Monday, October 8, 2012

Obama camp knocks Romney’s ‘chest-pounding’ foreign policy

President Barack Obama's re-election campaign and the White House defended his handling of world affairs from a scathing attack by Republican challenger Mitt Romney, arguing that the former Massachusetts governor is fond of "chest-pounding" and "saber-rattling." "This is somebody who leads with chest-pounding rhetoric," campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One. "He's surrounded himself with a number of people who were advisers to past President Bush, people who have used saber-rattling rhetoric when it comes to Syria and Iran," she said. "And that's something that we think the American people should take a look at." But she also claimed that Romney's speech at the Virginia Military Institute aimed to "reboot" his foreign policy after a series of troubled attempts—notably a summertime overseas trip marred by verbal missteps. "When you're commander in chief you don't get to bring an Etch A Sketch into the Oval Office. You don't get second chances, never mind seventh chances," she said. (But presidential foreign policy has to adapt: Obama's approach to Iran, for example, went from offering unconditional negotiations during the 2008 campaign to overseeing the toughest economic sanctions regime against Tehran by 2012.) Psaki noted Romney's criticisms of the troop withdrawal from Iraq, saying "that's one of the president's proudest accomplishments." And she scolded the Republican for saying Obama had not signed any trade agreements, calling that charge "absurd" and "inaccurate" since the president "renegotiated" commercial pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama and then signed them. White House press secretary Jay Carney accused Romney of making "an attempt to draw a distinction and to suggest that this president's commitment to Israel's security is not strong." "And yet Israel's leaders themselves have said that military cooperation and support, and intelligence cooperation and support from this president and this administration is unprecedented in the U.S.-Israeli relationship," Carney said. Obama's personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is famously frosty, and Romney is closer to Netanyahu on the Iran nuclear issue. Obama has said he won't rule out the use of military force to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Romney (and Netanyahu) has said the key is preventing Tehran from attaining the ability to build a nuclear weapon. On Iran, "there has been a lot of heated rhetoric and chest-thumping," Carney told reporters. "But every concrete prescription that the president's critics, including Gov. Romney, have put forward—concrete prescriptions that make sense—have been acted on," he said. Psaki and Carney also defended Obama's handling of the broader Middle East. Romney "said that the president and his team are not doing enough when it comes to Syria, when it comes to Libya, and several events in the Middle East," Psaki said. "What exactly are they suggesting we do? What exactly is their plan and their proposal? So if they're going farther, they should say that."

Pakistan: The Madam and the Imam

Last month, the police in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, arrested four women and one man for engaging in prostitution, a crime punishable by up to 25 years in prison. The High Court in Peshawar released them after acknowledging that a lack of employment opportunities often forces women into selling sex. But it also ordered Neelam, who was charged with running a brothel, to attend an hour-long class with a cleric at a local mosque every day for a month. After that the police will assess her moral progress and report back to the court. The ruling provoked jokes in cyberspace: "Hope the cleric stays focused and doesn't become a client," read one comment. But it also raised serious concerns about the Pakistani state's growing deference to religiosity, even at the expense of due process. Liberals are alarmed that Neelam was sentenced to repent without being convicted of a crime and that her guilt may have been assumed: the order that she receive religious instruction was issued during a bail plea, before a proper trial. Defense lawyers also say that the police arrested the accused without obtaining search warrants and produced no written complaints and no witnesses during the bail hearing. Nor were any medical examinations conducted for evidence. Islam is the state religion of Pakistan and the Constitution mandates that laws conform with its principles, but most laws, including criminal ones, are based on British secular law. And yet the Pakistani state is increasingly seeking opportunities to assert its Islamic identity in order to keep in step with the Pakistani public, which is growing more anti-American and looking to defend Islam from perceived attacks by the West. The Peshawar High Court's order against Neelam is worrisome not only because it violates her rights, but also because it will likely embolden extremists and spark more instances of religious vigilante justice. In March 2007, in one of the most publicized cases of moral policing in Pakistan, female students of the Jamia Hafsa seminary in Islamabad abducted three women and accused one of them, Shamim, of running a brothel. They released Shamim only after forcing her to "confess" her sins, publicly repent and vow to devote herself to Islam. That incident along with other violent acts in the students' Islamizing campaign of spring 2007 - the abduction of seven Chinese nationals, the intimidation of DVD store owners and the hijacking of a children's library - led to a major armed showdown in July 2007 between the seminary students and state security forces at the Red Mosque, where the students and the religious extremists who supported them sought sanctuary. Today, however, the state seems willing to mimic, rather than condemn, such actions. In August, after entertaining petitions against "vulgarity" in the Pakistani media, the Supreme Court ordered PEMRA, the media regulatory authority, to define obscene content in order to censor it. PEMRA is considering whether to ask the Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional body that ensures Pakistan's laws comply with Islamic principles, to define obscenity for the purposes of media censorship. The recent court ruling against Neelam comes on the heels of the Pakistani government's naked and opportunistic attempt to burnish its Islamic credentials recently. After announcing a day of protests against the anti-Islam film "Innocence of Muslims" - which the Pakistani prime minister has called "an attack on the whole 1.5 billion Muslims" - it declared Sept. 21 a "day of love for the Prophet" and then sat back while the country erupted on the new holiday. (Protests in Karachi, Peshawar, Islamabad and other Pakistani cities, left 19 people dead.) The government also blocked access to YouTube because the site has not removed the film. The state's zealous, and at times unconstitutional, embrace of Islam is a worrying trend in a country struggling against extremist groups, sectarian violence and routine discrimination against religious minorities. As one newspaper editorial put it, when "a branch of government gets involved in proselytizing," it sets a "dangerous precedent."

Obama Pokes Fun at Own Debate Performance

Love Commandos rescue India's forbidden couples

She was so pretty. He'd take long looks at her during class. When she left school, Dev would ditch just to watch her walk down the hall, push the doors open and glide away. He thought about telling her all the time. But he was too scared. He liked her so much. High school is intense everywhere in this world. India is no different. One day, Dev saw his chance. He approached Lalita's brother. Please give this to your sister, he said, and handed the boy his number. And he waited. Nothing. "I was tortured," he said. "The girl I liked most wasn't calling me. I didn't have her number. I wanted to tell her, 'Lalita, I love you.' " Days went by, and his mobile rang. Hearing her voice stunned him silent for a minute. "Devender, are you OK?" she asked. And they talked, as kids do, sweet and nervous. Pretty soon, they were in love.Eventually, Dev got the courage to tell Lalita that he just couldn't be without her. Will you marry me? he asked. She said yes. But she knew it would never be that simple. Lalita and Dev are from different castes, he from a lower one than she. Lalita knew that her parents would be furious and that they were working on finding someone for her to marry. But she told them anyway, still holding onto hope that they might understand. They didn't. "You will spoil your name!" her parents shouted. Her father threatened to kill them both, and he hit Lalita. "I was disturbed ... listening to (these) words," she said. "The day my father came to know, that night he hit me and tortured me." The two, talking side by side today, recalled what they believed was their only option. "We decided we will die, because we don't have any other way," Lalita said. Then, one afternoon, they caught a popular television talk show featuring an unlikely band of former lawyers and activists who've made it their mission to help doomed lovers. India's Love Commandos, formed in 2010, give couples food, shelter and protection if they run away from their disapproving families. The group has more than 11,000 volunteers across the country who provide legal assistance, man 24-hour help lines and, in some cases, even marry desperate couples. "We have far too many problems in India to worry about someone choosing to love another," said founder Sanjoy Sachdev, who married his wife because he chose to. "How can society object to love relationships?" he asked. "Our young boys and girls have rights. India has become the country of killers of love. "Every couple that approaches us is under so much pressure, so much stigma, where they feel they may be killed any minute." So-called honor killings have surged in India over the past few years, with victims defying traditional Hindu customs. Many of the deaths have been those choosing to marry outside their caste. At least five couples were killed in 2010. But that figure doesn't begin to show what human rights experts say are likely hundreds of reprisals. There are no official figures on honor killings, because they often go unreported or family members pass them off as suicides or natural deaths, according to Human Rights Watch. India's supreme court has issued notices to the national government and several states to protect couples, yet in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh provinces alone, an estimated 900 honor killings occur annually, according to a 2012 report by the U.S. State Department, citing reports from nongovernmental organizations. The Love Commandos stand a chance of accomplishing what officials have failed to do, said Meenakshi Ganguly, the Southeast Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "There isn't a social worker network available to these young people who feel really isolated, so this group could be doing a wonderful thing," she said. The spike in honor killings is partly a result of India's changing cultural norms and a generation fighting to keep things the same. "There's more television, more kids are going to college and blurring the social lines, so that people have a chance now to find a partner for themselves," Ganguly said. Dev and Lalita started their relationship and fostered it through calls on mobile phones. They imagine they'd never have even met if it weren't for them both attending the same school, because they lived in villages that were miles apart. She and Dev called Love Commandos, who are sheltering them in an undisclosed location. When CNN visited Lalita's family to try to get their side of the story, her grandfather shouted that there was no point. Lalita is "as good as dead" to them, he said. She knows she can't go home. Dev says that her family has filed complaints against his with local authorities and that his family and a friend who helped them have been jailed. But the two married, with Love Commandos' help. The group helped them craft a letter to their families, letting them know. They are thinking about the future. Dev said he's going to make sure that Lalita continues going to school. They are happy, they said, and have no regrets. "We are both fine," Lalita said. "If society thinks otherwise, let them."

Chavez expected to boost China links

Analysts say leader will enhance cooperation in trade and energy
Radical reform or change is unlikely to happen during the next term of re-elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, but he will continue to implement policies that benefit the poor and become closer to China and countries in Latin America, analysts said. Official results on Sunday indicated that with 90 percent of the ballots counted, Chavez took 54.42 percent of the vote, beating opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by nearly 10 percent, according to Reuters.The victory will give Chavez, 58, another six-year mandate to pursue his "21st-century socialism" project of greater nationalization and more rights for the poor. "According to Chavez's previous management, he will maintain policies that benefit the poor and make appropriate adjustments," said Zhao Chongyang, an expert on Venezuela studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. But there will not be radical reform or change during his presidency, Zhao predicted. Tens of thousands of ecstatic supporters thronged the streets around the presidential palace in downtown Caracas, pumping fists in the air and shouting Chavez's name. The new term will allow Chavez to consolidate his control over Venezuela's economy, possibly by extending a wave of nationalizations, and by continuing his support for left-wing allies in Latin America and around the world. "Truthfully, this has been the perfect battle, a democratic battle," Chavez thundered from the balcony of the palace late on Sunday, holding up a replica of the sword belonging to Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar, who lived from 1783-1830. "Venezuela will continue along the path of democratic and Bolivarian socialism of the 21st century." Since first winning the presidency in 1998, Chavez has been a highly polarizing figure. He is popular with the poor, but he is also blamed for rising crime, corruption and inflation. Casting himself as an heir to Bolivar, Chavez has devoted large amounts of the country's oil revenues to anti-poverty programs. "I'm celebrating with a big heart," Mary Reina, 62, a Chavez supporter who lives in the hillside slum, told Reuters. "Chavez is the hope of the people and of Latin America," she said. "During his next presidency, Chavez will put more money into building safety nets and enhancing the living standards of his people," said Qi Fengtian, a specialist in Latin American studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. On foreign policy, Chavez is a self-sufficient revolutionary, known for calling former US president George W. Bush "the devil". Qi said Chavez's efforts to be independent will lead him to further improve Venezuela's cooperation with China and countries in Latin America. Chavez's re-election "is good news for China and even for China's relationships with Caribbean and Latin American countries", said Qi. "It will further boost the China-Venezuela relationship and deepen cooperation in energy and trade," said Zhao. China has a great deal of investment in Venezuela, and Chavez's election victory will expand China-Venezuela cooperation in different fields, especially in oil, Zhao said. Since China and Venezuela established diplomatic relations in 1974, the two countries have signed 460 bilateral agreements, 98 percent of which were finalized during Chavez's rule. Despite the jubilant celebration by Chavez's supporters, all eyes will again be focused on his health. Weakened after being diagnosed with cancer last year, Chavez declared himself fully recovered and "totally free" of the disease in July and intensified his campaign. But the possibility of a recurrence hangs over his political future. Chavez has gone through three operations for two cancerous tumors during a year's treatment. He was left bald for a while due to operations and chemotherapy. Any sign of a relapse in Chavez from now on would lead to a succession debate within the Socialist Party. His new term begins on Jan 10.Hugo Chavez Born to a poor family on July 28, 1954, Chavez once aspired to be a painter and then a professional baseball player in the US Major Leagues. His impoverished but happy childhood feeds the folksy anecdotes he uses when talking about politics. A former lieutenant colonel, Chavez spent much of his later military career conspiring to overthrow the traditional political order. He led a 1992 coup against then-President Carlos Andres Perez that failed but launched his political career. After being pardoned, Chavez toured the country before winning a 1998 election and taking office early the following year. In 2002, a group of opposition politicians and dissident troops staged a coup. Chavez was arrested and flown to a military base on a Caribbean island. Two days later, loyal military officers and protests by supporters swept him back to power. Chavez has enjoyed wide backing among the poor majority partly thanks to massive state spending to expand health and education programs, financed by income from oil exports. Chavez announced in mid-2011 that he was being treated for cancer. He had three operations in Cuba, where two malignant tumors were removed, but declared himself completely cured in July, just before the campaign's final stage. Reaction China: Hong Lei, Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a regular news briefing in Beijing on Monday that China offers its congratulations to Venezuela for holding a smooth election and to President Hugo Chavez for winning re-election, adding that China hopes that Venezuela will accomplish great achivements under the leadership of Chavez. Bolivia: Bolivian President Evo Morales said Chavez's victory in Venezuela's latest presidential election is a triumph for "all Latin American peoples who fight for dignity, sovereignty and the right to determine their own destiny". Ecuador: Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa wrote on Twitter: "Viva Venezuela, viva the great fatherland, viva the Bolivarian Revolution!" US: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican lawmaker and head of the House Foreign Relations Committee, accused Chavez of manipulating the election results, saying Chavez had refused to allow international election monitors to observe the proceedings, made last-minute changes to ballots, controlled the country's judicial system, harassed independent journalists and consolidated his power to manipulate the vote in his own favor.

Media attention was only goal of PTI march

Fazl-ur-Rehman says some people are desirous of media projection under the guise of patriotism. Addressing students rights convention organized here under the auspices of Jamiat Tulaba-e-Islam in Islamabad, Maulana Fazl said people of Waziristan know that Imran is the representative of the Western powers. “We have no objection to anybody’s going to Sukkur, Miranshah, Peshawar, Multan, Karachi and Balochistan but the question is that he must have some vision and programme. He said that some people are desirous for media coverage under the guise of patriotism but they must keep in mind that such tactics are insufficient and unsatisfactory to remove stumbling blocks in the way of peace and tranquility. Fazl said that government cannot be run by fraudulent means and tactics. It requires sincere, committed and hardworking rulers to lead the caravan of Ummah, said JUI-F chief. He said imperialist forces had been engaged in a planned manner to seize the resources of undeveloped countries while the international organizations were creating economic upheaval to establish their control on developing states. "The war on terror is in fact aimed at fomenting terrorism," he alleged. Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman said Deoband refers to a concept of a grand Islamic campaign and not for drawing donations for madresahs, which, he added, will need to be prevented from being used for terrorist activities. Abdul Ghafoor Hyderi in his address severely criticized Imran Khan, saying the latter should first take a look at his face in the mirror before claiming to form an Islamic state. "Imran Khan s children are still being brought up by his Jewish (ex) wife," he maintained.

Venezuela's Chavez wins third re-election

Venezuelans re-elected incumbent President Hugo Chavez on Sunday, giving him another six-year mandate to pursue his "21st century socialism" project of greater nationalization. Chavez, who has nationalized ever larger sections of the economy and initiated a wide range of programs benefiting the nation's poor, declared victory in the name of the 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar. Dressed in a signature red shirt, Chavez, 58, led throngs of cheering supporters in celebration from the balcony of his Miraflores presidential palace and pledged to press ahead with a socialist revolution. "Today we've shown that Venezuela's democracy is one of the best democracies in the world, and we will continue to show it," he said, brandishing a replica sword of Bolivar, who was born in Caracas. "Venezuela will continue its march toward the democratic socialism of the 21st century," said Chavez, who won the third re-election in nearly 14 years in office. His new six-year term begins on Jan. 10. Chavez also called on the opposition to unite with him and seek a peaceful future for the South American country. "I would like to thank, first of all, the opposition leadership, because they have recognized the truth, the truth of people's victory," he said. "That is why I begin by thanking them, because we are all brothers in Simon Bolivar's fatherland." "The voice of the majority must respect the voice of the minority. That is the first step towards our living in peace together," he added. A fan of Bolivar, Chavez often says that his policy of expanding nationalization and increasing rights to the poor as a fulfillment of Bolivar's original plans some 200 years ago. Between words, Chavez sang the national anthem to the crowd of supporters, who waved flags and wore red shirts of the Great Diplomatic Pole coalition that Chavez led to power again. The election began at 6:00 a.m. (1030 GMT) and was supposed to close at 6:00 p.m. local time (2230 GMT). Many remained open beyond their planned shutdown because voters were still queuing up to vote. The National Electoral Council said that with 90 percent of the ballots counted, Chavez garnered 54.42 percent of the vote, compared with 44.47 percent for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who represents the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition. Capriles, a 40-year-old law graduate, promptly conceded defeat at a televised press conference, saying that "For me, the will of the people is sacred. And I would like to thank the more than 6 million Venezuelans who placed their trust in me." Chavez's victory speech marked a huge difference to the tone in the campaign, during which his supporters accused Capriles of seeking to destroy the social programs created by the Chavez government. Capriles had been campaigning as a self-style "progressive," which he described was seeking an efficient implementation of social programs, rather than their abolition. However, one of his allies called the programs as a "tremendous drain on the state" and documents leaked to the media ahead of the election day showed that MUD plans to slash eligibility and raise prices for such welfare programs. Chavez received swift congratulations via social media from Cuba, Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia, some of which he read to the audience in the city center of Caracas. Sunday's election was widely considered free and peaceful. Five domestic observer groups and several international observer watchdogs monitored the elections. Some 19 million Venezuelans were eligible to vote. Voter turnout was an unprecedented 81 percent, compared to 75 percent in 2006. Local television showed citizens queuing outside polling stations from as early as 5 a.m. local time. The election was praised for its transparency and efficiency. Around 90 percent of the vote was counted by 10 p.m. thanks to automated voting systems across the nation. Voting machines were also laid out in a so-called "horseshoe" in most polling stations, a shape that allowed five people to vote secretly at the same time. As Venezuela's youngest president at the age of 44 in 1998, Chavez embarked on reforming the constitution and reducing the power of Congress and easily won the 2000 election. An opposition attempt in 2004 to oust him in a recall referendum was defeated by popular vote. Elected to a second six-year term in 2006, Chavez then won a 2009 referendum that abolished the two-term limit and enabled him to run indefinitely.

Bahraini court refuses to free human rights activist Nabeel Rajab
A Bahraini court has rejected a request from Nabeel Rajab’s defense team to suspend his sentence and release him from jail. The Human rights activist is serving three years term for “participation in illegal demonstrations.” The request was made by Rajab's lawyer, Mohammed al-Jishi. Nabeel Rajab is expected to appear before the Bahraini Appeals Court on October 16. Meanwhile, Rajab went on ”dry” hunger strike on October, 6, after he was allowed out of jail for three days to bury his mother but then was suddenly barred in the first day from attending a condolence gathering. Bahraini authorities claimed that Rajab was not allowed to stay out of prison longer because he violated the terms of his release and "delivered a speech inciting mourners to stage illegal protests". However Rajab argued that his speech was a "peaceful expression of opinion." Rajab has been in police custody since July 9, and on August 16 a lower Bahraini court sentenced him to three years for “involvement in illegal practices, inciting gatherings and calling for unauthorized marches through social networking sites.” The court has recently satisfied the lawyers’ request to merge Rajab’s three cases related to his participation in rallies into one single appeal. The three-year sentence followed a three-month prison term, handed down to him on Jul9th, for posting anti-government messages on Twitter. In August, Rajab was cleared of defamation, winning his legal battle against the three-month sentence for allegedly r criticizing the country’s Prime Minister on Twitter, where Rajab has over 170,000 followers. Rajab is a fierce critic of the Bahraini authorities and a prominent international human rights activist. He is a member of the Advisory Committee for the Middle East Division of Human Rights Watch. He is also one of Bahrain’s best-known bloggers. A position that hasn’t deminished, despite his prison term. Bahrain has been repeatedly criticized for violence and repression towards opposition activists. Thousands have been arrested and put on military trial since the uprisings began a year ago. The country’s Shiite opposition is pushing for a transition to democracy and greater representation in the country’s Sunni government. Despite Washington’s calls for Bahrain to negotiate with the opposition, clashes continue to erupt on a daily basis in the turmoil-afflicted nation. Amnesty International says a total of 60 people have been killed in Bahrain since the violence began on February 14, 2011. The Bahraini interior ministry says that more than 700 people, including a number of police officers, have been injured in protests.

'Saudi weapons' seen at Syria rebel base

BBC News has uncovered evidence that weapons intended for the Saudi military have been diverted to Syrian rebels.
Three crates from an arms manufacturer - addressed to Saudi Arabia - have been seen in a base being used by rebel fighters in the city of Aleppo. How the small crates reached Aleppo is unknown, and the BBC was not allowed to film their contents. Saudi Arabia has refused to comment on the matter. Separately, Turkey is calling for "international action" on Syria. For a sixth day in a row, Turkey has returned fire across the border after a Syrian shell fell on its territory. Turkey would continue to do everything necessary to protect its borders, President Abdullah Gul said on Monday, adding that the "worst-case scenarios" were now taking place in Syria. No-one was hurt in the latest incident, near the town of Altinozu, in Hatay province, the Turkish semi-official Anatolia news agency reported. Last week, a Syrian shell killed five Turkish civilians in the border town of Akcakale. Meanwhile, fighting has intensified around the central Syrian city of Homs. Syrian troops launched an assault on Homs, advancing into a rebel-held district after four days of bombardment. "The army is in the midst of trying to cleanse the last rebel districts of the city of Homs," a Syrian army commander told the Associated Press news agency. Unknown route:
The crates of ammunition found in an Aleppo mosque were made by the Ukrainian firm Dastan, which specialises in naval weapons and missile complexes. What was in the crates is unknown, says the BBC's Ian Pannell, who has been in Aleppo, as is how they ended up there. But their presence clearly suggests that someone in the Gulf is actively helping the rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, our correspondent says. When contacted by the BBC, Saudi officials refused to comment. The BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner says Saudi Arabia generally prefers to conduct its foreign affairs through low-key, behind-the-scenes discretion. The apparent discovery of Saudi ammunition in a Syrian mosque could attract unwelcome attention, he adds. Privately, opposition sources have confirmed to the BBC that they are receiving assistance from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The New York Times reports that Saudi and Qatari officials are sending small arms to the rebels, but are holding off sending heavier equipment, such as shoulder-fired missiles. This is in part because they have been discouraged by the United States, which fears the heavier weapons could end up in the hands of terrorists, the newspaper says. Meanwhile, in a speech on foreign policy on Monday, US presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said that if elected, he would back Western-friendly elements among the Syrian rebels. Extracts of his speech released by his campaign include the following pledge on Syria: "I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad's tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets." The UN has warned of rising tensions and has urged those supplying weapons to both sides to stop doing so. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said tensions were increasing in the region, adding that he was "deeply concerned" by the continued flow of arms to both sides, despite international embargoes. "I urge again those countries providing arms to stop doing so. Militarisation only aggravates the situation," he told the World Forum for Democracy, in the French city of Strasbourg. Syria is not on the agenda at this week's meeting of Nato foreign ministers, but in an interview with the BBC, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Turkey - a Nato member - could count on solidarity. Nato had no intention of interfering militarily in Syria, he said, but plans were in place to protect and defend Turkey if necessary.

Anti-regime protesters rally in Saudi Arabia’s Qatif region

Tens of thousands of Saudi protesters have held a massive anti-regime rally in the Qatif region of Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province, Press TV reports. Chanting slogans against the Saudi authorities, the demonstrators turned out in Qatif late on Sunday to condemn the regime’s suppression of dissent. Late last month, Saudi forces killed three people and wounded several others while searching for an activist wanted by the regime. The kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province has been rocked by anti-regime protests since last year. Since February 2011, protesters have held demonstrations on an almost regular basis in Saudi Arabia, mainly in Qatif and Awamiyah in Eastern Province, primarily calling for the release of all political prisoners, freedom of expression and assembly, as well as an end to widespread discrimination. However, the demonstrations have turned into protests against the repressive Al Saud regime, especially since November 2011, when Saudi security forces killed five protesters and injured many others in the province.

Zardari: Present Government has empowered women

Radio Pakistan
The President says strengthening of parliament has been his first priority during the entire tenure President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday urged for utilizing the great economic potential and strategic location of Pakistan coupled with rich mineral resources and skilled manpower for the economic development of the country and welfare of the people. The President said this while addressing office bearers and members of the Young Presidents' Organization at the Aiwan e Sadr in Islamabad on Monday night. He said that the Special Economic Zone Bill‚ 2012 was a gigantic step of the government to create business and investors friendly environment and expressed the hope that the new law will help in reducing the cost of doing business‚ enhance the rate of return to investors besides increasing exports and creating employment opportunities in the country. Under the new law all capital goods‚ machinery and equipment will be given one time exemption from customs duties and the entrepreneurs will also be exempted from Income Tax for ten years‚ the President said and added that the incentives granted to investors will be protected by Law‚ which‚ he said will help ensure continuity of economic policies and further strengthening the industrial base of the country. President Zardari urged the Young Presidents Organization and the World Presidents Organization to take advantage of the new law as well as other incentives‚ the government was extending to investors and entrepreneurs. The President while welcoming members of the Young Presidents' Organization from all over the country to the Presidency congratulated the YPO on the launch of their Islamabad Chapter today. He also congratulated the chair of the Islamabad chapter‚ Hunaid Lakhani and all office bearers and expressed his liking for the motto of the YPO organization‚ which "Better Leaders through Education and Idea Exchange". The President said that education is critical to human development‚ adding that Indeed it is education and innovation that makes advancement possible. He said that the pyramid of knowledge was not built in a day rather it was built brick by brick by mankind over centuries in the past. The President said 'Knowledge is common heritage of mankind and peoples of all nations and communities have contributed to the building of this pyramid as it does not belong exclusively to any one nation or any geographical area''. He urged that we must therefore share knowledge and experience with one another. The President said that we must not seek to re-invent the wheel‚ Instead we should build on the experience of those who first invented the wheel and noted that this principle also applies to the world of business and commerce. The President said that the Young Presidents Organization and the World Presidents Organization are large and important networks as its members are committed to share their experiences and knowledge with one another‚ which he said‚ will benefit all its members. The President appreciated that YPO-WPO generates annual revenues of over five trillion dollars and employ more than 15 million people worldwide‚ thus making it an extraordinary global network. The President said that the government was keen to create an environment that is conducive for entrepreneurship as the success of entrepreneurs' means economic development and creation of job opportunities and called upon YPO-WPO for its positive contribution in this regard. The President expressed confidence that YPO-WPO business leaders are ready to help shape Pakistan's future and urged the YPO-WPO Pakistan Chapter to employ their skills in the service of the country. He said that Let everyone remember that whatever we have achieved today is due to what the country has given us and let us try to repay a little fraction of what the country has given to us''‚ the President said and further remarked that the present government on its part was striving hard and has taken a number of steps to facilitate business and economic activity in the country despite various challenges on various fronts. The government has laid the foundations of strong economy and have focused on promoting regional trade and regional connectivity as Pakistan geo strategic location between the two largest markets of the world‚ i.e China and India‚ has immense potential for trade and economic growth‚ the President said. He said that the war on terror has hugely impacted country's economy‚ trade and investment. The President said that he lost his wife‚ Shaheed Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto in the war on terror‚ but urged the young leaders not to give up hope but continue working for the prosperity of the future generation and help the government in this regard. The President urged for working together to find new avenues for economic growth and empowering women of the country as Pakistan cannot progress unless our women are empowered. The President stressed for extricating the poorest from the poverty cycle and said that government has launched a major drive against poverty including the Benazir Income Support Programme‚ which is supporting millions of poor families across the country. The President urged for joint efforts to find ways to promote education and to banish illiteracy and intolerance besides creating a positive business environment in the country. He stressed the need for working together to transform the life of every Pakistani for the better and expressed confidence that we can transform Pakistan into a modern state. The President urged for working together to make our country a land of opportunity and prosperity where the social and economic rights of every citizen are fully protected. He said that for the first time in our history‚ a democratically elected government will complete a full five-year term next year. The President on the occasion said that the present government accorded top priority to the strengthening of the Parliament and said that he surrendered all his powers to the Parliament for the sake of betterment and prosperity of the people of the country and to make Pakistan more stable with strong and powerful Parliament.

Imran is a bad politician

Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain on Saturday said that Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan is failing as a politician and recent decisions made by him may prove to be fatal for his party. Talking to the media, Shujaat said that Imran Khan is a novice when it comes to politics and because of his blunders, many party members abandoned him soon after joining his party. He said that many disgruntled PML-Q leaders were grabbed by PTI but it wasn’t long before they, too, realized that PTI has no future and left. Shujaat also expressed the belief that PML-Q would benefit the most if elections were held before time. To a question regarding Talal Akbar Bugti, the PML-Q president claimed that he is not aware of who he is and said that when he visited Akbar Bugti’s house, he never met Talal.

Cricket : Six ICC umpires caught on camera willing to fix matches for money
In a major sting operation carried out in July, August and September ahead of the recently concluded ICC World Cup T20 tournament, India TV undercover reporters exposed six ICC umpires, belonging to Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, willing to fix matches for money during T20 matches. The entire sting operation was telecast on Monday prime time by India TV. The six umpires who were exposed in the sting named "Operation World Cup" are : Nadeem Ghauri and Anees Siddiqui of Pakistan, Nadir Shah of Bangaldesh, and Gamini Dissanayake, Maurice Winston and Sagara Gallage of Sri Lanka. The seventh umpire Sharfudoullah Shahid Saikat of Bangladesh refused to give any favour in lieu of money. Sting No. 1: Bangladesh umpire Nadir Shah told the India TV undercover reporter that he was ready to fix any match - whether international, county or legaue matches. Nadir Shah offered to give decisions like "out", "not out" in any format of the game. He has officiated in 40-plus one-day internationals, six test matches as TV umpire and three tests as reserve umpire. Nadir Shah also revealed on hidden camera that Pakistan's opening batsman Nasir Jamshed 'fixed' several matches during the Bangladesh Premier League. He also said, umpires from Bangladesh are always ready to 'help' their country's cricketers. Sting No. 2: Sri Lankan premier panel umpire Sagara Gallage was the fourth umpire at the crucial India-Pakistan T20 World Cup match on Sept 17. For a payment of Rs 50,000, Sagara agreed to reveal the match pitch report, weather report, toss report, and even the playing elevens of both teams. Galage promised to give Pak batsman Imran Nazir out, even if he was not out, in exchange of money in Sri Lankan Premier League. Galage even promised the undercover reporter to get a decision made in favour of India in course of the match by 'managing' the match referee and other officials. Sting No.3: Pakistan's ICC international panel umpire Nadeem Ghauri also agreed to help Team India in all manners. As quid pro quo, he agreed to take all amounts underhand in "black". Nadeem Ghauri has stood in 43 ODIs, 14 test matches and four T20 matches. He promised to do any kind of favour for any player in umpiring. Sting No.4: Sri Lankan's premier panel umpire Maurice Winston Dela Zilwa's name was recommended by another Sri Lankan umpire Sagara Galade to the India TV undercover reporter. For the crucial T20 world cup match on Sept 17 between Australia and England, Maurice Winston shared the pitch report, toss report and playing elevens of both teams and demanded Rs 50,000 bribe.

Afghanistan's government 'could collapse' after 2014 - report

A new report on Afghanistan warns that the departure of Nato forces in 2014 could be followed by the government's collapse and even civil war, unless steps are taken now. The International Crisis Group (ICG) says the Afghan police and army are unprepared for security responsibility. It added that polls in two years' time would be "plagued" by fraud unless the state acted to ensure a clean vote. The Afghan government labelled the predictions "nonsense and garbage". "Our nation was not born in 2002. We have a history of 5,000 years. We have fought against superpowers in the past. Our national police and army are ready to defend the country's soul and sovereignty," a statement said.The government spokesman added that if the international community fulfilled its pledges of future support, Nato's withdrawal in 2014 would not make any difference. Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he did not share the ICG's negative assessment. He told the BBC he was confident the Afghan security forces would be able to take charge after 2014. 'Time running out' The report from the Brussels-based group is stark in its prediction that the Western-backed government in Afghanistan could be on course for what it calls a devastating political crisis after 2014. It states that "steps to ensure a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse. Time is running out." That same year elections are due in Afghanistan and the report predicts that the forthcoming polls will be as fraudulent as the last ones. "It is a near certainty that under current conditions the 2014 elections will be plagued by massive fraud. Vote-rigging in the south and east, where security continues to deteriorate, is all but guaranteed," the report warns. The report also says that Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai - who is not allowed to run again - may be trying to "stack the deck" for a favoured candidate. The government statement asserted that forthcoming polls would be "free and fair and without any foreign interference." But the ICG report concludes that failure to act on these issues could indirectly lead to a political impasse that would provide a pretext for the declaration of a state of emergency, which could in turn lead to the collapse of the state. It made several recommendations to parliament, the election commission and the international community to help assure a peaceful political transition. Nato combat troops are set to withdraw by the end of 2014, but a central plank of the strategy is that foreign soldiers will serve alongside and train Afghans for many years to come.

Afghan war getting worse for civilians, ICRC says

The Afghanistan war is getting worse for civilians, with armed groups on the rise across the country and access to healthcare deteriorating as foreign combat troops depart, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Monday. Outgoing head of the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan, Reto Stocker, a seven-year veteran of Afghan aid efforts, said as the NATO-led war against the Taliban dragged into a twelfth year, the outlook for ordinary Afghans was increasingly bleak. "Since I arrived here in 2006, local armed groups have proliferated. Civilians have been caught between not just one, but multiple front lines," Stocker told journalists in Kabul. With NATO combat forces due to depart in 2014, aid groups and some Western diplomats are worried about a repeat of the vicious 1990s civil war that raged between rival ethnic-based factions, giving rise to the austere Taliban government. Some security and aid workers in the north, once a centre for anti-Taliban resistance and where most of Afghanistan's untapped oil and gas resources are located, say insurgents and other armed groups are preparing for a security vacuum after the exit of foreign forces. A security analysis prepared by the International Crisis Group think tank, also released on Monday, said President Hamid Karzai's increasingly unpopular government could collapse after the NATO withdrawal, especially if people lost confidence in the outcome of presidential elections the same year. "Plagued by factionalism and corruption, Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when U.S. and NATO forces withdraw in 2014," the ICG said. "In the current environment, prospects for clean elections and a smooth transition are slim." Adding to Karzai's woes, Western diplomats in Kabul say donors who together promised civilian aid worth $16 billion over the next four years tied to serious efforts to combat endemic corruption, are losing hope that the government will deliver. "Several countries are seriously considering pulling the plug," said one senior envoy who declined to be identified due to diplomatic sensitivities. "BASELESS" Karzai's chief spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said the ICG report had been discussed in a regular cabinet meeting on Monday and dismissed by senior ministers as "baseless and far from realities on the ground". Stocker said he was confident there would not be a re-run of the 1990s civil war that followed the Soviet rush from the country, leaving once allied warlords to turn on each other. In the fighting that set former president Burhanuddin Rabbani and his military commander, Ahmad Shah Masood, against the forces of rival anti-Soviet warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, two thirds of Kabul was razed and about 50,000 civilians died. Thousands of women and children were raped and tortured. "Afghans have seen too much war. They cannot take it any longer," Stocker said, adding that the country had seen vast improvements in health and education and the war-racked economy that most people would not want to see squandered. The World Bank in its most recent Afghanistan assessment said while growth reached 8.4 percent in 2010/11, bolstered by big aid flows, the NATO pullout could halve that rate. NATO figures released in August showed civilian casualties in the 11-year war were at their highest for several years, with the Taliban responsible for about 90 percent of deaths because of their use of indiscriminate roadside bombs.

13 girls declared Vani in Balochistan
A Tribal Jirga led by a provincial assembly member in Balochistan has decreed to Vani 13 girls as retaliation over killing of a person. According to reports received by Independent UK-based News Website The News Tribe, the decision was taken over killing of a person by his opponent Roshan Khan Maisori. The person from Maisori tribe killed a family member of Karam Khan Shahani and the Jirga was called to settle the dispute at Dera Bugti, a prominent city of Pakistan’s largest province by area, Balochistan.
The Jirga, which continued for three days under the supervision of Balochistan Assembly member Tariq Khan Maisori, declared 13 girls from killer’s family as Vani besides imposing a fine of Rs. 3 million. According to Aaj TV, a private news channel, girls ages’ range from 9 to 13 years though it could not be confirmed through independent sources.District Police Officer Dera Bugti Bashir Ahmed told The News Tribe that the area where the Jirga was held did not fall in his jurisdiction. “Rajanpur District of Punjab is used as route to reach Behakar, where the Jirga was held, and it is in control of area Deputy Commissioner,” Ahmed further said. Behakar is situated next to famous tourist point Fort Manro, about 200 kilometer away from Dera Bugti.Honour killings, rape, acid assaults, forced marriage and horrific violence are lamentably common in Pakistan despite some reforms. New laws banning some of the cruellest customs are often ignored. There is also an unconfirmed information that the decision was taken to settle murder-related conflict between Bagirani and Shahwani tribes. On contacting Deputy Commissioner Dera Bugti Agha Faisal, The News Tribe was told that Mr. Faisal is not in the area. Area Superintendent Abdul Azeem, however, expressed his ignorance over the incident saying ‘We do not have any information about it.’ “Such incidents have been happening for centuries in light of tribal customs,” he noted and added that such incidents were also reported in settled areas of Sindh and Punjab provinces. The practice of ‘Vani’ is being increasingly regarded as unacceptable to most of the communities, perhaps recognizing the cruelty involved thereof. ‘Vani’ is steadily being replaced by settlements paid in cash and land.

Pakistan: Growing worries over food security

Pakistan has faced a rising food crisis for the last three years, and global price hikes could worsen the situation. "Given the predictions for lower global production of cereal crops this year, there is likely to be a global hike in prices that will affect Pakistan," said Amjad Jamal, spokesperson for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Pakistan. "Due to the massive floods of 2010 followed by further flooding in 2011, rising food prices, energy shortages and continuing conflict in parts of the country, the food security situation has worsened since 2009." WFP notes in its market survey for August that wheat prices in Pakistan have only gone up slightly, poultry prices have increased significantly, and gram pulse prices have risen 55 percent in a year. Water shortages in some areas are also affecting food production: "A lack of water this year has affected the maize and cotton seed crop, used as animal feed, and the 2012 monsoon has brought low rainfall [affecting vegetable prices]," explained Muhammad Ibrahim Mughul, chairman of the Agri Forum of Pakistan which represents farmers. High food prices are driving more people to seek food handouts from charitable organizations. "There is a vast growth in the numbers that turn up at our free feeding centres - I would say a 40 percent increase this year alone and each year since 2009 or so," Anwar Kazmi, spokesman for the Edhi Foundation, told IRIN from Karachi. The charitable Foundation, the largest in the country, provides free food to thousands daily. "Due to inflation even the middle class now come to us to get food," Kazmi said. The cost of food items rose by 9.8 percent between March 2011 and March 2012 while non-food items went up 11.5 percent over the same period, according to the Consumer Price Index maintained by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. The poor have been hit hardest. Even if food is available in the markets, not everyone can afford it. "The poor's purchasing power is already low and they may not be able to meet their dietary needs, or may have to reduce spending on other essential needs such as health and education," WFP's Jamal told IRIN. IDPs fare badly Among the poorest of the poor are internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there is a funding gap of US$21 million for food security operations in these areas for the rest of the year, affecting 1.2 million IDPs. Another vulnerable group are the three million Afghan refugees. The Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, in its 2011 Global Hunger Index said the hunger situation in Pakistan remained "alarming". The index is based on three factors: malnutrition, child underweight levels and child mortality. The index also notes that hunger in Pakistan has grown over the last decade. In a December 2011 report the country's Central Bank stated: "The majority of the rural population is facing food insecurity including malnutrition, undernutrition and hunger. The population consuming less than 1,700 calories per day, which is far below the international levels, has increased from 35 million to 45 million during the last couple of years." In an April 2012 report published in the media the Bank said 37 percent of the urban population were food insecure, and warned the government to "reduce the risk of a severe hunger-like situation." While experts are still assessing the situation, those who already have too little food say they are "not interested" in new studies. "All I know is that we live only on what we find on rubbish heaps. My children and I scavenge daily, sell items that can bring in money such as bottles or iron scrap, and take home what rotten vegetables, discarded `roti' [flat bread] or other edibles we can find to make up our dinner," said Sharifan Bibi, 40, a widow who sifts through the giant garbage heaps strewn along the railway line. She says she has no other way to feed herself and her five children, and only wants to know what the government is doing to "help people like us". The situation has prompted individuals to step in. Parveen Saeed, a housewife, began a small-scale food provision programme in Karachi called `khana ghar' or `House of Food' in 2002, after reading about a woman who had killed her children rather than watching them starve.

Pakistan: 15% increase in cases of vehicle snatching

Incidents of motor vehicle snatching increased 15% as 54 districts reported 836 cases in July compared with preceding month's 723 recorded in 56 districts, says a Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) report. The report said Lahore (92), Faisalabad (91) and Karachi Central (68) had the most vehicle snatching cases. However, motor vehicle lifting figures remained unchanged (34 cases per district), it said. FAFEN crime monitors visited 99 offices of District Police Officers (DPOs) to collect data on First Information Reports (FIRs) registered for 27 offences falling under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). The data shows criminal misappropriation cases increased up from seven FIRs in two districts to 33 in a single district. Criminal trespass cases also saw an increase, 651 FIRs lodged in 29 districts - going up from 410 cases in 23 districts recorded in June. However, FIRs for robbery and dacoity and theft declined 14% and 5% respectively. The monitoring revealed a 6% increase per district in FIR numbers. Ninety nine districts had 46,346 FIRs registered - the previous figures being 42,780 in 97 districts. 'Other crimes' constituted 61 percent of the total FIRs, followed by crimes pertaining to property (17%), crimes involving physical harm (12%), threat and fraud (7%) and crimes against women (2%). The regional break-up had Punjab reporting the highest crime burden (64%) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (20%), Sindh (13%), Balochistan (2%) and ICT (less than 1%) following. Better outreach, lack of parallel judicial systems and a higher confidence level between the police and the people are said to be the reasons for better crime reportage in Punjab than other regions. Among crimes involving physical harm, attempted murder and accidental death (qatl-i-khata) rose 7% and 25%. Eighty-eight districts reported 1338 attempted murder cases, up from 1232 cases lodged in June. Similarly, accidental death cases increased from 223 in 51 districts to 253 in 50 districts. However, hurt FIRs fell 3%. Also registering a drop were terrorism and accidental death (qatl-bis-sabab) cases - both down from four FIRs per district to three. Except for cases of offences against public tranquility and counterfeiting currency, all other crimes in the threat and fraud category remained constant. Offences against public tranquility increased 41% - 187 FIRs filed in six districts as against June's 110 reported in five. Counterfeiting currency cases decreased 6% - from 47 per district in June to 44. In the crimes against women category, incidents of outraging women's modesty and insulting modesty through word, gesture or act, increased. Forty one districts had 386 cases of outraging women's modesty - the previous numbers being 332 FIRs in 40 districts. Similarly, FIRs for insulting modesty through word, gesture or act rose from 12 in seven districts to 34 in four. Ten districts reported 46% of the total FIRs - Punjab (seven districts), KP (two) and Sindh (one). Lahore (13%), Faisalabad (7%) and Rahimyar Khan (5%) were the highest reporting districts.

Peshawar in grip of insecurity due to militant attacks

Insecurity and uncertainty is prevailing in the jurisdiction of Matani and Badaber police stations due to the militant attacks on the provincial capital through these two areas for the last five weeks. There were two major bombings and the killing of an expert of the bomb disposal unit in a small blast while over a dozen improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were defused. The militants have been kidnapping and killing people in the jurisdiction of the two police stations since August 31. A major reason for the trouble in these areas is stated to be the long boundary with the Khyber Agency, which is a tribal area, and the semi-tribal Darra Adamkhel. Militants are active in both these places. “The police, the political administration of Khyber Agency and Frontier Regions of Peshawar and Kohat as well as other security forces on both sides of the boundary are struggling to stop the movement of militants from Khyber Agency and Darra Adamkhel to Peshawar,” said an official. Since senior officers are not ready to be posted there, the deputy superintendent of police in the area, Khurshid Khan, was given shoulder promotion as SP Rural while an inspector, Fazal Maula was appointed DSP Saddar to supervise these areas in the jurisdiction of Badaber and Matani police stations. The former SP Rural, Kalam Khan, and former DSP Saddar Abdul Rashid Khan, were killed in suicide attacks in these areas in the recent past. The police have come under attack in the area quite often. On August 31, up to 12 people were killed and several others were wounded in a powerful car blast in the bazaar in Matani. Another major bombing at the Scheme Chowk killed nine people and injured many others on September 19. Besides, the bomb disposal unit thwarted two major bombings in Peshawar by defusing 110 kilograms and 40 kilograms of explosives planted in pushcarts on two different occasions. During the last week of September, the chief expert of the BDU, Hukam Khan, was killed when he defused one IED but fell victim to another one planted by the militants nearby. The BDU defused four IEDs in the area that day. Another bombing bid was foiled when the militants planted an IED close to the body of a man in Badaber. Several other IEDs were also defused during the last five weeks in Matani and Badaber. Last week, a sub-inspector of the Matani police station along with two other cops was wounded when attacked by the militants near Ghaziabad. The police later claimed to have killed four of the attackers. Kidnappers are also active in the area while taking advantage of the weak writ of the state. A group of kidnappers barricaded the main Kohat Road in Matani a few days back and kidnapped the district revenue officer of Bannu along with a gunman and his driver while on way to Peshawar. Four other people in two cars were also kidnapped. The district revenue officer later escaped from the custody of the kidnappers, who killed his driver and gunman the next day. No progress has been made in the recovery of the four other kidnapped people. The police and political administration have also failed to recover three employees of the Peshawar Electricity Supply Company and 11 labourers when they were kidnapped while working to repair a blown up power pylon in February.

Balochistan: Another Province, Another Six Points

By Malik Siraj Akbar
As Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s boisterous trip to Islamabad comes to an eventful end, the leader of Balochistan National Party (BNP), the troubled province’s largest nationalist group, and his aides must be sitting down somewhere to reassess whether or not the journey to Islamabad was worth it. Some of them still wonder if the former chief minister’s appearance before the Supreme Court has won them more friends or developed new rivalries. In the midst of the hullaballoo in the media about possible reconciliation between disgruntled Baloch nationalists and the government, the darker and often unnoticed side of the picture has something totally different to say: More trouble for Mengal. The BNP complains that it is the most misunderstood political force in Balochistan. It has tens of thousands of voters and party offices in every district and tehsil of the province. Some of its central leaders include ethnic Pashtuns, too. The party enjoys a cadre of ardent student followers through one of the three wings of the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO). Despite this, BNP’s politics, the party leaders grumble, is seemingly unacceptable to the ‘establishment’ and militant Baloch nationalists. Several top BNP leaders, including the Party’s secretary general and former Senator Habib Jalib Baloch, have been killed allegedly by what Sardar Mengal calls as the death squads of the intelligence agencies. For the country’s security apparatus, BNP’s overt demand for Baloch people’s right to self-determination is too hard an expression to tolerate. Officials in the military say the BNP cannot be fully trusted because its temporary goal may be the attainment of provincial autonomy but eventually even the BNP will end up joining hands with the forces that seek Balochistan’s independence. On the other hand, Baloch political parties and armed groups that advocate for an independent Balochistan view BNP as “too soft” to qualify as a “genuine nationalist” party. They believe that the BNP is a collaborator with Islamabad to mitigate the Baloch demand for independence. Some militant nationalists think the Pakistan establishment is trying to pit Mengal against pro-independence leaders like Hairbayar Marri and Bhramdagh Bugti by helping him in the upcoming general elections. BNP denies such charges. Mengal’s visit has alerted at least three groups of political players in Balochistan. All of them have reacted differently to his appearance before the Supreme Court and meetings with popular opposition leaders, including Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League and Imran Khan of PTI. Those exiled treat Mengal’s return as a “compromise” and a sell-out to the government. After all, Mengal’s visit to Islamabad was the first official contact between disillusioned Baloch nationalists and the State through the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Suleman Dawood, the Khan of Kalat who convened a grand Jirga in 2006 to take Balochistan’s case against Pakistan at the International Court of Justice, accused Mengal of brokering a deal with the government. “No one can return to Pakistan and hold negotiations in Islamabad without the approval of the establishment,” said Dawood who now lives on political asylum in United Kingdom. Balochistan’s former leader of the opposition in the Balochistan Assembly, Kachkol Ali strongly condemned Mengal’s decision. He said Mengal had “significantly undermined” the efforts of the international organisations to help the Baloch while referring to the US Congress that held a hearing on Balochistan in February and the UN Working Group on enforced disappearances which recently visited Balochistan. Mengal’s visit has alarmed the members of the Balochistan government who fear being replaced by nationalists in the near future. If Mengal holds talks with the government and agrees to return to the national mainstream, his tribal and political opponents fear he is going to take away their jobs and authority. Consequently, Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani immediately reacted to Mengal’s media interactions and brushed aside the charges of corruption and bad governance in his province. The CM said it was easy to accuse his government of corruption but hard to substantiate the charges. “Accusation of corruption against the elected Balochistan government is ‘an insult to public mandate’,” said Raisani. Provincial leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League (N), such as Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, a powerful tribal chief in Mengal’s native district of Khuzdar, were not very happy with their party chief’s meeting with Mengal. In Quetta, he insisted before the local media that Sharif had not endorsed Mengal’s Six Points. Talal Bugti, the head of the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), also immediately rushed to Lahore to meet Nawaz Sharif, days after Mengal’s meeting, in order to make sure that Sharif had not removed him from his list of trusted Baloch leaders. Mengal’s old friends from the moderate National Party did not go to meet him in Islamabad because they also felt politically challenged on his arrival. Some federal ministers and sections of the establishment have questioned Mengal’s commitment to Pakistan. They view his approach and Six Points similar to that of Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman of East Pakistan. They suspect Mengal is making efforts to dismember the country and defame the armed forces. Not only did the government representatives refrain from meeting Mengal, they also completely rejected his Six Points in an official submission at the Supreme Court saying that the intelligence agencies did not maintain any death squads nor were the missing persons in their custody. “Mengal should stop defaming the army,” warned Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister. The national media and civil society groups reacted to Mengal’s return to Pakistan with such overexcitement that the BNP now feels it has been misunderstood both by the media and the hardliner Baloch nationalists. They say Sardar Mengal’s Six Points, if wholeheartedly implemented, should not be confused with the actual Baloch demands. These points should only lead to developing trust between the Baloch people and the government. A Supreme Court verdict on Balochistan will not mean much in terms of deescalating tensions. More tangible measures backed by the parliament, such as the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan and the passage of the 18th Constitutional amendment too did not help in normalising the situation in Balochistan because of the government’s failure to fulfill the promises made to the province on these two occasions. Some of Mengal’s demands, such as the release of the missing persons, were included in the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-Balochistan Package but never met. Mengal is no Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman. He does not lead any of the fierce armed groups like the Baloch Liberation Army or Baloch Republican Army. The only threat he poses is that of street power. The government’s treatment of him with suspicion will undermine the interests of those who want to keep Balochistan as a part of Pakistan. Mengal is a moderate Baloch leader who finds himself sandwiched between an unaccommodating Pakistani military and an irreconcilable Baloch militant movement. He says his party will not contest elections in a ‘war-like-situation’ whereas the hardliner nationalists accuse him of having already jumped off the ‘freedom ship’. If Islamabad does not comply with Mengal’s list of political demands, it will be renewing the lifecycle of the insurgency in Balochistan. Mengal is among the last generation of the reconcilable Baloch nationalists. This cost is very high if the government fails to do business with him.

Blast in Quetta; 15 reported injured

Fifteen people, including at least four policemen, were reported injured in an explosion on Quetta’s Double road, DawnNews reported. Security sources said the blast in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, occurred when a roadside bomb planted on a motorcycle exploded. Senior police official Wazir Khan Nasir said the bomb was detonated through a remote-controlled device. A rickshaw and shops in the area were reduced to rubble as a result of the explosion. Police and FC personnel had surrounded the site of the explosion which had also caused damage to nearby buildings. The injured were shifted to Civil Hospital Quetta for treatment. Nasir said most of the victims were civilians and that at least two of the wounded are in serious condition. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, has been wracked by an insurgency waged by ethnic Baloch tribes seeking more political rights and a greater share of profits from the region’s natural resources. Hundreds of people have died in violence ripping through the province since the insurgency flared in late 2004. Scores of people are also alleged to have gone missing in the vast, sparsely populated province since then and their families have accused intelligence agencies of carrying out the abductions. The region has also been hit by attacks blamed on Taliban militants.

The ‘Waziristan’ March

Imran Khan (IK) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) Waziristan March against drone strikes and for peace set off with a bang, but ended in anti-climax with a whimper. For days, if not weeks before the start of the march, IK and the PTI had raised the pitch of expectations from the march to unprecedented heights. If these statements were to be taken at face value, it seemed as though the resurrected ‘tsunami’ of the PTI would overcome all obstacles in its path and sweep all before it on the way to establishing peace in Waziristan. However, a reality check was, and is, in order. First and foremost, the PTI’s extremely ambitious and risky initial plan to march into North Waziristan (NW) was soon abandoned in the face of the very real dangers in that Agency, well known as it is for being the hotbed of jihadi extremists. Better sense having prevailed, the PTI then turned its guns towards South Waziristan (SW), which is comparatively secure after the military operation had forced the extremists to abandon their bases there and move to NW and other areas in the face of overwhelmingly superior military force. However, even before the march roared off, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government and the Political Agent of SW had stated in categorical terms that the marchers would not be allowed into SW, especially since there were foreigners in the ranks who, under the existing rules, could not be allowed into FATA without prior permission (unlikely to be available even if it had been applied for). The march was eventually halted before the SW boundary, and turned back to Tank, where IK addressed a consolation rally. So much for all the hype about not allowing anything to stand in the way. For the federal and KP governments, the affair had potentially embarrassing implications. IK, on the eve of the march, had declared that if anything happened to the marchers, he would hold President Asif Ali Zardari responsible. This rhetoric hardly made any sense. That notwithstanding, reports indicated that the Taliban had dispatched nine suicide bombers to attack the march. This may not have deterred the PTI, but it did pose potentially embarrassing management risks for the authorities, particularly because of the presence of foreigners in the ranks of the marchers, which could have resulted in a diplomatic incident. As things turned out however, none of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) threats transpired. The TTP in any case had been vacillating since the original threat to harm IK and the marchers if they attempted to enter SW. Be all that as it may, it is a matter of relief that no untoward incident occurred and the march remained peaceful. Before we turn to an assessment of the gains and losses for the PTI from this march, an interesting sidelight is the timing of the Amn (Peace) March in Karachi called by the MQM for exactly the same day and virtually the same time as the PTI march up north. Whether coincidence or deliberate, it certainly resulted in distracting the minute-by-minute coverage by the electronic media of the PTI march towards the MQM protest in Karachi. To sum up the results of the PTI march, despite the fact that the vehicular procession was unable to reach its final destination, the publicity dividend the call and the march itself garnered for the PTI has certainly helped the flagging fortunes of the declining PTI ‘tsunami’, which of late seemed to be sputtering out, largely because of the PTI’s inherent and recent problems. IK’s foray into politics since 1996 has seen mixed fortunes. The inherent problems of the PTI revolved around one, the lack of electable candidates with the exception of IK himself, and two, the lack of a countrywide party machine that could deliver in any elections. The first bottleneck was sought to be overcome by inducting prominent dissidents from other parties. Their placement centre-stage in the party caused much angst and heartburn amongst the older cadre who had consistently worked for the PTI for 16 long and largely fruitless years. The idea of holding internal party elections to set a new example has also run into heavy weather because of internal dissidence and factionalism. The party machine issue still hangs fire.

PTI rally drama, not peace march

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) MNA Ali Musa Gilani has said that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) Wazirastan rally was not a peace-march but a drama. Addressing a party meeting at Qadirpur Rawan, he said that masses would have to be more careful for their lives as miscreants could enter the march and find easy access to Punjab and different parts of country. He questioned if Khan would take responsibility in case of any adverse repercussions. Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Khursheed Shah on Sunday again made it clear that government was fully alert to Imran Khan’s peace march, as it posed a serious security risk, however the government was not making any attempt to stop Khan, since everybody had a right to express and in a manner of their choosing. Govt has been opposing drone attacks: Kaira Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira has said President Asif Ali Zardari presented Pakistan’s stance on drone attacks at many international forums. Talking to reporters on Sunday‚ he said the entire world had declared drone attacks illegal, adding that the government had been opposing drone attacks from day one. Kaira said the government had not stopped anyone from participating in the PTI rally but only took security measures to protect the participants of the march. He said PTI Chairman Imran Khan should hold talks with Taliban on the issue of terrorism and the government would support him. Kaira said the entire Pakistani nation wanted an end to terrorism in the country. Imran Khan is an agent of the West, says Fazl Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Fazlur Rehman has labeled Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan an agent of the West, who he says has no links with the tribal people. Addressing a convention organised under the auspices of Jamiat Tulaba-e-Islam, Fazl said the “drama” of the Waziristan rally was being staged as part of a plan of Khan’s “former brother-in-law and former wife of producing a film”. He said imperialist forces had been engaged in a planned movement to seize the resources of undeveloped countries while international organisations were creating economic upheaval to establish their control on developing states. In his address, Abdul Ghafoor Hyderi severely criticised Khan, saying he should first put his house in order and then claim to form an Islamic state. “Imran Khan’s children are still being brought up by his Jewish (ex) wife,” he maintained.

Growing Russia-Pakistan ties a reality that India will have to live with

Russia is clearly interested in resetting ties with Pakistan When Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin came here in July, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had a request to make: Could Russian President Vladimir Putin put off his visit to Pakistan in October so that the optics of the India-Russia summit meeting scheduled in November could remain unimpaired? Mr. Rogozin demurred. Privately his diplomats explained how that would be difficult. Russia was as concerned as India about terrorist activity with bases in Pakistan but Moscow could not be more antagonistic than New Delhi which too is trying to build bridges with Islamabad through a dialogue process. “We should not dramatise an outdated situation. Even in India, which Indian leaders can say Pakistan is an enemy?’’ stated a Russian diplomat. Even otherwise, the Russian side communicated to New Delhi, Mr. Putin’s proposed first-ever visit to Pakistan was more to do with Afghanistan where any future settlement of the problem will depend on how its neighbours will act, they said. To South Block’s relief, Mr. Putin did put off his visit to Pakistan. But in an indication that Russia is clearly interested in resetting ties with Pakistan, that was not the end of the Russia story involving India and Pakistan. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was to visit India on October 4, landed instead in Pakistan. His Cabinet colleague, Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov postponed his scheduled visit to India as Pakistan Army Chief Asfaq Parvez Kayani flew to Moscow. After Mr. Putin cancelled his trip, Moscow offered to send Mr. Lavrov in his stead. Islamabad was initially reluctant. Like India which did not like the idea of Mr. Putin first going to Pakistan, Islamabad did not want to be offered a Foreign Minister instead of a Head of Government. But Islamabad relented two days before Mr. Lavrov landed. Officials in South Block maintain Mr. Lavrov had offered to come here from Pakistan but External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna was unavailable. They also dismissed the suggestion that Mr. Serdyukov had put off his India visit to meet Gen. Kayani in Moscow. “If Mr. Serdyukov had come to India as planned earlier, he would have reached Moscow in time to meet the Pakistan army chief,’’ said one official. But New Delhi knows only too well it no longer has exclusive rights over Moscow. Russia has sold helicopters for civilian purposes to Pakistan which can be converted to military use with minimal fuss. This trend was only to be expected after India shifted from direct purchases of defence equipment from Moscow to competitive bids in which Russian companies lost a number of orders to the U.S. and other western companies. India diplomats concur with their Russian counterparts over the main reason for closer Russia-Pakistan engagement — economics and securing the Russian underbelly from religious extremism. “We are not sleeping over the developments. It is entirely in the context of Afghanistan,” the official said. Growing Russia-Pakistan ties are a reality that India will have to live with as part of Moscow’s growing engagement with other countries in the region such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. “India could have been more loyal to Russia in the field of military and technical cooperation and saved it from the disagreeable situation in which Moscow on its own has to search for markets to sell military equipment meant for Delhi,” said another Russian diplomat. The consolation: even in the most optimistic scenario, the diplomat asserted, military cooperation between Russia and Pakistan would remain insignificant and would not alter the balance of power in the region.

Pak-Russia defence agreement

According to reports citing Pakistani military sources, Russia has agreed to a military accord with Pakistan, though of which nature it is not yet clear. Still it is a major success of the détente going on manifest through visits of COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Pakistan. The accords are not only defence related; agreements concerning Steels Mills, Railways, thermal power plants, import of electricity whereby Russia would be according help have been inked during FM Lavrov’s meetings with Pakistani officials. It has been reported that the defence ministries of both the countries will be giving final shape to the agreements. Once the foundations of a strong partnership are laid, a fascinating era of joint cooperation would follow. There is a lot that can be achieved in the field of military cooperation; Russian arms technology is envied the world over and so is its economy that during the recent years is being restored to its former strength owing to visionary measures by successive governments. There is hence great promise in trade relations as well since Islamabad too is looking for more trade partners to kick-start its economy battered by years of fighting a war on terrorism and poor management. What is important at this moment is to keep the momentum going so as to turn the ongoing exchanges into an exemplary relationship. The stage set by General Kayani for defence ties will hopefully herald a new era of broad based Pak-Russia ties.

Russia-Pakistan Relations: Beyond Putin’s Cancelled Trip To Islamabad – Analysis

Two months after President Vladimir Putin called for greater pragmatism in Russian foreign policy, he was ready to make history by becoming the first Russian head of state to visit Pakistan. While the primary purpose of his visit was a quadrilateral meeting with the leaders of Tajikistan and Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, scheduled for 3rd October, Putin was also scheduled to hold bilateral talks with his Pakistani counterpart. Pakistan – Russia Relations Against the backdrop of the USA’s planned withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, many saw this as a Russian attempt to increase its strategic leverage by enhancing its ties with Pakistan. Surprisingly, however, Putin has postponed his visit, without naming a new date or giving any reason for the change of plan. While reasons for the cancellation remain speculative, many have pointed the finger at India. As Pakistan’s chief adversary, India undoubtedly keeps a close watch on its neighbour. However, like Russia, India is a part of the emerging multilateral world order and understands the need for increased regional and global interaction. More importantly, as Professor Harsh V. Pant of King’s College, London points out, ’India’s ties with Russia are historic, wide ranging and well institutionalized. Russia will do its best to assuage Indian concerns and New Delhi should largely be satisfied with it.’ Evidently, India would have little to lose from Putin’s visit to Islamabad and so has little incentive to influence his decision. Whatever the reason for Putin’s abrupt change of plan, it raises the question of whether his declaration of integrating Russia in global processes by engaging with unconventional allies like Pakistan is anything more than rhetoric. The answer to this question can be found by looking at broader Russo-Pakistani relations. Diplomatically, we have recently been seeing increased cooperation between the two countries. In the past, high-level exchanges were rare – President Musharraf travelled to Moscow in 2003 and Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov visited Pakistan in 2007. 2012, however, has marked a change in Russo-Pakistani relations. Following visits to Moscow by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and President Asif Ali Zardari earlier this year, the Russian capital is set to welcome General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on 3rd October. It is worth noting that his trip continues to be on course despite the cancellation of Putin’s visit. While Pakistan’s deteriorating relations with the US have led it to look for new regional allies, Russia’s increased closeness to Islamabad is primarily motivated by the situation in Pakistan and around. As the US prepares to curtail its presence in Afghanistan by 2014, Russia fears that state failure in that country will cause a spillover of Islamic fundamentalism into Central Asia, and from there into the southern regions of Russia. Having just dealt with Islamist secessionist movements in Chechnya and the South Caucasus, this is not a scenario that Russia would welcome. In this context, while Russia is aware of Islamabad’s role in fomenting international terrorism, it realises that any successful resolution of the problems associated with Afghanistan must involve Pakistan. A cancelled presidential visit cannot change the relevance of this, or of Russia’s goal, in enhancing ties with Pakistan, of securing greater cooperation on counter terrorism. The Politics Of Energy Another important element of this relationship is cooperation on energy. The importance of energy to Pakistan cannot be overemphasized – no electricity projects were initiated between 1996 and 2008, despite an annual increase of 1,600MW in electricity demand since 2007. In fact, the energy crisis is so profound that it has begun to influence Islamabad’s foreign policy decisions. Earlier this year, for example, Pakistan agreed to import petroleum and electricity from arch-rival India and liberalise trade relations with New Delhi. Conversely, one of the primary drivers of Moscow’s foreign policy is global energy politics. Unsurprisingly, Moscow is trying to develop closer ties with Pakistan in this sector. Russia has, for example, expressed interest in financing the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (TAPI) gas project and has also agreed to make investments in the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project. There is media speculation that Putin’s decision to cancel his visit could be linked to Pakistan’s reluctance to award Russia’s energy giant Gazprom a $1.2 billion contract for the Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline, without going through the bidding process which is the international norm. There is, however, no official evidence to support this conjecture. Russian investors have also expressed keen interest in the Thar Coalfield Project, intended to exploit the massive deposits of coal found in this desert region in 1991, as well as in the Central Asian and South Asian (CASA) project, which aims at establishing the necessary transmission and trading infrastructure to enable trade in electricity between Central and South Asia. And as well as investment in new projects, Moscow has also offered to finance the refurbishment of the Guddu and Muzaffargarh power plants. Russia has offered to cooperate in the non-energy infrastructure sector as well. Recently, Russia’s Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Factory (MMK) offered to invest $500 million to expand the production capacity of Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) from one million to 3 three million tons a year. And while the postponement of Putin’s visit definitely delays the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for PSM’s expansion, it is too early to conclude that it is off the agenda. Experts feel that with Pakistan accounting for just 0.3 percent of Russia’s trade in 2011, there is enormous potential for growth in this sector. Military Cooperation The most controversial element of closer Russo-Pakistani relations is military cooperation. General Kayani’s upcoming visit follows the first ever trip to Moscow by Pakistani Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafiq. Apart from these symbolic visits there has also been a slow infiltration of Russia’s defence technology from third countries into Pakistan. Ukrainian T-80 main battle tanks, supplied to Pakistan in the 1990s, have Russian-built key systems and components. Even the JF-17 fighter planes supplied by China to Pakistan were powered by Russian RD-93 engines. Interestingly, Russia’s support for Pakistan is not confined to bilateral issues, but has also been observed in multilateral forums. Putin’s public endorsement of Pakistan’s candidacy for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), along with his acknowledgment of the crucial role that Pakistan plays in South Asia and the larger Muslim world, is proof of this. Cooperation in multilateral institutions serves to silence sceptics who view improving Russo-Pakistani ties as the start of a new Cold War between the US and Russia for influence over this strategically located country. Putin has suggested the setting up of an SCO energy club, grouping the energy producing countries of Russia, Iran and Central Asia and the three big energy-consuming countries of India, Pakistan and China. This proposal in itself shows that Russia’s involvement in South Asia is based on the principle of cooperation, not confrontation. The postponement of Putin’s visit is undoubtedly a symbolic blow to Pakistan’s efforts to diversify its strategic allies and do away with its image of bandwagoning with America. At the same time it’s a blow to Russia’s ambitions of making greater inroads into Central and South Asia.However, it needs to be stressed that Putin has postponed his trip and not cancelled it. Indeed, in his letter to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, he expressed hope for enhanced cooperation and suggested a trip to Moscow. Therefore, it would be wrong to dismiss Putin’s postponed trip as a sign of vacillating Russo-Pakistani relations. There is a definite rapprochement between the two, even though their current bilateral engagement continues to be limited. (The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)