Friday, October 5, 2012

The First Balochi Magazine For Girls

The Baloch Hal
With the recently launched magazine, Dazguhaar (female friend), Balochi literary journalism entered into a new phase. It is the first female touch in the realm of Balochi literary journalism and the latter had to await the former for around six decades. Prior to this magazine, the entire episode of Balochi literary journalism was dominated by male editors and contributors. Female writers were barely visible in literary journals. Most probably they were hesitant to be a part of such a male-dominated literary world. Dazguhaar is launched by Shaheena Shaheen a student and co-founder-cum-chairperson of Dazguhaar Chagirdi Demrawi Dewaan, an organization aimed at arousing awareness and sense of responsibility among women about their critical role in the society. As the team of Dazguhaar is inexperienced and novice in the parched land of Balochi literary journalism, they would probably not be conversant with the hurdles often faced by the editors of Balochi magazines in this field. For example, financial constraint has always served as the main roadblock in the way of regular publication of Balochi literary magazines. Over the last six decades, a score of literary periodicals appeared and majority of them fated to be short lived only because they failed to receive a fair quota of advertisement from the government. Advertisements, undoubtedly, serve as the oxygen to any magazine and without it no newspaper or periodical can survive especially in this day and age of high inflation. Today most of Balochi literary periodicals are striving to survive upon commercial advertisement and the nascent Dazguhaar is no exception. However, what is more relieving in the aura of despondency is the fact that the first issue of Dazguhaar has successfully attracted a wide chunk of readers. Most of the contributors of the this issue are youngsters and newcomers yet they are well aware of the happenings in the society. Moreover, they seemed critical of the rigidity of the Baloch society and its apathy towards female education. The only way towards women empowerment is more educational opportunities. Aside from young writers, pages are also assigned to the writings of late Ain. Ain Dashti, Sabeeha Karim and Zahida Raieesi. Zahida, who moderates the popular Balochi site, is a known figure in Urdu literary circles, lately switched to Balochi literature and soon emerged as a new voice on the social media. A few selected gazals and a free verse of Zahida in this issue further testify her poetic sensibility. Female touch had been missing from the domain of Balochi gazal since the demise of Banol Dashtiyari and while reading Zahida one may feel that she has the potential to assume the mantle left by Mrs. Dashtiyari as a poetess. Andleeb Gichki’s Ey Chinal Pada Sabzeet stands as a must read among the short stories. Its metaphorical touch distinguish it from other stories published in this issue. It is reassuring to see a group of young Baloch female writers to unite under one umbrella. Nonetheless, they still have a long distance to travel in the male-dominated world of Balochi literature. The challenge ahead of them is to prove their literary acumen which they are certainly capable of accomplishing.

Pakistani Taliban deny offering protection to PTI peace march

A statement issued by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Friday denied all news reports of the militant organisation offering protection to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) South Waziristan rally and called the rally an attempt by Imran Khan to “increase his political height”. Spokesperson Ahsanullah Ahsan said in the statement that TTP was a theoretical organization based on the fundamentals of Islam which practices all its matters in the light of Islamic orders. “As Imran Khan is a liberal, secular person and so is his party, we deny all baseless news stating that we have offered to provide him security for his so-called peace rally,” said Ahsan. The statement further said that the “mujahideen” were not so worthless that they would be deployed “to protect a westernised and secular personality”. “Imran Khan’s so called peace march is not in sympathy of drone-hit Muslims; instead it is a try by him to increase his political height,” said the TTP spokesperson, adding that they, therefore, did not need any sympathy from him. The statement also said that they would not reveal their plans against anyone as that would be against “military tactics”. Ahsan further said that TTP has divided Pakistani politicians into two categories, both of which were “slaves of the West”. “One are those who remained in power after coming into the being of TTP; they have cleared their enmity to Islam and Mujahideen by their actions like PPP, MQM & ANP etc,” said the statement, adding: “The others are those who have not yet gotten a chance to be in power like PML-N, and PTI etc; who are secular and slaves too, but we have put a scale of enmity against them conditional to their coming into power.”

Court to start proceedings against Hamza Shahbaz

A civil judge on Monday decided to start proceedings on a petition against the second marriage of Hamza Shahbaz, son of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, after his he failed to appear before the court, despite an announcement in a newspaper for the purpose. Civil Judge Ghulam Murtaza Opal passed the order on a petition filed by Ayesha Ahad, who claims to be the wife of Hamza Shahbaz. During the course of the proceedings, the petitioner’s counsel informed the court that neither Hamza Shahbaz and Dr Rabia nor their counsels had appeared before the court and he asked the court to start ex-parte proceedings. The court, upon hearing the arguments, decided to hold ex-parte proceedings and adjourned the matter till October 9. The petitioner, in her petition, alleged that Hamza Shahbaz was planning to contract another marriage with Dr Rabia. She pleaded before the court to take action against Hamza because he had not asked for her permission before marrying again.

Russia supporting Pakistan’s bid for SCO membership

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on Friday said that Russia is in favor of Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project. Briefing Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, she said that Russia and Pakistan have same views on Afghanistan. She told the committee that speaker of Russian parliament would soon visit Pakistan. The minister said that Moscow was also supporting Pakistan for the membership of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). To a question regarding recent visit of UN delegation on missing persons, she said that the UN delegation compiled a positive report. She said that Pakistan was taking issue of human rights as a challenge. The standing committee passed a resolution, condemning non-implementation of Pakistan-India visa agreement.

Taliban warns Imran Khan of SWA rally

The Taliban warned Tehrik-e-Insaaf Pakistan not to go ahead with the rally or face consequences. The Taliban distributed a pamphlet in Tank, the gateway to South Waziristan, and termed Imran Khan as an agent of the United States, Britain and Israel and alleged that the cricketer-turned-politician is politicising the issue and has no sympathy for the poor tribesmen. Interestingly, the pamphlet has been issued from an unknown Taliban group Jaish-ul-Mujahedeen-al-Khilafat. Imran Khan s party is planning to lead a convoy from Islamabad to South Waziristan on October 7 to protest against US drone strikes and has said that no one could stop the peace march, adding that Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari would be directly responsible for any untoward situation. The one-page pamphlet, written in Urdu, was distributed in Tank Bazaar on Thursday night. It said, "We inform all and sundry with humble way that Imran Khan/TIP is taking a rally into South Waziristan with a slogan of anti-drone. (He has no sympathy with the tribesmen) actually it is a drama and he is the agent of Israel, US and Britain. On the politics of drone he is promoting the Jewish and agendas of Christianity (in Pakistan)." The pamphlet further added, "We humbly request the people not to participate in this rally otherwise Imran Khan would be responsible if something unpleasant happens."


Protesters begin to gather in Amman Islamic Action Front moves ahead with pro-reform rally despite king's decision on Thursday to dissolve parliament.
Hundreds of people have begun to gather in the Jordanian capital of Amman for a pro-reform rally, despite King Abdullah's decision to dissolve parliament one day earlier, a move the monarch hoped would head off a large protest. At least 2,000 police had been deployed for the demonstration which was due to follow the main weekly Muslim prayers. The rally is being organised by the Islamic Action Front, the Jordanian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood and the country's main opposition group. The group is predicting a turnout of as many 50,000. King Abdullah had hoped that dissolving the parliament and calling for early elections would weaken enthusiasm for the protest. The king did not announce a date for early elections, but said he hoped to hold polls by the end of 2012. A demonstration in support of the king was called off over fears of unrest as it would have coincided with the opposition rally, organisers said. "We have postponed indefinitely our demonstration scheduled at the same time as the Muslim Brotherhood's to avoid any problems," said Jihad al-Sheik, head of an internet-based youth group that organised the event. The cancellation came "after a request to that effect from the director of general security, Hussein al-Majali, MPs and tribal leaders" to prevent unrest. 'A tremendous miscalculation' The Brotherhood and a coalition of tribal and other groups have been pressing the monarch to speed up what they consider to be the slow pace of political reform. They are also angry with an electoral law passed last July, which preserves a system that marginalises the representation of Jordanians of Palestinian origin, on whom Islamists rely for their support, in favour of native Jordanians, who tend to support the king. The opposition says it will boycott upcoming elections, as it did with the 2010 poll, unless its demands for wider representation are met. Numerous other demonstrations have taken place in Jordan since January 2011 to call for political and economic reforms and demand an end to corruption. In an exclusive interview with AFP news agency last month, the king said a decision by the Islamists to boycott the vote was "a tremendous miscalculation." "As constitutional monarch, my mandate is to be the umbrella for all political groupings and all segments of our society, and as part of that responsibility, I am telling the Muslim Brotherhood that they are making a tremendous miscalculation," he said. "The countdown to the elections has already started. Registration is under way. We have already crossed the one-million person mark. Parliament will be dissolved. The elections date will be announced. And we will have a new parliament by the new year." King Abdullah has ordered parliament to increase seats reserved for party candidates, urging the Islamists to take part in the polls. MPs raised the number from 17 to 27, but failed to satisfy opposition groups.

‘Suppliers of arms to opposition want to destroy the Syrian people’

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki States that send arms to Syria face upheavals and unrest due to sectarian violence, their stability will be in jeopardy and the state of affairs will be no better than in Syria, warned Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki in an interview to RT. "He who starts a fire will be destroyed by fire in the end,” Al-Maliki stated, predicting that sponsorship of the Syrian opposition will backfire on supporting states. RT: What do Iraq and Russia have in common in terms of their approach to the Syrian crisis; and do you think the two countries can come up with a joint proposal on how to settle it? Nouri Al-Maliki: Of course, the crisis is a matter of serious concern both for the countries in the region and for the world’s major powers. And it’s not only countries – this issue has been on the agenda of many international organizations. We have repeatedly said that we take the Syrian crisis as our own problem. It is a very important country, with its own political position. We did warn everyone earlier – and keep reminding – that the fire that started in Syria will spill over the borders to engulf other countries of the region and, in the end, it will have a global impact. The Middle East is one of the major energy producers of the world. Just like Russia, we believe that the use of force cannot be a solution to the crisis. Many other countries now share this approach, even those that used to think that supplying arms to the opposition would be sufficient to generate regime change. They now recognize that it is impossible to settle the Syrian crisis through the use of force. This is also Russia’s position. Russia, Iraq and many other countries are united in their conviction that force will not end the crisis in Syria – we need to look for a peaceful solution through political dialogue. It is our joint task – I mean Iraq, Russia and the whole international community – to help both sides find common ground, to agree on a mutually-acceptable form of government. This new government must be based on the principles of freedom and democracy. The Syrians must have the right to vote, they must have a Constitution. These are the things that the Syrian people demanded when they started the revolution. But of course, not everybody in Syria agrees with these demands, some groups don’t think that reforms are needed. We’ve heard different statements and demands. Of course dialogue will continue, because we are very much concerned about what’s going on in Syria. We have been seriously affected by the situation in Syria. We have experienced some spillover effects of the Syrian crisis here in Iraq. We will discuss this issue with our Russian counterparts; we will talk about possible ways to make existing initiatives effective, including the original peace plan put forward by the Arab League, as opposed to the flawed proposals made during the sessions of the ministerial committee and the Geneva agreements. According to them, there is no military solution to the conflict. The agreements call for an end to arms supplies both to the opposition and the regime. Unfortunately, a number of states ignore these initiatives and continue to send arms to Syria, which only makes the situation worse. This is where Russia, Iraq, China, and many Muslim and Arab countries in the region agree. It is our duty to address this issue and try to find ways out of this turmoil which, we are afraid, might turn into a fully-fledged regional war. RT: How would you assess the calls by some countries, especially Arab countries that have the support of the West, for military intervention in order to resolve the crisis in Syria? NM: I’d give them a piece of brotherly advice: “Forget it! He who starts a fire will be destroyed by fire in the end.” Those who want Syria to follow this path have to understand that it will destroy the Syrian people. This is what’s happening in Syria right now. Cities lie in ruins, the war rages on and is likely to spill over involving new actors – international, regional, religious and political ones. If they care about themselves and their people, if they seek stability and security, if they care about Syria and its people, they have to stop sowing the seeds of discord by supplying arms. They also have to stop thinking it will be them who will shape Syria’s future. I met with several representatives of the Syrian opposition and I felt they understand the threat that is coming from the Arab forces that provide them with weapons. These forces openly declare that they want to interfere in Syria’s affairs. But the Syrian nation is against it. RT: Do you share the view that it’s foreign interference in Syria’s affairs that’s made the situation in the country so dangerous? NM: Absolutely. And they will keep driving it to an even more dangerous degree until eventually it will backfire on the states that are now sponsoring the Syrian opposition. All these states will face upheavals and unrest due to sectarian violence, foreign interference, the spillover effect and expansion. They’re already feeling it. If these countries keep sending arms and using force for a regime change, their stability will be in jeopardy, and the situation inside these countries will be no better than in Syria. RT: What do you think about the “national partnership government”? Is this the best form of governance to help to move Iraq forward or are there any negative aspects that make that government less effective? What do you think of “the majority government”, something many other countries rely on? NM: A partnership government has exhausted both its capacity and agenda. It was necessary during previous stages, but not any longer. Right now everyone, even the people of Iraq, feel that the regime of national partnership keeps our hands tied, hinders our development, stands in the way of the breakthrough that Iraq could make in the development of infrastructure, the services sector and economic recovery. We hear more and more voices now, in our society and in parliament, calling for a shift to a majority government, to make parliament united so that it can pass decisions and laws that would help to rule the state; because right now the government is paralyzed. It can’t do anything. The partnership originally built to pursue a major breakthrough has now degraded to a partnership that generates obstacles. Because of that we need a majority government, and I am working hard to make it a reality. RT: Both the Iraqi government and its citizens still suffer from regular terror attacks. Who is behind this violence – international players interfering in your affairs or Al-Qaeda militants opposing the political process? Or are there any other reasons that the Iraqi people are not aware of? Why is it so hard to take out these armed groups that are still out there? NM: Violence continues and it’s been down to all the factors you have mentioned. Foreign intervention is fully underway. What they want to do is to use these acts of violence to prepare for the next, post-Syrian stage. It’s the same states that are now interfering in Syria. They are sending arms and militants there, over and over again. Their goal is to change Syria, then Iraq, and ultimately the entire region. Also, Al-Qaeda is back, it came to life again – regrettably, as part of the Arab Spring. It flooded the streets in the capitals of Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen. Its slogans, groups and terrorist attacks are clear signs of its revival, and Iraq couldn’t escape that. And those states that are interfering won’t escape it either. But the really embarrassing thing is that the national partnership government cannot be effective in the fight against terrorism. That’s the problem. When your partner supports both security measures and terrorist acts, you get problems. I wouldn’t like to go into detail now. I am only saying that this is one of the downsides to the national partnership. How can we expect security agencies to control the situation when the government’s own money, arms, transport, and the nature of the government are used to support those seeking to carry out terrorist attacks? RT: Mr. Maliki, when Iraq was about to buy F-16 fighter jets, Iraqi Kurds, along with some neighboring states, including the Gulf countries voiced their concerns over the future deal. Are these concerns justified? And can they be allayed? NM: They are totally unsubstantiated. These people might still have old stereotypes of Iraq that go back to the times of dictatorship that were characterized by reckless operations, wars and invasions. Some regimes, both big and small, still have expansionist ambitions. Sadly, they have learned no lessons from Saddam Hussein’s experience. He had it all: troops and offensive capabilities, but the end of his career was a disaster. These people still believe that just like in the past, Iraq is still capable of invading its neighbors, concocting conspiracies, attacking other countries like Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia or slaughtering people in its southern or northern regions. But today Iraq is a different country. It does not wage war on its own people. The Kurds who believe that Iraq is taking up arms to fight them are seriously deluded. These talks are no more than political maneuvering used to make up for the mistakes and failures of the past. These countries are aware that present-day Iraq has nothing in common with the dictatorship of the past. It is a democratic country which is against the use of force, as set forth in the laws adopted by its parliament. Generally speaking, our main principle is non-interference in the affairs of other states. But we would like this to be a two-way street. But the reality is that Iraq is located in an arms-infested region. All the neighboring states have impressive arsenals of modern weapons. Even the smaller states in the region have more weapons than Iraq, a large state with a rich history. Iraq is entitled to self-defense, so it has the right to use different armaments to protect its sovereignty. And so it can have the same weapons as other countries who claim they need the same weapons as Iraq to defend their sovereignty. I would like to allay their concerns by saying that Iraq is not interested in offensive weapons, only defensive ones. Indeed, we would like to have very strong defensive weapons to repel any attack on Iraq’s sovereignty. But primitive weapons won’t be enough. What we need is something very strong and absolutely sophisticated to counter any possible aggression. This would make anyone who plans to breach our sovereignty to think twice before attacking Iraq. RT: Mr Prime Minister, as commander-in-chief, when do you expect Iraq’s armed forces to reach combat readiness in terms of the size of personnel and materials? NM: We already have the number of troops that we need, but we are still working on the list of weapons and hardware. We are receiving weapons supplies from the US, former Soviet nations and possibly from Russia, too, in line with the contracts that we signed earlier. However, we expect to ensure maximum defensive capabilities by 2020, according to the plans we have at the moment. By that time we expect to re-equip the armed forces with powerful weapons to protect Iraq on land and in the air. So currently we would still be able to defend the nation but our capabilities need to be maintained and further improved.

Thousands of Turks Protest against Erdogan Government's Policies

Thousands of Turkish citizens in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities on Thursday protested against the policies adopted by the government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which is increasing tension in the region and thus threatening security in implementation of western agendas that do not serve the interests of the Turkish people. In Istanbul city, thousands crowded in the main Taksim Square in response to calls by a number of left-wing parties raising a large banner with "No to War" written on it, accusing Erdogan government of exploiting the accident on borders with Syria to mobilize the public opinion to support its anti-peace policies. The protestors chanted slogans condemning the US and its support to terrorism in the region, stressing that the AKP is dragging Turkey into an imperialist war by proxy under Washington's instruction. In Ankara, hundreds of citizens gathered in front of the Parliament building denouncing the current government's subjugation to the western policies and being a tool in the aggression on the peoples of the region in contradiction with the Turkish interests. The Turkish citizens stressed their keenness on preserving best relations with the Syrian people, reiterating rejection of turning their country into a base for terrorists who commit murder acts in Syria. Amid the chanting, members of the Turkish police tried to separate the protestors by force through beating them and firing tear gas at them. Deputy Leader of the Republican People's Party, Muharrem Ince, said Erdogn's government has shown no reaction or moved a finger when Israel killed 9 Turkish citizens on board the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara ship. "Our stance is clear. We don’t want war against anyone and we don’t want to be a tool in the hands of anyone," he stressed.

How are religious minorities faring in Pakistan?

Extremist Islamist groups in Pakistan are said to hold more sway in society than the government; they are believed to be behind the growing persecution of religious minorities. Right now, things are calm in the poor neighborhoods of Pakistani cities. Few signs remain that just a few weeks ago there were violent protests over an film made in the US considered to be anti-Islamic. One resident of a suburb of Islamabad, Amin Nasir, however, recalls being so afraid that he fled the area with his family. It was the day that rumors were making the rounds that a neighbor, 14-year-old girl named Rimsha had allegedly burned pages containing verses from the Koran. She was later arrested and then released on bail until her hearing. Christians, of which there are a few hundred in the neighborhood, were struck with mortal fear when they heard the accusations."Around midnight an announcement came over the loudspeaker at the mosque: Leave the area or we will burn your houses down," another local resident said. Amin Nasir did not hesitate. He packed a few things and fled with his four children and his wife to Gojra, his hometown. Gojra - the town which a little over three years ago became a hot spot when rumors of a Koran desecration spurred a mob of masked men to torch dozens of homes belonging to Christians along with a church. "I saw it with my own eyes at the time - everything. I saw how the houses in Gojra burned," he said. Religious minorities under pressure That was the first time that Amin Nasir fled; that time it was to Islamabad. Now, he has become a refugee for a second time. It is not easy being Christian in Pakistan, notes political expert, Hasan Askari Rizvi."Religious minorities are under pressure. Not from the government, but rather from these extremist Islamic groups - extremist religious leaders. And most of the time, the state is not able to protect them," Rizvi explains. But it is not just the Christians that the extremists show intolerance toward. Even worse off are other minorities. Ahmadis, for example, are not even recognized as Muslims. Shi'ites, too, are constantly the victims of attacks, Amir Rana from Pakistan's Institute for Peace Studies points out. "What the majority believes, and what mainly the clergy provoke, is that Ahmadis are agents of Mossad, Christians agents of the CIA and Shi'ites stand by Iran – and they see them as traitors. This is a common narrative. This reflects how the majority thinks, it reflects in our common behavior in daily life." Religion - the last straw? What is clear is that Pakistani society as a whole has become more religious in recent years. The mullahs have gained more influence perhaps, too, because Pakistanis, in view of all the terror, war and their devastated economy, are grasping at the last straw - religion. The most audible sign of that, says Rana, is the anger over the anti-Islam video.A common view held by Pakistanis even considered to be liberal on a number of issues is that anyone who insults the Prophet deserves to die. The problem for minorities in Pakistan is that it's all too easy to point a finger at someone for allegedly defiling the Koran or vilifying Islam, since minorities are generally suspected of being traitors in disguise anyway. Pakistan's constitution still contains a dicey paragraph banning blasphemy. "There have been complaints that these blasphemy laws are being used for dealing with other purposes - for property disputes, for business disputes, against poor Christians - especially the poor ones," Rizvi explains. As is so often the case, religion in Pakistan, like elsewhere, is used as an excuse to push through economic or political agendas. Liberal voices in Pakistan, however, are quite certain that not much is going to change any time soon as far as the blasphemy law is concerned. Even a public comment in the past that the law should be amended or rewritten was enough to endanger life and limb. The religious hardliners are the ones dictating the debate in Pakistan - and they have the weapons.

Afghanistan - searching for hope 11 years on

A coalition of international forces marched into Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. Eleven years later, many in Afghanistan and elsewhere are disappointed with the war that started out with such good intention. American and British troops went into Afghanistan to drive out the Islamist Taliban terror regime. They were later joined by an international coalition of troops under NATO's command. And it did not take long to throw the jihadists out of power and out of the country. Afghanistan, and most of the international community, celebrated the mission as a 'good war' that was meant to serve the liberation of the Afghan people. Ahmad Shah, a resident of the Afghan capital, Kabul, remembers vividly:"On the day the Taliban were driven out, people took on a different awareness. It felt like a rebirth. At every corner of the city people were dancing. Beards were shaved off, hair was cut. For everybody it was if we were born again." Flush with optimism The new beginning was full of optimism. The country's development moved forward rapidly. A new government was installed and girls went back to school. For the Afghans, the new range of possibilities seemed endless. Shah Hussain Mortazavi, a political analyst and journalist for a well-known Afghan daily, thinks that Afghanistan in the last few years, compared to the rest of its history, has witnessed many achievements."We have a modern constitution, a legitimate president, an elected parliament, a lively media landscape, press freedom is improving and there is an active civil society. Instead of just one voice, society is speaking with many voices," Mortazavi told DW. Shaky security But not everyone sees the developments in Afghanistan as positive. Many Afghans complain about a societal regression and failures of the international community. In particular, the tense security situation is a key reason why many Afghans, like Akhtar Mohammad from the Taliban stronghold Kandahar, have lost much of their initial optimism and now reject the Afghan mission. "Nobody has any work here and you see many young people without jobs. We hoped that factories would be built for us to create jobs, but instead we're unemployed," Mohammad explained to DW. "There are schools but the students are not learning much. The teachers are not teaching properly because they don't earn enough. The few schools there are, are in the city and not in the [outlying] districts. In all of Kandahar, we only have one hospital and it's supposed to serve four other provinces. When the foreigners cut off their funding, this hospital will also close." Worried about the future With the scheduled withdrawal of international forces, beginning in 2014, many Afghans fear that the situation will get a lot worse. Akhtar Mohammad said he was concerned about security and a possible civil war which could erupt after the pullout. The new Afghan state is not functioning very effectively, nor is it particularly democratic, according to Thomas Ruttig, an Afghanistan expert with the Afghan Analyst network. Eleven years later, things were not very positive, he said. "The warlords have the upper hand and many people feel excluded. The Afghan government and the various components belonging to it are also exerting a lot of brute force, which, in the polarized atmosphere, leads to many people to choose the Taliban as an option." For a number of people, the euphoria that came with the collapse of the Taliban regime has dissipated. The withdrawal of NATO troops in 2014 leaves many wondering what will happen to the country that 11 years ago had looked to the future with so much optimism.

Global Food Prices on the Rise, U.N. Says

Global prices for meats, dairy products and cereals resumed rising last month, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported Thursday, adding to concerns that developing countries may face food shortages. The agency said that on average, prices rose 1.4 percent in September, after remaining steady in July and August. Scorching heat and drought in the United States, Russia and Europe constricted agricultural production and pushed up prices of corn and soybeans to record highs, the report said. The largest increases were for dairy products, which rose 7 percent in September, their sharpest climb since January 2011. Higher feed costs were a major factor in the increase, and also helped to drive meat prices up 2.1 percent, especially in the “grain intensive” pork and poultry industries, the report said. Cereal prices rose 1 percent, and the food agency forecast a decline in global cereal production this year. Despite the recent price increases, the agency’s overall food price index, which measures monthly price changes for a basket of goods including cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar, remains below the levels it reached in 2011, when high food prices led to unrest in the Middle East and northern Africa. But, adjusted for inflation, the index is now only 13 percent below its levels of 2008, when food costs set off riots in several countries. After the release of the food agency’s report, Oxfam, a nonprofit international aid group, called on governments to tackle the root causes of food price volatility. The price index “shows that food prices remain at extremely high levels,” the group’s spokesman, Colin Roche, said in a statement. “The fact they are relatively steady is no cause for celebration. Governments must ensure that these high prices do not tip more vulnerable people into hunger. We cannot afford to sleepwalk into the next food crisis.” Oxfam also released a report on Thursday, saying that rising food prices have helped drive a global land rush that is undermining the rights and livelihoods of the poor and the most vulnerable people. The Oxfam report said that foreign investors have invested heavily in recent years to acquire agricultural land in developing countries with serious hunger problems, but that most of the investors plan to use the land to grow exclusively for export, not for domestic sale.

Kabul: Great game reset

When news of Russian Prsident Vladimir Putin’s October visit to Pakistan raised eyebrows all around, a Russian diplomat’s throwaway line over how mistaken one was, and that, in fact, Pakistan and Russia had a lot more in common than everyone thought, seemed more wishful thinking than fact. That India and Russia could be on opposite sides of the Afghan spectrum, unthinkable some years ago, was reinforced when the still sharp former ISI chief Gen. Asad Durrani was received with much fanfare in Moscow this September, becoming the first Pakistani spymaster to ever visit Russia, let alone speak at the Carnegie Moscow Centre. Russia’s former intelligence chief Vyacheslav Trubnikov, part of Politicontact, a forum of experts, reportedly said Mr Durrani’s visit had brought the “right man at the right time” to Moscow. Delhi- and Pakistan-watchers perforce sat up and took notice as speculation rose that ambassador Durrani was in Moscow for exploratory talks ahead of the Putin visit, and the equally unusual first foray to the Russian capital by Pakistan’s topmost military official, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, that would follow in October. Mr Durrani, of course, took great pleasure in the mail that he sent out on the visit, where he corrected Russian analysts who mistakenly described him as the “father of the Taliban”, to suggest in fact that he did much more than play midwife. Indeed, the Intel chief was responsible for not just taking Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan to the next level, but also in cementing his country’s place in the brotherhood of the Gulf states, through whom the first Islamic state in Afghanistan was set up. That Mr Putin has now cancelled what would have been the first visit by a Russian President to Pakistan maybe something of a setback. Many suspect Delhi — whose relations with Moscow have run aground on a number of issues, including the delayed delivery of the refitted aircraft carrier the Admiral Gorshkov, rechristened the INS Vikarmaditya — prevailed on the Russians to scrap the visit. Either way, Rawalpindi’s strategy to ensure the vacuum left by an American drawdown in 2014 and a presidential election that could see the exit of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is not filled by yet another US proxy who leans towards Washington — and Delhi — is now largely shared by Putin’s Russia. More so as the US remains reluctant to spell out what its role in Afghanistan will be after the 2014 drawdown. In the long term, the US would like to set up a military base, and a robust missile defence system in Afghanistan that keeps neighbouring Iran and the Central Asian states, and in the main, a nuclear Pakistan, beset by its own fundamentalists bent on setting up an Islamic state, under check. The impact of Russia stepping away from bac-king India on Afghanistan is therefore significant. Russia, long India’s main-stay in the proxy war that played out between a Russia-India-Iran backed Ahmad Shah Masood and the US-Pakistan golden boy Gulbuddin Hekmat-yar, saw its own humiliating drawdown after pro-Soviet President Najibullah was strung up from a lamp post by the vengeful Pakistani-backed Taliban. That Russian strategists are willing to look beyond that event, and reach out to Pakistan, resets the new “Great Game” in the region. This is Russia’s attempt to reclaim influence in the Central Asian states in the face of Washington’s determined efforts to keep Russia out, while actively bringing Tashkent, Dush-anbe and Ashgabat, and now Georgian Tbilsi, into Nato’s ambit. Demonstrably obvious when you look at the ease with which Nato, for instance, continues to rent the Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan, committed to building alternative routes to supply US troops in Afghanistan after Pakistan blocked all access for months, as opposed to a Russia, una-ble to persuade Tajikistan to part with a military base. The coming together of Russia and Pakistan is also down to Russia — rightly or wrongly — believing that it is worth risking an ally in Pakistan bringing an Islamist Taliban regime to power in Kabul. Given the Taliban’s past linkages with the likes of Uzbek Islamic guerrilla leader Juma Namangani, a similar powerful Pakistan proxy could control the rise of fellow Islamists in the Central Asian states that border Afghanistan, and make it possible for Russia to open up trade routes across the Cau-casus, the Caspian, the mineral rich Hindukush and be given access to Pakistan’s warm water ports. For Pakistan, which has been unable to quiet suspicions that it runs with the American hare but hunts with the Taliban hound, ties with Washington have never been more patchy. The India-United States-Afghan trilateral on the sidelines of the UN last week therefore underlined Washington’s concerns over Pakistan. Clearly, Washington has decided to put its weight behind India’s reconstruction efforts as part of its own bigger plan to set up a self-sustaining Afghan economy when it exits, as US peace talks with the so-called moderate Taliban to ensure Afghanistan does not go the way of Iraq, fall into disarray. Afghan officials close to the US-Taliban talks, which have been held on and off in Doha this past year, even attempting to close the deal with a prisoner swap, have noted how they have been undermined by Pakistan’s efforts to derail talks by assassinating respected figures like former Afghan President Ustad Burhanuddin Rabbani, while arming Taliban groups that systematically prey on American troops. That India’s greater role in Afghanistan will rile Pakistan, despite protestations to the contrary by its charming foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, is a given. But can India itself, aware of the Islamic peril knocking on its neighbours’ doors, live with the US putting a pro-Taliban face as its authority of choice in Kabul instead of a true friend of India like Hamid Karzai, is the real question.

Karzai Accuses U.S. of Duplicity in Fighting Afghan Enemies

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, on Thursday accused the United States of playing a “double game” by fighting a war against Afghan insurgents rather than their backers in Pakistan, and by refusing to supply his country with the weapons it needs to fight enemies across the border. He threatened to turn to China, India and Russia for those arms. He also accused the Western news media of trying to undermine the confidence of the Afghan people by publishing articles suggesting that a civil war and economic collapse might follow the departure of NATO troops at the end of 2014. However, he also promised, using his strongest words to date, that he would step down from the presidency and that there would be an election. “No circumstance, no foreign propaganda or intervention and no insecurity can prevent the election from happening,” Mr. Karzai said at a news conference. It was the second time in recent days that Mr. Karzai had sounded angry and resentful over the policies of his American partners, and his comments Thursday were among his most pointedly critical in recent years, Afghan analysts said, suggesting that the always rocky relationship between the countries is hitting a new low. Mr. Karzai touched on a number of similar points in an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes” on Sunday. “NATO and Afghanistan should fight this war where terrorism stems from,” Mr. Karzai said on Thursday, alluding to the havens in Pakistan where the Taliban take refuge. “But the United States is not ready to go and fight the terrorists there. This shows a double game. They say one thing and do something else. “If this war is against insurgency, then it is an Afghan and internal issue, then why are you here? Let us take care of it. “But if you are here to fight terrorism, then you should go to where their safe havens are and where terrorism is financed and manufactured,” he said. He also expressed frustration about the lack of sophisticated weapons from NATO countries, saying, “Are we going to wait and do nothing, or should we buy them from Russia, China, India or other countries?” The relationship between Afghanistan and the United States has been on a downward slide since midsummer, shortly after a conference in Tokyo at which Western countries pledged $16 billion to support Afghanistan through 2015. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, with whom Mr. Karzai had built a strong relationship, left for health reasons. His replacement, James Cunningham, lacks the same history with the Afghan leader. Gen. John R. Allen, the NATO commander as well as the American commander for Afghanistan, also does not have an especially close relationship with Mr. Karzai, although the two talk regularly. In August, a tense and unpleasant dispute began between the countries over the terms for handing over Afghan prisoners at the American-run detention facility in Parwan. With most prisoners handed over, the Americans halted the remaining transfers in September after indications that the Afghans might release some of the most dangerous ones. The Afghans were furious and charged the Americans with breaking the terms of a memorandum of understanding on the handover. It took a lengthy phone call by President Obama to Mr. Karzai to get discussions back on track. Then, eight Afghan women were killed in American-led airstrikes as they collected firewood in a remote area of eastern Afghanistan. At the same time, the frequency of insider killings of Western troops by Afghan security forces was undermining the relationship between the American and Afghan soldiers on the ground. These developments, along with a lack of clarity about American policy after the November presidential election, appear to have enraged Mr. Karzai. His remarks Thursday suggest that he is not sure whether he can count on the Americans, analysts said, and he is trying to leverage some commitment from the United States regarding Afghanistan’s future. “He is tremendously confused about our interests and priorities,” Stephen Biddle, a professor of defense studies at George Washington University, said in a telephone interview. “Sometimes it sounds like Karzai thinks we want Afghanistan as a kind of aircraft carrier in Central Asia to use to attack our enemies in the region. “He doesn’t have a very clear picture of what we are after, so he flops around between various fairly extreme ideas of American interest, because what he has seen from us is so inconsistent.” Afghan analysts emphasized that Mr. Karzai was speaking to Afghans and trying to reassure them that he was not a tool of the Americans and Europeans, even though they still hold the country’s purse strings. “By lashing out at the West and the U.S., the president is trying to send a message to the people of Afghanistan that he is not a puppet of the West,” said Khalil Roman, an analyst based in Kabul.

Pre-poll alliance with PPP possible: ANP

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Information Mian Iftikhar Hussain has said that Awami National Party and Pakistan People’s Party enjoy very cordial relations in the centre and any pre- or post-poll alliance is possible between the two parties. He was talking to media persons at Peshawar Press Club on Thursday. New developments in politics are possible any time, he said while commenting on a statement of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa PPP president Anwar Saifullah Khan that his party would avoid alliance with ANP and contest coming elections on its own. Mr Hussain said that President Asif Ali Zardari had been consulting ANP president Asfandyar Wali Khan while taking any decision on any important and relevant issue. About the local government ordinance recently approved by Sindh Assembly, the minister said that the ANP had opposed the ordinance and its MPA resigned as minister and preferred to sit on the opposition benches. Commenting on the scheduled peace march of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf to South Waziristan Agency, Mr Hussain said that it was a bold step taken by PTI chairman Imran Khan to hold a rally in the restive tribal region. However, he said that the party had also invited foreign media and members of civil society organisations and it was rather very difficult to provide them security.

NRO Implementation Case: Naek presents amended draft of letter in court

The Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC) resumed hearing of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) implementation case Friday where Federal Law Minister Farooq H. Naek presented the final draft of the letter to be sent to Swiss authorities for the re-opening of graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari and others, a private TV reported. A five-member bench of the apex court headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa was hearing the case. During the hearing, Federal Law Minister Farooq H. Naek presented before the court the amended draft of the letter to be sent to Swiss authorities. The law minister said the letter has been amended in accordance to the directives of the court. Naek moreover requested the judges to review the letter’s draft and inform in case they had any reservations over it. Subsequently, the judges retired to their chamber to review the draft of the letter and a recess was announced in the hearing. On Sep 18, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf told the Supreme Court that the government has decided to withdraw a letter sent out during Pervez Musharraf's tenure to close graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. Accused of graft, President Zardari was granted amnesty under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) in 2007 by then president Pervez Musharraf to facilitate his return home from exile, and primarily that of his wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Both were suspected of using Swiss accounts to launder about $12 million in alleged bribes paid by companies seeking customs inspection contracts in the 1990s. The NRO that granted immunity to politicians and bureaucrats in corruption cases was struck down by the Supreme Court as void in 2009. The apex court in January ordered former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen cases against Zardari. Gilani was convicted April 26 of contempt of court, and was disqualified as prime minister as well as parliament member on June 19.

Great Urdu novelist Razia Butt passes away aged 89

Razia Butt, a premier Urdu novelist passed away at the age of 89 after a prolonged span of illness; her funeral prayer will be offered after Asr prayers, SAMAA reports Friday. She was ailing for past few days and was under medical treatment at a DHA hospital. Razia Butt was born in Rawalpindi on May 19 1924. She is known as the first-ranked novelist of Pakistan, as her stories not only provide recreation but also impart lessons for the society. The great novelist authored around 51 novels and 350 short stories including Bano, Dastaan, Najia and Saeqa that are considered her best literary works. Several of her novels were picked for television dramas and films. Her funeral prayer will be offered in Defence area of the city.

HANGU: Two suicide bombers killed

One of the Taliban groups’ two suicide bombers were killed when they blew themselves up on Friday here, Geo News reported. Hangu DPO Dr. Niaz Saeed Ahmad said that the rival Taliban group’s two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the house of a Taliban commander Maulana Nabi Hanfi at Sarakdna, which resulted in the death of the bombers and complete destruction of Maulana Hanfi’s house, police said. Parts of bodies have been found from the scene of incident, said the police. Following the incident, the entire area was cordoned off and investigation started..

Pakistan:PMRC study reveals 19.7% students smoke shisha

A study conducted by Pakistan Medical Research Council (PMRC) Thursday revealed that prevalence of shisha smoking among college and university students aged 20-25 years in the country is 19.7%.
The study was conducted in 71 educational institutions. Overall prevalence of shisha smoking in this study was 19.7%, out of which, 29.8% were males and 10.4% were females. According to the report, shisha smoking is started at the age of 17-18 years in 57.2% and about 75% started shisha smoking in the year 2009-10. The highest trend of shisha smoking is 28.1% in federal Capital and lowest is in Peshawar, 11.2%. According to permanent place of residence mentioned by the students, highest trend was in Islamabad (36.3%), and lowest (6.6%) in Azad Jammu Kashmir. The study revealed that according to professional background, highest trend was in Engineering institutes (29%). In this study, pleasure seeking was the common reason of shisha smoking among 7.1% students, while 11.1% were influenced by their friends. It was also found that 23.8% students smoke shisha just for enjoyment. About 12.1% smoked in shisha cafe, majority preferred flavour of double apple and mint. Around 12.1% students stated that shisha is less harmful than cigarette smoking and 3.3% students mentioned that smoke is passed through filter. When contacted, Executive Director PMRC, Dr. Huma Qureshi said age, gender, socio-economic status and cigarette smoking are the important predictors for shisha smoking. Knowledge regarding shisha smoking is tremendously low, attitude is poor and majority considers the practice safer than cigarette smoking, she said.

Pakistan: IMF shows a growing wariness

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) seems to be quite unhappy with the performance of Pakistan's economy. According to a news item carried by Business Recorder on 3rd October, the IMF is very much concerned about the country's fiscal framework in the face of growing gap between revenues and expenditures. In a two-day policy-level talks on Post-Programme Monitoring (PPM) of the Stand-By Arrangement (SBA), which concluded on 2nd October, 2012, the Fund challenged the authorities' projections of revenue collection of Rs 2.381 trillion, arguing that revenue collections for the current year are expected to remain Rs 2.2 trillion. The amount of subsidy allocated for the energy sector is insufficient to cover the losses in the power sector. The inability to reform the energy sector poses a serious challenge to economy's growth prospects. The low gas prices, which had brought the rate of inflation to a single digit is also not a healthy sign. The country director of the Fund was also worried about election-specific expenditures by Federal and provincial governments, increased borrowings for deficit financing, reduction in credit space to the private sector and their impact on the prospects of growth. Apprehensions were also expressed about mechanisms to bring the provinces on board regarding commitments with the Fund, especially after the passage of 18th Constitutional Amendment. Chairman, FBR is reported to have defended the tax amnesty scheme and tried to allay the concerns of the Fund about the challenges in its enforcement. He stated that the tax amnesty scheme was expected to be implemented in two months to bring 3.8 million people into the tax net. The representatives of the State Bank were, however, not satisfied with the investment situation and role of the banking sector and also showed concern about the evolving balance of payments position. The concerns shown by the IMF during talks on PPM of the SBA, in our view, are quite genuine and need to be thoroughly looked into by the top hierarchy of the government. An IMF programme involving the disbursement of its resources together with continuous monitoring of the agreed policy framework is supposed to improve the fundamentals of the economy and place it on a sustainable path of development. The basic idea behind such programmes is to ease the pain of adjustment by making the resources of the IMF available to a member country on a temporary basis and ensure that the country does not only revert to the trajectory of development but is also able to repay the Fund's resources under a stipulated timeframe by improving its balance of payments position. In Pakistan's case, while the country had utilised most of the resources made available under the SBA, it has failed to meet the objectives of the programme and now finds it difficult to repay the borrowed amount under the SBA. The country is obliged to pay dollar 3.4 billion in 2012-13, dollar 3.43 billion 2013-14 and dollar 1.35 billion in 2014-15 to the IMF and most of the analysts anticipate a default situation in the absence of some extraordinary developments like a steep fall in the international prices or another programme with the Fund which could only be concluded with some very harsh upfront conditions. Anyhow, more worrying is the tendency of the concerned authorities in Pakistan to mask the facts and try to paint a rosy picture of the economy. For instance, it seems impossible for the FBR to collect Rs 220 billion a month to meet the yearly target during the remaining three quarters of FY13 when it was able to collect only about Rs 134 billion a month during July-September, 2012. The amnesty scheme which itself could be questioned for a number of reasons would not be able to widen the coverage as expected by the authorities and generate the anticipated level of resources as suggested by such schemes in the past. About energy sector, the less said the better. Its appetite for subsidy seems endless and the improvement in line losses is only on paper as indicated in one of our editorials several days ago. The IMF is right when it says that the country's fiscal deficit during 2012-13 could be as high as 6.1 percent of GDP as against the target of 4.7 percent of GDP. A slight or even a moderate deviation between the projections of the government and estimates by reputed agencies like the IMF was understandable but such a large divergence between the two could be due to the deliberate efforts of the government to disguise the reality on the ground. In our view, such an attempt fools nobody and undermines the credibility of the country which once lost is very difficult to redeem. The wariness shown by the IMF in its latest talks with the government authorities should at least tell us that it is better to be truthful if we want to engage others in a meaningful way and resolve the problems of the economy on a lasting basis. Recognition of the intensity of disease is the first step towards proper treatment and a healthier lifestyle.

Sri Lanka beat Pakistan, reach T20 final

Skipper Mahela Jayawardene led Sri Lanka to their second World Twenty20 final following the hosts’ 16-run victory over Pakistan in the first semi-final at the R Premadasa Stadium on Thursday. Opting to bat first, Jayawardene (42) added 63 runs with Tillakaratne Dilshan (35) but Sri Lanka could not capitalise on the strong start on a sluggish track and posted 139 for four wickets against the 2009 champions. Jayawardene then returned to marshal his bowlers who restricted Pakistan to 123 for seven to earn a place in Sunday’s final against either Australia or West Indies. Captain Mohammad Hafeez (42) top-scored for his team, while Umar Akmal remained not out on 29.

When hundreds of Sikhs lost their homes in Orakzai

The Express Tribune
“It was at 2am on April 29, 2009, when I was informed about a possible attack by the Taliban. We were left with only one option and that was to leave the area because we could not confront them,” said Kalyan Singh, who was the chief of the Sikh community in Orakzai Agency at that time. Kalyan then rushed out of his house and knocked at every door where Sikhs resided and told them to leave the agency as soon as possible. Around 69 families, approximately 500 Sikhs, were residing in Feroz Khail area of the agency. Most of them earned their living from cultivating crops and a few others from small makeshifts at a market, which were barely sufficient to make both ends meet. Kalyan himself was picked up by militants and offered three options: To embrace Islam, to become part of their jihad or to pay a sum of Rs500 million. “I could not even consider the first two options. I was released when residents intervened and the Sikh community paid Rs6.5 million as Jizya (protection money for non-Muslims),” Kalyan said. Residents left the area within half an hour of the warning, leaving most of their valuables behind. “It was like separating my soul from my body because I was leaving an area where I grew up, spent my childhood and more than 50 years of my life.” He paused to take a deep breath and added: “But we couldn’t risk the honour of our women and had to leave.” “Once you are stigmatised, you cannot face people and that is why we left our homes and reached Kalaya, headquarters of the Orakzai Agency, where we took shelter with members of our community.” Apart from Orakzai, around 260 families of the Sikh community in Bara Tehsil of Khyber Agency also migrated to safer places. Some have been living in Mohalla Joga Shah, Peshawar, while others took shelter at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hassan Abad. Harender Kaur and her daughter Ilmid took refuge in Panja Sahib after Harender’s husband Balwant was kidnapped on November 23, 2008. He was killed two days after he was abducted. After his death, the mother and daughter were granted asylum by the Canadian government. Another member of the Sikh community, Mahinder, who lives in Hassanabadal, left Bara when he lost his brother and a relative in a rocket attack fired from an unknown location. “It was Thursday, November 17, 2011. I was home when I heard a deafening sound of an explosion. It was a rocket fired from an unknown location, which hit the shop of my brother Sardar Singh, who died along with one of our relatives in Qamber area of Khyber Agency,” Mahinder said, adding that he left the area following his brother’s death. Mahinder told The Express Tribune that they lived in Bara for years and had never been bothered by the Taliban until then. “We were dependent on agriculture and spend most of our time in the fields, where rockets are fired from militants and security forces. Because of this, we had to search for other means of earning,” Mahinder said. “I moved to Peshawar but could not find a job there. I then had to bring my family here to Panja Sahib Hassanabdal.” When a large number of Sikh families were displaced, the government said it would help the community, but only an announcement was made and no practical steps were taken. Ultimately, it was the United Sikhs, a welfare organisation affiliated with the United Nations, which came to the help of its community. Hardyal Singh, a young volunteer and director for United Sikhs, says most of the displaced Sikhs depend on agriculture and had to leave their fields, houses and established businesses. They were asked to leave the area due to the military operation and were promised help, but no one came forward to assist them, he added. Hardyal said Sikh philanthropists from Pakistan, India, Canada, US and France supported the community through their organisation.

Kayani discusses bilateral defence cooperation with Russian counterpart

Radio Pakistan
Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has held a meeting with Russian Chief of General Staff General Makarov in Moscow. Matters relating to defence cooperation discussed during the meeting. General Makarov expressed his desire to strengthen cooperation with Pakistan Army in all fields. Russian Deputy Chief of General Staff was also present in the meeting.

Pak-Russia ties

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Islamabad and army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s to Moscow should go a long way to erode the uncomfortable impression that was generated when President Vladimir Putin abruptly cancelled his Pakistan trip. That cancellation was certainly a setback. It should be acknowledged. But annihilative too it was not. That is more than evident from these two visits. Lavrov may be visiting Pakistan in response to his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar’s invitation, extended earlier. But the very fact that he is undertaking it soon after the postponement of the Russian president’s visit is significantly meaningful. And that Gen. Kayani has gone ahead with his Moscow visit as scheduled in response to his Russian counterpart’s invitation tells that Pakistan too wants to remain engaged with Russia. Indeed, President Putin had postponed his visit to Pakistan but had not closed doors on it. In his message to President Asif Ali Zardari, expressing his inability to visit Pakistan as scheduled, he had specifically stated that the two would keep meeting on the occasion of international moots. He had even said that the Russians would be very happy to welcome him on a Russia visit. Furthermore, a high-powered Russian delegation came to Pakistan this weekend and signed a raft of MOUs for refurbishing the Pakistan Steel Mills and collaborating in railways and energy sectors. More to the point. An inter-state relationship is a process. Not just high-profile visits, though they hold their own import in this relationship. More important is to build upon convergences and forge a relationship that is mutually beneficial and serves mutual interests. And it appears that both Moscow and Islamabad are consciously working to develop such a relationship by walking clean out of the shackles of the defunct cold war. In the post-cold war dispensation, zero-sum equations have in effect become wholly untenable. And the two countries seem quite in line with this new world order while reorienting their bilateral relationship anew. What is constant even now are the national interests. All said and done, in the ultimate analysis, it is the national interests that determine a country’s foreign relationship. Interestingly, it was for this reason that during the cold war quite a number of countries in the non-aligned community were in fact the most aligned nations, mostly with the bloc led by the dead Soviet Union. They felt that this posturing served their national interests best. And precisely for this reason some countries who were the sworn enemies during the cold war are today the best friends. Even Vietnam that suffered a brutal bloody war at the hands of the United Sates is presently on an intimate friendly terms with it. And we too have to chart out new relationships that are in tune with the imperatives of new times. For too long, we have largely been focused on the United States, even as it has ditched us over and over again, at times very crucial to us. Even now, America figures very high on our foreign relations calculus. This is intrinsically baneful. Our aim should be as broad-based spectrum of foreign relationship as possible. For a change, we should stop putting all our eggs in one foreign basket or two. Since we have no global ambitions, our endeavour must be to cultivate the best feasible bilateral ties with the nations near and afar in conformity with our national interests. If Russia is showing interest in us, we must reciprocate in equal measure. Of course, their interest is not altruistic. But then altruism has no place at all in inter-state relationships. Those are motivated strongly by self-interests. So it must be with Moscow’s interest in us. It may be for Afghanistan. It may be for countering terrorism. It may be for trade and economic factors. Whatever it is, there must be points of convergences that we must explore and exploit to our benefit. Moscow is, in any case, a key world capital. And getting on well with it could stand us in good stead in furthering our interests, particularly in the economic, trade and commerce fields.


Obama fights back after debate setback

A day after a muted performance in a presidential debate, U.S. President Barack Obama fought back against Republican rival Mitt Romney on Thursday and the Democrat's re-election campaign vowed to learn lessons from the setback.
A feisty Obama told a rally of some 12,000 people that the former Massachusetts governor was untruthful during Wednesday's 90-minute debate in Denver, which most observers reckoned the Republican won. "When I got onto the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney," Obama said. "But it couldn't have been Mitt Romney, because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage last night said he didn't know anything about that. Often criticized for being wooden, Romney's aggressive debate performance gave his campaign a burst of energy after weeks of setbacks. Looking at times tired and displeased, Obama did not seize opportunities to attack the Republican on his business record at Bain Capital, the "47 percent" video and his refusal to release more income tax returns. And Romney tried to take the "47 percent" issue away from subsequent debates. In a damaging video from a private fund-raising speech, Romney had said in May that 47 percent of voters are dependent on government and unlikely to support him. Three weeks after the video came to light, Romney completely disavowed the remarks for the first time, telling Fox News what he said was "just completely wrong." "Clearly, in a campaign with hundreds, if not thousands of speeches and question and answer sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right," he said. The debate unfolded before a national television audience of 67.2 million, according to television ratings firm Nielsen, up 28 percent compared with the first presidential debate in 2008 between Obama and Republican Senator John McCain. With two more presidential debates before the November 6 election, senior aide David Axelrod said the Obama campaign would adjust its strategy as a result of the debate. "We are going to take a hard look at this and we are going to have to make some adjustments as to where to draw the lines in these debates and how to use our time," he told reporters. Democratic sources said Obama raised more than $100 million in September in another sign of his financial strength going into the last month of the campaign. Romney prepared for the Denver encounter with days of mock debates and was more ready to go on the offensive against Obama in detailed discussion on taxes, jobs, energy and the budget deficit. Obama is unlikely to add "huge amounts of additional prep time," for the two other debates on October 16 in New York and on October 22 in Florida, Axelrod said. Part of the Obama strategy will be to attack Romney for what the Democratic campaign says are untruthful statements during the debate on his tax plan, Medicare and deficit cutting, as well as pressing him on what appeared to be changes in position on issues like bank regulation. "We obviously are going to have to adjust for the fact of Mitt Romney's dishonesty," senior advisor David Plouffe said. "It's hard to remember a time in American politics when you have someone who is a major nominee for the presidency being that fundamentally dishonest about core parts of his campaign platform." Obama spoke to a large crowd in Madison, Wisconsin, on Thursday afternoon that his campaign said was 30,000 strong. ROMNEY SWAGGER, POLL BOOST Romney had a bounce in his step and confidence in his voice as he addressed more than 10,000 supporters in Fishersville, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. In a sign of the importance of the state for him, Romney appeared together with his vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan. Romney, appearing after country singer Trace Adkins energized the crowd, said the debate offered two different visions for the country. "What you didn't hear last night from the president is why it is the next four years are possibly going to be better than the last four years. He doesn't have a way to explain that, because he has the same policies for the next four years as he had for the last four years," Romney said. The debate win was badly needed by Romney, whose poll numbers had dropped in recent weeks after several missteps and the release of a damaging video showed him disparaging 47 percent of the electorate as dependent on government aid. Going into the debate, Obama held a lead of 5 to 6 percentage points over Romney in most national polls, and is ahead by at least narrow margins in almost all the battleground states where the election will be decided. But Romney is now viewed positively by 51 percent of voters, the first time he has enjoyed a net positive in the presidential race, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken after the debate. Obama's favorability rating remained unchanged at 56 percent. Analysts said they still favored the Democratic president's re-election chances. "Nobody is going to switch sides on the basis of this debate," said Samuel Popkin, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego. With the election little more than a month away, Romney might be running out of time to seize the lead. Voting has already begun in some form or another in 35 states, including in battlegrounds like Ohio and Iowa. "For now, we'll chalk this up as a wake-up call for the president, who still has a vastly superior campaign organization and owns the pivotal issue of Medicare," Greg Valliere, chief political analyst at Potomac Research Group, said in a note to clients. "But this is still a winnable election for Romney and that was the ultimate take-away last night," he said. Obama faces another hurdle as soon as Friday morning, when the monthly jobs figures come out for September, a reminder of the tough economic plight faced by millions of Americans. Economists polled by Reuters expect the unemployment rate to be anywhere between 8 and 8.3 percent, with non-farm payrolls adding 113,000 jobs, up from 96,000 in August. EUROPEAN WORRIES In Europe, where leaders and finance officials have worked closely with the Obama administration to resolve the euro debt crisis, there was consternation at Romney's singling out of deficit-ridden Spain as a poorly administered economy. "Romney is making analogies that aren't based on reality," Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said after a meeting of his center-right party. France's Le Monde was surprised by the sub-par performance of Obama, who wowed Europe with his 2008 election. "Where did the favorite go?" the newspaper asked on its front page. Republicans who were worried that Romney's recent dip in polls might also drag down candidates for the House of Representatives and Senate at the election were relieved. "Republicans everywhere have reason to be optimistic after last night's performance," said Senator Mike Lee, a favorite of Tea Party conservatives who have often been wary of Romney as too moderate. Within hours of the debate, Republicans launched a string of ads hoping to capitalize on Romney's momentum. One had him presenting his plan for creating 12 million jobs. Another, aired in Wisconsin by the Super PAC, Restore Our Future, called on voters to demand better than Obama's "new normal" economy. Romney's support of the coal industry during the debate sent coal company stocks up on Thursday. The Dow Jones coal index was 5.05 percent higher. Shares of U.S. hospital operators fell as Romney's strong showing raised doubts about the future of Obama's 2010 healthcare reform.