Thursday, October 18, 2012

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Thousands across Greece protest austerity measures
Youths have clashed with the Athens police force, pelting officers with stones and petrol bombs during an anti-austerity march. More than 40,000 have taken to the streets in Greece in a 24-hour strike against wage and pension cuts. Anti-austerity activists faced down police officers, throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks in the center of Athens. Police responded by firing teargas and stun grenades into the group of adolescents to disperse them. Clashes erupted as protesters broke through a police line on central Syntagma Square. After the crowd was dispersed, the demonstration resumed peacefully. One person died during the protests. A 66-year-old man died, apparently of a heart attack, as he was taking part in the demonstration in Athens. Authorities have deployed 4,000 extra police throughout the Greek capital to maintain law and order during the protests.

Senior Chinese leader, Pakistani president vow to boost ties

Visiting Chinese leader Li Changchun held talks here on Wednesday with the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, calling on the two sides to further implement the important consensus reached between the heads of the two states with the aim of stepping up bilateral relations to a higher level. "The purpose of my visit is to enhance the strategic mutual trust and promote the bilateral cooperation with mutual benefit," Li told Zardari. Li, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), noted that the bilateral cooperation on trade was a very important component for China-Pakistan strategic cooperation, promising that China would encourage its companies to establish business and increase investment in Pakistan and continue to provide the assistance to help Pakistan's social and economic development. "I hope the two sides would work together to expand their exchange and cooperation in fields such as culture, education and media, intensify the interaction among the youth, women and local governments between the two nations and better coordinate on international issues to safeguard the common interests," Li said. Agreeing with Li's views on the bilateral relations, Zardari said he was committed to foster Pakistan-China cooperation in many fields and would offer comprehensive service to the Chinese companies who come to Pakistan to start business. Pakistan would continue to support China firmly on issues to its key concern and spare no effort to protect the safety and security of the Chinese personnel and institutions who are engaged in Pakistan. As for the party-to-party relations, Li stressed the ties between the Chinese and Pakistani political parties have formed an important part of the bilateral relations and CPC welcomes leaders and young politicians of the Pakistan People Party (PPP) to visit China. Zardari, who is also the PPP co-chairman, spoke highly of the achievements China has made under the CPC leadership, expressing his confidence that China's development would provide more opportunities as well as contributions to the regional prosperity and stability. At the invitations of the Pakistani government, Li arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday afternoon for a two-day good will official visit to the country. Pakistan is the first leg of Li's three-nation visit to South Asia that will also bring him to the Maldives and Bangladesh.

Obama comes out swinging after debate

President Barack Obama hit rival Mitt Romney hard on women's issues as he headed back on the campaign trail on Wednesday after a spirited debate performance that re-energized his bid for a second term. A day after a much-improved performance in the second of three presidential debates, a revitalized Obama continued sparring with his Republican opponent, making fun of Romney's comment that he had received "binders full of women" to consider for cabinet positions when he was governor of Massachusetts.
"I've got to tell you, we don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented driven young women ready to learn and teach in (science, technology and engineering) right now. And when young women graduate, they should get equal pay for equal work," Obama, relaxed and smiling in shirt sleeves and a loosened tie, told 2,000 people at Cornell College in Iowa. With 20 days to go until the election, Obama campaigned in Iowa and Ohio while Romney was in Virginia - all important "swing states" that can go to either candidate on November 6. In Chesapeake, Virginia, Romney said Obama has failed to help women get well-paying jobs and also accused the president of failing to produce a second-term agenda. "Don't you think it's time for them to finally put together a vision for what he'd do in the next four years if he were re-elected?" Romney asked about 3,500 supporters outside a community college.
Romney scored points of his own during Tuesday night's debate when he focused on middle class economic struggles and listed promises he said Obama failed to keep from his 2008 campaign. Both sides claimed victory, but most polls gave a badly needed edge to Obama, who saw his lead in polls contract sharply after a lackluster performance in the first debate October 3. Voters said Obama outperformed Romney by a substantial margin on Tuesday night, according to a post-debate Reuters/Ipsos survey: 48 percent to 33 percent. "This will give the president a bit of a bounce and a little bit of an edge, but it's going to be quite close right down to the wire," Notre Dame University political science professor Michael Desch said. The final presidential debate is scheduled for Monday in Boca Raton, Florida. OBAMA HOLDING SLIM POLL LEAD Obama leads Romney by 47 percent to 44 percent among likely voters, according to Wednesday's Reuters/Ipsos daily online tracking poll. His 3-point lead was unchanged from Tuesday, with most of the interviews done before the latest debate. A Rasmussen Reports tracking poll of 11 swing states had Obama leading Romney by 50 percent to 47 percent on Wednesday. Obama needs strong support from women voters if he hopes to beat the Republican, and he made sure to appeal to them during the debate by bringing up contraceptive rights and his push to ensure pay equity. Analysts said Obama did particularly well on women's issues, boosted by Romney's awkward "binders" statement, which lit up social media. The mock Twitter account @RomneyBinders amassed more than 33,000 followers, and a Facebook page "Binders Full of Women" attracted more than 303,000 "likes." Romney, a former private equity adviser, hit back by contending his business experience will help women, and all Americans, by bolstering the sputtering economy. His campaign also released new television advertisements directed at women. One outlines Romney's stance on abortion and contraception, which is more moderate than that of many Republicans. In the ad, a woman directly faces the camera and talks about Romney's support for contraception as well as abortion in cases of rape, incest or a threat to a mother's life. A second, called "Humanity," features women who worked for Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts talking about his sensitivity to women employees. Analysts also said Romney bungled on foreign policy when he mischaracterized - and was corrected by the debate monitor - Obama's initial remarks on last month's deadly attacks on diplomatic facilities in Libya. Obama took advantage of the moment to accuse Romney of politicizing the deaths of four Americans. Polls show the economy is an area in which voters view the two candidates similarly, or give the Republican an edge. But Obama has been helped recently by some positive economic news. On Wednesday, the Commerce Department said groundbreaking on new homes surged in September to its fastest pace in more than four years, a sign the sector's budding recovery is gaining traction and supporting the wider economic recovery.

Widows, India's other 'untouchables'

Lalita Goswami was married only a few years when her husband, a Hindu priest who beat her and abused drugs, died of an apparent overdose. She was left with three young children. Still, she said, being married was better than being a widow. That ordeal has lasted for decades. After her husband died, the brother-in-law who took her in kicked her out, forcing her back to her parents' home in Kolkata. Her brother saw her as a financial burden and neighbors ostracized her. In a bid to keep peace, her mother exiled her and her two youngest children to Vrindavan in central India, a sacred town known as the City of Widows. Today, nearly 15,000 widows live in Vrindavan, where the Hindu god Krishna is said to have grown up. Although it is believed they were first drawn for religious reasons centuries ago, many widows now come to this city of 4,000 temples to escape abuse in their home villages — or are banished by their husbands' families so they won't inherit property. Goswami spends her time at Mahila Ashray Sadan, one of several widow ashrams supported by charities here. "What else could I do?" said Goswami, a solicitous woman who strokes visitors' faces and touches their feet in a traditional sign of respect. She lives in a 30-bed dormitory laced with the widows' meager possessions. Goswami recently lost her appetite and suffers from chronic diarrhea and nausea. The ashram gives her one meal a day and a $6-a-month allowance. Healthcare is scarce. "I'm 70, maybe 80," she said. "All I know is, my children have children." For centuries, Indian widows would throw themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres, reflecting the view that they were of little social worth without their protector and breadwinner. Although that practice, known as sati, has been outlawed, widows are still traditionally considered inauspicious, particularly in Bengali culture, their presence at weddings and festivals shunned and even their shadows seen as bad luck. Until a few decades ago, widows were often accused of causing their husbands' deaths — the mother-in-law in older Hindi films would accuse the new widow of "eating her son" alive. Even now, "unlucky" widows are scorned for remarrying, views reformers attribute more to India's male-dominated society than religious tenets. "Widows are treated like untouchables," said Bindeshwar Pathak, head of the civic group Sulabh International. "Indian tradition is very full of heritage and knowledge, but some of our traditions are beyond humanity." In August, an outraged Supreme Court ordered government and civic agencies to improve the lives of women in Vrindavan after local media reported abandoned corpses being put in sacks and tossed into the river, a charge officials deny. The government of West Bengal state, where most widows who live here come from, has since promised to provide them with government housing and a stipend exceeding what they'd receive in Vrindavan, which is in Uttar Pradesh state. But social workers, pointing to similar past initiatives, say follow-through is often lacking. Nor is it clear that the widows want to leave Vrindavan, said Yashoda Verma, who manages the 160-resident Mahila ashram. According to centuries-old Hindu laws, a widow hoping to obtain enlightenment should renounce luxuries and showy clothes, pray, eat a simple vegetarian diet (no onions, garlic or other "heating" foods that inflame sexual passions) and devote herself to her husband's memory. At least, that's the idea. "Very rarely do you see people go to Vrindavan because they're devoted to the cause," said Rosinka Chaudhuri, a fellow at the Center for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. "Sometimes it's blackmail, or if you're not loved enough, you take yourself up. But the numbers are staggering." Guddi, a resident in her 70s with a square face and a nose ring, said she came to Vrindavan after being abused by her daughter-in-law, a common complaint. "What's the point if they feed me two rotis [flatbread] but beat me with a shoe?" said Guddi, who uses one name. "If I'd been born a man, life would've been better. There isn't much respect for women in India." But social and generational changes are also evident. Even as prejudices linger in rural areas, a growing number of widows in urban areas or those from less-restrictive families remarry — sometimes to a brother-in-law — maintain careers and share the inheritance. All widows over 60 are eligible for a $16 monthly government pension and food allowance. But up to 80% are illiterate and unable to navigate India's labyrinthine bureaucracy. Even those who do succeed complain that inefficiency and corruption siphon off some of their money. Many supplement their income by chanting up to five hours a day at local temples — essentially singing for their supper — in return for 10 cents and a bowl of rice. Goswami gave that up when her health deteriorated. Activists argue that policies should aim to make the widows financially independent rather than depending on minuscule handouts. But others point out that some widows can earn a decent living at Vrindavan. Goswami's ashram forbids begging, but widows who live independently can earn up to $150 a month begging from the half-million pilgrims visiting each year. The ashram believes begging is a social evil, particularly when residents' basic needs are covered. Verma, the ashram's manager, said some Vrindavan residents aren't really widows and use the earnings to support families back home. "Many are faking," she said, adding that her ashram informally vets newcomers to limit the abuse. "Some lie for a nice place to live." In sharp contrast with a nearby six-lane highway and new gated communities with names like Omaxe Eternity and Hare Krishna Residency, some of the government- and charity-run ashrams evoke the Victorian era. Mahila's residents appear relatively comfortable, but at an adjoining ashram run by another civic group, bugs course across the floor, a diesel smell fills hallways that lead to dilapidated rooms and the plumbing is broken. Goswami took a circuitous path to her ashram. On reaching Vrindavan with her two toddler sons — the in-laws kept her daughter, whom she never saw again — she said she worked for several years as a cook and maid until she was injured when a monkey attacked her, causing her to fall two stories. One son went insane after "a girl from Bombay put a hex on him," she said, while the other followed his father into the Hindu priesthood. "He makes good money," she said. "But he's thrown me away." Goswami said she thought about killing herself when she was widowed but resisted, given her responsibilities. "Sometimes I wish I'd committed sati," she said. "I didn't because of my sons, and look how they treat me." As she spoke, she looked around the crowded dormitory decorated with images of Hindu gods. "The fact of it is," she said, "widows are doomed."

Malala Yousafzai status updates ,17:20, Thursday 18 October 2012

17:20, Thursday 18 October 2012 Malala Yousafzai continues to receive one-to-one nursing care, 24 hours a day, from staff at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, working alongside colleagues from Birmingham Children’s Hospital. Her condition remains "stable" and doctors say she is responding well to treatment. Malala’s family remain in Pakistan at this time.

Balochistan: Polio drive takes a hit

Daily Times
Balochistan has become the scene of yet another tragedy, this time in the form of a health worker shot dead in cold blood by masked gunmen. A polio vaccination team was going from door to door in Quetta to administer polio drops to infants, a day after a three-day nationwide campaign took off with great gusto, when unknown gunmen fired at them from their motorbikes. One of the workers was killed instantly. Needless to say, this incident has caused a huge setback in the province’s anti-polio drive, suspending services in some areas indefinitely. This is not just a tragedy, it is a huge loss for all those children who will be at the mercy of this debilitating disease, which is spreading like wildfire in all those areas where conspiracies, extremist mindsets and illiteracy rule supreme. Such an occurrence can, unfortunately, be expected in a place like FATA or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where mullahs have completely banned immunisation campaigns, but to see the kind of oppressive mentality that castigates polio immunisation as being the evil doing of the US to make Muslims sterile move into other areas is disturbing indeed. If ever there were an award for absolute nonsense, it would go to this sort of mindset. Now the militants have turned their ire towards actual aid workers who are now putting their lives at risk to make sure that the children of this country have a future. Balochistan has been the home of much volatility with the nationalist insurgency taking centre-stage. However, extremist attacks in the shape of sectarian killings have been on the rise in the province with Shia Hazaras being marked for death by the dozens. Now, it seems all is fair in this jihadi war including the murder of health workers toiling for the betterment of society. It is alarming to see that murderous fanaticism is not just contained to one backwater area of the country — FATA and the like — but is infiltrating other provinces, seeping into the core of the national fabric. If this continues, health and aid projects will be cancelled altogether leaving us a pariah nation, shunned by the global community, thereby putting more lives at risk from deadly diseases that the world has worked hard to eradicate.

Pakistan: One million children miss polio vaccination

Almost one million children in the country were left out of a polio vaccination drive which ended Wednesday, officials said, as unrest and flooding limited access and some parents viewed the campaign as a Western "conspiracy". Data obtained by AFP showed that some 998,569 children of the 32 million targeted during the three-day nationwide drive, backed by the government and World Health Organisation, were left unvaccinated against the crippling disease. Last year, Dr Shakeel Afridi was jailed for helping the CIA track down al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden using a fake hepatitis vaccination programme, leading the Taliban to ban immunisation in some areas. WHO Senior Coordinator for Polio Vaccination Dr. Elias Durry said the huge number of missed children was a "cause of concern". "While we can celebrate the achievement of vaccinating millions of children during every polio campaign, finding and vaccinating the repeatedly missed children should be the top priority of all the polio teams across the country." Government health officials said that most of the one million children remained unvaccinated because of access issues, unrest in southwestern Baluchistan province and flooding in many parts of southern Sindh province. They added many parents in militancy-hit northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa still view immunisation as a "conspiracy." In less turbulent areas, health workers failed to carry-out follow up visits or make enough effort to visit houses "far away". Unknown gunmen on Tuesday killed a polio vaccinator in the Killi Jeo area of Baluchistan's capital Quetta, a day after the campaign kicked off, senior government official Tariq Mengal told AFP. Pakistan is one of only three countries where the highly infectious crippling disease remains endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Karzai warns Pakistan over 'using' extremism

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday he hoped the shooting of a Pakistani schoolgirl by the Taliban would convince Islamabad that using extremism as a tool against others was not in its interest. Karzai regularly accuses Pakistan of supporting Taliban Islamist insurgents trying to topple his government -- a charge Islamabad denies. The shooting of 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai, who campaigned for the right of girls to an education, showed that Islamabad's strategy was hurting Pakistan too, he said. "I hope this very bitter truth... has convinced our brothers and sisters, the officials in Pakistan... that using extremism as a tool against others is not in the interest of Pakistan," Karzai said. Speaking at a joint press conference with visiting NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Karzai called on Islamabad to join him in an "honest" fight against extremism, which he said was threatening both nations equally. The Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan "has been the consequence of safe havens on Pakistani soil", said Karzai, describing extremism as a snake which could turn and bite anyone who tried to use it against others. Pakistan, along with Saudi Arabia and the United States, sponsored the 1980s war in Afghanistan against Soviet troops which ultimately gave rise to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Islamabad was a close ally of the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, but formally sided with the United States after the 9/11 attacks that precipitated the US-led invasion which brought into power Karzai's Western-backed administration. Yousufzai, who remains in a hospital in the UK following the shooting, came to prominence with a blog for the BBC highlighting atrocities under the Pakistan Taliban, who overran the Swat valley from 2007 until an army offensive in 2009. NATO has more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan backing Karzai's government against the Taliban, but they will withdraw by the end of 2014 and hand responsibility over to local forces.

Karzai: Afghan troops would be ready for early transition

NATO's secretary-general has insisted during a visit to Kabul that combat troops will remain in Afghanistan until late 2014. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his forces would, however, be ready for an early withdrawal.
At a joint press conference in Kabul with visiting NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, President Karzai said not only would his country's forces be ready for take over full responsibility for security when international troops complete their withdrawal, but that they could do so even earlier. "Afghans are ready to expedite the process of transition if necessary and willing," President Karzai said. "This is in all aspects good news for us and for NATO… The Afghan government is ready to take responsibility." However, Rasmussen indicated that this would not be necessary despite the announced intention of Britain and France to pull their forces out of Afghanistan quicker than previously planned. No early exit "We are all committed to see our combat missions through by the end of 2014," Rasmussen told the same press conference. "The Afghan security forces have already achieved much. They are already in lead for security of three quarters of the population." Rasmussen, who was on an unannounced visit to the Afghan capital, also reiterated the Western military alliance's intention to support the country with a second mission after all of NATO's combat forces have gone home. "It will focus on training, advice, and assistance. And we are now actively planning for that," Rasmussen said. NATO, which has fought an insurgency against Taliban Islamist fighters for more than a decade, currently has around 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. All of its combat troops are scheduled to leave the country by the end of 2014.

Pakistan heartland of the Taliban
AFGHANISTAN appears through the clouds, a black serration of the western horizon. From a valley in between, the crump of artillery is answered by a machine gun. The US calls Waziristan, in Pakistan's tribal areas, the "epicentre of global terrorism". Sararogha is near the middle of the epicentre. "This is the hub," says Brigadier Hayat Hassan, commander of Pakistan's forces in South Waziristan, standing at a hilltop base. Its name, Lajpal, is spelt out in spent cartridges. He is surrounded by sight guides pointing to some of the most infamous names in Pakistan. One way is Mingora, the town in which the schoolgirl blogger Malala Yousufzai was shot. The other is Miran Shah, the administrative centre of North Waziristan. The Pakistani Taliban are estimated to have 30,000 fighters. Foreign Islamists, Punjabi militants, the remnants of al-Qa'ida and the Haqqani network and leaders of the Afghan Taliban all find shelter in its hundreds of valleys.South Waziristan was supposedly cleared of insurgents in a military operation in October 2009. But with pressure again growing on Pakistan to push north, it is obvious that militants still have free run of much of the territory. Chains of hilltop bases, some so remote they are supplied by donkey, secure the main settlements and roads. But only 15 per cent of the 300,000 people displaced by the operation have been allowed to return. With 15,000 troops in more than 6000sq km, a senior officer admits that "vast areas" are still not policed. In the Janata valley, once used for training by the Pakistani Taliban, only one of 14 villages has been resettled. US drones can be heard over the valley's upper reaches, say officers. "There are gaps through which these people can move," Brigadier Hassan says. "We can't occupy every summit." Asked when Lajpal was last attacked, he pauses, smiles and says: "Yesterday." The assault was ineffective - a couple of mortar rounds that "landed well shy". But it underlined that this is, at best, a work in progress. The danger is such that visits by Western journalists are extremely rare, but The Times was given permission to travel by a military keen to emphasise its achievements so far - and the scale of the challenge remaining. Even seen from above, Waziristan's topography is bewildering: fertile alluvial plains, immense pillared cliffs, shallow, broad gorges snaking between barren ridges of ochre or cement-grey. The helicopter from Peshawar affords a drone's-eye view of Kotkai, the village that was home to Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, before landing nearby in Chaghmalai. The settlement is one of a number of "model villages" that the Pakistani military has refurbished in a classic counter-insurgency operation. The village has been given its own cadet college, a new girls' high school, a market and poultry and cattle farms. Up the newly built road, a technical training college provides skills for returning Mehsuds - the local tribe - to give them an alternative to becoming insurgent foot soldiers. Sitting in a fort built by the British in 1933, a group of youths (and some who look a lot older) stitch footballs. The military is discounting hives and bees to start a Waziristan honey industry. There are plans to graft Italian strains on to the local olive trees. Signs of change exist: asked what he thought of the shooting of Malala, an 11-year-old schoolboy says: "She was brave. She should not have been hurt for wanting an education." His teacher confirms a change of attitude among a people imbued with tradition: "People want their daughters educated now." The local women have dispensed with their burkas when they fetch water. But it is slow going. A classroom of computers, provided by the military, has not been used. "We have no one to teach them how to use them," the principal said. The chairs in the room are still wrapped in plastic. The boys' school has only three teachers for 600 pupils, but it is faring better than the girls' school, which has yet to recruit even half the female staff it needs to open. Eight in 10 applicants for the cadet college were turned away, a rejection level that will not help a literacy rate below 5 per cent. Only when villages have basic amenities such as electricity does the army allow residents back. Most of those displaced, waiting in towns such as Tank, know their mud-built houses are crumbling into dust or are being used by the Taliban. Privately, military officers complain they are restricted by a lack of funds and political will. The desire not to be seen as an army of occupation is clear at Lajpal. On the roof of the base two giant speakers point down to the badlands. "They are for psychological warfare," said Captain Imran Khan. "We use them for the call to prayer so that they should know that what they have been told about the army not being Muslims is false." Then, pointing barely a mile to the rear, he says: "Until three months ago we were there." Many believe that the front line must move faster than that if Pakistan is serious about defeating its insurgency.

Malala's heroic stand against the Taliban
Malala. The name itself is lyrical. It falls from the tongue with a soothing cadence, despite the grim circumstances under which the world met 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai. She’s the Pakistani child the Taliban ordered assassinated. Shot in the head as she was returning home from school, Malala is still alive but critically injured. As the headlines worldwide have reported, she was targeted for vocally demanding what should be available to all girls: an education. Watching videos of this gentle girl speaking about her desire for education, it’s hard to know how much her motivation to stand up to the Taliban came from within and how much was prompted by her equally outspoken father, who operates a school for girls. But this is clear: She is a child raising herself far beyond her years to meet horrible realities. Children tend to do that when cruel adults put them in horrendous situations. And denying education is among the most longstanding injustices done to women — one that also happens to undercut the economic well-being of entire countries. The Taliban are perhaps the world’s most notorious oppressors of women. (They dominate not merely much of Afghanistan but also Malala’s home region, the Swat Valley of Pakistan.) They are not, however, the only force of backwardness in the world that believes morality and honor require keeping half of society’s members uneducated and subjugated. It’s a global problem. In that way, Malala is representative of an estimated 41 million girls in the world who are denied a primary education. Only 30 percent of all girls are enrolled in secondary school. Education protects girls. It shields them from marrying too young, and from having children too young and without planning. It protects them from being forced by poverty into sex trafficking and other acts that are dangerous to their health. This is as true in America as it is in Africa, India, Cambodia and the Swat Valley. The worst oppression of women flourishes when many members of society — fathers, brothers, even women themselves — buy into traditional patriarchy. Religion, law, ingrained cultural norms — and, of course, armed thugs — all act to enforce it. It’s interesting to look at efforts to educate girls in light of another project aimed at the improvement of women: micro-lending. That is a form of rudimentary banking that makes small loans to poor people in developing countries as a way to help them start small businesses. The ability to buy a sewing machine or a cow may lift a family out of abject poverty to a more sustainable, hopeful condition. The guiding wisdom of micro-lending is that women typically are the best recipients of these loans. According to some micro-lending experts, when non-governmental organizations provide new access to money to men, they tend to spend it first on unproductive uses, such as prostitutes and drinking. Women, however, will figure out a way to use the funds to better the conditions of their families and often the community at large. Sometimes they start schools or small businesses that then allow their daughters to seek education instead of being shunted to low-paid work right away or being sold off in an arranged marriage. As such, micro-lending undercuts traditional patriarchy. Interestingly, it does so in ways men tend to welcome. According to micro-lending advocates, men then tend to value the benefits a new business or job brings to family life, the extra income. They change their behavior and often their attitudes as a result. This is how societies progress. One little girl, as the Taliban has brutally shown, is relatively easy to silence. But a village full of young girls, with fathers and mothers and brothers and uncles all understanding the benefits of education for all — and pressing for it as a right — is a more powerful force. Malala’s initial dream was to become a doctor. But she dropped that goal, after being convinced that serving as a politician would be more helpful to her country. Now hanging on to life, she nearly became a political martyr. She deserved to have been born into a more gender-equal world. Read more here:

Pakistani schoolgirl Malala stable

The various specialist consultants from both the Queen Elizabeth hospital, where 14-year-old Malala is admitted, and Birmingham Children's hospital continue to assess her on a daily basis.
"Malala Yousufzai's condition remains stable. She spent a third comfortable night in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham and doctors are pleased with her progress so far," the Queen Elizabeth Hospital said in a statement. At this time Malala's family remain in Pakistan, it said. A spokeswoman for the hospital would not comment on reports that the girl was moving her limbs, saying doctors had to respect patient confidentiality and would release more information when possible. The schoolgirl was flown to the UK on Monday following a surgery in Pakistan during which a bullet lodged near her spine was removed. Doctors at the Birmingham hospital, with a decade's experience of treating British military casualties, are now planning the reconstructive operations needed to treat her horrific injuries. More than 600 people from around the world have posted messages of support for Malala on the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust website. British campaigners are also staging a vigil outside Birmingham Council House in Victoria to show their support for Malala.

Doctors pleased with Malala’s progress

Doctors treating Malala Yousafzai at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital are pleased with her progress. Malala spent the third night comfortably, as Queen Elizabeth and Birmingham Children’s hospital doctors continue to asses her on a daily basis. The 14 year old who was shot in the head by the Taliban outside her school in Mingora, Swat is expected to undergo reconstructive surgery. Meanwhile according to a hospital press release, the number of messages posted on the Trust’s website has grown to almost 1500 overnight as people from around the world continue to send their support

Pakistan held, freed militant before girl's attack

Associated Press
One of the two Taliban militants suspected of attacking a teenage girl activist was detained by the Pakistani military in 2009 but subsequently released, intelligence officials said Thursday. Malala Yousufzai, 14,
was shot and critically wounded on Oct. 9 as she headed home from school in the northwest Swat Valley. The Taliban said they targeted Malala, a fierce advocate for girls' education, because she promoted "Western thinking" and was critical of the militant group. The military detained Attaullah during the army's 2009 offensive in Swat because of suspected ties with the Pakistani Taliban, which had established effective control over the valley at the time, said two intelligence officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The military successfully pushed most of the militants out of Swat, but Attaullah was released because of a lack of evidence linking him to specific attacks, said the officials. It's unclear how long he was held. The shooting of Malala outraged people around the world and stepped up pressure on the Pakistani government to intensify its fight against the Taliban and their allies. Malala was airlifted to England earlier this week for specialized treatment and to protect her from follow-on attacks by the Taliban, who have threatened to target her again until she is killed. A Pakistani official said Wednesday that Malala was improving and has been moving her limbs. The official, who said he was briefed by Malala's doctors in England, spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't cleared to talk on the record about the case.

Shahbaz Sharif’s son-in-law arrested

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s son-in-law was arrested on Wednesday after he recorded his statement at the Defence B Police Station in a case regarding the torturing of an employee at a confectionary in Lahore. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had earlier ordered a high-level inquiry into the incident. According to the First Information Report lodged under sections 148, 149 and 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) of the Pakistan Penal Code, complainant Umer Hussain stated that he ran the confectionary, ‘Sweet Tooth’, in T-Block market. On October 7, a woman came to the shop and asked for a cake; however, the shop was closed for cleaning. The employees asked her to come later when the shop would be open. Two men, who appeared to be bodyguards of the woman, misbehaved with an employee named Irfan and left with warnings of dire consequences, Hussain added. On the same day, the guards visited the bakery along with another man, identified the worker and escorted him outside the shop. Around six to seven Elite Force officials, who were present outside the bakery, started beating up Irfan and threatened him further. Earlier on Wednesday, a judicial magistrate granted bail to the seven Elite Police Force officials and a body-guard employed by Punjab chief minister’s son-in-law. The court ordered the accused to deposit surety bonds of Rs 40,000 each to avail the bail.

Pakistanis divided on army offensive after attack

Associated Press
Despite widespread outrage over the Taliban shooting of a female teenage activist, Pakistani leaders and opinion makers are divided over whether the government should respond by targeting the militants' last major sanctuary along the Afghan border. The U.S. has long pressed Pakistan to launch an operation in the remote and mountainous North Waziristan tribal area, home to enemies of Islamabad as well as to militants fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The recent attack on 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai has given new momentum to the debate. One side argues the government should harness anger over the shooting to build public support for a push into North Waziristan. The other claims more fighting isn't the answer and would trigger a violent backlash. They recommend peace negotiations and ending Pakistani support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan. A Taliban gunman shot and critically wounded Malala on Oct. 9 as she was returning home from school in Pakistan's northwest. The militant group targeted her because of her vocal support for girls' education and criticism of the insurgents' behavior when they took over the scenic Swat Valley where she lived several years ago. Pakistan's powerful army chief strongly criticized the attack shortly after it occurred, raising expectations that the military might be laying the groundwork for an operation in North Waziristan. The army conducted a concerted public relations campaign before it launched an offensive in Swat in 2009 by seizing on anger over a video showing a Taliban fighter flogging a woman who allegedly committed adultery. "We refuse to bow before terror," Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said the day after Malala was attacked. "We will fight, regardless of the cost." A prominent Pakistani politician urged the military to take on the Taliban in North Waziristan while addressing tens of thousands of people rallying support for Malala in the southern city of Karachi on Sunday. "Move ahead and crush the Taliban, and 180 million people will be standing behind you," the head of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Altaf Hussain, told the crowd by telephone from London. Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said last week that the government was considering a military operation in North Waziristan, although he backtracked a few days later. The military has long recognized the threat posed by Pakistani Taliban militants holed up in North Waziristan but has been reluctant to launch an offensive there for several reasons. The army has said its troops are stretched too thin by operations in other parts of the tribal region. But many analysts believe Pakistan does not want to cross other militant groups with whom it has historical ties and could be useful proxies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw. These groups, also located in North Waziristan, have primarily focused their fighting on Afghanistan, and any operation that upsets them could prompt them to turn their guns on Pakistan. Islamabad has also faced the challenge of launching an operation in North Waziristan without looking like it was simply doing the bidding of the United States, which is extremely unpopular in the country. Opponents of military action against the Taliban, mainly right-wing Islamists, realized that outrage over Malala's shooting could provide the government with the cover needed to conduct a North Waziristan offensive without looking like a U.S. stooge. They responded by publicly accusing the government of using the attack as a pretext to fulfilling U.S. demands. "We condemn the attack on Malala, but this attack took place in Swat, and we fail to understand why the government issued statements about launching an operation in North Waziristan," said Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a senior leader in the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party. "They wanted to play politics on this issue." Pakistani politician Imran Khan, a former cricket star, told Geo TV on Tuesday that "military action is not a solution." He and many on the right believe the driving force behind the insurgency is Pakistan's unpopular alliance with the United States and that the proper path forward would be for Islamabad to end its support for the war in Afghanistan and conduct peace talks with the militants. Critics point out that past peace deals with the Taliban have failed and that the militant group has repeatedly said it is fighting the Pakistani government both because of its ties to the U.S. and to establish Islamic law throughout the country. Opinion among average Pakistanis about a North Waziristan operation is also mixed. Zamman Watto, a lawyer in the eastern city of Lahore, said the government should not launch an offensive because "this will have a very adverse impact on the security situation in the country in the form of suicide attacks by the militants." Maqbool Khan, a teacher in the northwest city of Peshawar, urged the military to push into North Waziristan, saying "the government should act against terrorists wherever they are hiding." The government will need to move quickly if it wants to capitalize on public outrage over the attack, said Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. "As time passes on from the Malala incident, public opinion could shift again, as it often has in the past after a terrorist attack," Lodhi wrote in a column in The News on Tuesday. "The window of public consent for any action will then begin to close."

Malala Yousufzai Wakes Up

Yahoo! Contributor Network
Pakistani youth activist and blogger Malala Yousufzai came out of her coma on Wednesday, according a report from the Atlantic Wire . Last week, Yousufzai was shot along with two of her classmates in retaliation for her BBC blog by the Taliban she had criticized. Here's the latest information on Yousufzai and how her story has impacted Pakistan and other nations. * Seven News noted that Yousufzai's campaign for female education was a motivating factor for the Taliban, which shot her on a school bus in the Swat Valley. * Yousufzai flew to the United Kingdom over the weekend for further recovery after having the bullet removed from her head in Pakistan. * The Atlantic Wire indicated that her prospects for recovery without any permanent physical damage or brain damage was good. * She has feeling in all of her limbs, but will face rehabilitation and treatment for several months. * The Christian Science Monitor reported that Britain's Muslim community has held demonstrations and vigils in support of Yousufzai. * Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari said on Tuesday that "the Taliban attack on the 14-year-old girl, who from the age of 11 was involved in the struggle for education for girls, is an attack on all girls in Pakistan, an attack on education, and on all civilized people," as noted by Seven News. * On Friday, the U.S. State Department said that while the U.S. had discussed offering her assistance, but that they had nothing to announce at that time. * State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that "we've seen in the past in Pakistan that when the Taliban commits truly heinous and outrageous acts like this, it galvanizes popular opinion against them not only in the cities, but also in those towns and neighborhoods where they plot and hide. So obviously, the degree to which the Pakistani people turn against them help their government to go after them. That would be, perhaps, a silver lining from this horrible tragedy." * Neighboring Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked that Pakistan work harder to combat extremism, according to a report from the Associated Press . * Outrage over the shooting led to tens of thousands of Pakistanis in Karachi showing their support for Yousufzai, another AP report indicated . The demonstration was organized by the Muttahida Quami Movement, a party that has condemned other parties for their failure to encourage others to show their support sooner.

Malala and anti-Malala Pakistan

By:Dr Mohammad Taqi
Let there be no doubt that Malala and her friends are not child soldiers. They are youth icons. They did not wield guns or bombs but pen and microphone In Pakistan, an apparent national consensus followed the heinous attack on the three young girls Malala Yousafzai, Kainat and Shazia. It lasted for less than two days perhaps. What should have transformed into a national resolve to fight the Taliban terrorists degenerated quickly into a Malala and anti-Malala, or more accurately perhaps, a pro- and anti-Taliban Pakistan. The pro-Taliban forces could not keep up a pro-Malala pretence for too long. They went from a qualified denunciation of the dastardly act to oblique compliments to the child icon to a vicious campaign to undermine her standing, ultimately to unabashed apologetics for the Taliban terrorists. The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan, as is customary now, was leading the pro-Taliban pack and spent no time in muddying the waters by declaring the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan as (a perceived) jihad. That he made the comments right after visiting Malala, fighting for her life, was particularly callous. He could not bring himself to denounce squarely the Taliban for being the savages that they are, and of course, not by name. Not to be outdone by Mr Khan and his Internet ruffians, who act more and more like the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and its student wing, the original JI jumped into the fray as virtually the information wing of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The former JI ameer, Qazi Hussain Ahmed and his daughter, the ex-MNA Dr Samia Raheel Qazi, have unleashed an exceptionally morbid effort to malign Malala and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai. The jihadist cheerleaders in the media spent no time in projecting the Qazis and their drivel into every living room. The Qazis have alleged that Malala was groomed by her father as a virtual tool of the US policy in the region. In tandem with their tirade, the Internet was flooded with pictures of Malala and her family with the late US envoy Richard Holbrooke to suggest that the affected family was on some sort of subversive mission. A false dilemma was created to project Malala as a child soldier somehow comparable with the young suicide bombers deployed by the jihadists. In a most unfortunate manner, Malala’s father was first blamed for doctoring her diaries and then for putting the child in harm’s way. A whisper campaign has accompanied this vitriol about how is it possible for a young child of nine or 10 to actually display such maturity in her writings. One anchor took the campaign of drawing false binaries a step further in his show, ostensibly about journalistic ethics. A senior newspaper editor cut that anchor to size but framing the false narratives goes on in full swing. Let there be no doubt that Malala and her friends are not child soldiers. They are youth icons. They did not wield guns or bombs but pen and microphone. They did not stand for violence and barbarism but for peace, education and enlightenment. There is absolutely no comparison between the Taliban — and the JI — using Pakistani youth as jihadist cannon fodder and an upright Ziauddin Yousafzai bringing up his bright young daughter in the best traditions of nonviolence. Malala did not advocate or participate in war. She stood witness to the worst atrocities that the JI’s cohorts perpetrated in Malakand. And unlike those who cannot even admire a gifted child except in a backhanded manner, she did so honestly. There simply cannot be a comparison between forces as dark as the Taliban and children as bright as Malala. There have been nine-year-olds before Malala who were ahead of their age group and there will be more. But Malala, may Lord bless her and her friends with a speedy and full recovery, will stand head and shoulders above not just her peers but those pygmies of men and women that pass for leaders in Pakistan. She stands tall for her simple, clear message that contrasts with that of the prevaricating, vacillating, forked-tongue adults who have yet to condemn the Taliban unequivocally for at least this particular attack on a child who was not an enemy combatant. Little surprise then if the convoluted logic and line taken by Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Imran Khan is the same as the TTP spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan. In a message sent to media via email and text, the TTP man has accepted responsibility for the attack. He has attempted to justify the attack on a girl child by invoking allegorical verses from the Holy Quran and obscure traditions from the Hadith. The reference to the Quranic tradition of al-Khizr and Moses is so over-the-top that even Qazi Hussain Ahmed might not be able to justify it. But such are the pitfalls of political expediency and, more importantly, of relying on divine texts in temporal matters. Anyone who pleads for making peace with the Taliban must read the 493-word TTP statement. It is not just the TTP’s ultra-orthodox religious position but also tortuous reasoning, backed by its use of terror, that is the basis for the failed peace agreements that now number in double digits. Yet the apologists continue to call for making peace with Malala’s assailants. Interestingly, these Taliban advocates also claim that the attack on the children was carried out at the behest of ‘US-Indo-Zionist’ handlers. Are they then calling for a truce with the so-called foreign hand? The answer is that they are merely muddying the waters around a clear issue. Just as the talk of decisive military action against the Taliban and their foreign terrorist allies started, assorted smokescreens also started going up. The forked-tongue politicians and media persons have created an artificial fork in the road, which could have otherwise been a straight path out of the abyss. General Ashfaq Kayani, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain, several Awami National Party leaders and the Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari have spoken clearly enough to clear the fog created by the Taliban defenders. It remains to be seen whether this talk translates into action or the division into a Malala and anti-Malala Pakistan leads this country into missing yet another opportunity to rally against terrorism and the putrid thought that breeds and protects it. P.S The TTP has now also released a detailed statement in Urdu justifying their attack on the girl child. Their drivel is as shameless as their actions.

Pakistan: Time to take responsibility

By: Kamila Hyat
What does Malala Yousafzai have to do with drones? How can the 14-year-old school girl, who today struggles for survival in a UK hospital, have anything to do with the unmanned aircraft that swoop over our northern territories – the Orakzai Agency being the latest area picked out for attacks? Yet, while people across the country have generally been shocked by what happened, there are others, including political and religious leaders who have created immense confusion by trying to wrap the two issues – Malala’s attack and drone strikes – together. In the National Assembly, Maulana Attaur Rehman, who happens to be Maulana Fazalur Rehman’s brother, spoke of the need to ‘guide’ children correctly. Other clerics have been hesitant to condemn the murderous assault on a helpless child – apparently forgetting the most critical lessons of their religion. Even so-called liberals – Imran Khan standing out as one example – have sprung into discussions on the ‘root’ behind the shooting, suggesting that drones were the problem that led to such outrage. In the small, petty game of politics, we hear statements suggesting Malala is being ‘used’ by the Americans. It is then hardly surprising that the accusations that Americans may have orchestrated the attack come from both sides – the people who say Malala is ‘used’ by the US and the Taliban. This is despite clear cut statements from Ihsanullah Ihsan, the Taliban spokesman who holds regular media talks over mobile phone lines, claiming responsibility for the attack and saying that they would make further attempts to kill her if she survived. It has also become clear that the gunmen were sent by Maulana Fazalullah, the former Taliban commander of Swat. Although he was never captured as the military operation in Swat ended, but deprived of his radio channels and the white horse he once rode in a grotesquely distorted emulation of Islamic heroes, it now seems he wages war on children. And too few speak for these children. The astonishingly articulate and courageous Malala, addressing audiences in both Urdu and fluent English, was forced to speak for the right to education for girls, to condemn the Taliban, because too few adults dared to do so. Had they spoken out, had marches been led in previous years – or even now – to oppose Taliban atrocities, as they are held against drone attacks, Malala and her injured friends may not have been left alone to have bullets pumped into them. We, as a society, must ask if it is really acceptable to thrust that responsibility on our children. They should not have to risk their lives by speaking out against an inhumane, brutal force because no one else dares to do so. Even now, we should ask why the Taliban are openly condemned by so few, even though we have seen in the clearest terms what they are capable off. Yet, despite those pictures of a little girl with tubes helping her breathe as she lies in a hospital bed, sedatives dulling her pain, jibes and ‘jokes’ come in about the American’s ‘using’ her or ‘exploiting’ the situation. Humanity appears to have vanished – and taken rationality along with it as well. Things should not be that difficult to make sense off. There can be more than one evil in the world. Murder and rape are both terrible crimes. In just the same fashion, the Taliban and other militant forces deserve to be opposed with all the might we can muster. And yes, drone attacks too need to be opposed – though it is not necessary to constantly connect dots. There is every reason to believe the Taliban have acquired a force that goes beyond hatred for the US. The climate of extremism they have woven holds our country in a vice like-grip, as difficult to disentangle as a spider’s web. We hear of threats to girls’ education in southern Punjab, and acid attacks on women who step outdoors in Balochistan. We also see silence descend over the issue of blasphemy, despite the evidence that has emerged time and again of people being framed; of a teenaged Christian girl with Down’s Syndrome being ensnared in a blasphemy case; and of extremist forces becoming more and more active in the Punjab. All this has little to do with the US as such; although yes, anti-western feelings are present – and acute. They are a factor in what we are seeing. But extremism has taken on a life of its own. The Taliban struggle is one for power and it is simplistic to believe it will vanish once the Americans leave the region. This will simply not happen and facing this reality is crucial to our future. The reality tells us we must speak up more powerfully. We must take on responsibility for what is happening, and not leave the burden sitting on the shoulders of the very young. The political parties so fond of ‘long marches’ must march – or rather drive – a little more, taking on the Taliban. Still more essential is to remove the props and keep them standing up and indeed rising higher like a puppet raised above the theatre brink by the master who wields the stick it is built onto. But there can be no excuse at all for backing a force capable of the worst kind of crime. The Taliban are little different from other such forces we have seen through history; they are worse than some. Collaboration or support for them is simply unacceptable. All we have to do to understand this is to talk to people who have lived under their rule. Many in Swat, Dir, South Waziristan and other places are perfectly clear on who is responsible for the destruction and havoc in their lives. Though they see the complexities involved, with the US presence in the region, they know too at whose hands they have suffered worst. The views of such ordinary people must be respected. They must be given a chance to become their own spokespeople and not have words put in their mouths by outsiders who pursue a line of their own for political and ideological reasons, even though to do so they need to throw morality and basic human decency aside.