Friday, November 16, 2012

Jordanians call for king's ouster during rally

Associated Press
Calls for the ouster of Jordan's King Abdullah II grew Friday, as thousands of protesters packed the streets of the capital. Larger groups have demonstrated in Amman since the unrest sparked by fuel price hikes started three days ago, but Friday's march constituted the biggest single bloc yet to call for the end of the U.S.-backed monarch's regime. The crowd of some 2,500 also chanted slogans reminiscent of last year's uprisings in the region. Similar rallies turned unusually violent earlier this week, with one person killed and 75 others, including 58 policemen, injured. Overall turnout on Friday was smaller than in past days, however, in Amman and elsewhere, with crowds varying from about 150 people in the southern town of Tafila to 3,000 in the northern city of Irbid. The protesters, frustrated over a sharp increase in fuel and gas prices, were led by a hodgepodge of activists that included the largely secular Hirak youth movement, the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, and various nationalist and left-wing groups. Jordan is plagued by poverty, unemployment and high inflation. "I already can barely feed my 4 children with my monthly wage of $500, how can I afford this price increase?" asked Thaer Mashaqbeh, 47, a civil servant protesting in central Amman, as the crowd chanted: "The people want to topple the regime," and "Abdullah, you either reform or you go." The government has defended the price rise, saying it was necessary to reduce a massive budget deficit and foreign debt, part of Jordan's efforts to secure a badly needed $2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to shore up the kingdom's shaky finances. Despite the appearance of counter protesters, authorities reported no clashes in the 10 protests that took place across the country. Thousands of pro-government loyalists took to the streets nationwide on Friday to support the king, waving batons and threatening his critics. "Abdullah is our king and God is our witness," they chanted. The unrest began late on Tuesday after the government raised prices for cooking and heating gas by 54 percent and some oil derivatives by up to 28 percent. In response, thousands of Jordanians poured into the streets, pelting riot police with stones and torching police cars, government offices and private banks in the largest and most sustained protests to hit the country since the start of the region's uprisings nearly two years ago. Police say "outlaws" with criminal records took advantage of the disorder to rob banks and homes, attack police stations, courts and other government buildings and carry out carjackings. At least 157 people have been arrested since Tuesday. Jordan has been hit by frequent, but small, anti-government protests over the past 23 months, but this week's demonstrations have shifted the focus from the government squarely to the king. So far, Abdullah has largely maintained control, partly by relinquishing some of his powers to parliament and amending several laws guaranteeing wider public freedoms. But his opponents say the reforms are insufficient, and the violent protests Tuesday and Wednesday indicated many in Jordan are growing frustrated with the government's inability to address a host of trouble, mainly unemployment and poverty. Jordanian government officials have accused the Muslim Brotherhood of inciting the unrest to score political points ahead of parliamentary elections in January. The fundamentalist group is boycotting the polls over disagreement with the government on an election law that it says favors pro-king loyalists. Brotherhood spokesman Jamil Abu-Bakr, however, said his group "isn't against the king." "Our followers in the protests did not call on his downfall," he said. "But we want him to seriously introduce real reforms to ease the popular agitation that may lead to an explosion in the street."

CHINA: Smooth transition paves way for change

Xi Jinping was elected general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee at the first plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, realizing a peaceful, orderly and institutionalized transition of power. It marks an achievement in the political reform that began with China's reform and opening-up. Members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the 18th CPC Central Committee, who were elected at the first plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, met both Chinese and foreign journalists in the Great Hall of the People Thursday. In the first three decades since the founding of the PRC, the CPC witnessed several significant political struggles within the top leadership, especially during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), which led to social turbulence.
The reasons were complicated, but the fundamental one was the existence of lifelong tenure, which was closely entangled with intra-Party unification, basic political order and the authority of CPC's top leadership. It was in 1980 that then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping raised discussions about the reform of the CPC leadership succession system, proposing that no leader should hold lifelong tenure. In 1989, Deng resigned as chairman of the Central Military Commission, ending the lifelong tenure system of China's top leadership that had lasted for 40 years. Deng could be compared to George Washington, one of the founding fathers of the US, who refused to run for a third term, establishing the customary policy of a maximum of two terms for a US president. Deng's move provided possibility for establishing a system with fixed terms of office and a smooth transition of top leadership within the framework of democracy and rule of law. The third generation of Chinese leadership, led by Jiang Zemin, further carried out Deng's path, and systemized and standardized the tenure of China's top leadership. As intra-Party democracy proceeded, the third generation of leadership passed on power to the fourth generation led by Hu Jintao, including the highest positions in the Party, government and military, namely general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, China's president and chairman of the Central Military Commission, in three consecutive years of 2002, 2003 and 2004. This is the first peaceful and institutionalized political succession since the history of the CPC and the foundation of the PRC. In 2008, Xi Jinping was elected vice president of China by the National People's Congress. In the fifth plenary session of the 17th CPC Central Committee in 2010, Xi was appointed vice chairman of the Central Military Commission. During the first plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee Thursday, he was just elected as general secretary of the CPC Central Committee. This marks a systemized political succession from Hu's fourth generation of leadership to Xi's fifth generation. Such systemization, together with the promotion of intra-Party democracy and reform of officials' selection system, paves the way for the stability and development of China's political system. The factions that used to emerge in the Party and political infighting are rarely seen. The systemization has a number of significant points. The authority of an individual leader does not play a dominant role in the interests of the Party and the country. He has no necessity to take extreme measures to maintain his absolute power. This will make other top leaders hold a tolerant view toward differing opinions, thus eventually realizing democracy. Moreover, the power transitions within the Party, government and military within the next few years will constrain and supervise the supreme power to some extent, and avoid interest entanglement and low efficiency. A systemized leadership transition can help the Party to adjust public policies. It creates possibilities that multiple parties can take turns to carry out public policies to meet public demands. Meanwhile, it avoids potential social disturbances caused by party elections and the rotation of ruling parties in developing countries which lack a democratic tradition.

Pakistan: Around 79% water supply schemes supplying unsafe water

Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) revealed on Thursday that water from 79 percent of sources of the functional Water Supply Schemes (WSS) in Punjab was unsafe for drinking purposes. Around 40 percent of these schemes were unsafe due to microbiological contamination, while about 23 percent contained major pollutants like total dissolved solids, chloride, sodium, iron, arsenic and fluoride, which caused diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery etc. According to a report titled ‘Technical Assessment of WSS’ by PCRWR, 31 percent of the schemes in Punjab were over 25 years old, 23 percent were between 20-25 years old, 16 percent were 15-20 years old while 30 percent schemes were 10-15 years old. Spokesperson PCRWR Lubna Naheed told APP that most of the schemes had used G1 and AC pipes for their distribution system, the useful life of which were less than 20 years. She said that WSS should be properly planned, constructed and maintained so that pollution in the system could not occur. “The performance of water treatment should also be checked periodically by the management team and concerned authorities,” said Lubna. The survey showed that awareness regarding safe water was very limited in the general public as well as among managers of supply schemes. Lubna said that measures were required to improve management of schemes and revenue collection procedures to increase income and make the scheme financially sustainable. “Water theft and wastage through leakages should be properly monitored and remedial actions are required to minimize leakages and wastage of water in timely manner,” she said.

Malala status updates 16 November 2012

Malala Yousufzai remains stable and comfortable at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham. A total of £9,982.13 has now been donated to a dedicated fund within the QEHB Charity. The fund was set up soon after Malala arrived in Birmingham on 15 October, in response to the outpouring of concern from around the world and people wanting to make a donation to show their support. The QEHB Charity is independent to the hospital. It provides funding for facilities and equipment not normally available on the NHS, such as patient and family welfare, educational projects and research. Once Malala is well enough, the charity will ask her how she would like the money to be spent.

Banned at home, Pakistan brewery seizes Hollywood moment

What have Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, underage drinking and Pakistan's only beer maker got in common? It was the arrest of the Hollywood stars' daughter in New York with a can of Murree Brewery's beer last June that propelled the company out of obscurity and into the spotlight. Inundated with emails asking about its beer, Murree Brewery seized on the free publicity to launch expansion plans outside the Muslim nation, where alcohol is banned and those that do drink can become targets of Taliban militants and other Islamist fundamentalists. Five months since the arrest, the 150-year-old company says it has lined up distributors that could see its flagship beer arrive on liquor store shelves in the United States and Dubai as early as the first quarter of next year. "Demi Moore and Bruce Willis' daughter gave us multi-million dollars worth of publicity by default. We plan to go to the United States and make a queue to hug both the daughter and the mother," Sabih ur Rehman, special assistant to the chief executive, joked with Reuters. Murree Brewery, established in 1860 by British colonial rulers to supply beer to their troops, is desperately looking for business overseas to hedge against its uncertain domestic market. Prohibition was imposed in Pakistan in 1977, and non-Muslims and foreigners must obtain a government permit to purchase alcohol at designated retailers, mainly upscale hotels.
It also produces a line of juices and non-alcoholic drinks, but is prohibited from advertising its beer, whisky, gin and other liquor products. Relying on word of mouth and an influx of thirsty diplomats and foreign investors, annual alcohol sales have grown an average of 20 percent over the past five years, reaching $26.8 million in the 2012 financial year. The company's stock is up 175 percent so far this year, trading at 160 rupees on November 13, far outpacing the 42 percent rise in the Karachi Stock Exchange benchmark 100-share index. Despite its strong sales, the company's net profit after taxes rose a mere 1 percent year-on-year to 525 million Pakistan rupees ($5.48 million) for the year ended June 30, due to an increase in alcohol taxes and rising labour costs. LIVING IN FEAR Murree Brewery's chief executive, Isphanyar Bhandara, lives in constant fear that authorities will shut down alcohol production at any moment as Pakistan drifts towards a more conservative interpretation of Islam. "Pakistan is moving more and more to the right. That is not good for Pakistan and not good for us," said the 39-year-old executive at his office in Rawalpindi, a military city just outside the capital, Islamabad "Each day we are allowed to survive, that is a blessing." The brewery, which employs 1,100 people, is located within the headquarters of the Pakistani Army and across the street from the residences of the country's top military commanders, making it arguably the most protected brewery in the world. To ensure survival, it has turned to a European brewery to produce its beer for overseas consumption due to a government ban on alcohol exports, which was eased just recently. The Pakistani brewery said it has reached an agreement with the Czech Republic's Zatec Brewery initially to produce at least 5,000 cases, each containing 24 bottles of Murree Beer, annually from next year. That amount will double in 2015, Rehman said. However, the managing director of Zatec Brewery, Martin Kec, said he knew nothing of this arrangement and his firm had only produced a very small amount of Murree Beer in the past. Murree Brewery also said it has lined up distributors in Texas, Dubai and Denmark to market and sell its lager under franchise agreements, and is looking for partners in Britain and other European countries. "We are virgins and we are looking for husbands," said Bhandara, whose family is from the country's non-Muslim Parsi minority. But Murree Beer faces a difficult road as a new player in the crowded U.S. and European markets, dominated by the industry's "big four" -- Anheuser-Busch InBev, SABMiller, Heineken and Carlsberg. The company's last attempt to break into Western markets failed after it was forced to end its partnership with an Austrian brewery due to high costs and logistical problems. Analysts say a few tabloid headlines will not be enough to be successful and Murree will also need a multi-million-dollar promotional campaign. It is also unclear the type of consumer they are trying to sell their beer to, since most Pakistanis living abroad are Muslim and unlikely to drink alcohol. "They are never going to be anything but a very niche player. It's unlikely they will be able to push as hard as major brewers with their own niche lagers," said a London-based stock analyst, who asked not to be identified because he did not cover Murree Brewery. But company officials are hopeful, particularly for the U.S. market. "Americans will drink anything. They are like fish," Rehman said.

Rabbani offers ideas for Karachi peace

Pakistan People’s Party leader and senior politician Senator Raza Rabbani on Thursday came up with some suggestions to heal the wounds of Karachi. Speaking in the Senate, the upper house of the parliament, the veteran politician called for action against terrorists after evolving consensus amongst political and religious parties in Karachi, which has long faced wave of violence, ranging from sectarian and ethnic to political. He said coordination among the state agencies needed to be increased. The senator said committees should be formed on province level to maintain peace, adding that suspected terrorists should not be freed from lockups. He said that the detainees should be given their legal rights. Rabbani said that SHOs should not be appointed at the behest of others while law enforces should be provided with the phone tracking system facility. He said that efforts were continuing to pit state institution against each other. Raza Rabbani warned that measures taken on country’s situation might prove ineffective. Rabbani said that the parliament and the judiciary were attacked to scandalize the institutions.

Who will save Karachi from burning?

"Nero fiddled while Rome burned" is an old adage but in Pakistan, in reality, we can claim that this is happening. While Karachi and Balochistan are burning, our government and its different parts are sitting calmly giving TV interviews and suggestions and slanders about the culprit or culprits. But the question is who is looking out for Pakistan? The people are burning in the fire of misery, of devastation and continuous bombings. Others are burning in the furnace of prejudices, hatred and apartheid. Whether it is news channels showing 'breaking news' or the front page of daily newspapers, both speaks at length about Karachi situation. This situation is nothing new but of grave concern. So many questions and no answers, and whenever asked a direct question, our politicians start spinning a web of deceit or a yarn or fairy tales such as "Once upon a time there was Musharraf…" We all would like to know who are the ruthless killers? Where do they plan such unholy actions? What is their motive behind such callous acts? How they are able to escape despite police and civilians around? Why is the government and concerned agencies showing apathy towards the situation? And most importantly when will this violence be over and we could all go back to a normal life? The states foremost responsibility is the security of life and property of its subjects, whether it is a house, a school or a business. More than eighty people have been killed in the last ten days, and there is no hope of any improvement in the coming days. We need a collective effort on the part of political parties, Ulemas, civil society, government, judiciary and all other concerned authorities to join hands to overcome this catastrophe. We as public should become vigilantes and point out any criminal we see among us. We should be on high alert.

Pakistani Man Sentenced To Death For Blasphemy

Radio Free Europe
A Pakistani court has sentenced a man to death for blasphemy.
Police identified the man as Hazrat Ali Shah, who was reported as being in his mid-20s. He was convicted on November 15 after a trial in the remote northwestern district of Chitral. Amir Khan, a local police official, says Shah was arrested in March 2011 for profanity against the Prophet Mohammad. It is the first death sentence in a blasphemy case after a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, was given a death sentence in 2010. She has not been executed yet. Her case brought international criticism of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which were introduced in the 1980s by former military dictator Zaiul Haq.

Zardari: Karachi violence isn’t govt’s failure

President Asif Ali Zardari has said that deteriorating law and order situation in Karachi is not government’s failure but a plot by terrorists to distract the government from its mission. Addressing an Eid Milan party in Mandi Bahauddin on Wednesday, President Zardari said terrorists were aggravating situation in Karachi to undermine efforts of the state in the war against terror. He resolved that the government would never let the enemies weaken the country. The president announced that free and fair general elections would be held on time, adding that rigging could not be done on current electoral rolls.“We intend to stabilise Pakistan through resources wherever we found them. We cannot follow philosophy of 5 years, we have to look beyond,” the president said. He called for joint efforts to serve the country, adding that government’s rivals also conceded that the parliament was going to complete its tenure.“We didn’t work for a single party; instead we worked for Pakistan, we will prosper if Pakistan will, we will drown if Pakistan sinks,” he added.The president, while addressing in Punjabi, recalled that he spent his youth days in the jails of Punjab where he learnt the language. He said that several parties decided to boycott the 2008 election under Musharraf but it was Benazir Bhutto Shaheed who opted to go for elections and persuaded other parties to do so. “The history will decide who was right, but at this point in time we stand successful. Even our rivals accept that we have strengthened the parliament and transferred powers to it,” Zardari claimed. He said that politics is a noble practice and nurturing enmity in it is dangerous for the nation. The president said: “We are fighting for our future generations and will successfully lead Pakistan into the 21st century.” He said that the government wanted all parties to sit and think about the better future of Pakistan. Talking about the foreign policy, he said that the government tried to strengthen relationship with China, Turkey and other countries to make Pakistan better for the coming generations. Zardari said that conspiracies against the government and the country were being hatched but “if anyone thinks they can weaken us, they are mistaken.”He said that security, prosperity and stability of the country depended on democracy and his party was trying hard to promote democratic values. He said that even a patwari would not be willing to share his powers but he had given executive powers to the prime minster. He said that the government believed in providing equal educational opportunities to the under-privileged and talented youth of Punjab with an aim to bring them at par with the privileged. A rally was to be held earlier but postponed due to the busy schedule of the president.

Peshawar: Govt urged to establish writ, rebuild schools

Participants of a dialogue on ‘Female Education and Government’s Responsibilities’ on Thursday urged the government to establish its writ in the province, rebuild the schools blown up by militants, stop interference in transfer and posting of teachers and take tangible steps for higher literacy rate. The event was organised by the provincial Information Department at Peshawar Press Club in collaboration with Khyber Union of Journalists. Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, who was the chief guest on the occasion, said the government was committed to promoting education, especially female education, in the province but necessary changes in syllabus was a must for it.“We tried to replace the old syllabus but some people raised a hue and cry over it and as a result, we couldn’t do it,” he said. The minister, however, said steps were being taken to improve literacy rate in the province. Women rights activist Rakhshanda Naz called for pro-female education policies in the province and said primary education should be assigned to female teachers, who could manage it in a befitting manner. She said women should be given due share in all sectors for national progress. Ms Naz also demanded that the government address the mobility issue affecting female teachers. Religious scholar Maulana Ihsanullah explained the significance of female education in Islam. He said education was compulsory for both men and women and that there was no restriction in Islam on female education. Mr Ihsanullah said the perception that ulema were opposed to female education was false and misleading. Arshad Haroon of SPO demanded introduction of uniform education system in the country. He regretted that the education situation was dismal in the country, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Sadia Marwat of Aurat Foundation said Pakistan was unlikely to fulfill international obligations on education under Millennium Development Goals. She said the government’s performance on education was a big letdown. Religious scholar Rohullah Madni called for better allocation of funds for seminaries in the budget and said the government should promote both modern and religious education in the province.

President Zardari’s promise

Editorial: Daily Times
In his address at an ‘Eid Milan Party’ the other day, President Asif Ali Zardari ranged over a wide exposition on the present state of democracy and politics. The main points elucidated by the president included an assurance that there would be no delay in the elections since steps had already been taken, including updated voters’ lists, to hold fair, free and transparent elections on the scheduled date. This appeared to be the president’s answer to some conspiracy theory reports in the media that the government may be contemplating postponing the elections on one pretext or the other. The president underlined the PPP’s perception that democracy was the only way forward. He offered an olive branch to the estranged PML-N by arguing that although the two mainstream parties had parted ways, this did not mean that they were enemies. Differences should not be stretched too far, he argued, and tolerance and accommodation should be the operative watchwords. Zardari admitted our nascent democracy still had many shortcomings, but said he would welcome inputs from all the political forces to overcome these and frame a 25-year or even 50-year plan as traditional five-year plans could not steer the country out of the current situation. Political parties needed to be strengthened to consolidate democracy. The PPP, he asserted, was working to turn Pakistan into a state that can meet the challenges of the 21st century. In a reiteration of his presidency’s achievements, he reminded his audience that he had delegated his inherited powers to parliament, before which now every power was bowing (although some would argue to the contrary!). The Asghar Khan case verdict had vindicated the late Benazir Bhutto’s accusation at the time that the 1990 election was snatched from her. Today, the president asserted, conspiracies against democracy would not succeed. He celebrated the fact that for the first time since the 1970s, parliament was about to complete its five-year term. Turning to Karachi, the president refuted the argument that the state had failed in the city, countering by pointing to the elements under attack in the war on terror, who were attempting to destabilise Karachi to distract the government’s attention from the ongoing campaign against them. Last but not least, President Zardari positioned himself squarely as carrying forward the ideology of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) and the mission of Benazir Bhutto. While there is much that is of value and unassailable in the president’s remarks, some areas of concern remain. It is heartening to note, despite our litany of discontent at the shortcomings of the democratic system ushered in in 2008, that despite political rivalries and differences, there are hardly any takers in the country for authoritarian or dictatorial dispensations. In this regard, the main opposition leader, Mian Nawaz Sharif, has shown a maturity that is all too rare in our polity and refused to go along with any scheme to upset the democratic system through any extra-constitutional intervention. Despite his complaints and critique of the PPP, this statesmanlike attitude has lent stability and longevity to the democratic system and is a reminder of the continuing influence of the ideas enshrined in the Charter of Democracy. A country that is a stranger to peaceful transfer of power through the ballot stands poised on the brink of the first such transition in our history. Surely the import of this turn cannot escape anyone familiar with the chequered history of Pakistan. While the president and co-chairperson of the PPP has adhered to the reconciliation philosophy Benazir Bhutto left behind as a legacy, it must also be admitted that he has not always lived up to the promise of carrying all political forces along. Nevertheless, this being often an intrinsic part of political rivalry, we should be grateful for the not so small mercies of the record of the last five years: no political prisoners, freedoms across the board that have allowed virtually every group in society to peacefully agitate its demands, and haltingly but surely, a political culture groping its way towards civilised conduct in public life. This is not to say all is hunky dory, only to mark whatever progress is visible. President Zardari spoke in the same breath of the ideology of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his own desire to see a just society in which the child of a poor person would be on an equal footing with a child of the rich and powerful. With the greatest respect, the PPP is widely seen now as detached from its early socialist moorings and merely paying lip service to the founding ideas of the party. This is not just the president’s doing. It is something he has inherited from the trajectory of the party after ZAB’s hanging. The PPP retreated after that tragedy into a mode resembling nothing more than appeasing the powerful state and non-state forces inherently hostile to the party because precisely of its earlier élan. Whether that has worked as a strategy or brought the party closer to the goal of a more just society must be left open as a question and await the verdict of history.

Pakistan: Fertilizer sector faces 2.7mn ton loss in 2012
Fertilizer manufacturers in Pakistan faced over 2.7 million tons urea production loss in 2012 mainly due to gas curtailment, as they could only produce 4.2 million tons of urea against a total production capacity of over 6.9 million tons per annum. Industry sources told Business Recorder on Thursday that during last five year fertilizer industry invested $2.3 billion in the country based on the government approved policy designed to encourage investment in the sector. However, unprecedented gas curtailment to fertilizer plants, in violation of existing supply contract of 12 months a year, has caused significant loss to the manufacturers during the year 2012. They informed that so far the industry had suffered a production loss of over 2.7 million tons in 2012. The domestic fertilizer plants produced only 4.2 million tons of urea against a total production capacity of over 6.9 million tons per annum. Decline in domestic production of urea also compelled the government to import huge quantity of urea to meet farmers’ demand, they said and added “to meet this production loss government imported over 1.23 million tons of urea spending 566 million dollars and also paid over 24 billion rupees subsidy to keep the imported urea’s prices at par with locally produced urea.” On the other hand, sources said, cash strapped Ministry of Finance is not very happy over this situation as Pakistan has all the required production facility to meet the domestic demand and even Pakistan can export over one million ton of urea to earn hundreds of millions of dollars every year if domestic fertilizer plants are provided with uninterrupted gas. The country’s overall urea production capacity is about 6.9 million tons annually, as against the demand of some 5.8 million tons, providing an opportunity to export some one million ton of urea annually. Industry sources said that despite all the pressing problems, domestic urea price is still Rs 1331 per bag below international urea price, which is six times larger than feed gas subsidy of Rs.216 per bag. “The current domestic urea price is Rs 1,659 per bag, including company price Rs 1,422 per bag and Rs 237 per bag General Sales Tax and advanced tax, as against average international urea price of Rs 2,990 per bag inclusive of GST during 2012,” they informed. The encouragement of fertilizer industry by the government was meant to pass on benefit of domestic manufacturing to the farmer. This is evident from the fact that during 2012 domestic urea sold at $311 per ton while it received gas at $3.8 per MMBTU. In comparison Middle Eastern producers sold urea at $470 per ton while paying approximately $0.7 per MMBTU for gas. They said that over the last five years the farmers have received benefit of Rs 500 billion, of this Rs 140 billion was contributed by the government in form of feed gas subsidy and Rs 360 billion was contributed by the fertilizer manufactures by keeping urea prices significantly lower than the international prices. Sources claimed that SNGPL-based plants were facing the worst-ever crisis of their history as such gas curtailment was never witnessed before 2012. They said that the sector despite making an investment of $2.3 billion in last 4-5 years on new production capacity, making Pakistan world’s 7th largest urea manufacturer country, is sitting on an idle urea capacity of over 2.5 million tons. They also claimed that if the same gas curtailment continues during 2013, the SNGPL-based fertilizer plants may force to shut down permanently resulting in lay off of highly skilled manpower, increase in bad debts and huge burden on national exchequer, to import urea to meet the urea shortfall. A fertilizer sector official commented that it’s not just fertilizer plants that would face the burnt, the whole farmers’ community as well as the government would be the ultimate losers if fertilizer plants with over 2 million tons of capacity were shutdown due to unavailability of gas. They said that government needs to support fertilizer industry to ensure inexpensive local urea to farmers and import fuel for the power sector and the industry which is more cost effective.

Peace in Afghanistan

Pakistani authorities on Wednesday freed eight to 10 Afghan Taliban prisoners at the request of peace negotiators to help boost the troubled peace and reconciliation process in war-torn Afghanistan. All junior cadres of the Taliban, they were freed on a request by Afghan High Peace Council chief Salahuddin Rabbani, who arrived in Islamabad at the head of a delegation on Monday for talks with Pakistan's top civil and military leadership as Islamabad showed its determination to play a positive role in the reconciliation process that made little headway since it began almost four years ago. A joint statement issued at the conclusion of Rabbani's visit said a number of Taliban detainees are being released in support of the reconciliation process. The two sides also argued with the Taliban and other armed groups that they should sever all links with al Qaeda and other international terror networks. The Taliban's former deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, captured by Pakistani security forces in Karachi in 2010, was not among the released prisoners because he initiated peace talks without informing Pakistani authorities. The joint statement said that Pakistan and Afghanistan would work closely with international partners to remove the names of potential negotiators amongst the Taliban and other groups from the United Nations sanctions list to enable them to participate in talks to ease out the transition in Afghanistan in the run-up to the withdrawal of most of the US and foreign troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The Afghanistan side has been pleading that the release of Taliban prisoners will benefit Afghanistan and Taliban are supposed to divorce their bloody past to begin a normal life and reintegrate into Afghan society. Their release came after substantial progress in the talks between the Afghan council and Pakistani leaders, particularly on confidence building measures between the two countries which have often shown their interest in the peace process degenerating in the past. Taliban are now being billed as a potential political and electoral force for the 2014 Afghan polls by Kabul and Washington and this position was taken by Islamabad in not so distant a past only to be spurned by both Afghanistan and the US. The AHPC now admits that Kabul can depend on Pakistan's commitment, as held out by top Pakistani leaders that Islamabad would go to the last extent of restoring a sustainable peace by extending all out cooperation and coordination to realize the goal. Such notions also came from the former Taliban Minister, Maulvi Arsala Rahmani, now a member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, who has said that Taliban have now decided to soften up their stance for a peace in Afghanistan. Today, they are ready to make comprises on some of the aspects which one could never thought of earlier. Rahmani also pointed out to a new role of Taliban with a categorical assurance that "Taliban are not back to govern the same way as the old Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. When they are back, they will be back as (other) Afghans." With the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar, one could see this change in the attitude of the Taliban leadership. On its part, United States is also negotiating with Taliban considering them as a legal entity. The US official stance a few months earlier was that they would never talk with Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Then there came a change of stance and its officials said that, US is willing to talk to "good" Taliban. However, now that US officials have met with the people of Mullah Omar whom they were accounting for as "bad" Taliban, there is a visible flexibility on the US side, which is no longer insisting either that the Taliban accept the existing constitution as a pre-condition or disarm them, before the talks. Now that all actors of the Afghanistan peace process have softened their hitherto inflexible conduct, there is a strong message from all sides that they wanted business. The scenario also sends a signal that Kabul and Washington have now accepted Islamabad's view that peace without Taliban, who hail from Pashtuns who form about half of the landlocked country's population, will be a mere delusion. It is also a stark reality that there can no peace in Afghanistan without Pakistan's active participation.

A concert and a fashion show take place in Peshawar

The Express Tribune
The tense and entertainment-starved youth of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) recently witnessed a concert and a fashion show at Neshtar Hall, which was arranged by the Directorate of Culture. The event was aimed to be a distraction for the young people for whom security concerns have narrowed entertainment options. The event management company Globoss said that the aim was to provide entertainment and create awareness about fashion trends in the city. Globoss claims that the event was called off many times, and the situation remained uncertain until the culture directorate intervened.
A variety of artists performed their songs; Waheed Achekzai performed his latest numbers including “Zwanano Pasai Inqilab Rawal” followed by some romantic songs which got the crowd moving. However, the performances became repetitive and boring and left the audience no choice but to boo the singer off stage. To add variation, there was a modelling session showcasing different designers from the city. Designers flaunted their clothing lines with male and female models walking down the ramp in full-sleeved shirts in A-line cuts. “The display of different fashion designers will educate people about new fashion trends and new designers, as there are many upcoming in the city,” said Ambreen, a female presenter. “However, the crowd that came to the hall was more interested in a stage performance rather than the fashion show.” Well known singer Shafqat Mehmood took the stage after the fashion show, where he covered the popular fast Pashto number “A zma Yara, Zma Dildar” by the Afghanistan-based singer Najeeb Haqarast. He proceeded to cover more songs, including one by Khyal Mohmmad but left the crowd largely unimpressed. “The crowds in Peshawar are more interested in watching stage performances rather than concerts,” said Zeeshan Khan, the media co-ordinator for Globoss, explaining that people are more accustomed to dance performances than musical evenings.“The objective of this show was to entertain and give an opportunity to the youth to show their potential, because the city is still conservative and the atmosphere is strained,” he added. Even though the ticket prices were high, the hall was flooded with young people. Unfortunately, during the fashion show, the crowd thinned considerably as uninterested young people strolled out. “We came to the hall expecting famous Pashto singers like Humayoun Khan and Gul Panra to be performing,” said Amir, a young attendee. “Sadly, only fashion designers occupied the hall.” Event manager Zeeshan Khan clarified that those singers will perform later. “Those singers will perform on the second day of the event, but another ticket will have to be purchased on that day.”