless Pakistan. Malik Ishaq is today the symbol of the state’s surrender to terrorists. He has re-embraced the SSP because it represents one of the centres of power spawned by the state policy of proxy jihad. Provincial governments are vying with one another to reach a modus vivendi with these power centres to save their politicians from being assassinated. In Punjab, where such a new ‘relationship’ has been set up to ‘sanitise’ the elections in south Punjab, police chiefs are in the habit of blaming terrorism committed by these centres of power on Israel and India. Malik Ishaq is a challenge to Pakistan’s sovereignty that Pakistan may be reluctant to face.

I can pass off as a Pakistani: Kareena Kapoor

Bollywood superstar Kareena Kapoor and her fiance Saif Ali Khan talk to Dawn.com about playing a Bollywood, Pakistan and their marriage.

Plight of IDPs of Khyber Agency

SECURITY operations in the Khyber Agency against the militants have led to the displacement of 68,274 families. It is a humanitarian crisis in Khyber Paktunkhwa. Among the displaced people, 50 per cent are children. Health and educational services are vital along with nutritional support, access to safe drinking water and sanitation for the displaced people. Access to basic amenities continues to be a biggest challenge for the displaced families residing in camps. Over 90 per cent are staying off camp with host communities. Movement from the conflict zone to safe areas is vital for children who are facing threats of being captured or killed by armed groups. It is also vital that psychological measures are taken to assist children to cope with the impact of the conflict and displacement. A proactive approach should be taken to address physical and mental issues and to alleviate children’s sufferings. Off the camp, IDPs are residing in rented homes or with host families in Nowshera and Peshawar. Mostly women and children with conservative culture are uncomfortable to live in camps and they are also unable to access relief services. There is an immediate need to increase relief efforts with provision of water, sanitation and hygiene, maternal and child health, nutrition, education protection since a large number of IDPs are residing off camps. Education for displaced children is foremost. Social mobilisation activities must be enhanced to identify out-of-school children and ensure their timely enrolment at schools. Psychosocial support is important for the well-being of distressed children. Child- friendly learning spaces for off-camp IDPs can provide a unique opportunity for learning while playing different games to lessen disabilities. Children can conceptualise their potentials while learning and playing and get rid of stress and trauma of displacement. Unicef and Save the Children are major humanitarian agencies working for children. But reports indicate the limited funding for emergency humanitarian needs of the IDPs in host communities. Keeping in view the prevailing security issues in Fata, the repatriation is not predictable in the near future. Even IDPs living with host communities say that they don’t expect to go home within the next 12 months. The funding gap will reduce the ability of humanitarian agencies to deliver lifesaving aid to the affected population, especially for the critical needs of IDPs’ children living in host communities for education, health and protection. The current state of services for IDPs shows limited arrangements due to funding scarcity. It is imperative to assist humanitarian agencies working for off-camp IDPs. The media must highlight the plight of victims of displacement to draw the attention of the authorities and donor agencies.

Karzai shows true colors

BY: Peter Hartcher Sydney Morning Herald political and international editor
Hamid Karzai's criticism of Australian troops on the weekend was an intolerable attack from an intolerable leader. First, it appears that the President of Afghanistan was wrong on the facts. About 60 Australian troops and 80 Afghan National Army soldiers jointly conducted a night raid on the village of Sola in the Tarin Kowt district of Oruzgan Province on Friday night, according to Australian officials. They were searching for the Afghan soldier who had betrayed his army and colleagues by turning his gun on the Australian troops who had been training his unit. The turncoat, a sergeant named Hekmatullah, killed three Australians from 3RAR and wounded two others. Advertisement It was the latest in an escalating series of attacks from within. The military parlance for them is ''green on blue''; green represents Afghan forces and blue international forces. In the course of the raid, the Australians detained about a dozen Afghans, shot and killed two - a village elder and his son - held one other and released the rest. Karzai ''condemned'' the Australian pursuit mission as ''not authorised'', according to a statement issued by his office. He announced a ''full and all-out probe'' into the ''violation''. The Karzai statement said that the two villagers killed by the Australians were not insurgents - they ''had no relationship with the government or militants''. So was the operation ''not authorised''? The International Security Assistance Force, the formal name for the NATO-led coalition, said in a statement that ''the operation was planned and executed in co-ordination with Afghan officials, including approval by the Oruzgan provincial governor''. An ISAF spokesman, Adam Wojak, said the local police chief, Matiullah Khan, had also been informed. So it seems Karzai was misinformed. The Australian Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, said yesterday that it was a misunderstanding. If we accept that, we still have to wonder why Karzai would so vociferously condemn the raid and announce an inquiry that was plainly prejudged. On the face of it, Karzai was not acting in good faith. And then there is the identity of the village man taken prisoner and the two shot dead. ISAF says Khan positively identified the dead men as insurgents. And ISAF said that the man kept in detention ''is confirmed to be an IED [improvised explosive device] emplacer and was previously involved in kidnapping, murder and attacks on [the] 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 [August] 29''. There can be legitimate disagreement over the definition of an insurgent. And the killed Afghans were members of the Popalzai tribe, the tribe to which Karzai belongs, so perhaps that was a factor in his reaction. But overall, we're left with the distinct impression that Karzai is more interested in political posturing than in seeking the facts or in pursuing the Afghan turncoat. This is the same man who stole the 2009 presidential election. His challenger withdrew in protest. The international coalition accepted the result with a straight face. But one US diplomat working in the United Nations at the time, Peter Galbraith, spoke out in disgust, saying that the election had been a ''train wreck'', that as many as 30 per cent of Karzai's votes were fraudulent and that the UN had helped cover up the stolen election to protect Karzai. The UN sacked Galbraith in response. And this is the same Karzai who presides over one of the most outrageously corrupt regimes on the planet. The declared value of cash being carried out of Afghanistan through airports last year was $US4.6 billion ($4.45 billion) last year. The amount that went undeclared is anyone's guess. And this is in a country with a national government budget of $4.8 billion a year. ''Afghan officials believe many of the brick-sized stacks of $100 bills stuffed into boxes, bags and suitcases by Dubai-bound passengers belong to drug lords or criminal cartels,'' reported the Financial Times. Or top officials. A former Karzai vice-president, Ahmad Zia Masood, was once stopped at Dubai Airport carrying $US52 million out of Afghanistan in cash, according to a cable published by WikiLeaks. He was allowed to go without questioning. Foreign governments and aid agencies take the money in to help Afghanistan; Afghan leaders take it out again to enrich themselves. The New York Times reports matter-of-factly that ''the extensive web of Karzai family members have leveraged the President's position to put them at the centre of a new oligarchy of powerful Afghan families''. All of this, plus much more, makes Karzai an intolerable figure. He adds insult to the injury suffered by the men and women from around the world who fight and die in a 50-nation effort to turn this benighted country from ungoverned terrorist training camp to governed territory. So should Australia quit this intolerable government and its intolerable President in this intolerable shooting zone called Afghanistan? The tactic of the Afghan turncoat troops, the green-on-blue attacks, is like the terrorism the Afghan mission was conceived to address. It's tempting to say that Australian forces should leave now. It would certainly save the lives of some Diggers. But to pull out now, after 11 years, and two years before the declared Australian and international timeline, would be a serious blow to Australia's national credibility, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr, has pointed out. It would mean Australia was a country that could not keep its international commitments, a country that could be panicked by a handful of terrorists, a country that shrugs its shoulders after a decade of considered policy and the deaths of 38 of its soldiers and says it was all just a waste of time. To stay on and fight in Karzai's Afghanistan is intolerable. To make a panicked exit now is even more so. Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/pulling-out-even-more-intolerable-than-karzai-20120903-25add.html#ixzz25TOa7txn

Minorities in Pakistan: Living in fear

By Shahzad Raza
Mehrabad is a sprawling village of haphazard dwellings and a diverse population not too far from the affluent sectors of the federal capital Islamabad. Most of the people living below poverty line in Islamabad's slums are Christians by faith. Many of them are garbage pickers or sweepers, or do other menial jobs. They are often humiliated and looked down upon. In August, a Christian girl from the village was accused of desecrating the Holy Quran by burning pages from the Noorani Qaida. "There is no way Rimsha could have done it deliberately, or someone else from among the local Christians could have asked her to do so," said a local police official. The 11-year-old girl suffering from Down's syndrome has been in Adiala Jail since August 17. Officials say she has been locked up to guarantee her safety, because emotionally charged fanatics are out to kill her. Mehrabad is a 10-minute drive from Kohsar Market, where late Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was killed by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri in January 2011 after he had called for a fair trial of a Christian woman accused of blasphemy. It is also a 10-minute drive from the neighbourhood in which Minority Affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti was gunned down two months later. The two incidents shook the Christians of Islamabad.The village represents an urban-rural divide. For many who live there, electricity is a precious commodity. Others use wild bushes and garbage to make fire. The people of Mehrabad can be broadly divided into two categories - the natives and the settlers. The natives own land and are comparatively well off. The settlers are people who came to Islamabad for economic opportunity and cannot afford to live in the developed sectors of the federal capital. There are 11 legal and four illegal slums in Islamabad which accommodate a large number of Christians. Many Christian women work as maids in nearby houses, and men are mostly daily wagers. They say they can deal with economic disparity, but not with religious discrimination. In the preliminary investigation, police authorities have cleared Rimsha Masih. Officials believe the girl had no idea what she was burning to make fire. Given the economic and social conditions of the area's Christians, the officials say they would not dare do such a thing on purpose. After the accusation was made, scores of angry men led by a local cleric gathered outside Christian houses. Cleric Hafiz Khalid Chishti claims he saved the girl from being lynched by the crowd. But he believed the 11 year old girl was of sound mind and burned the pages of Noorani Qaida deliberately. He called her act 'a conspiracy' but failed to elaborate what objectives she or other Christians would achieve by infuriating thousands of Muslim natives. During a Friday sermon, the cleric had provoked the worshippers to "wake up and protect" the Holy Quran. Several hundred Christians have lived in Mehrabad for the last 10 years. Over that period, they developed some semblance of a peaceful coexistence with their Muslim neighbours. They were not stopped from converting one of the houses into a church, but the Muslims complained against the playing of music during the mass. While the Rimsha Masih case was discussed in the Vatican, in the power corridors of Washington, and the conference halls of the United Nations, the civil society of Islamabad remained more or less indifferent. Rights activist Dr Farzana Bari admits. "We are living in a state of terror. The civil society in Pakistan is getting weaker and weaker. To express opinion on such sensitive matters is rather difficult," she explained. The belief that it is justified to kill in the name of religion is spreading fast in the Pakistani society, she feared. She argues the controversial blasphemy law is misused, often to settle personal vendetta. "Even the trial is unfair. The judges are very careful and don't decide the blasphemy cases, consequently the victims languish in jails for years and years." The People's Party government has also not been able to take a tough stance against religious intolerance and persecution. Perhaps it is preoccupied with dealing with other challenges threatening its survival.President Asif Ali Zardari has taken personal interest in the Rimsha Masih case, but there are many others buried under files in police and court records. Days after the blasphemy allegation made headlines, another horrible incident took place in Faisalabad. The mutilated body of Samuel Yaqoob, a Christian boy, was found on Eid day. Reports said the boy's lips and nose had been cut off and his stomach was removed. The police are investigating whether the boy was accused of blasphemy. On July 3, an angry mob burned a man alive in Bahawalpur after he was accused of desecrating the Quran. Police failed to protect the suspect and some of them were beaten up. Later, they registered a case against 2,000 people. On 15 April, 80-year old Iqbal Butt was shot dead by a cleric in Sheikhupura on similar allegations. The cleric who killed Butt had earlier accused him of blasphemy. The court had acquitted Butt.