Saturday, September 29, 2012

Pakistan’s nuclear programme fully secure
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani khar
has said that nuclear programme of the country is completely safe and is in the secure hands. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said, in a speech to a high-level meeting held under UN on Countering Nuclear Terrorism, that Pakistan gives the “highest priority” to ensuring a fool-proof safety and security mechanism for the country’s nuclear programme. “Nuclear security is both a global challenge and a national responsibility,” “Over the years,” “we have put in place extensive physical protection measures, robust command and control structures, comprehensive export controls and wide-ranging regulatory regimes,” she said. The foreign minister said that Pakistan’s regulatory regime encompasses physical protection of materials and facilities, material control and accounting, transport security, prevention of illicit trafficking and border controls, as well as plans to deal with possible radiological emergencies. “We have also developed technical solutions, personnel responsibility programmes and intelligence capabilities to deal with WMD- (Weapons of Mass Destruction) related terrorism,” she said. The foreign minister said Pakistan would cooperate in international efforts to strengthen regulatory mechanisms and establish effective barriers against the common threat of nuclear terrorism. “We are part of global efforts to make sure that terrorists do not law their hands on nuclear materials, knowledge and expertise,” she added.

Hina Rabbani Khar denies Bilawal Bhutto affair
Pakistan’s foreign minister has been forced to deny she is having an affair with Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the son of President Asif Ali Zardari.
Claims of an affair between Hina Rabbani Khar,
the 34-year-old glamorous foreign minister, and the 24-year-old scion of the country’s most powerful dynasty have fuelled feverish speculation and outrage in Pakistan since they were reported in a Bangladeshi tabloid earlier this week. According to Blitz Weekly, the married foreign secretary, who has two young children with her millionaire husband, and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the Pakistan People’s Party [PPP] co-chairman, want to marry and have been regularly talking on the telephone and sending one another cards. The tabloid claimed President Zardari is firmly opposed to their alleged relationship and had sought details of their mobile telephone conversations to establish the facts. The paper cited “western intelligence agencies” as the source of details of messages the ‘couple’ had sent each other. Ms Rabbani Khar and her husband have dismissed the claims as “reprehensible" and "trash", but they have been reported widely in Pakistan where they spawned conspiracy theories among Islamabad’s political classes.Senior PPP figures on Thursday said they believed the claims were part of a plot by the country’s feared Inter-Service Intelligence [ISI] agency to damage Ms Rabbani Khar’s reputation because it blames her for her part in facilitating a UN investigation into thousands of missing people detained by the security forces. One PPP official told The Daily Telegraph that the ISI expects the United Nations’ Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances to recommend senior army and intelligence officials be charged for their role and blame Ms Rabbani Khar for allowing the delegation into the country. “They are not happy with her,” the official said. “The UN mission received a cold reception but Hina was called in by the president to meet him and the army chief. She crossed some red line.” The government has not officially commented on the allegations. Ms Rabbani Khar, the daughter of a powerful Punjab landowner, has been the subject of rumours concerning her private life since she first became a minister in General Musharraf’s government in 2004. There was speculation then that she might marry the then prime minister Shaukat Aziz, but instead she married businessman Firoze Gulzar. She later stood as a PPP candidate in the 2008 elections and was appointed as finance minister in the new PPP-led government. She won many admirers for her stylish clothes and designer bags during her visit to India last year where the two countries made significant progress in improving their relationship.

Pakistan: Monsoon rains, flooding kill 422 people

Associated Press
Monsoon rains and flooding killed more than 400 people across Pakistan during the rainy season this year, authorities said Friday. Pakistan suffers every year from flooding caused by massive monsoon rains that sweep across the country late in the summer and cause rivers and streams to overflow. The National Disaster Management Authority said 422 people have been killed and nearly 3,000 have been injured during the season of heavy rains. About five million people have been affected by the resulting floods, according to statistics that were posted on the authority's website. Sindh province in southeastern Pakistan was the hardest hit with 239 deaths. An official with the authority, Maj. Iftikhar Ahmed, told The Associated Press that the rainfall this year was significantly less than in 2010, when catastrophic floods put one-fifth of the country under water and killed 1,985 people. Last year 443 people were killed in flood-related incidents. Pakistan has in recent years struggled to cope with the chaos, caused by the rains and flooding around the country. Authorities have often relied on international help to provide those affected by the floods with food, water and housing. UNICEF called on international donors to provide $15.4 million to help protect people affected by the flooding over the next three to six months. In a statement Friday, the UN agency said it has been helping with supplies of drinking water to people affected by floods in the provinces of Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh. "Some of the affected children are living in areas that are experiencing devastating flooding for the second or third time over the past three years, and these new floods have disrupted their recovery," said UNICEF Pakistan Deputy Representative, Karen Allen. As Pakistan struggles with another natural disaster, the country is also trying to suppress a violent insurgency in the northwest. A senior police officer died Friday while defusing a roadside bomb in Peshawar, a city that is considered the gateway to Pakistan's volatile tribal regions, from which violence often spills over into its streets. Hakam Khan rushed to the city's Matni neighborhood after being alerted that insurgents had planted two bombs near a road, which is used by security convoys, traveling to the Khyber tribal region, said senior police officer Fazal Mola Dad. Khan successfully defused one bomb, but while he was working on the second one, it exploded. Khan had played a key role in battling militants and defused dozens of bombs in recent years, Dad said. __

Pakistan to be a horrid place for children and minorities

A report from a child protection group has termed Pakistan to be an unpleasant place for kids to grow. The report has been prepared by a child rights organization known as Society for the Protection of the Rights of the child (SPARC). According to their mission statement, “the child advocacy group promotes and protects the rights of children and strives to empower them by using international standards as a yardstick through assistance supported by research, awareness raising, service delivery and human and institutional development.” The report has raised the issue of under age marriage, neonatal deaths and religious discrimination against children. The report states that the country has seen increased maltreatment against children with the passage of time. With Child labor already prevailing at the highest level within the country, the report highlights other issues that have been used to continuously molest children rights. The findings of the report shows a rather awful picture of children rights. According to the report, the infant mortality rate stands at 70 per 1000 live births, with more than half attributed to the neonatal period. The under-five mortality rate stands at is 87 per 1000 live births. The report findings with respect to child abuse cite 2,747 children from different parts of the country being subjected to various forms of violence and abuse. The issue of underage marriage has also been highlighted within the report. According to the report, seven percent of girls were married by the age of 15 years and 24% by the age of 18 years during the period of 2000-2010. This underage marriage has also been highlighted with respect to marriage of underage Hindu girls in order convert them to Islam against their will. The report also features issues of persecution and discrimination against minorities. According to the report, Non Muslim girl children are subjected to forced conversion to Islam via abduction and rape. The report even goes further to state that these forced conversions are carried out at the behest of religious parties.

Pakistan: Rumours of pigs and plots dog polio fight in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

It took three months and 30 visits from UN aid workers to convince Haidar Khan to let his son have the polio vaccination. The day before he relented and allowed Yahia to take the two drops of vaccine, he almost came to blows with the Unicef staff trying to inoculate the four-year-old against the disease, which can bring paralysis in a matter of hours. Like thousands of parents in the northwest, Khan had heard and believed the rumours and conspiracy theories about the vaccine, which have helped the country maintain its unenviable status as one of only three nations in the world where polio is still endemic. “I heard that the vaccine contains pig, that it’s haram (forbidden in Islam),” the 27-year-old Khan told AFP at his stall in Peshawar, surrounded by crates of fizzy drinks. “Sermons from the mosque loudspeakers said it was an American conspiracy to damage our children.” There have been 30 confirmed cases of polio in Pakistan this year according to the government, 22 of them in the tribal areas of the northwest, bordering Afghanistan. Pakistan had a total of 91 polio cases last year, but the battle to convince people in the tribal areas, where education is limited and deeply conservative values hold sway, is a tough one. Doctor Syed Irfan Ali Shah, 28, spent two years raising awareness among the local population and now heads the local Unicef team in Peshawar. “We are welcomed because every member of my team is a local, well known in his neighbourhood,” he said. “Trust is built up, and it is usually at the end of a number of visits that we manage to persuade the families.” People in the area were already deeply distrustful of foreign intervention, and suspicions soared even further last year after the CIA used a hepatitis inoculation programme as cover to try to find Osama bin Laden. The CIA used Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi to set up a hepatitis drive in Abbottabad – where Bin Laden was later found and killed by US special forces – in the hope of obtaining DNA samples to identify the al Qaeda leader. The episode made people all the more suspicious of vaccination, but campaign worker Zain Al Abedin said it was not the only reason people refused to give their children the drops. “Massive illiteracy creates all sorts of fantasies. I’ve heard everything – the vaccine makes you sterile, it gives you AIDS, even that we urinated in it!” he said with a rueful smile. Fighting between government troops and tribal militias in the northwest, as well the Taliban banning inoculations in protest at US drone strikes, have also hampered efforts to fight the disease. In July officials said the problems were jeopardising more than 350,000 children in the tribal areas. To improve matters, Unicef has tried to rally influential religious leaders to the cause. In the poor Peshawar neighbourhood of Yakatoot, as naked children play in stagnant water, a team with a fatwa or religious ruling approving vaccination try to persuade a young father, Noor Zamin. But his brother, a member of a religious group, steps in. “I have made scientific studies on this. I cannot say what I discovered, but the vaccination is anti-Islamic,” he says, stroking his beard, before asking the aid workers to leave. In a small mosque in the neighbouring area of Sadiqabad, the mufti Fidah refused to give a fatwa backing the vaccination. “On one side, the United States and the Westerners bombard us with their drones, and on the other one they want to inoculate our children,” he said. He was convinced “there is necessarily something bad” in the vaccine, but Shah the doctor says the cleric is softening his position, bit by bit. Will he agree to the next vaccination campaign, in October? “Inshallah,” he says: if God wills it.

Pakistan: Putin’s visit setback

It had taken 65 years for any Russian President to decide to visit Pakistan. However, for ostensibly some pressing issues at home, President Vladimir Putin wrote to President Zardari that he could not attend the quadrilateral summit scheduled to be held in Pakistan amongst Russia, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan on October 2-3. That the summit to discuss Afghanistan in the backdrop of the US’s withdrawal by 2014 stands cancelled has set off an array of speculations about the actual reasons that may have made the Russian President change his mind. Soon after independence, Pakistan allied itself with the US-led west, leading to the visit to the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, being cancelled. This preference to the west’s friendship over the USSR soured relations between the two countries over time, especially when India and the USSR closed ranks and the latter was on the receiving end of the decade-long resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Things have changed radically since the end of the Cold War. The retreat of the US-led west from this region is increasingly persuading regional countries to look to each other for handling problems and enhancing economic, political and security cooperation as can be seen in the developing SCO bloc. President Zardari has taken relations between Russia and Pakistan forward. Realising that Pakistan’s energy requirements can be addressed with the assistance of Russia, which is one of the largest producers of oil and gas in the world, Pakistan reached out to its giant northern neighbour, with the result that Russia has shown interest in projects like the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, apart from involvement in the project to export electricity from Tajikistan to Pakistan. The IP gas pipeline is still subject to delay due to US hostility towards Iran. However, Russia is undeterred and is ready to offer financial and technical support to the project. Russia’s only caveat is that it be awarded the contract without international tendering. Russia is also willing to assist Pakistan in oil and gas exploration and the modernisation and expansion of the Steel Mills originally set up by the USSR. It is being speculated that Putin might have decided to postpone his visit to let the issue of the blasphemous film run out of steam. Some believe that Putin wants Mr Zardari to first visit Russia in order to clarify that it is not Russia but Pakistan that is seeking economic cooperation between the two. Whatever the cause of the visit’s cancellation, in the aftermath of US forces withdrawing from Afghanistan, the region’s countries are groping their way to a new closeness to effectively tackle common problems such as terrorism, poverty alleviation through mutual economic cooperation, and maintaining peace after the scars of the conflicts afflicting the region heal. Though Putin’s visit would have been a game changer in the region vis-à-vis Pakistan’s image, one setback should not discourage Islamabad from continuing to pursue a new and beneficial architecture of cooperation with Russia and the region as a whole.

Pakistan: DISCOs fail to recover Rs 232.78b

Numerous electricity distribution companies (DISCOs) have failed to recover a collective amount to the tune of Rs 232.78 billion from consumers belonging to both private and government sectors until July this year. According to documents available with Pakistan Today, the Lahore Electric Supply Company (LESCO), providing electricity to Lahore, Okara, Sheikhupura and Kasur areas, had a total of 0.435 million defaulters from whom LESCO failed to collect dues worth Rs 7.97 billion until July. Of these 0.435 million defaulters, 4847 belong to the government sector and owe Rs 3.546 billion to LESCO. The Gujranwala Electric Power Company (GEPCO) failed to collect Rs 2.466 billion from over 2,500 defaulting consumers belonging to the government sector and 0.249 million from the private sector from Gujranwala, Gujrat and Sialkot areas. The Faisalabad Electric Supply Company (FESCO) providing power to Jhang, Sargodha and Faisalabad also failed to recover Rs 880.80 million from 0.296 million consumers. The documents made available to Pakistan Today showed that a total of 0.720 million consumers owed the Multan Electric Power Company (MEPCO) Rs 3.765 billion. Of these, 8,000 defaulters belonged to the government sector who failed to pay Rs 1.255 billion to MEPCO that supplies power to Multan, DG Khan, Vehari, Bahawalpur, Sahiwal, Rahim Yar Khan, Muzaffargarh and Bahawalnagar. Until July, the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (PESCO) also failed to recover Rs 42.501 billion from its 0.840 million defaulters. Of the above PESCO defaulters, 8,000 belonged to the government sector who collectively owed Rs 5.566 billion. PESCO also had to recover Rs 36.934 billion from a total of 0.832 million consumers. The Hyderabad Electric Supply Company (HESCO) failed to recover an amount of Rs 31.717 billion from 0.468 million consumers. Of these, 11,000 were government employees. The Sukkur Electric Supply Company (SEPCO) failed to recover Rs 48.593 billion from 0.461 million consumers belonging to Sukkur, Ghotki, Khairpur, Ranipur, Rohri, Larkana, Larkano, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Dadu, Mehar, Naushero Feroze, and Moro areas. The Tribal Areas Electricity Supply Company (TESCO) providing electricity to FATA Peshawar, FATA Bannu, FATA Tank Div, and FATA Circle had to recover Rs 32.110 billion from 0.434 million consumers until July. The Quetta Electric Supply Company (QESCO) had 0.230 million defaulters until July this year from whom it had to recover Rs 50 billion. Four thousand of these were government employees who still had to pay Rs 3.77 billion to QESCO. The Islamabad Electric Supply Company failed to receive Rs 12.78 billion until July from its 197,000 defaulters. Of these, 191,000 belonged to the private sector, who owed IESCO Rs 496 million. Of the total IESCO defaulters, 5633 belonged to the government sector Rs 12.287 billion. From its defaulters in Rawalpindi, IESCO had to receive a total amount of Rs 6.19 billion from 66,464 defaulters. Of these, 64,819 were private consumers who failed to pay their dues worth Rs 210 million to IESCO, while 1,645 were government employees who had to pay Rs 5.986 billion until July this year.

Alarming debts of Pakistan

Every penny of debt beyond the threshold of 90 per cent of GDP results in decline of economic growth by at least one per cent because this deficit financing, the worst form of economic management, causes raises in budget deficit and inflation. At a time when external and domestic debt has risen to a colossal Rs4.3 trillion, twice the size of annual revenue collection, the national economy is extremely sluggish. This is the main cause of the recent European recession as several EU states, including Greece, Italy, Belgium and Ireland have obtained heavy debts without matching collaterals. But Pakistan’s economic managers seem to have learnt no lessons as they added another Rs37.5 billion to the distressing debt by auctioning Pakistan Investment Bonds on Wednesday making every Pakistani indebted to an amount of Rs 61,000. A State Bank of Pakistan report says that the outstanding amount of all such bonds floated so far touched the pinnacle beyond Rs4 trillion on Aug 31 this year. This means that at least this much debt has been added by the successive governments to the country’s outstanding liability. And yet, this government has been trying to obtain more loans from world donors which, however, refused to oblige Islamabad owing to the country’s poor economic management. Pakistan is now a classical example of bad economic governance (undoubtedly political also) as fiscal deficit as ranged between seven and eight per cent although international lending agencies have been urging Pakistan to bring it down to four per cent. The IMF even entered a programme with Pakistan to bring the deficit down and extended a loan of more than $11 billion but no results were achieved. Pakistan has not been adhering a fiscal discipline and all the economic policies are ill-conceived and priorities are also not determined judiciously. Economic managers probably prefer an easy, unrealistic and apolitical approach of begging for more loans for every scheme rather than mobilizing internal resources. This is an obvious outcome of not making efforts for the revival of state-owned enterprises and not reforming the revenue receipts and make revenue collection equitable by bringing in all groups and individuals eligible to pay to the tax net. This is a matter of serious concern as situation might become unsustainable as bulk of resources would be consumed on debt servicing and nothing would be left for development and pro-poor spending. Practically, this is a political probleem because almost all in the ruling elite do no pay due taxes. They cannot be taxed as the rulers lack political will and the intent of socio-economic development of the country seems a distant scheme of things. With parliamentary elections approaching, any remedy seems a distant probability. One fails to understand all this money has gone and how this debt is going to be repaid. The value of Pakistani rupee has fast eroded during the last four-and-a- half years and is feared to soon touch Rs100 to a dollar. Are we heading to Zimbabwe like situation where 100 billion Zimbabwean dollars can buy only three eggs?

Nawaz Sharif corruption references

The application filed by the National Accountability Bureau calls for the reopening of three corruption references relating to Hudabiya Paper Mills, Ittefaq Foundries and Raiwind assets in which members of the Sharif family are allegedly involved. Today’s proceedings over the NAB chief’s application were carried out in the accountability court of judge Chaudhry Abdul Haq. During the proceedings, an assistant of Khawaja Harris Ahmed, a senior counsel for Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif, apprised the court that a hearing over the quashing of an FIR over the references was to be held at the LHC’s Rawalpindi bench on Oct 1. The counsel’s assistant requested the judge to postpone the hearing until the said date. The judge subsequently adjourned the case’s hearing to Oct 10. Earlier on Sept 15, the same court had stopped its proceedings on the corruption references after the Sharifs’ counsel submitted a restraining order of the Lahore High Court to it. Barrister Maqsooma Bokhari, representing the Sharif family, had informed the court that a division bench of the LHC had in its order restrained the accountability court from proceeding till the matter was adjudicated by it. In October last year, the LHC acting on a petition by the Sharifs had stopped the federal government from going ahead with the matter. The order, however, had not issued any such directive for the accountability court at the time. NAB references against Sharifs The NAB had prepared the references during the Musharraf regime in the year 2000 when the Sharif brothers were detained in the Attock Fort. On April 4, 2001, the references were adjourned sine die. On Aug 8, 2007, the NAB filed an application for revival of the references. But the court did not proceed with the matter which was again adjourned sine die in Aug 2008 because it was not routed through the NAB chairman. Another application filed by the NAB in Feb 2010 was rejected on the same grounds. In its references, the NAB accused the Sharifs of committing Rs642.743 million worth of corruption in the Paper Mills case. The second reference – the state versus Nawaz Sharif, etc. – relates to the Raiwind assets. The main allegation is that the accused had acquired vast tracts of land upon which palatial houses and mansions were built with resources which appeared to be grossly disproportionate to their known sources of income. Apart from Nawaz Sharif, his mother is an accused in this case. In the state versus Ittefaq Foundries case, Nawaz Sharif, Abbas Sharif and Kamal Qureshi are accused of committing corruption of Rs1,063 million. The main allegation in the case is that Ittefaq Foundries Ltd obtained cash finance from the National Bank. According to the NAB, the company wilfully defaulted on the amount in 1994.