Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Obama Urges Congress to Act on Middle Class Taxes

War crime? Syrian rebels execute POWs (GRAPHIC VIDEO)
A horrifying amateur video from Syria emerged online, showing an apparent mass execution of Assad supporters in Aleppo at the hands of rebels from the Free Syria Army. The footage shows several bloodied men stripped down to their underwear being forced to kneel by a wall amidst a throng of excited, machine gun-touting men. Once their captors open fire, the camera jerks away as the crowd momentarily disperses, seemingly unprepared for the nearly 40 seconds of uninterrupted shooting that follows. As the gunfire dies down, shouts of “Allahu Akbar!” resound as the once skittish onlookers victoriously raise their guns in the air, approaching what appears to be a pile of stripped-down corpses. One of the victims has been identified as Ali Zein Al-Abidin Al-barri; the rebels accused him and his family of killing 15 FSA soldiers during a truce in Aleppo on Tuesday. The video depicting the apparent massacre has not been verified, though the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said such vengeance was a crime as Islamic law does not authorize the execution of prisoners. Clive Baldwin, a senior legal adviser for Human Rights Watch (HRW), told BBC News: "What it looks like is execution of detainees and if that is the case, that would be a war crime." Russia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady Gatilov condemned the shooting. "The brutal massacre of government supporters by the opposition in the city of Aleppo shows that human rights violations are being committed by both sides,” he wrote on Twitter. It is not the first time that reports have emerged of rebels carrying out executions against pro-Assad forces without trial. Ahmed, a rebel fighter from the Amr bin al-Aas brigade which operates in the Syrian town of Azaz, recounted the execution of a Syrian army sniper named Rami who was shot dead after a graveside “trial,” Reuters reports. Ahmed says Rami was firing from the top of a high minaret at a local mosque before he was captured. "We took him right to his grave and, after hearing the witnesses' statements, we shot him dead," the agency sites Ahmed as saying. Ahmed made it clear that his forces often capture “handfuls of soldiers” in battle, saying that his men would create courts for the captured men and execute them. However, when pressed on the specifics of creating makeshift courts to justify killing those captured in battle, Ahmed remained stoic. "The culture of lawyers has long passed. I mean a guy like that," Ahmed said, referring to the slain sniper Rami, “what do you think his fate should be?" Such extra-judicial killings might be a sign of things to come if the 17-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad spins further out of control. Asia Times Online correspondent Pepe Escobar told RT that such massacres occur “all the time” in today's Syria. He believes, however, that summary executions of this nature will push minorities to fight against the rebels. “I received this video from a source in Arabic, and then I asked for a translation. This is a very important clan in Northern Aleppo. Some of them were executed in cold blood, this is what this two and a half minute video shows. This is an extended clan. They have like 20,000 brothers, sisters and extended family in this tribal clan,” Escobar said. “So this means that all of these people, instead of being recruited to the opposition, now they will fight the opposition because they are being executed in cold blood. This explains, among other things, why Christians all over Syria are taking up arms to defend themselves. Because they know if there is a post-Assad controlled [government] by Sunni hardcore elements, including Salafi jihadists, they are going to be unprotected minorities. At the moment they are protected minorities under the Assad regime," he continued.

PML-N senator accused of fleecing overseas Pakistani of Rs 40m!

A case has been registered against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Senator Najma Hameed by Rukhsana Anwar, a British Pakistani, for heading a money laundering group which allegedly gorged up over Rs 40 million from the claimant. Rukhsana Anwar, a resident of Faisal Town, told Pakistan Today that she had paid Rs 46 million to purchase 10 plots through Rizwan Hameed, son of the PML-N senator. Rukhsana alleged that Rizwan gave her fake registries and documents for the plots. Upon finding out about the fraud, she contacted Najma, who allegedly threatened her instead of helping her out. “I had to face enormous difficulties in getting a case registered,” Rukhsana said. She said that the police and other authorities had not been able to recover her money as yet. She further said that Rizwan was being protected by his mother. The complainant further alleged that Najma and her son had been constantly threatening her and that she had to send her children back to Britain out of fear. “Shahbaz Sharif had promised a favourable environment for overseas Pakistanis to invest in their homeland but I have been given no protection,” she said. She appealed to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and the chief justice of Pakistan to help her recover her money. When contacted, Senator Najma told Pakistan Today that she had been working with Nawaz Sharif for the past 37 years and had “never taken any advantage of her position”. She said her son was holding a senior position at a bank, prayed five times a day and was a top student during his MBA. “Why would he do such a fraud? We have never met Rukhsana,” she said, adding that she had done a background check on Rukhsana and “found out that she had been living in London for the past 12 years where she was involved in currency and car smuggling”. She further said that Rukhsana belonged to Mandi Bahaudin and alleged that she was part of a group of three sisters who had made a living out of blackmailing people. Najma said that the CM had ordered an enquiry into the matter. “I have a clear conscience,” Najma said. “My son and I have done no wrong. I have always worked with honesty and will continue to do so,” she stated.

Russia says not to step in Syria's armed conflict

Russia in no case would intervene in the armed conflict in Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday. "Certainly, Moscow's involvement in the armed conflict is absolutely out of the question," Lavrov said in a comment published on the ministry's website, adding the Russia-Syria military-technical cooperation was conducive to maintaining stability in the Middle East. "It (the cooperation) has never aimed at supporting any forces on the intra-Syria arena," he said. Russia's top diplomat said Moscow was categorically against external interference, especially the use of force, in Syria's internal events. "We do everything to stop the bloodshed, to bring the sides to the negotiating table, where the Syrians themselves would decide the future political shape of their country," Lavrov said. Meanwhile, he reminded that Russia has been working with both Syria's official government and opposition to reach these goals. In addition, Lavrov said Moscow persuaded all the outside players to make efforts to get all the sides in Syria to implement the agreement achieved at the Geneva meeting. Russia was committed to adhering to the terms of the Geneva declaration, which envisages a Syria-led transition. The Syria crisis has lasted some 20 months. Russia reiterated that all relevant parties in the crisis should respect the country's sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity. The Geneva agreement reached by world powers in June stipulated that a transitional governing body must be formed on the basis of mutual agreement between the Syrian government and the opposition.

Is a Glass of Wine or Beer Healthier?
Moderate consumption of alcohol—whether it’s beer, wine, or a shot of ­tequila—has been found to guard against heart disease, improve cholesterol levels, and even boost cognitive function. But in terms of additional benefits, you might be surprised to learn that beer comes out on top, according to ­Andrea Giancoli, R.D., spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Wine contains the antioxidant ­resveratrol, but, ­says Giancoli, “You’d need to drink much more than a glass or two of wine [a day] to obtain enough to be beneficial.” Meanwhile, compared to wine, “beer contains more ­ B vitamins, including folate and niacin, plus silicon, which is associated with better bone health. Moderate beer consumption also seems to lower the risk of kidney stones in men. It’s even got a little bit of fiber!”

Kim Kardashian Threatens To Sue Over Delayed Divorce Battle

Pakistan: Police claim recovering 3 boys who were to become suicide bombers

The police recovered three boys who were being shifted to North Waziristan to be recruited and trained as suicide bombers, sources said on Wednesday. The sources said that acting on a tip-off the police barricaded the Bannu-Dera Ismail Khan road near Muslim Bagh and stopped a passenger van. Following search, the police found and recovered 11-year old Rehan, Mukhtiar (14) and Shah Husssain (15) along with one Yahya Khan. All of them belonged to South Waziristan Agency but were residing in Sultan and Awan colonies in Karachi. Initially, they told the police that they were heading to Miranshah to attend a wedding party but during interrogation they confessed that they were going to become suicide bombers. The police registered the case and started its investigations. The sources said Yahya Khan was facilitating the shifting of the boys to North Waziristan to make them suicide bombers.

Fiscal cliff rattles markets as Obama, lawmakers urge fix

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday called for a pre-Christmas deal with Republicans to avert a tax and deficit crunch, as pressure mounted from the business world and Europe and stock markets fluttered.
US lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle demanded urgent action to keep America from falling off the so-called "fiscal cliff," and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was to drive the point home Thursday when he meets members of Congress to discuss "a balanced approach to reduce our deficit," his office said. With the Thanksgiving holiday now a memory, consensus has swelled that a deal -- either a full-blown grand bargain or part one of a multi-stage agreement -- ought to be reached before tax rates rise for millions of American families and deep spending cuts bite on the first day of 2013. Economists have said the $500-billion amalgam of tax hikes and spending cuts required by last year's debt-ceiling deal could could pitch the US economy back towards recession next year. The president gathered middle class families at the White House to dramatize and boost his campaign for Republicans to join Democrats in Congress to pass an extension to tax cuts for most Americans, while bowing to his pressure to raise rates on top earners. "I want to make sure everybody understands this debate is not just about numbers. It's a set of major decisions that are going to affect millions of families all across this country in very significant ways," Obama said. "Our ultimate goal is an agreement that gets our long-term deficit under control in a way that is fair and balanced. "I believe that both parties can agree on a framework that does that in the coming weeks," he said. "In fact, my hope is to get this done before Christmas." Obama, fresh from re-election, met with the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate earlier this month and expressed optimism that an agreement could be reached. Republicans acknowledged they were willing to put the issue of revenue on the table, perhaps in the form of higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans. That optimism has appeared to wobble, however, and the uncertainty led markets to sink in Asia on Wednesday, then close mixed in Europe. US stocks dropped on Tuesday and fell again at the opening bell Wednesday with traders fretting over a fiscal resolution, but US markets rebounded to close in positive territory. Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, was blunt about the need to negotiate. "There has to be a deal," she told reporters. "I believe everybody knows what the possibilities are, so let's just do it." But her Republican counterpart, House Speaker John Boehner, signaled no wavering in the standoff over taxes, even after fellow Republican congressman Tom Cole pitched taking the Democratic deal to prevent taxes from rising on the middle class while suggesting rates for the wealthiest be worked out later. Cole had argued that extending the Bush-era tax cuts for all families making less than $250,000 per year would give Republicans leverage in their bid to extend the tax cuts to the wealthy, as Democrats will still need to negotiate with Republicans on raising the debt ceiling by February. "I told Tom earlier in our conference meeting that I disagreed with him," Boehner said. "He's a wonderful friend of mine and a great supporter of mine, but raising taxes on the so-called top two percent -- half of those taxpayers are small-business owners that pay their taxes through their personal income tax filing every year. "The goal here is to grow the economy and control spending. You're not going to grow the economy if you raise tax rates on the top two (percent). It'll hurt small businesses, it'll hurt our economy." Several Republicans back Boehner's position, but defections from the party's "no tax increase" ideology have begun. They include Senators Lindsey Graham and Saxby Chambliss, who say they are willing to look beyond the party line towards raising taxes on the wealthiest if need be.

Activist Condemns Bahraini Regime's Continued Crimes against Peaceful Protesters

Chairman of the European-Bahraini Organization for Human Rights (EBOHR) Hussain M. Jawad rapped the al-Khalifa regime for continuing planned crackdown on peaceful protests, illegal detention of demonstrators and torturing of political prisoners. Jawad said the Bahraini regime presses ahead with its planned suppression of peaceful protestors, detention of activists and torturing of prisons despite global condemnation of its totalitarian and illegal behavior. He said that the Bahraini regime resorts to harsh approaches to silence freedom of speech, and added the regime even clamps down on licensed demonstrations - of course, when it, though very rarely, issued license for some gatherings in the early months of unrests in the country. The Bahraini activist also rejected the al-Khalifa regime's claims that Bahraini protestors wanted to stir chaos in the country during the demonstrations on Ashoura day on Sunday. Jawad said the regime does not allow foreign journalists and reporters to visit Bahrain in order to avoid a coverage of its inhuman crimes by the world news media. The al-Khalifa security forces are continuing the clampdown on peaceful protests across the country and have intensified arrests since the start of the holy month of Muharram. Muharram, a religious month is commemorated by Muslims across the world annually. The holy month which started on Friday bans people from killing, arresting, committing any wrong doing or crime. The regime has also insulted the religious slogans chanted by people during the holy month. The Bahraini government, facing protracted unrest by an overwhelming majority of the people, has revoked the nationality of 31 men on charges of harming national security. The men include London-based dissidents Saeed al-Shehabi and Ali Mushaima, the son of jailed opposition leader Hassan Mushaima, as well as clerics, human rights lawyers and activists. Also on the list published by Bahraini News Agency (BNA) were two former parliamentarians from the leading Shiite party Wefaq, Jawad and Jalal Fairooz. Anti-government protesters have been holding peaceful demonstrations across Bahrain since mid-February 2011, calling for an end to the Al Khalifa dynasty's over-40-year rule, end of discrimination, establishment of justice and a democratically-elected government as well as freedom of detained protesters. Violence against the defenseless people escalated after a Saudi-led conglomerate of police, security and military forces from the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) member states - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar - were dispatched to the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom on March 13, 2011, to help Manama crack down on peaceful protestors. So far, tens of people have been killed, hundreds have gone missing and thousands of others have been injured.

Saudi Arabia must charge or release protesters detained yesterday

We refused to leave and one man was beaten and his clothes were torn apart’ - protester, speaking to Amnesty Approximately 15 Saudi Arabian men detained yesterday must be released unless they are charged with a recognisable criminal offence, Amnesty International said following their arrest during a peaceful protest at the continued detention and ill-treatment of relatives. Police arrested the men outside the offices of the Human Rights Commission in the capital Riyadh. According to eyewitness accounts, 22 women and eight children were also detained for taking part in the protest. They were later released. One woman who took part in the protest told Amnesty that they were protesting at the “prolonged detention of our detained relatives without charge or trial, the ill-treatment they are subjected to in detention and the lack of medical attention they receive. My husband has been urinating blood for six months and has not had treatment.” Another woman said: “I have been protesting the detention of my husband, who has been detained for 12 years. He has been found innocent but not released. I have not seen or been able to call him for six months and I want to know where he is and if he is alive or dead.” According to eyewitnesses who spoke to Amnesty, 20 minutes after yesterday’s protest began at 12:30 in the afternoon the police and security forces arrived and cordoned off the area and ordered the demonstrators to either leave or risk detention. “We refused to leave and one man was beaten and his clothes were torn apart when the security officers attempted to arrest him, and a woman was kicked by security officers”, said one eyewitness. “We tried to get the names of the members of the security forces but they ripped their names off their uniforms. They did not want us to know who they were.” The protesters were put onto buses and taken to the Criminal Investigation Department where they gave their statements before being taken for interrogation at the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution. An eyewitness told Amnesty that “One woman protester who has cancer became unable to continue the interrogation; she became breathless and started shaking, but they continued to interrogate her. The women and children were then released only after they were made to sign an undertaking that they would not protest again and would be punished if they did.” Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said: "The Saudi Arabian authorities must release all those detained on Tuesday’s protest or charge them with recognisable criminal offences if there are legitimate reasons for doing so. "Participating in a peaceful protest or appearing to criticise state authorities for the treatment of detained relatives would never be a legitimate reason for arrest and detention.”

Protesters Detained in Saudi Arabia

Security forces detained dozens of men, women and children on Tuesday who were staging a rare protest outside a human rights group’s office in Riyadh to demand the release of jailed relatives, activists said. Saudi Arabia, which bans protests, says the prisoners were all held on security grounds. Activists said some had also been detained for purely political activity and have never been charged.

Rihanna scores first No. 1 album with 'Unapologetic'

While Adele is busy celebrating her cavalcade of 21s (her album “21” just became the 21st album to sell 10 million copies since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking retail sales 21 years ago), R&B-pop star Rihanna is rolling in lucky 7s. Her seventh album, “Unapologetic” has given the Barbados-born singer her first No. 1 collection on the Billboard 200 album chart—seven years after the release of her debut set, “Music of the Sun.” She’s also on the road with what she has dubbed her “777 Tour.” “Unapologetic” sold 238,000 copies last week, which also represents the biggest sales week to this point for Rihanna, who until this week held the record for the musician with the most No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 without a No. 1 album, as noted by Billboard’s Keith Caulfield. “Unapologetic” bumps last week’s top-selling album, One Direction’s “Take Me Home,” to the No. 3 slot, as the British boy group’s sophomore outing sold another 176,000 copies, behind Taylor Swift’s “Red,” holding on at No. 2 with 185,000 copies, up 28% from the previous week. The other new entries in this week’s Top 10 are “American Idol” grad Phillip Phillips’ debut, “The World From the Side of the Moon,” which sold 169,000 copies to enter at No. 4, which came in ahead of Kid Rock’s “Rebel Soul,” starting out at No. 5 on sales of 146,000 copies. The Led Zeppelin live album “Celebration Day,” recorded during the band’s 2007 reunion shows in London, enters at No. 9 with sales of 101,000 copies, followed by Keyshia Cole’s “Woman to Woman,” selling 96,000 copies and debuting at No. 10.

US envoy to leave Afghanistan-Pakistan post

The US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan is set to step down from his post in December, his spokeswoman said in statement. Laura Lucas told the AFP news agency on Wednesday Marc Grossman, who has been in the job for two years, would return to private life. Grossman was appointed by Hillary Clinton, the outgoing secretary of state, after the sudden death of veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke in December 2010. "After almost two years in the position, and with Secretary Clinton's agreement, he will return to private life," the statement said. Clinton thanked Grossman for building "a diplomatic surge" and an intense global focus which "have put in place a network of regional and international support for Afghanistan post 2014 and into the next decade," the statement added. "His work also helped set the conditions for an Afghan peace process that will enable Afghans to talk with other Afghans in pursuit of a negotiated settlement to end decades of conflict." Grossman, 61, is credited with the behind-the-scenes efforts that helped persuade Pakistan to reopen its border crossings with Afghanistan to NATO convoys earlier this year after a row over the killing of 24 Pakistani troops in a US air strike. His work over the past two years had also supported Obama's "objectives to disrupt and defeat al-Qaeda and ensure that Afghanistan can no longer become a safe haven for terrorists", according to the statement. Ambassador David Pearce, currently principal deputy special representative, will serve as the acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Grossman served at the US embassy in Pakistan from 1977 to 1979. He also assisted his predecessor, Holbrooke, in the Dayton peace talks that ended the Bosnian war. From 2001 to 2005, he served as undersecretary of state for political affairs - the top position for a career diplomat - when he worked to mend US relationships overseas during the Iraq war.

Pakistan's Courts Push to Limit Media Criticism
This week, Human Rights Watch criticized Pakistan's judiciary for using legal powers to try to silence critics in the media. Journalists, long under pressure from militants and the country's powerful army, are trying to deal with new attempts to curtail their reporting. At first, Pakistan's major television stations did not pay much attention to the order from the broadcasting regulatory body, PEMRA, that criticism of the country's increasingly powerful judiciary should stop. The popular talk shows continued. But then, news editors said, PEMRA started issuing warnings to individual shows, reminding them that criticism of the judiciary was considered illegal. Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams said this week that these curbs on free expression in Pakistan should be immediately revoked and that judges should not have "special immunity from criticism." Both sides to blame Tariq Mahmood, a lawyer and former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, agreed that the judiciary may have overused its legal powers, but blamed reporters for inappropriate reporting. "This contempt of court law has been there in the constitution primarily to discourage attempts to personally malign judges," he said. "But I admit this law has been excessively used by the judiciary in recent months, and because of that, it has lost its effectiveness. But let me tell you that some media outlets, particularly TV channels, have overstepped their limits, and that has provoked the courts to repeatedly use this law." But Bob Dietz, Asia Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said while Pakistan journalism is far from a perfect institution, journalists in Pakistan do not deserve the amount of pressure they are coming under. "The fact that they keep on doing their jobs in the face of such animosity and so much danger to me is always incredible," he said. Pakistan has some two dozen news channels, and news-based talk shows are very popular, dominating the airwaves during prime time evening hours. There is also plenty of political satire, such as the Banana News Network, which makes fun of both reporters and politicians. Limits and self-censorship But the mockery stops there. Mubashir Zaidi, an editor for Dawn TV, one of the biggest TV channels in Pakistan, said news channels know there are limits. "They know there are red lines that you don't cross, you don't mock judges, you don't mock the military and you don't mock Taliban," said Zaidi Dietz agreed there is self-censorship in Pakistan. And he noted that, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Pakistan last year was the world's deadliest nation for reporters. The organization said at least 29 journalists have been killed in Pakistan in direct relation to their work since 2007. Zaidi said although the media is in trouble in Pakistan, coming under pressure from the Taliban, from the military in insurgent areas, and now from the judiciary, it is not about to stop doing its work. "Pakistan has been the most dangerous country for journalists, so what to do here? But we have to survive, we have to report, as media is the flag bearer of rights in Pakistan," he said. The dangers facing journalists in Pakistan were illustrated once again this week, when top TV talk-show anchor Hamid Mir found a Taliban-planted bomb under his car, apparently for his reporting on teenage activist Malala Yousafzai. Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for what it described as her pro-Western ideology.

U.S., Pakistan ties fully repaired

Pakistan and the United States have restored full military and intelligence ties after relations hit a low point last year, and Islamabad will take further steps to support a nascent Afghan peace process, Pakistan's foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Full cooperation between Islamabad and Washington is critical to U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan before most NATO combat troops withdraw by 2014. "There was a fairly difficult patch and I think we've moved away from that into a positive trajectory," Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told Reuters in an interview, referring to Pakistani-U.S. relations. "We are coming closer to developing what could be common positions. We wish to see a responsible transition in Afghanistan." Relations between the uneasy allies were severely strained by a series of incidents in 2011. The crisis in ties began when a CIA contractor shot dead two men he suspected of trying to rob him in the city of Lahore. Months later, U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden in a raid and kept the Pakistan military in the dark, humiliating the country's most powerful institution. Then a NATO air raid mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border in November that year. In response, Pakistan expelled U.S. military trainers and CIA agents and placed limits on the numbers of visas given to U.S. diplomatic personnel. Pakistan, which relies heavily on American aid, also closed supply routes for trucks carrying supplies to U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan. Now, Khar said, relations were fully repaired, including military and intelligence contacts. "We are having very useful, deep conversations with the U.S.," she said, as the two countries try to find common ground on Afghanistan ahead of the scheduled 2014 pullout. "UNRELIABLE PARTNER" Both the United States and Afghanistan have long regarded Pakistan as an unreliable partner in the drive to bring stability to Afghanistan, accusing Pakistan's intelligence agency of backing Afghan insurgent groups. Pakistan denies that. Pakistan recently released mid-level Afghan Taliban prisoners to help facilitate peace talks between the militant group and the Kabul government, the clearest sign it was committed to advancing Afghan reconciliation. Khar said Islamabad was willing to take further steps but would not say whether that would include releasing senior Afghan Taliban figures, like the former second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. "I think it is important that we have intensive engagement on what needs to be done," she said. Afghan officials think Baradar may be one of the few commanders with the stature to bring elements of the Taliban into peace talks after more than a decade of war. During a recent visit to Pakistan by members of the Afghan High Peace Council, Pakistan agreed to release some prisoners, although not Baradar, and to provide safe passage for those wishing to enter talks, Khar said. Pakistan would also encourage Afghan insurgents to enter into direct talks with President Hamid Karzai's government. So far, there have been only contacts. "For us in Pakistan today, the most important capital in the world is Kabul," said Khar, because instability there could spill over into Pakistan, and fuel its own Taliban insurgency. She said the Afghan and Pakistan governments were discussing ways to strengthen military cooperation. Currently, relations are strained. Afghanistan still suspects elements in Pakistan of supporting the Taliban, despite denials from Islamabad. The Pakistan military, pursing Pakistani insurgents, has also shelled villages across the border in Afghanistan, prompting protests. CLOSER TIES WITH INDIA In addition to improving ties with Afghanistan, Khar said Pakistan also wanted to pursue closer ties with arch-rival India. The United States has long believed that Pakistan would focus more closely on helping it pacify Afghanistan if relations with India improved. The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three wars since their independence from British rule in 1947 and are at loggerheads over the status of the disputed territory of Kashmir. "The Pakistani leadership has shown a great willingness to move forward, sometimes at the cost of losing some political capital, because sometimes improving ties with India might not be the most popular thing to do," said Khar. Many Pakistani politicians blame India for Pakistan's insurgencies or spiraling crime rate, saying their wealthier, more populous neighbor wants to weaken Pakistan. India, in turn, blames Pakistan for sending militants to infiltrate Kashmir over several decades and suspects Pakistan of shielding those behind a 2008 attack on Mumbai that left 166 people dead. India executed the only surviving perpetrator in their custody, a young Pakistani man, last week. That should be an opportunity for the two countries to put the attack behind them and move forward, said Khar. Their warming relations recently resulted in an agreement easing trade and travel restrictions. "We are clear that we want Pakistani-India relations to move forward swiftly," she said.

Video: Embezzlement brought down largest Afghan bank

Kabul Bank sent hundreds of millions of dollars out of Afghanistan

Hundreds of millions of dollars from Kabul Bank were spirited out of Afghanistan — some smuggled in airline food trays — to bank accounts in more than two dozen countries, according to an independent review released on Wednesday about massive fraud that led to the collapse of the nation’s largest financial institution. The report, which was financed by international donors, offers new details about how the men at Kabul Bank and their friends and relatives got rich off $861 million in fraudulent loans in what the International Monetary Fund has called a Ponzi scheme that used customer deposits and operated under nascent banking oversight in the war-torn country. The report describes Kabul Bank as a sophisticated operation with one set of books for the eyes of regulators and another in the back room that logged how those running the bank and others were fattening their wallets. Loans were made, but rarely repaid. Borrowers took out loans to pay back loans. Company documents and financial statements were fabricated. The bank’s credit department used more than 100 corporate stamps for fake companies to make documents look authentic. The bank operated some of its more than 100 branches without a permit from the government. The 87-page report, which was conducted to satisfy one of several benchmarks the IMF asked the Afghan government to meet in cleaning up the scandal, points to poor oversight by Afghan banking regulators, political interference in the criminal investigation and activities by a special judicial tribunal hearing the case that it said were “well outside the legal norms of criminal procedure.” The bank’s failure and subsequent bailout represents more than 5 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, making it “one of the largest banking failures in the world,” according to the report by the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee. The report said “hundreds of millions” were sent out of the impoverished nation where Afghan, U.S. and NATO forces are fighting an 11-year-old war with the Taliban and other militants. The committee behind the report consisted of three Afghan professionals and scholars and three international corruption experts, and was funded by Britain’s Department of International Development and the Danish International Development Agency. “Every citizen in Afghanistan will bear the cost of the hundreds of millions of dollars required to secure deposits and the tens of millions of dollars required to deal with the aftermath,” the report said. The Kabul Bank scandal is a saga about money-grabbing, weak banking oversight, lax prosecution, nepotism, political contributions and fraud. The cast of characters includes a poker-playing bank chairman, an Afghan central bank chairman who feared his life was endangered and fled to the U.S., the wealthy brothers of the Afghan president and vice president, and bank shareholders — some who bought posh properties in Dubai and spent lavishly on themselves and their circle of friends and relatives. In October 2011, Afghan lawmakers passed a bill to provide up to $825 million to recapitalize Afghanistan’s central bank for bailing out Kabul Bank. Whatever money is recovered from debtors will offset this amount. “This is the money from the budget of Afghanistan — from the pockets of Afghan people,” Drago Kos, chairman of the committee, told reporters at a news conference Wednesday in Kabul. “This money should be much better used for health care, education and security.” President Hamid Karzai announced in April 2011 that Kabul Bank would be put into receivership. Earlier this month, a trial began for more than 20 people indicted in the debacle, which has become a symbol of the country’s deep-rooted corruption and cronyism. The case is being closely followed by Afghans and international donors because it is a barometer of government officials’ pledge to root out patronage, graft and show accountability to international donors. The report said Afghan authorities learned in late 2009 that “Kabul Bank was moving money through food trays” on flights operated by Pamir Airways, a multimillion-dollar Afghan airline that was established with loans from the bank and has since gone out of business. An official knowledgeable about the report said as much as $900 million — a majority derived from loan schemes — was moved out of the country through electronic transfers from the bank between March 2007 and April 2011 and ended up in the bank accounts of related parties in 28 countries. The list of countries includes the United Arab Emirates, Latvia, China, Turkmenistan, Britain, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Turkey, Russia, the United States and Switzerland. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information, which was not included in the report. According to the report, 10 Pamir Airways pilots were paid $320,000 in salaries between March 2008 and November 2010 under the description of “pilots of cash delivery.” The report said the Afghan attorney general’s office recently asked for international assistance in tracking the funds abroad but the request was limited to help from four countries — Switzerland, France, Britain and India — for information on funds tied to the former top two bank executives. The report also criticizes the attorney general’s office for not undertaking a substantial probe into the bank until April 2011 — a year after the news of the bank’s problems surfaced, eight months after nervous customers ran to withdraw deposits and five months after the central bank had asked the attorney general’s office to start a criminal investigation. The indictment names more than 20 bank executives, bank employees, central bank workers and others who allegedly benefited from the fraud. The charges include money laundering, misuse of authority, using counterfeit documents and opening accounts under pseudonyms. But the report claims the indictment is tainted by political influence. “Information received during the inquiry indicates that the final decision about who to indict was made at the political level in the spring of 2011 by a high-ranking (Afghan) committee — and that prosecutors from the attorney general’s office were called in to amend the indictment to conform to the decisions taken,” the report said. Basir Azizi, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said Tuesday that the Kabul Bank case was not treated as a political issue. “We strongly reject any comments that the attorney general’s office dealt with this case as a political issue,” he said. The committee also is critical of the special tribunal that Karzai created to hear the case. The report said the tribunal has had off-the-record meetings with accused individuals and potential witnesses, has conducted its own probes on the sidelines and has held meetings with shareholders, urging them to repay money — a job tasked to the receivership. As of Oct. 31, the receivership has recovered $135.3 million in cash as well as assets with a book value of $181.1 million, according to the committee. The report gives the Afghan central bank credit for carrying out various examinations of the bank, saying it tried to take enforcement measures or corrective actions four times after consistently spotting regulatory violations. But the committee said that unless the central bank and other Afghan institutions move to operate independently, stand up to political interference and hold wrongdoers accountable, the Afghan government will never be able to sustain a fully functioning democracy. The report said $861 million, or 92 percent of Kabul Bank’s loan book, went to 19 individuals and companies. Among them are key bank shareholders, including Sherkhan Farnood, the former bank chairman and a world-class poker player, former chief executive officer Khalilullah Ferozi, and the brothers of Karzai and first Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim. Other bank funds — an estimated $66 million — were spent on lavish expenses, cars, rent, bonuses, salary advances and salaries for employees that did not exist In 2009, the central bank advised Afghan banks to refrain from making political contributions in the presidential campaign. “This letter was not enough to dissuade Kabul Bank, which reportedly provided millions of dollars to the campaign of at least one presidential candidate — in addition to dozens of cars, and payment of the entire media campaign including billboards and television advertisements,” the report said.

PAKISTAN: Deweaponisation - let's focus on entire country

While the National Assembly passed a resolution for a countrywide deweaponisation campaign on Tuesday, the Senate had upheld a day earlier the need to first deweaponising the city of Karachi - and to some wonderment of people at large the ruling coalition's principal partner, PPP, supported both the resolutions. So the question why the authorities have failed to curb violence and enforce law and order in any meaningful manner all these years has its answer in this dubious stance of the coalition government. Not that the PPP is in favour of people brandishing illegal weapons or criminals making best use of their implements, in fact it is hard put not to offend its coalition partners MQM and ANP by taking sides. Going by the PPP leaders' statements in parliament or outside, that are generally confusing and often contradictory, it would be quite risky to conclude that the much-talked about need to deweaponising the city of Karachi or the country as a whole is about to begin anytime soon. Though much of the weaponry in the hands of anti-social elements is illegal, quite a few are licensed courtesy the myopic political leaderships' patronage. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. In the Senate, the ANP's stance that the deweaponisation should begin from Karachi carried the day not because it was more logical than of MQM's; it was accepted for the simple reason that it won support of anti-government parties in the upper house. But in the lower house, National Assembly, the ANP support couldn't muster the majority vote. Of course, whenever the question where to begin with comes up, quite a few fingers are raised in the direction of Karachi. No surprise then last month also the Senate supported ANP's Shahi Syed's resolution in the face of stiff opposition by the MQM legislators. The positions taken by political parties on the issue are essentially politically-motivated, frustrating efforts to clinch consensus on an issue as crucial as rampant lawlessness and uncontrollable violence in the city of teeming millions. But the state of law and order, not only in Karachi but across the country, is too frighteningly dangerous to brook serious action instead of merely debating it in parliament and passing cosmetic resolutions. One would say by far the parliament has failed to hammer away a concrete plan of action to rid the country of violence of which deweaponisation should be an essential part. Being nonchalant for good four years and eight months of an uninterrupted hold on the legislative power of the state, Interior Minister Malik should now ask for a dedicated session of the Senate in order to update laws in order to enhance effectiveness of their applicability, what else fits the definition of criminal neglect. As to wherefrom the deweaponisation operation should begin, MQM and ANP hold contradictory positions, a situation that warrants an unbiased appraisal of the causes that have brought about this curse and how best to take care of them. One thing about which there are no two opinions is that it's not only the city of Karachi that needs deweaponisation; it is required all over the country. Then the question is how illegal weapons reach the dens of criminals from places of their origin which are mostly located far away in the north-west of Pakistan and who brings them. And why should the state appear to be encouraging gun culture by issuing licences quite often without due verification of credentials of the beneficiaries of these lethal gifts that are invariably brandished as crude display of political prowess than self-protection. With very few exceptions nowhere in the world are people asked to manage their own security. It is our hope that if at all deweaponising operation is launched it should be a countrywide initiative. There are criminals all over the place, not in Karachi alone. And this exercise should be preceded by a debate whether or not we need to allow people to brandish weapons - legal or illegal.

US announces $150 million for Mangla dam expansion

The United States on Wednesday announced a grant of 150 million dollars for the expansion of the Mangla Dam power plant. The project is expected to generate 310 megawatts of electricity. Addressing the inauguration ceremony of the project at Mangla Power House, US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson said the US would provide 150 million dollars for the expansion of the Mangla power station. Olson said a meeting of the Energy Working Group would be held in Islamabad in the month of December, adding that, the construction of the Diamir-Bhasha Dam was a priority for the US. Addressing the ceremony, Chairman Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) Syed Raghib Abbas Shah said 400 million dollars would be spent on the expansion of the Mangla power house which would be able to provide additional production for the next 40 years. “The fourth phase expansion work will begin in March 2012,” Shah said. Moreover, he said that the feasibility report of five mega projects was in the process of completion. He also said that in the next five years, 5,000 megawatts electricity would be added to the national grid which would benefit 1 million consumers. While Talking to newsmen after inaugurating Mangla powerhouse expansion project‚the US Ambassador Richard Olson has said that joint cooperation between Pakistan and the United States is needed to defeat the common danger of terrorism. He said his country acknowledged the sacrifices of Pakistan in the war on terrorism. The ambassador said the United States is ready to help Pakistan overcome energy crisis and will provide 150 million dollars assistance for up-gradation of Mangla powerhouse. He said Diamer-Bhasha Dam is among the US priorities. To a question‚ Richard Olson said the meeting of Pak-US Strategic Dialogue Economic Working Group will be held in Washington next week. Besides‚ Pak-US energy working group will meet in Pakistan next month.

Pakistan: Deaths by poisonous syrup

The Frontier Post
Selling medicine with the prescription of a qualified doctor is illegal and a cognizable offence throughout the world where even a painkilling pill is not made available without authorization. But this practice, meant for the safety and health of the people, is altogether absent in Pakistan where even toxic material is sold without the fear of law. Neither Punjab nor any of other provinces have enacted laws that restrict pharmacies and medical stores to sell medicine without the prescription by a qualified doctor and, as a result, tragedies like the one occurred in Lahore’s poor neighbourhood of Shahdara, keep on taking place and are normally pressed into oblivion by governments and people alike within no time. Reports say that seventeen people died by the intake of a toxic cough syrup between Friday and Sunday. By all means this is a human tragedy but authorities concerned up to the level of the chief minister took eyewash legal steps to hoodwink the people. Also included in these measures is the constitution of an inquiry into the terrible incident only to become one of the hundreds ordered before. That is why Punjab authorities thought as if sealing down three pharmacies and the medicines factory manufacturing the toxic syrup, Reko Pharmacals, was deemed enough a step enough to take on criminals. Reports say that fifteen people, mostly drug addicts, from one of the city’s most backward area of Shahdara, died on Friday and two more fell the victim on Sunday. Police said on Monday that several people fell ill and were shifted to Mayo Hospital after they took the syrup, Tyno. Five of them died en route to hospital while seven more died on Sunday as the victims consumed the syrup to get high. All the three pharmacists and owners of the medicines factory have been arrested on the charge of committing willful murder. Family members of the victims staged a protest on Shahdara Road on Monday for delay in post-mortem of the deceased. The provincial government also banned the sale of the syrup across Punjab. Police say they have also conducted raids at various medical stores and drug distributors to seize the banned syrup. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who also holds the portfolio of health, has constituted a three-member inquiry team headed by Chief Ministers Inspection Team, which has started its proceedings. The inquiry committee will submit a report within 72 hours in the light of which action will be taken against those responsible. Pakistan Medical Association said a law to restrict the sale of all medicines without a doctor’s prescription has already been enacted but the government failed to enforce it. A PMA statement said the sale of medicines by medical storeowners without prescription from a qualified doctor is a crime and is the root cause of the deaths caused by the cough syrup. In January 2010, more than 100 heart patients under treatment at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology died because of local made spurious drugs. The matter was taken up by the Lahore High Court which sought and got reports by health secretary and Director-General (Health) and sought the services of the FIA to proceed against all those responsible for the deaths. These medicines were procured for free treatment of poor patients The chief minister also constituted an inquiry into the alarming occurrence. But all these steps failed to take action against one single culprit and the chief minister’s inquiry was also never completed; no report saw the light of the day. If the PML-N government’s cognizance of the matter produced no results earlier, how can they make any meaningful difference now? The issue also concerns the Drug Law Authority which is tilted heavily in favour of pharmaceutical companies and was launched only two weeks ago with a fanfare, to roll itself into action by taking action against makers of sub-standard and spurious medicines. Perhaps, the authority can also undertake a legislation banning medicines sale without prescription. This step is absolutely necessary if the authority earnestly wants to achieve its objective of ensuring quality medicine at affordable price reaching the people. But this goal is not likely soon because provinces are yet to establish such authorities as required by the Drug Regulatory Authority Pakistan act 2012 and as ordained by the devolution scheme.

PPP celebrating its 46th founding day on Friday

The day would also be used to pay homage to party leaders and workers who gave their lives for the cause of democracy and empowering people
Preparations are in full swing to celebrate the forty-sixth founding day of Pakistan Peoples Party on Friday. Functions would be held throughout the country to highlight the mission for which Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had founded the party‚ his achievements and services for the cause of the people especially the downtrodden. The day would also be used to pay homage to party leaders and workers who gave their lives for the cause of democracy and empowering people. Radio Pakistan including its FM-93 network and National Broadcasting Service has chalked out elaborate programme to mark the day. Different stations would broadcast excerpts from speeches of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Shaheed and Benazir Bhutto Shaheed besides message of the party leaders. The stations would also broadcast interviews and impressions of PPP leaders and workers on vision of the founding leaders and policies pursued by the party since its inception.

‘Pakistan has lowest spend on agriculture R&D’

Despite being an agrarian economy, Pakistan sets aside one of the lowest allocations to the research and development (R&D) of agriculture sector in the entire developing world, as for every $100 of agriculture output it spends only $0.21 on its R&D, which is twice less than that invested by its neighbouring India. Dr Muhammad Sharif, director general of the National Agricultural Research Center (NARC), said this in an international seminar on “Trends in Public Agricultural Research and Development Investment and Staffing in Pakistan”, organized here Tuesday by Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) and International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) Washington DC, USA. Quoting the latest data from 2009, Sharif said the allocation to agriculture R&D in Pakistan was even below than that in 1990s. “A key challenge facing Pakistan will be to ensure that resources and capacities are more evenly distributed, both from the central government to the provinces and among the provinces themselves,” said Muhammad Sharif who is also a member of PARC. “This period of change has offered opportunities to review existing institutional structures and reassess Pakistan’s research priorities,” he added. Pakistan is far behind other countries not only in terms of R&D allocation but also human resources, he said adding the agricultural researchers account for 18 percent of PhDs in the country. More worryingly, most of these PhDs are in their fifties, increasing the need of newly recruited agriculture scientists. “Since there is a significant time lag between investing in research and reaping its rewards, agricultural R&D requires long-term commitments in sufficient and sustained funding and well-staffed research agencies,” said Gert-Jan Stads, programme coordinator Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI). Dr. Iftikhar Ahmad, chairman of PARC also stressed upon the importance of increasing R&D in the sector, and said that the country needs more investment in agricultural R&D, innovations and staffing to ensure food security. According to ASTI’s country report 2007 titled, “Agricultural Research & Development in Pakistan: Policy, Investments, and Institutional Profile”, the total number of agriculture researchers in public sector grew only slowly over the past two decades, mainly as a result of prolonged periods of recruitment restrictions. Compared to most countries in the Asia-Pacific region, average qualification levels of agricultural research staff are relatively low; only 15 percent of the country’s agricultural researchers had PhD degrees in 2003. In addition, researchers at the government agencies face limited promotion opportunities, low salary levels, and few other incentives. This has led to a brain drain of researchers from the government sector to universities, non-research agencies, or to opportunities outside Pakistan. Further, Pakistan’s agricultural R&D agencies employ only a small portion of female scientists compared to other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Prof. Jock Anderson Consultant (IFPRI) presented an independent evaluation of PARC and Anwar Naseem from McGill University Canada an insight into the role of private sector agricultural R&D in Pakistan.

Pakistan's 2011-12 rice exports to China at 800,000 T

Pakistan's rice exports to China have risen to about 800,000 tonnes in the year to September 2012 from negligible volumes a year ago, as the grain wins popularity for its taste and low price, traders and industry officials said on Wednesday. Rice is the staple food in the world's second largest economy, and Pakistani rice started making inroads into China in 2011 as a cheaper alternative to domestic and imported rice. Chinese buyers prefer Pakistani rice over Vietnamese grades, even though it takes longer to arrive, the traders added. China is the world's biggest rice producer and consumer. "They have liked the taste and aroma of Pakistani white rice and the prices are very attractive," said a trader with an international trading company in Singapore. "Looking at the demand and prices, we expect Pakistan to become a regular exporter of rice to China." The price of 5 percent broken Pakistani rice in the Chinese market is around $435 a tonne, including cost and freight, compared with domestic prices of more than $500 a tonne. "Pakistani rice is really competitive in the Chinese market as the freight is notoriously low. It is below $10 a tonne," another trader said on the sidelines of a grains conference in Singapore. The lower moisture level of Pakistani rice, which enhances its shelf life, has also boosted its popularity in China. "They can keep it for a longer period and when they cook it, the rice is fluffier," said an industry official from Bangkok.

Pakistan test-fires nuclear-capable ballistic missile

Pakistan on Wednesday test-fired a nuclear-capable ballistic missile with a range of 1,300 kilometres (800 miles), the military said. The military described the Hatf V Ghauri missile as a liquid fuel missile, which can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads. It was Pakistan's eighth missile test so far this year and comes two months after its last test of a Hatf-VII with a range of 700 kilometres. Five of those tests were conducted within a few weeks after India in April successfully test fired the Agni V, which can deliver a one-tonne nuclear warhead anywhere in China, marking a major advance in its military capabilities. India and Pakistan have fought three wars -- two over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir -- and have routinely carried out missile tests since both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability in 1998. Defence analysts say India's strategic priorities are focused more on China, while Pakistan is still concerned about its eastern neighbour.