Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pakistan People’s Party:Heading towards the social welfare state

Daily Times
By Farzana Raja
Pakistan People’s Party, representative of masses of Pakistan, was launched at its founding convention held in Lahore 45 years ago under the great leadership of Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
The foundation of the newly formed party was laid down on the premise of an egalitarian participatory democracy and to ensure the practical realization of economic and social justice for every Pakistani. It was due to this powerful message of the PPP that its popularity got spread in all segments and various walks of society including relatively voiceless ordinary people, laborers, peasants and students throughout Pakistan right after its formation. Thus, reflective of the fact that the Pakistani nation had finally chosen a clear road map for the future and of course it was based on equality of economic opportunities to all as well as advancement towards progression and prosperity. The visionary and able leadership of Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was fully aware of the economic hardships and deprivations of the majority of the people. Therefore, social and economic emancipation of the people and uplifting of living standards of common man became the areas of prime focus of this party of the masses. The economic agenda of PPP was wonderfully and rightly elaborated by the key slogan of the party; “Roti, Kapra Aur Makan” (bread, clothing and shelter) besides the main philosophy that “people are all powerful”. In the year 1971 Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto formed the people’s democratic government of Pakistan with the help of massive public support. Shaheed Bhutto as per his promise gave the country a unanimously approved Constitution to democratically strengthen the federation of Pakistan.
Moreover, the democratically elected PPP Government of Shaheed Bhutto launched numerous other steps aimed to improve economic conditions of the country and to bring the political stability back after numerous undemocratic regimes. PPP government ushered a new era of national reconstruction by launching projects like Pakistan’s first ever Steel Mill, Pakistan’s first hydro electric dam, Electrical Mechanlical Complex at Wah, The Aeronautic Complex at Kamrah and the Kahuta Nuclear Project to make the defence of country invincible. Quaid-e-Awam, in line with the manifesto of PPP, introduced vital reforms in the education and agriculture sector besides much needed industrial reforms to improve the lives of ordinary working class. The oppressors considered Quaid-e-Awam as a threat to their vested interests and thus started hatching conspiracies against his truly democratic regime. However, Shaheed Bhutto refused to bow down before such anti-people elements and sacrificed his life in protecting the fundamental rights of the people of Pakistan. Despite ruthless oppression unleashed on the brave workers and leadership of PPP by the illegitimate regime of tyrant Gen. Zia, PPP remained steadfast and thus not only survived but gained more strength. Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, after Shaheed Zulfiqar Bhutto, let an epic battle against the tyranny. With sheer courage and determination, she was able to raise the party from ashes. She made it clear that the constitution and the federation promised to revive the constitution of 1973 and today, history is evident that her party has fulfilled this promise. As a result of victory in general elections held in the year 1988, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto got elected as Prime Minister and become the first ever women head of the government of any Muslim country. The conspirators did not allow her to perform her constitutionally mandated tasks and her government was dismissed on flimsy and unsubstantiated reasons. The general elections held in the year 1990 were massively rigged to snatch the victory from PPP and to turn it into defeat. Today, in the form of verdict on infamous Asghar Khan Case, this fact has yet again proved that the stance of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto about this fraudulent election was exactly right. The democratically elected government of PPP was dismissed again in the year 1996 in a similar undemocratic fashion and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and her family had to face exile and ruthless vendetta by the same undemocratic mindset. However, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, the great leader of the modern time kept on her struggle to revive genuine democracy in the country and to force the tyrants to hand over power back to the people of Pakistan. Today, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto is not physically present among us but it is a matter of great satisfaction that President Asif Ali Zardari is keeping her vision and mission itact. He is making efforts to make Pakistan a strong, prosperous and modern democracy. The leadership of PPP, from Shaheed Quaid-e-Awam to Shaheed Benazir Bhutto has rendered unprecedented sacrifices to protect the social, economic and political rights of the people of Pakistan. Their struggle was and is based on the commitment of giving the people equal opportunities and means to live a dignified life. The present democratic government, in the pursuit of founding principles of PPP and in line with the vision of Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Bneazir Bhutto, has exhibited firm commitment towards the well being of the people of Pakistan. Under the able leadership of President Asif Ali Zardari, the democratic government has taken various steps to bring positive change in the life of common men including the launch of internationally acclaimed Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) as a comprehensive strategy to fight poverty and to empower women, children and youth of the country. BISP, as a complete socio-economic rehabilitation of the poorest of the poor of the society, has yet again converted the hopes of the people of Pakistan into reality. The programme has also laid the foundation for a prosperous Pakistan by introducing future oriented initiatives including remarkable social intervention Waseela-e-Taleem, which is aiming to promote education among the children from poorest families in the country and thus ensuring education to all the segments of Pakistani society. BISP’s other major programmes are already reaching out to the millions of families of Pakistan and providing them various benefits. Thank God, today Pakistan is finally heading towards a prosperous social welfare state. BISP has been able to contribute remarkably to achieve the vision of Quiad-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah by creating a moderate and caring Pakistan.
The Writer is a Federal Minister and Chairperson Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), Especially written in connection with the Foundation Day of Pakistan People’s Party

U.N. approves Palestinian "observer state" bid

Terrorists up to ruin Pakhtun’s future

Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ameer Haider Khan Hoti said here on Wednesday that terrorists were up against the future of Pakhtun nation by destroying schools. He was addressing peoples gathering at PK-28 constituency Ghazi Baba in Mardan District after inauguration of development schemes. ANP district president Farooq Akram chaired the gathering while Provincial General Secretary Imran Mandori, Deputy Secretary General District Mardan Gohar Ali Shah Bacha also addressed the gathering. He said that KP Government would construct ten schools for each in reply to terrorists' destroying one school in the province. He said that educational institutes and roads are the key to unlock doors of development. Baizai Irrigation Scheme will usher in developmental and agricultural revolution in Mardan and it will make available canal system to enable irrigation of 25000 acres land. The CM said that the role of father of Peace, Bacha Khan and his companions in Khudai Khidmatgar Tehrik was part of history. Khudai khidmatgar considered serving existing and coming generations as their prior responsibility. The enemies to knowledge were weaving conspiracies of throwing the Pakhtuns into darkness of ignorance while the soldiers of Bacha Khan were committed for thwarting their evil agenda. He said that we will counter the terror threat constructively and will lit the candle of knowledge at all cost. He said that this area was intentionally deprived of modern facilities in British era due to association with khudai khidmatgar Tehrik. He said that Baizai Irrigation Scheme plays the role of backbone in economic and agriculture revolution in the area, adding, the scheme will soon materialize. He said that development initiatives of the present government were not limited to a particular sector, and added that efforts were undertaken through development progress in entire sectors of life. Hoti said that development initiatives and joint welfare schemes in entire districts of the province were far much greater than in eras of different governments during the past 60 years. He said that district Mardan was deprived in connection with development and modern facilities during the past six decades, adding, the present government was committed for removal of these injustices and deprivations. He said that unfortunately we don't have an MPA in PK-28 but the resources spent on development schemes here were equal to funds of 5 MPAs. He said that development without education particularly girls education was impossible to achieve, adding, that was why both forms of the education, and provision of transport facilities were our top priorities. He said that work on girls college, named after khudai khidmatgar Gulab Baba in Katlang, was in progress while upgradation of high schools at Alo, Babuzai, Koi Barmol, Karakai and Qasmi to higher secondary level costing Rs. 120 million have been approved. He said that middle schools at Malosha, BartKhel, Shamozai, Peeple, Alm Ganj, Singao and Muslim Abad have been upgraded to high level costing Rs 70 million while Rs 10.5 million has been allocated to reconstruction of terrorism devastated primary school at Shamozai and girls middle school Dheri. He said millions of rupees have been spent on construction of link roads in the area that will prove harbinger of economic and industrial development in the area. He said that youth of Mardan were now not required to travel to other areas for higher education because AWKU and BKMC were fulfilling these needs not for Mardan alone but associated districts too. He announced establishment of sports ground in Koibarmol for drawing its youth to healthy activities. He said that he will soon launch development schemes in the area.

Pakistan: A People's Uprising against the Taliban?

Pakistan's Taliban have for a long time been extending their influence on society by way of intimidation, brute force and terror killings. Now, however, people seem to be ready to confront the militants, drawing from the memory of Pakistan's liberal society in the early 70s. Ashraf Khan reports from Karachi The perpetrators of the October 9 attack on the Pakistani teenaged girl activist Malala Yusufzai may not have reckoned with the fierce reaction of the Pakistani nation, which unequivocally condemned the heinous assault. While their goal may have been to frighten girls away from schools, those very girls are now more determined than ever to continue their secular schooling, rather than staying home or joining a seminary. But on the top of it the attack, which almost killed the innocent girl, became a catalyst to deepen the divide between the progressive and fundamentalist elements in this heterogeneous society that could, many believe, lead this country into a decisive phase of its war on terror, which has now been going on for more than a decade. The Yusufzai attack has now become a symbol, a milestone and a catalyst to deepen the divide between the extremists and liberal sections of society - and even those whose minds were previously opaque can now defog their thoughts.
A widening gap, and the spirit of unity "The attack has certainly widened the gap between the liberals and conservatives," commented professor Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a prominent political analyst."But I am afraid that this could also cause a bloody civil war in which even the urban areas of the country could turn into battlefields," said Khan, who is chairman of mass media studies at the Federal Urdu University in Islamabad. The attack on Malala Yousafzai was strongly condemned by the people from all walks of life and revived the spirit of unity in this polarized society that is fragmented into many sectarian, ethnic, and political fault lines. "Do you want a secular Pakistan… or do you want a Taliban's Pakistan," Altaf Husain asked a rally attended by hundreds of thousands of people, who gathered at the headquarters of the liberal 'Muttahida Qaumi Movement' (MQM) the party he leads. The powerful MQM convened the rally at a short notice to condemn the attack on Yusufzai. Pakistan is certainly at a crossroads and calls for a decisive transformation.Pakistani society, until the late 1970s equipped with a strong and influential liberal middle-class, changed fundamentally after the CIA-backed Afghan war in 1979 against the former Soviet Union, when Pakistan became a hotbed and recruitment base for anti-Soviet mujahideen fighters. The mujahideen were well-trained in guerrilla warfare, sniper shooting and bomb making and motivated to the highest degree for militant jihad as a basic Islamic tenant. After General Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq came to power in 1978, he initiated a process of Islamisation creating ideal conditions for the jihad. General Zia amended the Pakistani constitution to bring it more closely in line with Islamic laws. In this climate, the jihad played a pivotal role in efforts to help the country achieve strategic depth and edge in the region. Until the late 1970s, Pakistan allowed itself a liberal and progressive lifestyle, while at the same time retaining its Muslim identity. In Karachi, for example, young people were able to enjoy the sprawling port city’s vibrant night life without fear of repercussions. Not that religious life was curtailed in any way. On the contrary: mosques were very well attended, and people felt free to worship without fear of any sectarian backlash. Bars, nightlife and the mosque "I still remember the lively streets of Karachi when the bars, restaurants and tea shops would remain open all night," said Muqtada Mansoor, a political analyst and news columnist. "We could offer our prayers at any mosque, whether it was a Shiite or a Sunni mosque, and no one would bother," he recalled nostalgically, condemning the ongoing sectarian violence that has claimed hundreds of lives this year alone. Intellectuals blame General Zia's 1977 martial law as the key saboteur of liberal society. They believe it sewed the seeds of religious, sectarian and ethnic intolerance and hatred, and that the resulting crop is now being yielded. "The martial regime of the time is entirely to blame for transforming our peaceful society into a violent one," said Fateh Muhammad Burfat, an eminent sociologist. "It was very rare to hear about a murder at the time, and if we did, it reverberated for months to come," recalled Burfat, who is a professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Karachi. More than 1,800 people have died in sectarian and political violence in Karachi so far in 2012 alone. Referendum on the nation's soul The MQM, one of the key secular voices in the country, has announced a referendum to be held later this year. The referendum will ask citizens whether they support a liberal Pakistan or the kind of nation the Taliban would favour.The referendum might help the MQM galvanize its activists and followers ahead of general elections scheduled for early next year. But although progressive, secular Pakistanis are in the majority, they may choose to remain silent over this issue. "This is a final call," commented Alamdar Haider, a former activist with the national secular Pakistan Peoples Party. Haider may well be right. Soon after the MQM announced the referendum plan, the Taliban declared war on the party, and a Taliban spokesman vowed to carry out a massacre of all liberal voices in Karachi. But now, after the attack on Malala Yusufzai, moral outrage might just drown out the fear. After all, following the anti-Taliban protests, commentators stated that the nation had not been as united since the wars against the country's arch-enemy India – and that leaves room for at least some kind of hope.

President Zardari pays tributes to political workers on PPP's Founding Day

Radio Pakistan
On the eve of the 46th founding day of the Pakistan Peoples Party on Friday November 30‚ 2012 Co-Chairman and President Asif Ali Zardari has asked the democratic forces in the country to gear themselves for the forthcoming elections which he said will be held in a fair‚ free and transparent manner within the constitutionally mandated time frame. He also called for continuous struggle to build a progressive and democratic Pakistan in which everyone lives with honour and dignity. The founding day celebrations this year are taking place at a time when the democratically elected government is nearing completion of its term after having waded through a sea of vicious campaign to tarnish its image‚ he said in a message on the occasion adding also‚ "It is an occasion for celebrations and rejoicing as well as of introspection". "Let us pledge once again today that we will continue to work for strengthening democratic institutions as envisioned by Shaheed Mohtarma Bhutto and for which she laid down her life". Bhutto-ism is the name of an ideology that lives and will live on to empower the people and strengthen democracy and democratic institutions and to serve the masses‚ he said. As the government nearly completes its democratic tenure it is useful to look up the score card and brace for the challenges that lie ahead‚ the President said. Recounting the achievements of the government and democratic political forces the President said that these included restoration of the unanimous Constitution of 1973‚ opening the doors of political reforms for the first time in over a century reforms in FATA‚ democratic amendments in the FCR‚ empowering the Parliament‚ strengthening democracy through political reconciliation‚ taking the militants head on and launching a massive poverty alleviation program the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP). These are some of the great victories and the people of Pakistan can be genuinely proud of it‚ he said. Paying tributes to the political workers he said that the courageous and devoted political workers are the pillars of the political process and the nation. They have never wavered in their quest for a modern‚ progressive and democratic Pakistan‚ the President said. The President said that democracy has survived and flourished on the sweat‚ blood and tears of political workers. It is because of their sacrifices that dictatorship has not been able to take roots in Pakistan. The heroic struggle for safeguarding democracy and democratic institutions and empowering people must continue‚ the President said adding‚ "It will".

Pakistan needs broader tax base, fewer subsidies: IMF board

Pakistan should reduce subsidies and widen the tax base to tackle the government's bloated budget deficit, the International Monetary Fund's board said on Thursday. The government should also reform tax policy and boost tax compliance in the long-term to reduce the fiscal deficit, which is likely to reach 6.5 percent of national income by June 2013, above the government's target of 4.7 percent, Fund directors said. "(IMF) directors underscored that reducing the large fiscal deficit is essential for restoring macroeconomic and external stability," the IMF said in a summary of the board's discussion on Pakistan last week. The board also called on Pakistan to discuss its policies with the Fund. Less than 1 percent of Pakistan's 180 million citizens pay income tax and no one is believed to have been prosecuted for tax evasion in 25 years, to the dismay of Western allies who have contributed billions of dollars in aid. Tax chief, Ali Arshad Hakeem, has pledged to make the country's elite pay their fair share. To get more people into the program, he also plans to offer a 10-week amnesty that forgives past offenses and only places a small tax burden on participants in the first two years. But the IMF said some of its directors said Pakistan should reconsider the tax amnesty. It did not provide further details. Fund directors also urged the government to consider alternative tax measures beyond a VAT tax, which is often difficult to implement, such as strengthening the income tax. The IMF periodically reviews countries whose IMF programs have lapsed, but who still owe money to the Fund. Pakistan's $11 billion IMF loan program ended in 2011 because of slow implementation of fiscal reforms, and some analysts have since warned about a possible balance of payments crisis. The IMF board also said Pakistan should have a more independent central bank that will fight inflation, which is likely to return to double digits in the fiscal year ending in June 2013. The State Bank of Pakistan(SBP) cut its key policy rate by 50 basis points in October, saying inflation had slowed in recent months.

Security forces arrest Afghan accused of funding the Taliban

Coalition and Afghan forces have arrested a currency dealer suspected of handling millions of dollars of Taliban cash as part of a widening campaign to block insurgent finances ahead of a security handover in 2014, officials said on Thursday. The U.S. Treasury has accused Haji Mohammed Qasim of using his network of money transfer shops to help Taliban commanders send funds to fighters in southern Helmand Province, scene of some of the heaviest fighting of the 11-year war. "I can confirm he was arrested during a joint operation conducted by Afghan and coalition troops," Captain Dan Einert, a spokesman for ISAF, the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, said in an email. ISAF gave no further details. Dealers in the currency market in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar said Qasim had been arrested by U.S. troops, Afghan police and intelligence officers who raided the exchange in October. "The Americans won't tell us where he is," said Haji Kandiagha, the president of the exchange. "Everyone is angry about this, they don't know what the Americans will do." As the United States and its allies withdraw the vast majority of their combat troops, Western officials are hoping to weaken the still resilient insurgency by disrupting its funding channels before Afghan forces assume full responsibility for security. The Treasury imposed sanctions on Qasim and his Rahat money transfer company last week, adding him to a growing list of individuals subjected to a U.S. asset freeze on suspicion of facilitating Taliban payments. He was also accused of smuggling weapons and ammunition on behalf of the insurgents. The Treasury had no immediate comment on the arrest. Treasury officials in Washington made no reference to Qasim's arrest in last week's statement announcing the sanctions, which was issued in Washington. The discrepancy appeared to underline the complexity of U.S. attempts to counter insurgent finance, which often involve multiple organizations conducting covert work. U.S. officials believe the Taliban relies on a trust-based payment system known as hawala which is prevalent in much of the Islamic world, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. The system allows customers to rapidly move large sums across borders outside the scrutiny of regulators. Afghan hawala dealers say they are being unfairly targeted since they cannot be held responsible if Taliban sympathizers use their services without their knowledge. They also resent the fact that the Treasury does not publish the evidence it uses to justify imposing sanctions on individuals such as Qasim. The Treasury says that as of early this year Qasim's hawala company had received $500,000 of Taliban cash through his branch in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta. The manager of the Quetta shop, Musa Kalim, was also sanctioned, but there was no indication he had been arrested by Pakistani authorities. "As of late 2011, the bulk of Kalim's hawala business consisted of transferring Taliban and smugglers' funds," the Treasury said in a statement. "Kalim also managed the transfer of funds from donors in the Gulf to support Taliban fighters." The Taliban leadership is believed to have adopted Quetta as a rear base after it was ousted by the U.S. military in 2001. Pakistan denies sheltering the Taliban. The U.S. Treasury says Qasim served as a financial assistant to Mullah Naim Barich, the top Taliban commander in Helmand Province, the heartland of Afghanistan's heroin industry. Washington designated Barich as a major suspected drug smuggler on November 15, marking the first time a Taliban commander had been added to what is known as the "Kingpin" list. The Taliban dismissed the "Kingpin" designation and said nobody from the movement was involved in narcotics trafficking.

Lunch Meet: Obama, Romney chat over chili

The White House says President Obama's lunch with Republican Mitt Romney focused on America's leadership and the two presidential rivals pledged to stay in touch, particularly if opportunities to work together come up in the future. In their first meeting since the election, Obama and the GOP nominee met for lunch in the White House's private dining room, fulfilling a promise Obama made in his victory speech the night of Nov. 6. The White House said Romney congratulated the president for his successful campaign and wished him well in the coming four years. The conversation during the hourlong meeting focused on America's leadership in the world and the importance of maintaining that leadership position. The lunch menu included white turkey chili and Southwestern grilled chicken salad. Romney left the White House after just over an hour. Obama and Romney's meeting was thought to be their most extensive private talk to date. They had only a handful of brief exchanges before the 2012 election, and their campaign interactions were largely confined to the three presidential debates. Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan, his former running mate, met earlier in the day to talk about economic challenges facing Washington, a Ryan aide said. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the aide was not authorized to discuss the private discussions. Much of the economic debate centers on expiring tax cuts first enacted in the George W. Bush administration. Obama and Romney differed sharply during the campaign over what to do with the cuts, with the Republican pushing for them to be extended for all income earners and the president running on a pledge to let the cuts expire for families making more than $250,000 a year. The White House sees Obama's victory as a signal that Americans support his tax proposals. Romney has virtually disappeared from politics following his election loss. He's spent the past three weeks largely in seclusion at his family's California home. He has made no public appearances, drawing media attention only after being photographed at Disneyland in addition to stops at the movies and the gym with his wife, Ann.

Romney early for lunch, but not bearing a gift

Mitt Romney arrived at the White House a bit early for his lunch with President Barack Obama, but he wasn’t seen toting any gifts for the president on his way into the building. Some photographers were at the West Wing when Romney arrived at 12:29 p.m. He was dropped off from a black SUV. He was empty-handed and wearing a grey suit as he smiled and walked into the facility. The former presidential candidate didn’t speak with the media. On Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama didn’t have an agenda for the meeting, but he wanted to discuss with Romney ideas about making government more efficient. The two men were expected to dine privately, without their aides in the room. Obama defeated Romney in a bitterly contested presidential election, and Romney later told campaign donors that Obama used “gifts” to women, students, and minorities to secure his win. Romney was heavily criticized by Republicans for using the word “gifts” in characterizing Obama’s social and legislative policies. Since then, President Obama reached out to Romney for a lunch meeting, which set off a stream of online speculation. Twitter was having a field day, as users speculated about the lunch time conversation. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter joked on her Twitter account, “Obama invited Romney for lunch. He ran out of voters for free lunches.” ABC reporter Jake Tapper also commented that the two foes were debating the merits of decaf coffee.

Europe's young and unemployed

One out of every five European youths is looking for work. The statistics in Greece and Spain are even more grim, where youth unemployment rates hover around 50 per cent. What often results is rising crime, high occurrences of depression, decreased birth rates, and increased emigration. To address the problem, the European Union is reallocating billions of dollars for various programmes. Italy is giving tax breaks to companies for new hires, while Spain has offered loans to youth who want to start a business. But will this be enough?

In Turkey the right to free speech is being lost

Erdogan is using a series of alleged plots to justify a crackdown on dissent that threatens basic freedoms
Which country in the world currently imprisons more journalists than any other? The People's Republic of China? Nope. Iran? Wrong again. The rather depressing answer is the Republic of Turkey, where nearly 100 journalists are behind bars, according to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Yes, that's right: modern, secular, western-oriented Turkey, with its democratically elected government, has locked away more members of the press than China and Iran combined. But this isn't just about the press – students, academics, artists and opposition MPs have all recently been targeted for daring to speak out against the government of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his mildly Islamist Justice and Development Party, or AKP. There is a new climate of fear in Istanbul. When I visited the city last week to host a discussion show for al-Jazeera English, I found journalists speaking in hushed tones about the clampdown on free speech. Within 24 hours of our arrival, one of my al-Jazeera colleagues was detained by police officers, who went through his bag and rifled through one of my scripts. They loudly objected to a line referring to the country's "increasingly authoritarian government". Who says that Turks don't do irony? The stock response from members of the AKP government is to blame the imprisonment and intimidation on Turkey's supposedly "independent" judiciary. But this will not do. For a start, ministers haven't been afraid of interfering in high-profile prosecutions. In a speech at – of all places – the Council of Europe in April 2011, a defiant Erdogan, commenting on the controversial detention of the investigative journalist Ahmet Sik, compared Sik's then unpublished book to a bomb: "It is a crime to use a bomb, but it is also a crime to use materials from which a bomb is made." Then there is the behind-the-scenes pressure that is exerted by the government on media organisations. "People are afraid of criticising Erdogan openly," says Mehmet Karli, a lecturer at Galatasaray University in Istanbul and a campaigner for Kurdish rights. "They might not be arrested, but they will lose their jobs." In February, for example, Nuray Mert, a columnist for the Milliyet newspaper, was sacked and her TV show cancelled after she was publicly singled out for criticism by the prime minister. Last month Ali Akel, a conservative columnist for the pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak, was fired for daring to write a rare, critical article about Erdogan's handling of the Kurdish issue. But the restrictions on freedom of speech don't stop with the media. Exhibit A: last week, two students were sentenced to eight years and five months in prison by a court in Istanbul for "membership of a terrorist organisation", while a third student was sentenced to two years and two months behind bars for spreading terrorist propaganda. Yet the students, Berna Yilmaz, Ferhat Tüzer and Utku Aykar, had merely unfurled a banner reading "We want free education, we will get it," at a public meeting attended by Erdogan in March 2010. Exhibit B: on 1 June Fazil Say, one of Turkey's leading classical pianists, was charged with "publicly insulting religious values that are adopted by a part of the nation" after he retweeted a few lines from a poem by the 11th-century Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, that mocked the Islamic vision of heaven. Say's trial is scheduled for October, and if convicted the pianist faces up to 18 months in prison. The irony is not lost on those Turks who remember how Erdogan himself was imprisoned in 1998, when he was mayor of Istanbul, for reading out a provocative poem. Erdogan, re-elected as prime minister for the second time last June and now considered the most powerful Turkish leader since Kemal Ataturk, has become intolerant of criticism and seems bent on crushing domestic opposition. "He is Putinesque," says Karli, referring to reports that Erdogan plans to emulate the Russian leader's switch from prime minister to president and thereby become the longest-serving leader in Turkish history. "Yes, he wins elections," adds Karli, "but he does not respect the rights of those who do not vote or support him." Let's be clear: Turkey in the pre-Erdogan era was no liberal democratic nirvana. Since its creation in 1923, the republic has had to endure three military coups against elected governments: in 1960, 1971, and 1980. The AKP government is the first to succeed in neutering the military. And its paranoia is not wholly unjustified: Turkey's constitutional court was just one vote from banning the AKP in 2008, and a series of alleged anti-government plots and conspiracies were exposed in 2010 and 2011. "I am concerned by the numbers [of imprisoned journalists] but they're not all innocent," the AKP MP Nursuna Memecan tells me. "Many of them were plotting against the government." It's a line echoed by her party leader. "It is hard for western countries to understand the problem because they do not have journalists who engage in coup attempts and who support and invite coups," declared Erdogan in a speech in January. Perhaps. But the AKP's crackdown on dissent, on basic freedoms of speech and expression, has gone beyond all civilised norms. "We do need to expand free speech in Turkey," admits Memecan. Those of us who have long argued that elected Islamist parties should not be denied the opportunity to govern invested great hope in Erdogan and the AKP. But what I discovered in Istanbul is that there is still a long way to go. The truth is that Turkey cannot be the model, the template, for post-revolutionary, Muslim-majority countries like Tunisia and Egypt until it first gets its own house in order. To inspire freedom abroad, the Turkish government must first guarantee freedom at home.

Turks want secularism
An overwhelming majority of Turkish people want secularism to be included in the country's new charter, a recent survey conducted by KONDA for the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) has revealed. Almost 90 percent of survey participants said the country should be defined as secular in the new constitution. Some 50.6 percent said the definition of secularism should be kept as it is, and 40.7 percent said secularism should be "redefined to keep an equal distance from all religions." Only 8.7 percent of the participants said the new charter should not include secularism, with 18.9 percent of the participants defining themselves as "Islamists" when asked about their political orientation. The survey was conducted through face-to-face interviews with 2,699 people of various ages and social groups across 29 provinces on Sept. 22 and 23. The new constitution should also be in line with the principles of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, a majority of those surveyed said. Some 82 percent agreed that the charter must include "Atatürk's principles and revolutions and Atatürk nationalism" as it currently does. The participants also said the Religious Affairs Directorate should remain as a constitutional institution to regulate religion, however, 84.1 percent believe that the directorate, which has been under constant criticism for catering to the needs of Sunni Muslims, should be of service to all religions and sects. Turkish people are almost equally divided on the issue of compulsory religious lessons in schools. Half of the participants said the classes should be mandatory, while 46.3 percent said they should be elective and 3.6 percent said religion classes should be completely abolished. Consistent with previously conducted surveys, the top issues that Turkish people want the new constitution to emphasize are "justice" and "equality."

Joe Biden visits Costco, calls for tax cuts

Vice President Joe Biden visited D.C.’s first Costco store, where he bought several items in a pre-Christmas shopping spree on Thursday. He said he was at the store to demonstrate the need to extend tax cuts for the middle class.

Bangladesh factory tragedy: Who's responsible?

Rights activists have blamed both national and international companies for the deaths of 110 workers in a Bangladeshi garment factory which caught fire on the weekend.
At least 110 people were killed in Bangladesh when fire swept through the nine-storey Tazreen Fashion plant 30 kilometers north of the capital Dhaka on Saturday night. The workers, mostly women, got trapped in the building and tried to jump from upper floors to save their lives. The fire was believed to have been caused by an electrical short circuit. Tuba Group - owner of the Tazreen plant - says on its website that its factories make clothes for global retail giants including Walmart, Carrefour, IKEA and C&A. The Group employs around 7,000 workers and claims that it is accredited with the US-based WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production) - which certifies workplace safety standards. The WRAP denies that it had certified the Tazreen factory. On Monday, thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers held mass protests against the incident and demand an end to "death-trap" working conditions. According to Bangladeshi officials, more than 500 factories which make clothes for global retailers remained closed on Monday.Bangladesh is the world's second-largest clothes exporter and its garment industry employs nearly 40 percent of its industrial force. Eighty percent of the Bangladeshi garment workers are women, who work long hours in factories in very harsh conditions. Bangladeshi trade union activists say that many of these factories fail to meet basic standards of safety. Rights organizations have repeatedly criticized Western retailers for not paying attention to the violation of international standards of workplace safety down the supply chain in underdeveloped and developing countries. "This is another glaring indictment of the failure of the so-called private sector corporate social responsibility model," Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch, told AFP. "Many factory owners either deceive or buy their way to so-called safety compliance which is designed to satisfy overseas buyers keen to get garments at low prices." Profiteering Sultana Kamal, president of the Human Rights Forum in Dhaka, said that the factory blaze incident was "criminal" and that the government should form a judicial commission to investigate the case. "Both the factory owners and the government are responsible for this and they cannot just call it an accident. The culprits should be punished," Kamal told DW.
In September, 289 people died in a similar incident in the Pakistani port city of Karachi. There have been other smaller fire accidents in Pakistan and other South Asian countries in the past, which experts say were caused by negligence of the owners.The Karachi factory mostly produced items for the German clothing store, KiK. The fire incident caused a huge uproar in Germany and the company had to establish an emergency fund to support the families of the victims. "Countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan face tough competition from other markets that provide cheap labor to international companies. They compromise on safety measures to reduce their services cost. It works well for international retailers as they are there to make a profit," Sartaj Khan, a trade union activist in Karachi, told DW. "But at the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the local governments to make sure that the labor laws are properly implemented in these factories." Farooq Tariq of the Awami Workers Party told DW from Lahore that most factory owners in Pakistan did not follow labor laws. "According to our survey, there are more than 300 factories operating in the residential areas of Lahore, yet none of them obey labor laws and conventions," Tariq claimed. "They do not allow labor inspection in their factories, which, in my opinion, is essential to safeguard the safety and rights of the workers. Sadly, the government protects the factory owners." Responsibility Not all international retailers agree. Stefan Wengler of the Foreign Trade Association of German Retail Trade praised the efforts of global retailers to push the franchises in developing countries to follow international regulations regarding security and pay. He told DW that they had launched a Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) nine years ago to monitor the companies."At the beginning, in the first year, only seven out of 100 companies passed the test," he said, adding that in the most recent check, one third of the companies managed to fulfill the standards. He said companies which didn't pass acted quickly to fix whatever was wrong. "The BSCI has very strict standards. The problem is only that when you go into a supplier to check, all might be fine but when you leave, it all goes back to how it was before," Wengler said. But Sabine Ferenschild of Südwind, an organization fighting for global social and economic justice, told DW that the main responsibility to improve the situation rested with international companies. "Most of the products that are being sold in Germany are no longer produced here but rather in countries where the workers' rights only exist on paper but not in reality," she said, adding that it was the German companies who profited from that. "What's missing is any kind of long-term perspective," she said. "This is what the catastrophes so far have shown. There have been fires in factories before with several workers getting killed." Khan said the issue should be seen in relation to the global financial crisis. "Local and international companies are not making as much profit as they did in the past; therefore we see an increase in the exploitation of workers. Now, the workers have to work for longer hours for less money," Khan said, adding that such incidents would continue to happen if the workers didn't unite against the factory owners and pressure their governments to ensure better pay and security at work.

'Two Indians involved in Kabul Bank fraud case'

Fraudulent lending and embezzlement by officials, including by at least two Indian citizens, led to failure of Afghanistan's Kabul Bank resulting in misuse of about $935 million Afghan public money, according to an independent report. The 87-page 'Report of the Public Inquiry into the Kabul Bank Crisis', prepared by the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, was released in Kabul on Wednesday. As per the report, the bank's controlling shareholders, key supervisors and managers led a sophisticated operation of fraudulent lending and embezzlement, mainly through a loan-book scheme. "This resulted in Kabul Bank being deprived of approximately $935 million funded mostly from customer's deposits," it said. Further, the report stated that shareholders, related individuals and companies as well as "politically exposed people" were the ultimate beneficiaries of the fraud. In September 2010, Kabul Bank ran into trouble and was later taken over by the Afghanistan's central bank. "On September 5, 2010, the ex-Governor wrote to the Ministry of the Interior to seek a travel ban for Kabul Bank's Internal Audit Manager and Credit Manager who are citizens of India. "A letter was also sent that day to Kabul Airport headquarters informing the airport authority that the two were attempting to flee. They were later arrested," the report said. However, specific details about the executives or their current status were not disclosed. It was found that the bank's Credit Department opened loan accounts for proxy borrowers on instruction from senior management and also forged supporting documents such as applications and financial statements. Moreover, fake business stamps were used to "lend authenticity to the documents". About $861 million -- over 92 per cent of the bank's loan book -- has been extended to 19 related individuals and businesses, including a $270.3 million liability for the ex-Chairman, a $94.3 million liability for the ex-Chief Executive Officer and two politically exposed people with liabilities of $74.1 million, the report said. Going by the report, Attorney General's office has sent letters to jurisdictions including India seeking mutual legal assistance regarding assets of the bank that are likely to be held or through which funds are laundered. "Letters were only recently sent out in September 2012 to Switzerland, France, the United Kingdom and India requesting assistance pursuant to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption," the report said. In late 2009, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Afghanistan was advised that Kabul Bank was "moving money through food trays on Pamir Airway flights, which is supported by a Kabul Bank account that paid 10 Pamir Airways pilots for cash shipments", the report said. "Kabul Bank was nothing but a fraud perpetrated against depositors, and ultimately all Afghans and weak institutions and political realities in Afghanistan offered the perfect environment to operate," the report added. British daily Financial Times has reported that as much as $900 million, a majority derived from loan schemes,? was moved out of Afghanistan through electronic transfers between March 2007 and April 2011. Quoting an official, the report said that the amount "ended up in bank accounts in 28 countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Latvia, China, Turkmenistan, Britain, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Turkey, Russia, the US and Switzerland".

Afghan women caught between modernity, tradition

By Kevin Sieff
Just before she leapt from her roof into the streets of Kabul, Farima thought of the wedding that would never happen and the man she would never marry. Her fiance would be pleased to see her die, she later recalled thinking. It would offer relief to them both. Farima, 17, had resisted her engagement to Zabiullah since it was ordained by her grandfather when she was 9. In post-Taliban Kabul, where she walked to school and dreamed of becoming a doctor, she still clawed against a fate dictated by ritual. After 11 years of Western intervention in Afghanistan, a woman’s right to study and work had long since been codified by the U.S.-backed government. Modernity had crept into Afghanistan’s capital, Farima thought, but not far enough to save her from a forced marriage to a man she despised. Farima’s father, Mohammed, was eating breakfast when he heard her body hit the dirt like a tiny explosion. He ran outside. His daughter’s torso was contorted. Her back was broken, but she was still alive. In a quick burst of consciousness, Farima recognized that she had survived. It was God’s providence, she thought. It was a miracle she hadn’t prayed for. But it left her without an escape. Suddenly, she was a mangled version of herself, still desperate to avoid the marriage her family had ordered. She didn’t know it yet, but her survival meant that she would become a test case in one of her country’s newest and most troubled experiments in modernity: a divorce court guided by Afghanistan’s version of Islamic sharia law. Could a disabled teenager navigate a legal system still stacked against women? “We still must get married,” Zabiullah told his brother when he heard about Farima’s suicide attempt. “The engagement must remain.” Her father agreed that Farima’s pursuit of a formal separation was unwise. “We are not a liberal family,” Mohammed said. “This is not how we handle our problems.” Like many teenage girls in Kabul, Farima had been afforded opportunities her mother couldn’t imagine. In 2001, the international coalition brought with it dozens of girls schools and nongovernmental organizations that reserved jobs for Afghan women. Farima heard about female physicians who were trained to perform lifesaving surgery. She was first in her class; medical school wasn’t an unrealistic aspiration. Farima’s mother had never gone to school. She dressed in sky-blue burqas that hid her face. Farima wore only a head scarf, applying lipstick and eyeliner for the world to see. When her marriage was fixed, a 9-year-old Farima crawled into her mother’s lap, confused about what it meant to be engaged. Even as Kabul grew more modern, that traditional engagement was unbreakable, her parents told her. The man she was destined to spend her life with was a distant cousin. If the marriage didn’t happen, the family could splinter. But when Farima got to know Zabiullah, she couldn’t stand him. They talked on the phone, and he chastised her for venturing outside her home. He demanded that she stop speaking even with members of her family. “She was too close with her relatives, getting ice cream and going to the market with her father’s cousin,” he said. “If he was like that when we were engaged, what would marriage have been like?” Farima said. “I couldn’t bear it.” It became clear to Zabiullah that Farima was resisting his demands. He attributed her stubbornness to values he demonized — values associated with a city of new high-rises and shopping centers and girls schools. “She’s too liberal, too modern,” he said. Death or prison Less than a minute after Farima hit the ground, Mohammed scooped up his daughter. He hailed a taxi, and they sped to Ali Ahmed Hospital, where Taher Jan Khalili performed surgery for three hours. The family was ashamed to tell Khalili the truth. Her father said Farima had fallen from the roof by accident. “I wasn’t sure if she would survive. Her back was badly broken,” Khalili said. In the past year, he has handled nearly a dozen attempted female suicides. “This is the situation in Afghanistan,” he said. Farima spent nine days in the hospital, flickering in and out of consciousness. When she reentered the world in late September, bandaged and carried on a stretcher, her relatives cried and thanked God that she had survived. “But if not death, then what?” Farima thought. Zabiullah, a plumber, was insistent that the wedding date remain unchanged. He had spent $30,000 on gifts for his fiancee, he said. He had paid for a big engagement party, during which Farima had sat sullen for hours, while relatives sang and danced and ate kebab. “Everyone was having a great night, but she did not,” Mohammed said. Dozens of women in Afghanistan kill themselves each year to escape failed, and often violent, marriages. Those tragedies are widely mourned, but they nonetheless offer a resolution recognized by Islamic law: A woman’s death, even by her own hand, marks the end of a marriage or engagement. Other women run away, typically leading to another sad outcome: prison sentences of several years. About 500 women are currently imprisoned for fleeing from forced marriages or domestic violence, according to a Human Rights Watch report released this year. A failed suicide is even more complicated to untangle. When Farima awoke in the hospital bruised and broken, her wedding had not yet been canceled. Nearly all of her relatives expected her to follow through with the marriage. A broken engagement would be a stain on her family’s reputation, they said. Farima had given up on the prospect of another suicide attempt; she could not walk without assistance and was too weak to inflict much damage on herself. The girl accused of being “too modern” would make another modern decision: She opted to resolve her failing engagement in Kabul’s nascent family court. “People told me I was crazy to go to a court,” Farima said. She would have to plead her case in front of a room full of judges and lawyers, who would decide whether she was entitled to a separation. In traditional Afghan culture, men can divorce their wives without the approval of any justice system. “Suicide was much simpler,” Farima said. Two months after leaving the hospital, her mother and father helped carry her to the third floor of the family court — a faded yellow guesthouse, where a line of burqa-clad women are nearly always waiting outside. Farima wore a black head scarf. Her skin was pallid. She hadn’t been outside in weeks, spending most of her time reading novels in her room. The chief judge, Rahima Rasai, looked across the room at Farima while she adjusted her back brace. “You have ruined your life,” Rasai said. The court is a place where a woman is entitled to plead for divorce or custody of her children, but only if she has five male “witnesses,” or defenders, and often only if her husband or fiance condones the separation. The court is funded by Western NGOs but adheres strictly to sharia law. Farima sat on the opposite side of the room from her fiance. She looked at the judge and tried hard not to cry. “How are you feeling?” Rasai asked. “Terrible,” Farima said. Zabiullah ground his teeth. A day in court Every year, Kabul’s family court handles about 300 cases, mostly women seeking to divorce their negligent or abusive husbands. Established in 2003, it was seen widely as a leap of progress after the Taliban’s stoning of adulterers and dismantling of women’s rights. Now, the court is a window into the tumultuous domestic lives of Afghan families. Women whose fiances emigrated from Afghanistan line up to seek separation from absent partners. Girls whose husbands sold them as prostitutes sink into the court’s cushioned chairs, begging for divorce certificates stamped with a government insignia. Some of them are granted those documents, and some are not. Last month was a typical one at the court: Some women screamed at their husbands. Some brought their small children to testify. Some beat themselves with their fists to demonstrate the abuse they had endured. Some watched as their husbands were dragged out in handcuffs. Some arrived in burqas, and some in blue jeans. One had an epileptic seizure. Many were crying as they left the courtroom. On her day in court, Farima’s father sat in the corner of the room. For years, he had been trying to avoid this moment. “I told my daughter not to do this. We don’t want a bad name. We don’t want our family to fall apart,” Mohammed said. Farima had told him many times that she was thinking about killing herself, he said. When he looked at her, crumpled and frail, he knew what he could have prevented. “I just never thought she would really do it,” he said. Rasai began her line of questioning. “What is wrong with this man?” she asked Farima, pointing to Zabiullah. “He treats me terribly,” Farima said. “Our marriage would be hell.” Then the judge looked to Zabiullah. He wanted badly not to be there, objecting to the whole idea of a family court. “And what do you think of your fiance?” “She is confused. She has become so liberal,” he said. There was a hush in the courtroom. Rasai sipped her tea. She was tired. It was the last case of the morning. Already, the court had heard four women pleading for divorce and protracted arguments over dowry compensation and physical abuse. None of those cases had been resolved. There weren’t enough male witnesses, or Rasai simply wasn’t convinced that a separation was warranted; she is reluctant to grant too many. “It haunts me. Even when I’m praying, I think about the sadness of my job,” Rasai said later. Although she is one of Afghanistan’s few female judges, Rasai is hardly a Western-style advocate of women’s rights. She sometimes recommends that men “subdue their wives.” Even in seemingly clear-cut cases of domestic abuse, she often resists defendants’ initial pleas for separation. When Rasai finally spoke again, she asked Farima what gifts Zabiullah had given her for their engagement. Farima’s mother left the courtroom and returned dragging a metal trunk. It was full of clothes, jewelry and cosmetics. Her mother pulled out one item at a time and held it above her head for the court to see. Everything was still wrapped in plastic. “Where are the other rings?” Zabiullah burst out. “That’s all that you gave me,” Farima replied, exasperated. “Even if Karzai demands it, I will not allow my daughter to marry this man!” Farima’s mother suddenly exclaimed, invoking the Afghan president. It was the kind of support Farima had never received from her parents. Rasai started scribbling. “Your engagement is scrapped,” she said. “You no longer have any relation to each other.” Farima looked defiant, but she did not smile. She and Zabiullah dipped their thumbs in ink and touched them to certificates pronouncing their separation. “Keep this with you forever,” Rasai said, giving each a copy. Zabiullah got his brothers to help him carry the trunk out of the courtroom. Farima’s parents helped carry her down the stairs. She had lived to get what her family had denied her. Her Afghanistan again showed a flash of modern promise. “I have defended my rights,” Farima said in the lobby of the court. Her mother was crying. Two weeks later, Farima was back to spending her days at home. She was reading a book called “The Gift of the Bride.” “It’s about relationships between wives and husbands and children,” she said. She was no longer attending school. Her father and brothers had asked her to stop during her engagement, and they would not allow her to return. Farima was still basking in the court’s judgment. But it left her feeling unmoored. Even in the country’s most developed city, opportunities are limited for a single woman unable to walk on her own. “I’m worried that no one will marry my daughter now,” her mother said. Zabiullah is sure that he will marry another woman. He has a trunk full of gifts ready for her. Farima has started considering the prospect of a life alone, in her childhood bedroom. “I’m not sure what I will do,” she said. “I’m not sure what I can do.” In the Afghanistan of her novels, the girls grow up to be happy and successful mothers. There is no clash between old values and new ones. Arranged marriages are full of love. Husbands are patient and accepting. “For me, it is not always like that. Life is complicated,” Farima said.

Girl, 15, ‘beheaded’ in Afghanistan after her family turned down marriage proposal

A teenage girl was beheaded by a relative in northern Afghanistan after she turned down his marriage proposals, according to reports. The victim, named as Gisa, was decapitated with a knife in the Imam Sahib district of Kunduz province on Tuesday, local police said. She is believed to be around 15-years-old. A police spokesman said two men, named as Sadeq and Massoud, had been arrested following the teenage girl's murder. The two men are understood to be close relatives of the victim that live in the same village. Local police sources have said the men behind the attack wanted to marry the girl, but their advances had been turned down by victim's father. Gisa is understood to have been attacked as she returned to her home in Kulkul village after going out to collect water from a nearby well. Her father told a local news agency he had not wanted his daughter to get married because she was too young. Afghanistan's Taliban regime - notorious for its oppression of women in the country - was ousted in 2001, but extreme violence against women is still rife. In 2009 the Elimination of Violence Against Woman law was introduced in Afghanistan, criminalising child marriage, forced marriage, 'giving away' a girl or woman to settle a dispute, among other acts of violence against the female population of the ultra-conservative Islamic nation.

The Malala Effect
Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November). "Ensuring women's and girls' rights, eliminating discrimination and achieving gender equality lie at the heart of the international human rights system, starting with article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states unequivocally: 'All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…' On 9 October, 64 years after those famous words were written, 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai
was shot in the head and the neck on her way back from school in the town of Mingorain Pakistan. The shocking attack by the group commonly referred to as the Pakistani Taliban was followed by a public statement in which they threatened to kill anyone else, including women and children, holding views they disagree with. "Malala was targeted for her prominent role in promoting the fundamental right of education for girls and for criticizing the Taliban for actions such as destroying girls' schools and threatening to kill girls who attend them. The fact that they tried to do just that to her brought into sharp focus the extreme intolerance and physical danger facing many girls who try to exercise their basic human right to education in many other countries. "The sad truth is that Malala's case is not an exceptional one and, had she been less prominent, her attempted murder might have passed more or less unnoticed. Despite all the advances in women's rights around the world, violence against girls and women remains one of the most common human rights abuses – and the assault on their fundamental right to education continues in many countries. Often, as in Malala's case, the two phenomena are closely related. "In Pakistan's neighbour, Afghanistan, for example, the situation has been chronic for much of the past three decades. During the country's various evolving and overlapping conflicts, girls' education ground to an almost complete halt. Since the Taliban were removed from power in 2001, they have reverted to guerrilla tactics which have included – as a matter of policy -- attacks on girls and women, especially in relation to their attempts to receive education. "In the first six months of 2012 alone, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) verified 34 attacks against schools, including cases of burnings of school buildings, targeted killings and intimidation of teachers and school officials, armed attacks against and occupation of schools, and closures of girls' schools in particular. Incredibly, there have even been at least three separate attempts this year to poison girls attending schools inAfghanistan, with over 100 girls affected on each occasion. "The risk of violence against girls travelling to and from school also deters many from attending at all – and not just inAfghanistanandPakistan. Household surveys in many countries identify distance as a major factor in parents deciding not to send their daughters to school, with security concerns one of the main reasons. "It is estimated that education – especially, although not exclusively, girls' education -- has been subjected to deliberate attacks in more than 30 countries because of religious, sectarian, political or other ideological reasons. "No continent is free from these practices. Such attacks on education unfortunately take place all over the world, including in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Latin America, and girls are often disproportionately affected, either directly, or because their parents fear for their safety, worry about sexual violence or simply -- because of traditional values or lack of education themselves -- value their daughters' education less than that of their sons. "Malala's bravery in confronting such practices touched a chord internationally. The attack led to an unprecedented outpouring of popular anger and major protests in favour of girls' education inPakistanitself and in a number of other countries in the region. Presidents, politicians, celebrities and other opinion-makers, as well as many, many ordinary people across the world were stirred by this grotesque attack, and the spectre of a brave little girl fighting for her life in hospital. Important Pakistani and international educational initiatives have been launched in her name. "But, to do real justice to Malala and the cause she serves, we should do more than this. Her sacrifice should not be a six-week or six-month wonder. We must sustain and increase the momentum she has created, and stand up for every girl's fundamental right to education. "Malala was attacked because she was a girl, and she was attacked not just because she wanted an education herself, but because she was campaigning for all girls to be able to fulfil their right to receive an education, as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She, and all other girls deserve a life free of violence, and I wish her a full and speedy recovery." Human Rights Day is on 10 December, the date on which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948. The 2012 Human Rights Day theme is 'Inclusion and the right to participate in public life.'

Malala Yousufzai, the rights of girls, and how child marriage unites us with the developing world

When news of the shooting of Malala Yousufzai
broke, it sent a wave of revulsion around the world. A defenceless child had been shot simply because she had asked for her rights to be respected. What happened to Malala is truly shocking and it is only right that her attempted assassination has caused the outcry that it has. Yet, in our horror at this attack, we must not forget her message – that girls have a right to make their own choices about their lives and their futures. Around the world, 10 million girls a year are married while they are still children. With a rising population, this will increase to 14 million per year over the next decade, according to recent figures from the UN. The grim reality of child marriage is that girls are barred from education and forced to take on the duties of being a wife, including bearing children, before their bodies and minds are ready. This is a childhood lost forever. One in nine of the child marriages that take place around the world are of girls who are fifteen or under. On our doorstep These youngest girls are five times more likely to die in childbirth than pregnant women in their twenties and many more of those who are ‘lucky’ enough to survive develop lifelong injuries and conditions. Some, like Elham Mahdi al Assi, don’t even make it that far. She was a thirteen-year-old Yemeni girl who died just days after marriage to a man in his twenties from injuries caused by marital rape. Child marriage does not only affect the developing world; it is also happening on our doorstep. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, of which I am Chair, recently held a hearing into child marriage, during which we heard oral testimony from two British survivors of child marriage. Today, they are happy, healthy and working to support other girls and women in their communities affected by child and forced marriage. Yet, this has come after a great deal of mental and physical anguish, disownment by their families, denial of further education and ostracism from their communities. You can read about their experiences and those of many other girls and women in our report of the hearing, A Childhood Lost, which has just been published. I welcome the government’s plans to criminalise forced marriage, which will also help the significant minority of victims of forced marriage in this country who are children. Here and around the world, there are laws and international conventions in place to protect girls and women from the abuse of child marriage, yet enforcement is rare. This must change. Governments must show that they do not accept the actions of those who would suppress abuse and physically attack girls who only want to be able to learn and make their own way in the world. Voices We are encouraged that British aid is being spent on programmes to protect the rights of girls and women in developing countries, including delaying marriage, yet we must be consistent in this principle. Britain is signed up to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, yet still we allow marriages ‘with parental consent’ to take place when children are sixteen or seventeen. I urge the government to close this legal loophole and to require the proper registration of ‘community’ and ‘religious’ marriages in order to protect British girls’ rights and autonomy. By doing so, we can make a difference to the lives of girls whose voices deserve to be heard.

Malala's wounded classmates return to school

Two girls shot by a Taliban hit squad trying to kill their classmate, Malala Yousafzai, returned to school on Thursday under tight security. A gunman attacked Yousafzai, who campaigned for girls’ education despite threats from the Taliban, on October 9 as she was leaving school in Swat. She was wounded in the head and her two school friends were also wounded. The shooting provoked widespread outrage and brought Yousafzai, who is recovering in a British hospital, international admiration for her campaigning. On Thursday, police escorted her teenaged classmates, Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramazan, back to school. “I am very excited to resume my studies once again in the school, but I will definitely miss Malala,” Kainat, who was shot in the arm, told Reuters. The two girls will have security escorts indefinitely, police said. The attack on Malala, 15, followed years of campaigning that had pitted the girl against one of Pakistan’s most ruthless Taliban commanders, known as Maulana Fazlullah. Fazlullah and his men took over the Swat Valley and blew up girls’ schools and publicly executed those they deemed immoral or tried to stand up to them. Eventually, the army launched an offensive to drive the militants out. Though Fazlullah and his men have fled over the mountains, Swat remains tense and it seems inconceivable that Malala, who has become a symbol of resistance to Taliban efforts to deny women education, will be able to go home and back to school. Her father has said in late October she would “rise again” to pursue her dreams after medical treatment. Tens of thousands of Britons have called on the government to nominate Yousafzai for a Nobel Peace Prize for her activism. Pakistan has 5 million children out of school, a number only surpassed by Nigeria, the UN cultural agency said in a report published this week. Two-thirds of those children are girls.

Pakistan: Counterfeit drugs: Faking people out of their lives

When Qasim returned home on the eve of November 26, he told his mother and brother that he was not feeling well. He said the cough syrup he drank was making him very drowsy and went to his room to sleep. A few hours later his mother checked on her son, she saw his mouth filled with foamy spit and his eyes red and gory. They took him to a hospital, where he started vomiting uncontrollably. Suddenly his breathing stopped and he died a few minutes later. Qasim will never breathe again. Similar incidents occurred with Waleed and Ramzan. The mothers of all three told Pakistan Today that they had lost their sole bread-winners. “There will be no repercussions for the ones responsible. Everyone is involved, everyone is corrupt. They’ll give money to the police and roam free. Only God will take my revenge,” said Qasim’s mother talking to Pakistan Today. The death toll on account of use of toxic cough syrup has risen to 18, as two more people died on Tuesday. The dead were all drug addicts who took the cough syrup as a substitute for the expensive intoxicants. Three pharmacies have already been sealed and their owners have been arrested. The police have been conducting raids on different medical stores and shops of drug distributors. THE ‘LEAST EXPENSIVE’ INTOXICANT: Akram, a drug addict, told Pakistan Today that cough syrup is the least expensive intoxicant and is available for Rs 60. “Two cigarettes of hash cost Rs 120 and heroine for a single use use costs Rs 100. Cough syrup is the least expensive and it keeps you high for around 24 to 36 hours,” he said. He further said that although the actual price of the syrup is Rs 40, “the shopkeepers sell them to us on a higher price because they know that we want to use them as an intoxicant.” WHO NEEDS PRESCRIPTIONS? A head of a welfare society in Wahdat Colony, Sikander Hayat said that there should be checks and balances on unlawful medicine. “Concerned officers should restrict medical stores from selling any medicine without the prescription of the doctor,” he said. He said that societies should form teams to keep the people informed regarding unlawful medical stores operating in the region. Owners of the Shadman Medical Store told Pakistan today that there are many cough syrups in the market but those which are used as intoxicants include Benadryl, Hydraline and Tyno. When questioned whether the medical store asks for prescriptions, he answered, that it is not possible to ask for prescriptions from each and every customer. “If we start turning back people without prescriptions, how will we feed our families? It is the duty of the government to seal unlawful medicine manufacturers,” he added. THE GOVT THAT ALWAYS ACTS, AFTER THE DISASTER: Owner of a medical store on Mozang Road said that he failed to understand why the government always acted after the disaster happened. “Now they’ll close a couple of factories to show the people that they have caught the culprits. This happens every two years,” he said. He told Pakistan Today that in order to increase the level of intoxication and to make them tastier, multiple ingredients are added to the cough syrup. “Some of these are Super Lecithin, Echinacea, Ant Tart 30C, Calcium Carbonate, Peppermint, Peppermint oil, tutti frutti flavour and colour,” he added. SITUATION ‘TOO COMPLICATED’ TO HANDLE: Meanwhile, the District Drug Controller Shaukat Wahab said that it was very difficult to catch all the culprits. “Manufacturers of herbal and homeopathic medicine do not require a license. People use this as a cover and start making unlawful medicines. However, we are trying our best to catch the criminals and have already sealed a number of medical stores and factories,” he said. SEAL AND CLOSE: District Coordination Officer (DCO) Noorul Amin Mengal, while talking to Pakistan Today, said that he had ordered the Punjab Health Department, drug inspectors, and officials of Punjab Police to start raids against stores selling illegal and fake medicines. He said until now, seven factories and innumerable medical stores had been sealed after they were found to be producing and selling fake and expired medicines. THE ‘INNOCENT’ DRUG COMPANY: Talking to Pakistan Today, an official of Reko Pharmacal, the manufacturer of Tyno said, that the company had been made a victim of a media trial without proper investigation into the issue. He said that the active ingredient in Tyno, dextromethorphan, was a widely-used ingredient in cough syrups world over. It is a safe anti-tussive/cough suppressant if used as prescribed and its recommended dosage is 5ml (10 mg) every five to six hours – the dose in Tyno-SF. “The instructions on the Tyno-SF bottle label, the maximum patient dosage should not exceed 20 ml in 24 hours,” he said, adding that the preliminary report had already shown that nobody could die of consuming Tyno, unless taken in large quantities and with an added intoxicant. He said that Reko had been making the drug since 1978 and had not received even a single complaint in these 34 years, adding that the drug was being used all over the country and an isolated incident in Shadara could not be used to impose a ban on the company and its drugs.

President Zardari to give poll date in March 2013

Though the coming general elections, due in the first quarter of 2013, would be held under the supervision of an interim government and an independent Election Commission; yet, a key decision, that of deciding the election date, lies with the President. In the context of fears that government may postpone the elections on one pretext or the other, Opposition parties are demanding an election date in the earliest for their satisfaction. But the experts believe that under the Constitution and the electoral laws, the President cannot give any date for next elections as long as present Assemblies are intact. The President can announce such a date only if the Assemblies are dissolved before completion of their tenure on advice of the Prime Minister; an eventuality which is less likely to happen under the existing arrangement. “At this stage, the President should not be expected to announce any date for the upcoming elections as the Assemblies are yet to complete their term”, former Secretary Election Commission of Pakistan Kanwar Dilshad told TheNation. Presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said that there were no fears about any delay in the electoral process, and therefore, there was no need to allay the imaginary fears of the Opposition parties [by announcing the election date before hand]. “The range of election date is clearly given in the Constitution: within 60 days of the completion of the Assemblies term”, he maintained, making it clear thereby that President had no intention to announce any election date before the advent of caretaker set up. On President’s powers regarding the conduct of general elections, the former ECP official said that President and not the Election Commission is required to give date for the elections keeping in view the mandatory 60 days within which the elections must be held after the Assemblies complete their tenure. However, he said, the Commission would be bound to announce an elections schedule not later than 30 days of such an announcement by the President specifying last date for receipt of nomination papers and other dates relating to their scrutiny and filing of appeals etc. Quoting clause 11 of the Representation of the People Act, 1976, Dilshad further told this scribe it was also the sole prerogative of the President to decide if the elections to the National and Provincial Assemblies should be held the same day or on different dates. The past practice, however, had been that this decision is taken in consultation with the Election Commission and the caretakers keeping in view their convenience, he said. It may be recalled that in 1988, elections to the National and Provincial Assemblies were held on two different dates. But afterwards, the elections to all the Assemblies were held the same day. Clause 11 of the Representation of the People Act, 1976 reads: “As soon as [may be necessary and practicable] the President makes an announcement of the date or dates on which the polls shall be taken, the Election Commission [not later than 30 days of such announcement] shall, by notification in the official gazette, call upon a constituency to elect a representative or representatives, and appoint-(a) the last date for making nominations, which shall be the sixth day after the date of publication of the notification.”

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: World moot on KP culture, history

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor, Barrister Masood Kausar has said that the province has a rich history and cultural heritage and even foreign writers especially the British have authored numerous books on the origin, history, culture and bravery of Pakhtuns. Ironically, he added, little attention has been given to the subject by Pakistanis especially the Pakhtun writers and researchers on this subject and it is the high time that our scholars, researchers and intellectuals rise to the occasion and help the nation in meeting the changes successfully. Inaugurating the 3-Day International Conference on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Culture and History as the chief guest which was jointly arranged by the National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research of the Quid-e-Azam University, Islamabad and the Pakistan Study Centre of University of Peshawar at its campus here on Wednesday, he pointed out, "I am happy that Pakistan Study Centre and National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research have taken a timely decision to hold this conference", he said. The ceremony was also addressed by the vice chancellors of the University of Peshawar, Prof. Dr. Qibla Ayaz and the Bacha Khan University, Charsada Campus, Prof. Dr. Fazal Rahim Marwat. Barrister Masood Kausar who is also the Chancellor of the public sector universities in the province, highlighting the prevailing situation in the region said, people of this province and FATA have in fact been fighting for security of the motherland and its frontiers since long. Today, he added, the situation is much different as compared to the past and peace and normalcy has been restored to a great extent. All these achievements, he added, have become possible at a cost of heavy sacrifices and all segments of the society especially the officers and jawans of security forces alongwith common people and their leaderships sacrificed their lives to ensure better future for the country and the nation. The Governor also reminded the researchers, academicians and teachers, present in large number in the moot, including the Vice Chancellor of the Quaid-e-University, Prof. Dr. Maasoom Yasinzai, that this province and the adjacent tribal areas are indeed focus of international attention for quite some time. Due to geographical proximity of the area to Afghanistan, he further remarked, the happenings in that country have been affecting this province and it is because of this very fact, the respective people having no concern to the developments took place across the border since long are suffering miserably. Referring to the importance of the cultural heritage, the Governor said, it remained the gateway of various conquerors en route to India and since ancient times numerous groups have passed through here including the Persians, Greeks, Scytians, Kushans, Huns, Arabs, Turks, Mongols, Mughals and the British. At the same time, he added, the region also performed an important role in all movements launched for independence and political consciousness of United India. "The history of British India will be incomplete without enlisting heroic deeds of Pukhtun tribes and freedom fighters", he added. He also appreciated holding of the moot and expressed the hope that it will prove a useful attempt to cover the vacuum causing because of the old books going out of stock and their detachment from new generations. Prof. Dr. Qibla Ayaz and the Prof. Dr. Fazal Rahim Marwat earlier highlighting the importance of the conference described it a landmark initiative to promote cultural profiles and their various layers of this region.

Taliban Spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan lives at foreign mission’s house in Peshawar

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan resides in the safe house of foreign diplomatic mission located in the posh area of Peshawar, provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, claim media reports. According to the media reports, the Taliban’s spokesperson is living in the safe house of a foreign diplomatic mission in Peshawar who not only claim responsibility for most of terror attacks occurred in the county but also remain available to the foreign media on time especially US media. As per the reports, the intelligence authorities have solid evidences regarding the presence of TTP leader in the embassy of a foreign country. It is astonishing to believe that despite acquiring credible enough data about his presence, Pakistani authorities neither dispute with the alleged embassy nor they demand for his detention. Ehsanullah makes all his responsibility claims through wireless phone and the last such claim was about the assassination attempt on Hamid Mir. The Geo Television anchor was targeted in the aftermath of the media report that Hakeemullah Mehsud has issued directions to his subordinates to target Pakistani media groups for their biased coverage of the Malala incident. It was on October 17, 2012 that Rehman Malik had first offered Rs100 million bounty on Ehsan, after he had claimed responsibility for the cowardly assassination attempt on the 14-year old Malala Yousufzai. But hardly a few hours after the abortive attempt on Hamid Mir’s life in Islamabad on November 26, Rehman Malik doubled the bounty to Rs200 million, adding that “Ehsanullah is actually working for foreign elements”. But quite interestingly, after announcing the head money for TTP spokesman, the interior minister said in the same breath that the government was ready to give general amnesty to all proscribed organisations, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban, if they renounce terrorism.

Pakistan doctor in Osama bin Laden case starts hunger strike

The Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hunt down Osama bin Laden started a hunger strike in his jail cell this week to protest against his living conditions, prison officials said on Thursday. Shakil Afridi was sentenced in May to 33 years in jail for his links to a banned militant group. The decision was widely seen as punishment for helping the CIA find the al Qaeda leader, and has led to strained ties between Washington and Islamabad. Prison officials in the northwestern city of Peshawar said they are keeping Afridi in solitary confinement and will not allow him to have visitors nor speak to anyone by telephone as punishment for a media interview he gave in September. "After the interview in which Dr. Shakil Afridi levelled serious allegations against the country's top spy agency, the prison authorities barred his family members and lawyers from meeting him," said a prison official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media. "In protest, Dr. Shakil has begun a hunger strike for an indefinite period." An investigation following the September interview found that Afridi had bribed guards to use their cell phones to speak to journalists, family and friends, making a total of 58 calls, prison officials said. Six prison guards have been suspended. U.S. officials have hailed Afridi, aged in his 40s, as a hero for helping pinpoint bin Laden's location before the May 2011 raid that killed the al Qaeda leader. Afridi's family and lawyers maintain he was not guilty of any wrongdoing. "He is not allowed to meet with us, his brother and other family members. He is a human being and would definitely be frustrated enough to begin a hunger strike," said Afridi's lawyer, Samiullah Afridi. Afridi had been working with the CIA for years before the bin Laden raid, providing intelligence on militant groups in Pakistan's unruly tribal region. The bin Laden raid was a humiliation for Pakistan's powerful military and raised questions about whether it was harbouring militants. U.S. President Barack Obama said the al Qaeda leader would have escaped if the United States had sought Pakistan's permission ahead of the raid.