Friday, December 14, 2012

'EVIL VISITED' COMMUNITY: 20 schoolchildren, mom among dead

World leaders express shock over latest US shooting

World leaders expressed shock and horror after a gunman massacred 20 small children and six teachers Friday in the US state of Connecticut, in one of the worst school shootings in history."I would like to express my shock at the tragic shooting at the school in Connecticut today," European Union diplomacy chief Catherine Ashton said.The head of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso spoke of his "deep shock and horror" upon hearing of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which he called a "terrible tragedy". "Young lives full of hope have been destroyed," he said in a statement. Local media said that the shooter, reported to be a young man who picked off his victims with unusual accuracy, began in the kindergarten section where he killed his teacher mother and her class, then moved on.? The child victims were reported to be aged between five and ten. "I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear about today's horrific shooting," British Prime Minister David Cameron said. "My thoughts are with the injured and those who have lost loved ones. It is heartbreaking to think of those who have had their children robbed from them at such a young age, when they had so much life ahead of them." Britain's Queen Elizabeth II sent a message to President Barack Obama in which she said she was "deeply shocked and saddened" to hear of the shootings. "The thoughts and prayers of everyone in the United Kingdom and throughout the Commonwealth are with the families and friends of those killed and with all those who have been affected by today's events." French President Francois Hollande also extended his condolences to the victims and their relatives in a message to Obama. "This news... horrified me and I wish to express my deep shock and consternation," Hollande said. The foreign ministry also issued a message in which it offered "France's full support to the American people and authorities." Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a statement: "Australia grieves with America today following the mass shooting of primary school children and teachers in Connecticut. "Like President Obama and his fellow Americans, our hearts too are broken. "We share America's shock at this senseless and incomprehensible act of evil."

Teachers In Turbat Threaten to Go on Strike Against Stoppage of Salary

The Baloch Hal News
The District Teachers Association in Turbat District has threatened to shut down all public schools from December 15 in protest against the nonpayment of teachers’ salaries for more than a month. A spokesman for the Government Teachers Association on Thursday said all public schools were closed down on December 13 because the Education Department had not paid salaries to the teachers for their services in the month of November. The teachers would stop performing their duty if officials in the Department of Education do not immediately release their salaries. “It is very unfortunate that the officials have stopped the teachers’ salaries without providing us any solid reasons. As a result, the teachers are suffering financially,” said the spokesman. He also appealed to Commissioner Mekran Division and the Deputy Commission of Turbat District to play their respective roles in getting the’ salaries paid without further delay.

Khaista Afghanistan..Zeek Afridi: Pastho Song

Russia says stand on Syria is unchanged

Russian officials hurried to tamp down a global flurry of speculation Friday after a top diplomat said Syrian rebels might succeed in their push to oust President Bashar Assad, insisting that Moscow's stand in support of the embattled Syrian leader was unchanged. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov remarked Thursday that “an opposition victory can’t be excluded,” the first such admission from the Kremlin, which has stood firmly by Assad against international pressure as he faces a bloody uprising that has endured for 21 months. Though experts had said Russia was still unlikely to abandon Assad, the remarks set off speculation that Russia might be shifting its stance as it prepared for the defeat of its longtime ally.The U.S. State Department commended the Russian government “for finally waking up to the reality and acknowledging that the regime’s days are numbered.” Russia denied having done so. “We did not change our position and are not going to change,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Friday. Lukashevich said in a statement that the comment had been taken out of context and Bogdanov was actually explaining the view of the Syrian opposition. In that context, he “again confirmed Russia's principled stance that a political settlement in Syria has no alternative,” the statement said. Even before the Friday denial, analysts said Russia did not appear to be altering its stand on the Syrian conflict. The country has decried Western recognition of an opposition coalition recently formed in Qatar and has called for peace negotiations that could include Assad. Syria's deputy prime minister visited Moscow on Friday and echoed the insistence of Russian officials that nothing had shifted. “There have been no changes in Russia's position,” the Associated Press reported Qadri Jamil as saying. “Russia stands for dialogue and against foreign interference.”

Punjab accounts for 65 percent of corruption

National Accountability Bureau Chairman Admiral (r) Fasih Bokhari on Friday said Punjab province accounted for 65 percent of corruption being done in the country, requesting an early cabinet meeting to mull ways to end the scourge. In a telephonic call to Law Minister Farooq H Naik, the NAB chairman asked for an early meeting of the cabinet for elimination of corruption, a NAB spokesperson said. Bokhari also desired that representative of the Punjab government be asked to attend the meeting since Punjab represents majority of the country and shared 65 percent of responsibility, the spokesperson added. However, a spokesman for the Punjab government said the statement of the NAB chairman was unclear and ambiguous. He said the NAB chairman should clarify against whom he was levelling the charge. “Is he linking corruption with the ratio of population, referring to this evil at departmental or patwari level or accusing the Punjab government?” the spokesman said. He said Bokhari should elaborate why he had targeted Punjab and why was he silent on the federal and other provincial governments. He said the Punjab government strongly denied allegations of corruption against the province, the chief minister, his cabinet or the political leadership and considered such statements condemnable. The spokesman said statements of international institutions like the World Bank and Transparency International were enough to refute such charges. He said the Punjab government had introduced clear and well-coordinated Citizens Feedback System for elimination of corruption and this system was proving effective for the eradication of the menace in police, revenue, land record and other departments.

Jail, lashes for Saudi woman seeking alimony

Saudi Gazette
A Saudi woman did not know when she filed for alimony from her foreign husband, the court will sentence her to jail instead. The woman complained to a Jeddah court that her husband was not paying her child support and requested the court’s intervention. The judge, however, ruled against the woman and sentenced her to five days in jail and 10 lashes. Announcing his verdict, the judge who looked into the case said the woman was legally married to her foreign husband with the approval of the Ministry of Interior but was divorced after they had two children from the marriage. Three years later, the woman returned to her husband, but this time without the prior approval of the ministry or authentication from court, which is against the Saudi law. Saudi women seeking to marry foreigners are required to fullfill a series of tough conditions. The woman said she was ignorant of the law and argued that authenticating the marriage was the husband’s job and not hers. She said she approached the court seeking child support from her ex-husband and not to authenticate their marriage. The woman said she wanted identification for her children, especially as her husband had abandoned them and that was the reason why she moved the court. The woman claimed she currently lives on charity as she receives only SR800 in social security support.

Afghan women resorting to 'self-immolation' in bid to escape abuse

Afghanistan Sun
An alarming number of Afghan women are setting themselves on fire in a desperate attempt to escape abuse, torture and domestic violence, human rights officials have said. While some want to die, others simply hope their faces and bodies are so badly disfigured that their worth will plummet, and families and husbands who view them as commodities won't care enough to beat them any longer. Many even resort to self-immolation the night before they're forced into a marriage, hoping the wedding will be called off, the New York Daily News reports. According to the report, nearly as many are forced to lie about it when or if they're brought to a hospital. "I was in the kitchen cooking meat in a pressure cooker. Suddenly it exploded," 16-year-old Taranna told ABC's "20/20," white bandages covering her burnt skin from head to toe. Doctors who reviewed Taranna claimed that the teen wasn't burned by a gas explosion, but by flame, likely, self-inflicted. In approximately the past decade, women have regained voting and education rights in Afghanistan, but abuse is still widespread, the report said. The burgeoning number of women resorting to self -immolation has now prompted the United Nations (UN), which this week called for Afghan officials to enforce the 2009 Elimination of Violence against Women (EWAW) law, the report added. The law criminalizes child marriage, forced marriage, buying and selling women, rape and beating, the report concluded.

Female students in Saudi university banned from wearing trousers

The Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University for women in Saudi Arabia has banned students from wearing trousers, urging them to abide by the campus dress code. The statement was mainly addressed to female students in the school of art and design, for reasons unstated by al-Hayat newspaper. The dress code bans students from wearing skirts made out of mesh, or see through materials and they must be in black or gray. They are free to choose the color of their shirt, but it should not be revealing or transparent. Violators will be disciplined by marking them absent even if they attend classes. In a previous statement, King Abdulaziz University announced that it was not against women wearing trousers, but that trousers had to be designed in a way that is modest consistent with the “public taste.” Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University was established in 1970 as the Riyadh University for Women. It is the largest women-only university in the world with more than 50,000 students. In 2008 the university was renamed after Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman, the sister of King Abdulaziz.

Thousands of Bahrainis hold pro-reform rally in Manama

Tens of thousands of people in Bahrain have staged a pro-reform demonstration in the capital city, Manama, despite a ban imposed by the Al Khalifa regime on protests. The demonstrators took to the streets on Friday, chanting slogans and demanding freedom and reforms. There have been no reports yet on possible scuffles between protesters and police forces. However, similar rallies have turned violent in the past, with police using force to disperse protesters. Opposition rallies have continued in Bahrain in defiance of a government ban on public gatherings. The government’s harsh crackdown on demonstrations has also failed to keep protesters off the streets. Scores have been killed, many of them under torture while in custody, and thousands more detained since the popular uprising in Bahrain began in mid-February 2011. The Bahraini government promptly launched a brutal crackdown on the peaceful protests and called in Saudi-led Arab forces to help quell the unrest. Dozens of people have been killed in the crackdown, and security forces have arrested hundreds including doctors and nurses. Protesters say they will continue holding anti-regime demonstrations until their demand for the establishment of a democratically-elected government is met. Bahrain hosts the US Fifth Fleet and is among the Persian Gulf countries like Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates that receive military equipment from the United States.

Egypt prepares for its fateful referendum
In spite of deep political division and calls for boycott, Egypt’s most controversial referendum poll will go ahead on Saturday as planned
Egypt’s constitutional referendum will be held against the backdrop of severe political division and with a lack of full judicial supervision. The referendum on its most controversial draft constitution is due to take place on Saturday, 15 December. For the first time since 1956, the referendum will be held over two stages. The first stage, due to begin Saturday, 15 December will include 10 governorates: Cairo, Alexandria, Gharbiya, Sharqiya, Daqahliya, Assiut, Sohag, Aswan, and North and South Sinai. The number of citizens eligible for voting in this stage is estimated at 26.6 million out of a total 51.3 million. Four of these (Cairo and the three Nile-Delta governorates of Gharbiya, Sharqiya, and Daqahliya) voted overwhelmingly against Egypt’s current Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt's run-off presidential election in June. Alexandria, the upper-Egypt governorates of Assiut, Sohag, and Aswan, and the border governorates of North and South Sinai voted 'yes' for Morsi without a large margin from his rival Ahmed Shafiq. The second stage, due to be held on 22 December, will include Egypt’s remaining 17 governorates, with a number of voters estimated at 24.7 million. All referendums that have been held since the 1950s in Egypt were organized in one day. In most of the referendums voters never chose 'no' nor did they vote 'yes' in large numbers to what the president of the republic wished. Saturday’s referendum is not braced to be an exception. Political division After a week of indecision, the non-Islamist opposition, led by the National Salvation Front (NSF), embarked upon the option of voting 'no' on the draft constitution rather than calling for a public boycott of the referendum. The front, led by liberal-minded political activist Mohamed ElBaradie, the ex-chief of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a statement on 13 December that “the constitution, drafted by a majority of Islamists, aims to turn Egypt into a religious state and represents a threat to basic freedoms and rights.” In another move, the front also decided to file a lawsuit before Cairo’s Administrative Court, with the objective of invalidating the referendum. It said the staging of the referendum over two stages violates a basic condition stipulated by the1956’s law on the exercise of political rights. “This law states that should a referendum be held over two stages, it must take place over two consecutive days rather than on two separate weeks,” said the NSF's lawsuit. For their part, Islamists – mostly Muslim Brotherhood and ultra-conservative Islamist Salafists – mobilized to rally behind the constitution, urging their supporters to turn out en masse to vote in favour of the new constitution. They also have staged a number of pro-constitution demonstrations in front of mosques, especially in Cairo and Alexandria. Salafist said “voting yes is a necessity to pave the way for respecting God’s will, ridding Egypt of secularists and liberals and at last implementing Islamic Sharia (laws).” Monitoring the referendum poll: Media, human rights organizations, judges Political divisions went so far to include judges, with the majority of them deciding to boycott supervising the referendum. The Higher Electoral Commission (HEC) said as many as 7,000 judges will take charge of monitoring polling stations in 10 governorates.” According to HEC’s chairman Samir Abu El- Maati, the number of main polling stations stands at 175, while the number of auxiliary polling stations is estimated at 6,375. “This means that the number of judges available is enough to ensure that there is a judge for every voting box,” said Abu El-Maati. He also indicated that the “counting of votes will be held in both main and auxiliary polling stations.” Opposition and independent judges, however, beg to differ. The NSF warned that “there is a big lack of judicial supervision, the result of which is that polling stations could be swept by rigging practices and irregularities.” Joining forces, the independent Judges’ Club stressed that “the first stage of the referendum will by no means be held under full judicial supervision.” Ahmed El-Zind, chairman of the Club, said on 13 December that "the first stage is in need of 13,000 judges in order to be under full judicial supervision. Yet, the number of judges available stands at just 5,775, a fact which means that just 40 per cent of polling stations will be covered by judicial supervision.” El-Zind explained that most of the supervising judges draw from the State Cases Authority – an institution loyal to the government and the Ministry of Justice because it is in charge of defending the government before courts. El-Zind also indicated that the judges who decided to boycott supervision mostly draw from administrative and criminal courts and from the prosecution-general. “Most of the judges and prosecutors decided to boycott out of their refusal to take part in a big farce and in spite of threats directed at them by the prosecutor-general (appointed by President Mohamed Morsi last month),” said El-Zind. Abu El-Maati explained that citizens will have to show their national identity cards in order to be eligible for voting. He said “female supervisors will be available to inspect female voters wearing a niqab (face cover).” According to Abu El-Maati, “voting will begin on 8am and end on 7pm at local time.” “To guarantee the integrity of elections,” said Abu El-Maati, “citizens will not be allowed to vote in any polling stations outside their electoral districts.” In spite of their sharp criticism of the draft constitution, most local human rights organizations said they would actively participate in monitoring the referendum. In a statement on 13 December, a coalition of these organizations warned that “the referendum will be held in a climate of uncertainty and lack of transparency.” They strongly oppose the state-affiliated National Human Rights Council (NHRC) upper hand in running the supervision and monitoring affairs. They warned that since the NHRC is currently headed by Hossam El-Gheriani, chairman of the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly, fears are high that the referendum will be rigged. Chairman of the independent Egyptian Human Rights Organisation (EHRO), Hafez Abu Saada said “NHRC and El-Gheriani lack impartiality and there are strong doubts that they will do their best to manipulate the referendum in favour of Islamists. “In fact, many members of NHRC decided to resign in protest to El-Gheriani's affiliations with the Muslim Brotherhood, NHRC's lack of independence from the government, not to mention its refusal to give guarantees about the integrity of the vote” said Abu Saada. Local and international media will be allowed to take part in monitoring the poll. Zaghloul El-Balshi, HEC’s secretary-general, said “Egyptian journalists will be required to show their press cards to be allowed to enter polling stations and cover the vote.” As for foreign journalists and media people, El-Balshi indicated that “they will be required to get a prior permission from the State Information Authority.” The role of the Egyptian army in referendum poll For the second time in Egypt’s modern history, the army will be mainly tasked with safeguarding polling stations. The first one took place during parliamentary elections held last December and January. An estimated number of 380,000 army and police forces will be deployed to secure the referendum. According to major-general Osama El-Saghir, chief of Cairo police, police and army forces will deployed in front of 1,728 buildings where polling stations will be located. “These buildings – mostly schools or youth centres or courts – will be under the tight security of police and army forces,” said El-Saghir, adding that “all forms of campaigning will be strictly banned and army forces are empowered to detain any persons suspected of violating rules.” On 8 December, President Mohamed Morsi gave army forces temporary arrest powers to impose discipline and order during the referendum days. Persons caught violating rules could be sent to military courts for trial. El-Saghir also indicated that Central Security Forces will be deployed to safeguard prisons and police stations against riot acts.

Susan Rice withdraws from secretary of state bid over Republican opposition

Rice asks Obama to no longer consider her for the job and says she would face 'lengthy, disruptive and costly' nomination battle
the embattled US ambassador to the United Nations, withdrew herself from consideration to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in the face of sustained Republican attacks over her handling of the Benghazi consulate attack. Although Rice insisted the decision had been hers alone and that she was not pushed by the Obama administration, it provides the Republicans with an early victory barely a month after the presidential election. The danger for Barack Obama, even though the White House insists it did not push her, is that it will be interpreted as weakness by a president reluctant to face a fractious nomination battle. Her withdrawal means that John Kerry, Massachusetts senator and former presidential candidate, is almost certain to be nominated to be America's top diplomat. Rice wrote to Obama asking him to no longer consider her for the job because, she said, she would face "a lengthy, disruptive and costly" nomination battle with the Senate. "The position of secretary of state should never be politicised," Rice wrote. "As someone who grew up in an era of comparative bipartisanship … I am saddened that we have reached this point, even before you have decided whom to nominate. We cannot afford such an irresponsible distraction from the most pressing issues facing the American people." In a statement released by the White House, Obama expressed regret and described the attacks as "unfair and misleading". She is to stay in her position as UN ambassador, Obama said. The president is in the process of putting together his cabinet for a second term after many of the present team expressed a desire to leave. It emerged on Thursday that Obama is lining up a former Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, to replace Leon Panetta as defence secretary, an effort to present his administration as being broad-based. Normally by this stage a president would have announced some appointments, but Obama's plans have been disrupted by the consistent Republican sniping against Rice, led by senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and, lately, Kelly Ayotte. "Senator McCain thanks ambassador Rice for her service to the country and wishes her well," said McCain's spokesman Brian Rogers. "He will continue to seek all the facts surrounding the attack on our consulate in Benghazi that killed four brave Americans." Graham, in a statement, said: "I respect ambassador Rice's decision. President Obama has many talented people to choose from to serve as our next secretary of state." Her withdrawal, revealed by NBC News, appears to be on mainly personal grounds, with the attacks expanding beyond just her comments on Benghazi to prying into her private life, including such things as her investments. In an interview with NBC's Brian Williams, broadcast on Thursday night, Rice said she took the decision to avoid distracting from the main priorities Obama's second term. "We're talking about comprehensive immigration reform, balanced deficit reduction, job creation, that's what matters, and to the extent that my nomination could have delayed or distracted or deflected or maybe even some of these priorities impossible to achieve, I didn't want that and I'd much prefer to continue doing what I'm doing, which is a job I love at the United Nations." Her insistence that she volunteered to step aside was given credence by Bill Burton, a former White House spokesman and now a strategic adviser at the main Democratic political action committee, Priorities USA. In a tweet, he wrote: "You don't see a lot of people take one for the team in Washington - what ambassador Rice did was selfless and truly extraordinary." Rice is a big prize for the Republicans. She was championed by both Michelle Obama and senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, in spite of having a reputation for being abrasive. It was that combative, highly political approach that first got her into trouble with McCain when, during the 2008 presidential election, she mocked him for wearing a flak-jacket on a visit to Baghdad at a time when he was surrounded by dozens of security staff and soldiers. McCain, a Vietnam veteran, took the criticism badly. The assault on Rice followed a series of television interviews she gave on Sunday talk shows after the attack on Benghazi that left four Americans, including the ambassador Chris Stevens, dead. Rice suggested that the attack had been launched by demonstrators upset about anti-Muslim video made in the US. She later acknowledged she had been wrong and that the attack had been mounted by an al-Qaida-linked group. Attempts last month in Washington to win over critical senators failed, enraging them further. In her letter, she told Obama: "If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly – to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities. "That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country … Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time." Obama, in his statement, said: "For two decades, Susan has proven to be an extraordinarily capable, patriotic, and passionate public servant … I am grateful that Susan will continue to serve as our ambassador at the United Nations and a key member of my cabinet and national security team, carrying her work forward on all of these and other issues." Kerry is well-placed to sail through the nominating process. The Senate foreign relations committee is responsible for screening the secretary of state and Kerry, as head of it, knows well all the members. McCain has applied to join the committee from January and could have used that position to throw up obstacle after obstacle for Rice. But he is on relatively good terms with Kerry. Kerry, in a statement, said of Rice: "As someone who has weathered my share of political attacks and understands on a personal level just how difficult politics can be, I've felt for her throughout these last difficult weeks, but I also know that she will continue to serve with great passion and distinction."

Death in Connecticut

Each slaughter of innocents seems to get more appalling. A high school. A college campus. A movie theater. People meeting their congresswoman. A shopping mall in Oregon, just this Tuesday. Today, a kindergarten classroom.
People will want to know about the killer in Newtown, Conn. His background and his supposed motives. Did he show signs of violence? But what actually matters are the children. What are their names? What did they dream of becoming? Did they enjoy finger painting? Or tee ball? All that is now torn away. There is no crime greater than violence against children, no sorrow greater than that of a parent who has lost a child, especially in this horrible way. Our hearts are broken for those parents who found out their children — little more than babies really — were wounded or killed, and for those who agonized for hours before taking their traumatized children home. President Obama said he talked to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut and promised him the full resources of the federal government to investigate the killer and give succor to his victims. We have no doubt Mr. Obama will help in any way he can, today, but what about addressing the problem of guns gone completely out of control, which comes up each time a gunman opens fire on a roomful of people but then disappears again? The assault weapons ban enacted under President Clinton was deficient and has expired. Mr. Obama talked about the need for “common sense” gun control after the movie theater slaughter in Aurora, Colo., and he hinted during the campaign that he might support a new assault weapons ban, presumably if someone else introduced it. Republicans will never do that, because they are mired in an ideology that opposes any gun control. After each tragedy, including this one, some litter the Internet with grotesque suggestions that it would be better if everyone (kindergarten teachers?) were armed. Far too many Democrats also live in fear of the gun lobby and will not support an assault weapons ban, or a ban on high-capacity bullet clips or any one of a half-dozen other sensible ideas. Mr. Obama said today that “we have been through this too many times” and “that “we are going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” When will that day come? It did not come after the 1999 Columbine shooting, or the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, or the murders in Aurora. The more that we hear about gun control and nothing happens, the less we can believe it will ever come. Certainly, it will not unless Mr. Obama and Congressional leaders show the courage to make it happen.

Timeline: school shootings worldwide

As many as 27 people, including 18 children, were killed on Friday when a gunman opened fire at a primary school in Connecticut, US media say. Here are some of are the deadliest recent shootings in schools and universities around the world.
March 13, 1996 - Scotland
A deranged gun collector kills 16 children aged four to six and their teacher at a school in Dunblane. He then kills himself.
April 20, 1999 - United States
Two youths aged 17 and 18 armed with guns and more than 30 home-made bombs kill 12 students and a teacher at Columbine high school in Littleton, Colorado before they both commit suicide.
April 26, 2002 - Germany
16 people, including 12 teachers and two students, are gunned down at a school in Erfurt in eastern Germany by a 19-year-old former student, apparently in revenge for having been expelled.
April 16, 2007 - United States
A South Korean student kills 32 people on his campus at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. He then kills himself.
November 7, 2007 - Finland
An 18-year-old student opens fire in a school in southern Finland killing five boys, two girls and the headmistress before turning his gun on himself.
September 23, 2008 - Finland
Eleven people, including the gunman, die in a massacre at a training school at Kauhajoki, Finland.
March 11, 2009 - Germany
Nine pupils, three teachers and three passers-by are killed in a school shooting at Winnenden in southern Germany by a former pupil who then kills himself.
April 7, 2011 - Brazil
A man believed to be a former student opens fire in a school in Rio de Janeiro killing 10 people and wounding 18 others before taking his own life.
April 2, 2012 - United States
A gunman kills seven people in a rampage at a California religious college, lining up his victims and shooting them one by one.

Obama orders flags at federal buildings at half staff

President Obama has ordered the flags flown at half-staff at the White House and all federal buildings, military posts and naval stations and vessels through Dec. 18 in honor of the victims of the shooting in Newtown, Conn. Flags are also being flown at half-staff at the Capitol, as ordered by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). As a mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence perpetrated on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, by the authority vested in me as President of the United States by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby order that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, December 18, 2012. I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations. IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fourteenth day of December, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.

Calls for stricter gun control outside White House
Dozens of people gathered outside the White House on Friday afternoon, raising candles and chanting “Today is the day,” to urge President Barack Obama to take action against gun violence in the wake of the Newtown school shooting. “Although I really appreciate his tears and his prayers… for me, after 40 years, it is not enough,” said Toby Hoover of Ohio, who lost her husband to gun violence. Andy Pelosi, the director of Gun-Free Kids, said Obama should sit down with leaders of Congress immediately and discuss what laws would most effectively eliminate incidents like the shooting Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Stopping Gun Violence Starts With Obama

Amid one shooting after another, the only way to guarantee a gun-control debate is if Obama starts one.
This morning, children – young children – were killed in their elementary school by a gunman in quiet, suburban Connecticut. Three days ago, holiday shoppers were killed in a mall in suburban Portland. Two weeks ago, an NFL linebacker murdered his girlfriend and then killed himself at his team’s stadium. Each of these tragedies has spurred calls for a national conversation on America’s culture of guns and violence. It’s a conversation that inevitably never takes place, and it’s one that only President Obama can make happen. The White House on Friday said it was too soon to talk about gun policy. “There is, I’m sure, will be, rather, discussion of the usual Washington policy debates,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. “But I don’t think that day is today.” Yet Washington, and Obama, have had other days. After Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, killed a woman and then himself on Dec. 1, calls for a renewed gun control discussion came from Jason Whitlock, who writes for Fox Sports, and sportscaster Bob Costas, who cited Whitlock's column on NBC's Sunday Night Football telecast the next day. They did not, notably, come from Obama. Obama has been given several sad opportunities to address gun violence. In Tucson, he spoke of "a national conversation" commencing, "not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health system." After an attack on a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee, Obama said similar events "are happening with too much regularity for us not to do some soul-searching to examine additional ways that we can reduce violence." But that soul-searching did not happen in Obama's first term. And before Friday’s shooting in Newtown, few thought Obama would devote political capital to any sort of serious push for new gun-control legislation. Though the National Rifle Association's power has waned from its peak, Republicans remain firmly on the NRA's side while Democrats remain deeply scarred by the gun-rights group's success in ousting pro-gun-control legislators. It will be days before we know whether a massacre at an elementary school will be enough to force Obama and Congress to act. "We're optimistic about what we have the potential to accomplish,” Dan Gross, who heads the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said before Friday’s shooting. “We do think, in order for change to occur, there needs to be stronger leadership on this issue out of the White House." With the stark exception of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who funded a super PAC this year that took on some pro-gun members of Congress, few make the case for gun control on the national stage. "President Obama has called for commonsense measures that protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens and improve public safety by keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them under existing law," White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said, also before Friday’s shooting. "But the president has also been clear about the need to address the problem of violence not just in the wake of high-profile tragedies and not just in terms of gun laws or the role of government, but by working in a comprehensive way with local officials, schools, parents and communities." There's a reality gap in the president's rhetoric. Better enforcing existing laws — say, against a felon purchasing a handgun — requires closing loopholes and establishing a better background check system. In other words, it will take new laws to get the old laws working. Obama avoided gun control at virtually every turn during the 2008 campaign. On those rare occasions when he has had to confront the issue, Obama has said he supports an assault weapons ban and stricter enforcement of laws already on the books — but not before he takes pains to begin with a dependent clause reiterating his own fidelity to a broad reading of the Second Amendment. "We're a nation that believes in the Second Amendment, and I believe in the Second Amendment. We've got a long tradition of hunting and sportsmen and people who want to make sure they can protect themselves," Obama said this year during a town-hall-style debate on Long Island, when asked what he had done to limit the availability of assault weapons. "[M]y belief is that, A, we have to enforce the laws we've already got, make sure that we're keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, those who are mentally ill. We've done a much better job in terms of background checks, but we've got more to do when it comes to enforcement." When he talks about enforcing existing laws, Obama can point to his administration's record of forcing "more thorough and complete" background checks on anyone hoping to buy a gun, Lehrich said. And the administration can claim some success — violent crime has fallen every year Obama has been in the White House, according to FBI statistics. Gun sales have spiked during Obama's first four years in office, prompted by fears that the president will take steps to restrict future purchases or, in the minds of conspiracy theorists, orchestrate some plot to rob Americans who still cling to their guns and religion. The ironic truth is that the administration hasn't done anything to justify those fears.


At least 27 dead, including 18 children, in Connecticut school shooting

A heavily armed gunman opened fire on school children and staff at a Connecticut elementary school on Friday, killing 26 people including 18 children in the latest in a series of shooting rampages that have tormented the United States this year, U.S. media reported.
The gunman was dead inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, state police Lieutenant Paul Vance told a news conference. Vance declined to report casualty figures but CBS News said 18 children and nine adults were dead, including the shooter. One of the dead was the shooter's mother, a teacher at the school, The New York Times reported, citing a law enforcement official. One entire classroom was unaccounted for, The Hartford Courant reported. The suspected shooter, 24, was armed with four weapons and wearing a bullet-proof vest, WABC reported. If confirmed, it would be one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. The holiday season tragedy was the second shooting rampage in the United States this week and was certain to revive a debate about U.S. gun laws. Witnesses reported hearing dozens of shots with some saying as many as 100 were fired. Another person was being held in police custody after he was detained in the woods near the school wearing camouflage pants, CBS reported. BLOODIED CHILDREN EXIT SCHOOL Sandy Hook Elementary School teaches children from kindergarten through fourth grade - roughly ages 5 to 10. "It was horrendous," said parent Brenda Lebinski, who rushed to the school where her daughter is in the third grade. "Everyone was in hysterics - parents, students. There were kids coming out of the school bloodied. I don't know if they were shot, but they were bloodied." Television images showed police and ambulances at the scene, and parents rushing toward the school. Parents were seen reuniting with their children and taking them home. "This is going to be bad," a state official told Reuters, requesting anonymity because the scope of the tragedy remained uncertain. President Barack Obama was notified and would receive regular updates throughout the day, White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "As a father, incidents like these weigh heavily on him (Obama), and I think everyone who has children can imagine the enormous suffering that accompanies an event like this," Carney said. Carney called the event "tragic" and said there would be time later for a discussion of policy implications. Obama remains committed to trying to renew a ban on assault weapons, Carney said. 'MASKED MAN' Lebinski said a mother who was at the school during the shooting told her a "masked man" entered the principal's office and may have shot the principal. Lebinski, who is friends with the mother who was at the school, said the principal was "severely injured." Lebinski's daughter's teacher "immediately locked the door to the classroom and put all the kids in the corner of the room." Murphy has a friend with a daughter in Sandy Hook, and the daughter is OK. She did get an automated call from the school department this morning saying there was a "possible shooting" at the elementary school and that all schools were on lockdown. Melissa Murphy, who lives near the school, monitored events on a police scanner. "I kept hearing them call for the mass casualty kit and scream, ‘Send everybody! Send everybody!'" Murphy said. "It doesn't seem like it can be really happening. I feel like I'm in shock." A girl interviewed by NBC Connecticut described hearing seven loud "booms" while she was in gym class. Other children began crying and teachers moved the students to a nearby office, she said. "A police officer came in and told us to run outside and so we did," the unidentified girl said on camera. Newtown, with a population about 27,000, is in northern Fairfield County, about 45 miles southwest of Hartford and 80 miles northeast of New York City. The United States has experienced a number of mass shooting rampages this year, most recently in Oregon, where a gunman opened fire at a shopping mall on Tuesday, killing two people and then himself. The deadliest came in July at a midnight screening of a Batman film in Colorado that killed 12 people and wounded 58. The Sandy Hook tragedy would be the deadliest elementary school shooting in U.S. history. The worst U.S. high school shooting happened in 1999 when two students, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, went on a rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing 12 students and a teacher before turning their guns on themselves. In 2007, 32 people were killed at Virginia Tech university in the deadliest act of gun violence in U.S. history. In another notorious school shooting outside of the United States, in 1996 a gunman opened fire in an elementary school in Dunblane, Scotland, and killed 16 children and an adult before killing himself.

Obama calls for 'meaningful action' after shooting

Associated Press
A tearful President Barack Obama says the country's leaders must "take meaningful action" regardless of politics in response to the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. The president teared up, at times using an index finger to wipe at the corner of his eyes, as he addressed the nation from the White House. He also paused repeatedly as he struggled to keep his composure while speaking of the children — ages 5 to 10 — who had died and the life milestones they now would miss. He said, quote, "Our hearts are broken." Shortly before speaking, Obama ordered that U.S. flags be flown at half-staff on public grounds through Tuesday.


Conn. Massacre Second-Deadliest School Shooting in U.S. History
Friday's horrific elementary school shooting in Connecticut, in which NBC News reported 18 children and 8 adults were killed, was among the deadliest school shootings in United States history, second only to the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre that took 32 lives. It comes on the heels of a tragic string of massacres in recent years. The alleged gunman in the deadly Connecticut school shooting on Friday shot and killed his mother, a teacher at the school, before gunning down students in her classroom and other adults in a rampage, the New York Times reported. The alleged gunman opened fire in the classroom where his mother taught at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing her and then shooting 18 students in the room, the Times said. He also shot seven other adults before killing himself, the Times said.

Polio: ‘School Heroes’ fight disease in province

The Express Tribun
The health department has initiated a ‘School Heroes’ programme whereby schoolchildren will be responsible for the polio immunisation drive. The target of these ‘heroes’ will be to get every child in the region vaccinated by June 2013. At the inauguration ceremony of the sub-national immunisation days, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Senior Minister Rahimdad Khan said all stakeholders should play their due role in eradicating the disease. He launched the campaign by administering the vaccine to a child. The three-day drive, which starts from December 17, is expected to inoculate more than five million children across the province, including Afghan refugees. A thousand schools in the province have nominated one teacher along with a team of 10 students, who will be trained to become focal persons for the programme. In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), 400 schools will be involved to reach 120,000 students. The drive will include public service messages to motivate families to get their children vaccinated. K-P Deputy Director Expended Programme on Immunisation, Dr Janbaz Afridi said that the ‘polio heroes’ will be responsible to keep a check on the campaign in their areas and identify localities where teams have not reached. “They will inform their teachers if any child has missed the vaccination and the teacher will then notify the health department which will immediately send a team to immunise the child,” he added. Dr Afridi said the pilot project had been launched in high-risk districts of Peshawar, Charsadda, Mardan and Nowshera, where approximately 10,000 teachers will run the training programme. The drive will later be extended to the whole province. K-P education department and UNICEF will support the provincial health department in involving students and teachers. A total of 301,016 oral polio vaccines will be provided to the children. So far, 56 polio cases have been reported this year, out of which 24 are from K-P and 21 from Fata.

Lahore: Fake licences, crafty dealers: illegal arms trade booms

Politics and weapons have an intricate relationship in Pakistan. According to an estimate, there are around 20 million lethal weapons in Pakistan, with a population of 180 million. Pakistan is ranked seven in a list of 178 most heavily armed countries.
In Punjab, people with influence control the supply of arms. Penetration of arms in Punjab’s society is clearly reflected in the rising crime rate in the province leaving the law enforcement authorities almost helpless. Several reports have cited this increase in the supply of weapons as the reason behind the rise of criminal gangs resulting in the loss of precious lives. The supply is rising unchecked because dealers sell weapons without ascertaining whether the buyer holds a legal permit. In most cases, these arms dealers are also in the business of providing licenses, even if the government has banned such issuance. Today, perhaps the only reason why Pakistan is one of the most heavily armed countries in the world is the unchecked issuance of licenses for holding arms and the provision of weapons to personnel not holding government issued permits. In Lahore, there are more than 138 shops that have weapons worth hundreds of thousands available for sale. In recent operations, arms recovered by Punjab Police include 576 sharp edged weapons, 292,040 cartridges, 2,162 carbines, 79 grenades, 21,481 revolvers and pistols, 3,798 guns, 2,471 rifles and 755 Kalashnikovs. A total of 30,413 cases have been registered against illegal possession of weapons. Although, the government has issued a quota of 140 arms licenses for Lahore per year, the actual permits handed out are close to 1,700. Sources revealed that most of those running arms shops in Lahore belong from far flung areas of the country and readily meet orders of any kind within a few days by utilising their connections with high-ranking government officials. Although the official fee for an arms permit ranges between Rs 3,000 and Rs 3,500, these dealers charge close to Rs 20,000 for providing a license, even if the government has forbidden issuance. While talking to Pakistan Today on condition of anonymity, some of these dealers said it was not their responsibility to check if a prospective buyer held a legal permit to possess weapons. They said it was the job of government officials who were also involved in the business and who gorged money from them also. They further said that they never reported cases of fake or illegal permits to the authorities and sold their products to anyone who was interested in buying. Reporting them would hamper our business, they said. Jan Khan, an arms dealer, while talking to Pakistan Today said there were several dealers who brought in illegal weapons and sold them without any check which resulted in these arms ending up in the wrong hands. “No action has ever been taken against such elements. They commit treachery,” he stated. He said possessing arms was not necessarily a bad thing especially when used for defence and protection. “It becomes evil when it ends up in the wrong hands,” said Khan. Khan said that interested clients could illegally obtain a foreign manufactured AK-47 for around Rs 125,000 while a locally manufactured assault rifle could easily be procured between Rs 50,000 and 80,000. “Locally manufactured pistols are available between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000 while prices of foreign handguns range from Rs 100,000 to Rs 300,000. You can even get these weapons delivered to the place of your choice, no questions asked,” he said. Rai Zafar, a resident of Lahore, said possessing arms was necessary for his family’s protection. He was against those who held arms just for exhibition or to gain respect saying that mishandling often leads to untoward incidents. Chaudhry Aslam, another citizen, said there was a positive correlation between the rise in crime and the rise in supply of arms. “You never know when someone might pull out a gun over a small dispute. Rich or poor, one should be careful in dealing with everyone,” he said. He appealed to the government to check the increase in illegal weapons and to ensure a proper check on arms licences. Commenting on the issue, Lahore DIG Operations Rai Tahir said it was very difficult to stop illegal arms infiltration in Pakistan because most of these weapons were being sourced from the tribal areas of the country where law enforcement is almost non-existent. He further said that in Punjab, weapons manufacturing factories operating in civil areas must be eliminated. He called for more scrutiny at the Attock checkpost which was one of the major entry points into the province. The DIG said police had registered more than a 1,000 cases against criminals possessing illegal weapons most of whom have been put behind bars.

Pakistani fertilizer fuels Afghan bombs, US troop deaths
The main ingredient in most of the homemade bombs that have killed hundreds of American troops in Afghanistan is fertilizer produced by a single company in Pakistan, where the U.S. has been pushing unsuccessfully for greater regulation. Enough calcium ammonium nitrate fertilizer for at least 140,000 bombs was legally produced last year by Pakarab Fertilizers Ltd., then smuggled by militants and their suppliers across the porous border into southern and eastern Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials.
The U.S. military says around 80 percent of Afghan bombs are made with the fertilizer, which becomes a powerful explosive when mixed with fuel oil. The rest are made from military-grade munitions like mines or shells. The United States began talks a year and a half ago with Pakistani officials and Pakarab, one of the country's largest companies. But there is still no regulation of distribution and sale of calcium ammonium nitrate fertilizer. "If you have a host country that has a factory making a substance that ultimately becomes the problem, then that country has to contribute at least half the solution," said Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who led a congressional delegation to Pakistan last week to press army and civilian leaders for action. U.S. officials say Pakistan and Pakarab have expressed willingness to regulate the fertilizer, which is also widely used in the manufacture of bombs used by insurgents to kill thousands of soldiers and civilians inside Pakistan. They acknowledge the difficulties: 15 years after ammonium nitrate was used in the Oklahoma City bombings, the U.S. government only presented its proposals to regulate it on Aug. 2. But with the death toll from homemade bombs rising almost daily inside Afghanistan, continuing inaction by Pakistani authorities will add more strain to a U.S.-Pakistani relationship already frayed by allegations that Islamabad is aiding Afghan insurgents on its side of the border."This is a test," Casey said. "The key thing now is to see results." The only producer of calcium ammonium nitrate fertilizer in Pakistan, Pakarab operates two factories in Punjab province, the country's agricultural heartland. The largest is on the outskirts of Multan, an ancient city surrounded by thousands of acres (hectares) of mango orchards and cotton fields. A sprawling industrial complex of smoking chimneys, pipes and tanks surrounded by high walls, the 39-year-old facility churns out the chemical 24 hours a day when it's operating. Lines of trucks wait outside to transport sacks of fertilizer to 2,000 distributors around the country, who then sell it to millions of Pakistani cotton, fruit and wheat farmers. Around Multan, dealers sit in small shops in front of piled-up sacks of ammonium nitrate and other fertilizer, haggling with farmers. Most say they are aware ammonium nitrate can be used as an explosive, but none has been told to report suspicious purchases.Pakistani fertilizer producers are not permitted to export to Afghanistan because they are subsidized by the government and their products are meant for domestic use only. But the low price of fertilizer in Pakistan, and a chronic shortage in Afghanistan, has meant that smuggling has long been rife. The chemical, known as CAN, is often trucked into southern Afghanistan repackaged as a harmless fertilizer. Other times, it's hidden under other goods, often after border guards have been paid a bribe, according to smugglers at the Chaman border and U.S. officials. One dealer, Mohammad Wassem, told The Associated Press wealthy people with links to the insurgents placed orders for all three fertilizers produced by Pakarab. They sold the two safer varieties domestically, then trucked the ammonium nitrate across the border. Truck driver Ali Jan said he makes $20 each time he crosses the border with concealed sacks of fertilizer. "I do not take banned items every time, but I make at least 10 trips a month across the border carrying bags of fertilizer under other stuff," Jan said. Only a tiny fraction of the trucks that cross the border are searched, said one U.S. official, explaining it would be impractical to stop and search the many thousands of vehicles that cross the border each day.Explosives can be made from a range of fertilizers, but it is easy to turn CAN into a bomb. Insurgents either grind or boil the small, off-white granules to separate the calcium from the nitrate, which is mixed with fuel oil, packed into a jug or box and then detonated. The fertilizer is sold in 110-pound (50-kilogram) sacks, which can be used to make between two and four bombs depending on whether they are targeting vehicles or foot patrols, said Robin Best, an expert at the U.S. military's Joint IED Defeat Organization, who visited the Multan factory in July with a U.S. delegation. Such bombs, typically buried and detonated remotely or by pressure plates, have killed more than 719 Americans and wounded more than 7,440 since the conflict began in 2001, along with thousands of Afghan troops and civilians. Last year's U.S. death toll — 252 — was as high as the two previous years combined, and 2011 is shaping up to be just as bloody.Based on tests of residues at a limited number of blast sites, and seizures of the chemical inside Afghanistan, two U.S. officials told the AP they believe the majority of fertilizer bombs in Afghanistan are made of CAN produced by Pakarab. One said that up to 80 percent of the bombs were made with Pakarab fertilizer. Both asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the data. Casey, the senator from Pennsylvania, said the U.S. government estimates around 1 percent of Pakarab's annual production made it ways across the border for use in bombmaking. Given that the company produced 350,000 metric tons in 2010, that means enough for at least 140,000 bombs was smuggled across the frontier last year, though an unknown amount was seized by Afghan and U.S. authorities, or stockpiled. On Aug. 17, authorities in Afghanistan's Helmand province said they seized 200 sacks of ammonium nitrate that had been smuggled from Pakistan. Photos of the sacks, which had been partially buried, showed they were made by Pakarab. "All of this chemical is coming from the south and the east," said Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry. "We want Pakistan to control it." Executives of Pakarab, a publicly traded company, defended their right to sell what is a legal product well-suited to the soil and weather in Pakistan. They said the company had no way to dispute U.S. and Afghan claims about where its fertilizer is ending up, but noted ammonium nitrate was produced in other countries around the region and that Pakistan also imported it. "Pakarab will continue to work with both the (U.S. and Pakistani) governments unreservedly," the company said in a statement. The company added that Washington had provided assurances it had no plans to press for the plants to be closed.Most countries have placed restrictions on the sale, purchase and storage of the chemical, and some, including Germany, Afghanistan, Ireland and China, have banned it. Some U.S. states already regulate it, but new federal proposals would require those who purchase and sell it to register with the government and limit its movement across states. The U.S. is discussing similar kinds of regulations in Pakistan, but acknowledges that enforcement will be difficult in a country where police and government officials are underpaid, lack education and are facing numerous other challenges. Still, there are signs that Pakistan may not fully understand the problem or lack the ability to address it. After a meeting with Sen. Casey, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani issued a statement saying the government had already introduced "strict laws" regulating the product, implying that nothing further needed to be done. An army spokesman even maintained there were no longer any factories producing calcium ammonium nitrate in Pakistan, before being corrected by the AP. "I don't think the magnitude of the problem has been understood," said a U.S. official, who asked not to be named to discuss the issue frankly. "There hasn't been a comprehensive look (by Pakistan) at it. We are having frank discussions. We are taking that as progress." Casey said he hoped new regulations to control the product could be in place as soon as the end of the fall.The U.S. has also been trying to get Pakarab to switch to producing a version of the fertilizer that's more difficult to turn into bombs — something scientists have been trying to accomplish since the use of nitrate fertilizers was pioneered by Irish Republican militants in the 1980s. Last year, executives with the U.S. chemical manufacturer Honeywell traveled to Pakistan to pitch Pakarab on the merits of Sulf-N 26, a fertilizer that combines ammonium nitrate with ammonium sulfate, a fertilizer and fire retardant. Honeywell unveiled Sulf-N 26 in 2008 in response to security concerns after the Oklahoma City bombing, and bills it as safe as sand when mixed with fuel. However, tests carried out in the U.S. showed it could still be used in the production of bombs and the project was shelved, according to Pakarab and Best, the expert at the Joint IED Defeat Organization. Honeywell, which said it had not been informed about the tests, disputed that conclusion. Pakarab is now testing the feasibility of dyeing CAN to distinguish it from other harmless fertilizers at the border. Such a process has never been tried before. Pakarab said the dyeing initiative was "encouraging.""The dye is a huge thing. It's the first step that could have a profound impact," Best said. One concern is whether farmers, most of whom are illiterate and resistant to change, would buy the dyed product, Best said. He said Pakarab was planning a marketing campaign to inform them that its quality remained the same, or possibly better, with the addition of extra chemicals. While calcium ammonium nitrate accounts for just 10 percent of fertilizer sales across Pakistan, it accounts for most of the fertilizer produced by Pakarab. The company's sales of CAN grew by 20 percent in 2010 from a year earlier, and the company continues to aggressively market it. Pakarab made $104 million in profit last year, and has hired BNY Mellon to help it become the first Pakistan-based company to sell shares on U.S. stock markets.

Girls in Pakistan: Victim, figurehead, martyr
It is no surprise that girls in Pakistan have been protesting against the renaming of their schools in honour of Malala Yousafzai, the brave teenager who survived a Taliban assassination attempt. Of course, there is nothing wrong with honouring such a talented and articulate campaigner for girls education. She should be honoured. But there is something deeply troubling about the way politicians in Pakistan and overseas are jumping on to the bandwagon.
The girls in Mingora, Malala's home town in the Swat Valley, said they feared becoming targets of the Pakistan Taliban if the name of their school is changed from the Government Postgraduate Malala College for Girls in Mingora back to the Saidu Postgraduate College for Girls. The town was controlled by Taliban militias in 2009 and remains a target of their gunmen. It was here, on her way home from school, that Malala came close to death. The girls' fear is not paranoia – it is a reflection of a very real threat. Similar sentiments have been expressed by Kainat Riaz, a 16-year-old who was injured alongside Malala. She has spoken out about plans to name a school after her, for fear it will bring further reprisals. Her family is under pressure to leave their home in Mingora for the same reason. They are talking about seeking asylum overseas. Make these girls a symbol of women's education and you may as well draw a big target on their foreheads. So when I hear that Gordon Brown has launched a Malala fund for education I think not of the new schools, but whether she can ever return to Pakistan. The same is true of Rimsha Masih. Her case was picked up by international campaign groups when she was arrested on suspicion of blasphemy in August, turning her into a global figurehead for the fight against religious extremism and a heroine in the local campaign to reform Pakistan's brutal laws. Yet the truth is that there is precious little appetite inside the country to overhaul the laws. Few politicians had the courage to speak when Salman Taseer, the late governor of Punjab, made his effort at updating legislation to prevent abuse of an outdated law. For all the fuss over Rimsha, it seems political leaders are only willing to stand up and be counted when the main focus – and the terrorist crosshairs – are elsewhere, centred on a young girl. Where is she now? Does anyone care? For now – and possibly forever – she is in hiding. This is the tragedy of women in modern Pakistan. Just as girls and women remain at the mercy of religious extremists, so too they remain largely voiceless in a society that can only see them as victims. They are powerless. No-one bothered to ask Kainat whether she wanted a school named after her. Rimsha's case was used by both Christian groups and democracy campaigners overseas to further their cause. Did she have any idea? The truth is that girls like her and Malala and Rimsha, girls that flit across public consciousness, are locked in a narrow series of roles defined by society. We want to believe their stories are gamechangers, catalysts that will make a difference. The protests in Mingora are a reminder that things are much more difficult. Even girls like these are stuck in someone else's narrative: first as victim, then as figurehead and possibly, finally, as martyr.

Pakistani court bails acid attack parents: lawyers

A Pakistani court granted bail on Friday to a couple who confessed to murdering their daughter with acid, citing lack of evidence and witnesses, lawyers said. Police arrested Mohammad Zafar and his wife Zaheen Akhtar a week after the October 29 attack on their 15-year-old daughter Anusha, who died in agony from horrific burns in Pakistan-administered Kashmir after allegedly looking at boys. But district and sessions judge Munir Gilani granted bail because “police had no evidence and they could produce no witnesses,” public prosecutor Mohammad Ali Rathor told reporters. “The court found it a weak case and, giving the benefit of doubt, granted bail to her parents,” he said. “No one appeared on behalf of the deceased girl and no human or women rights activists came to pursue the case,” Rathor added. Defence lawyer Riaz Naveed Butt said the couple were released in Kotli, 130 kilometres (80 miles) north of regional capital Muzaffarabad, after depositing bonds worth 100,000 rupees ($1,020) each. “My plea was that she was not killed, she committed suicide,” Butt told AFP. He said that Anusha, who spent two days in agony in hospital, had failed to give a statement naming her killers before she died. Rathor said he would appeal against bail because the couple had “confessed”. The parents told AFP in an interview last month that they waited two days to take Anusha to hospital, where a doctor said she arrived in a “very critical condition” with almost 70 percent burns. Anusha’s mother Zaheen spoke of her remorse for what happened. “I deeply regret my action. I am repenting as I should not have done this. She was very innocent,” she told AFP from her police cell in November. She said she and her husband feared Anusha would follow in the footsteps of her elder sister, who was married off at 16 “because people had been talking about her bad character”. Rights activists say more than 900 women were murdered last year after being accused of bringing shame on their families. Many such killings are passed off as suicide and suspects who are arrested are often released due to lack of evidence.

Pakistan: Intolerable corruption

Can the four-member ministerial committee find truth in the reports that over the last few years Pakistan has made unprecedented progress in the field of official corruption and by virtue of that stellar success it now stands in the line of the world's most corrupt countries - we have our doubts. This is a mission impossible and cannot be achieved, not because a 15-day deadline given to it 'to look into these reports, dig out facts and give proposals to improve the perception' is too close or the committee is under-powered. But because the committee is unequal to the task given the recent revelation that of the 55-member cabinet which forced the prime minister to set up the committee, at least 22 are tax-dodgers; unless one believes that tax evasion is not corruption. The ministers were not as much furious over the Transparency International report that accords Pakistan this distinction, as over a disclosure by NAB Chairman Admiral Fasih Bukhari that the per day corruption in Pakistan is to the tune of Rs 7 billion. 'Etu tu, Brute?' they must be thinking. But the NAB is certain about its take on official corruption; its assertion is primarily based on an ongoing scrutiny of some 173 projects of the federal and provincial governments that carry a financial impact of Rs 1.475 trillion. It's a huge figure indeed and may remain unconfirmed, but there is the lasting public perception that we as a nation are almost irretrievably trapped in the vortex of corruption. Tragically, in our times corruption in high offices has acquired a kind of aura of divinity and the underlings are expected to accept it as their destiny. But this cannot be allowed to go on and on; inaction resulting from our helplessness to fight back the mighty demons of official corruption can irredeemably undermine the democratic process in Pakistan. Steps have to be taken to sustain general masses' trust in democracy. Maybe, given the scale of corruption and divinity of the offices involved in this nefarious business, the culprits are not caught and punished for now. Maybe, the arm of law is not long enough to reach the high and mighty corrupt and prosecutors are too low-status minions to get to the white, starched colours. Maybe, the committees and commissions to find out the 'ultimate truth' are merely deception ploys to help defuse crises. Rightly then we have no great expectations from the ministerial committee to deliver on the onerous task assigned to it. But that is not on; we cannot turn our backs on this threat to our existence as an independent sovereign polity. The fight to expose the degree of corruption and criminals involved must be exposed, as has been done by Transparency International survey and a study done by the Centre for Investigative Reporting. More such reports should come so that by the time people go to elect their future leadership they know who is it that they are going to vote for. Meanwhile, what little time is left with the present National Assembly it should get united and does something concrete to justify the cause of its existence. Accepted it passed the 18th Constitutional Amendment and legislated over a hundred other laws. But of real concern to the man in street is the impact the long list of its legislative work makes on his life. Democracy is not merely elections and parliaments; it's a machine that should work for the greatest good of the largest number of people. Frankly, the present assemblies score poorly on this account. For one, it has the last chance to stand up and get united to pass a tough, merciless and unforgiving anti-corruption act to punish the corrupt irrespective of their position, power and political affiliation. How unfortunate it is that we as a nation have even failed to marginally improve the existing imbecile accountability process. We would hate to endorse the perception that politicians are chums of the same block. But do believe that the black sheep among them should be identified, segregated and culled - of course, through electoral process. Let history not write our death by drowning in the sea of corruption.

'The Hands of Cruelty:' Abuses by Armed Forces and Taliban in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas

Thousands of men and boys have been arbitrarily detained by security forces in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, as the Pakistan Armed Forces has recaptured territory from the Taliban over the last three years. Many of those detained have been tortured and are never seen again. Aome are returned dead to their families, or their bodies are dumped in remote areas. Investigations into these incidents are rare. The Taliban continues to commit abuses, killing scores of civilians accused of “spying”, launching suicide attacks in mosques, schools and other public places, and executing captured soldiers. After a decade of insurgency, Pakistan’s Tribal Areas remain in a state of crisis. Bordering Afghanistan, they are one of the poorest, least developed parts of Pakistan. Added to this is the legal vacuum that prevails in the region. In the Tribal Areas, the courts are barred from upholding the fundamental rights protections guaranteed under Pakistan’s constitution. This has allowed state and non-state actors to commit violations and abuses with impunity. Rather than investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators of these abuses, the authorities have given sweeping powers of arrest and detention to the armed forces, cementing the culture of impunity. Without urgent action by the Pakistan government to guarantee respect for human rights, millions will remain locked in perpetual lawlessness in the Tribal Areas.

Pakistan: Tax evading MPs

Tax evasion has so been deeply rooted in Pakistani society as to become a culture permeated in all sections of the population and lawmakers are no exception. A report carried by all newspapers of the country on Thursday portrays a ham-fisted picture of MPs hailing from all political organizations without exception saying that more or less 70 per cent of them do not pay taxes and they include top leadership like the head of the state, prime ministers, governors, chief ministers and federal and provincial ministers. The report also suggests that members of the National Assembly and the Senate alone own an average net wealth of around $882,000 and yet they do not pay due taxes. What is ironic that legislator are rolling in wealth while Pakistan has one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in the world, estimated at 9.2 per cent. It also found that 78 MNAs and senators are still not registered with a national tax number. In all, only 260,000 out of 180 million citizens, around two per cent, have paid tax consecutively for the last three years. It may be pertinent to note that Pakistan's refusal to implement sweeping tax reform was instrumental in the collapse of a $11.3 billion IMF bailout programme in November 2010. Also a fact is the country is one of the biggest recipients of Western aid - payouts that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Prime Minister David Cameron have said are difficult to increase when Pakistan's own elite pays no tax. The anomalous, rather unlawful, picture that has emerged once again points out to injudicious and unjust taxation system and tax laws that deducts the petty salary of a clerk at source but does dare touch the elitist who keeps on playing fraud with the public exchequer for years and decades and yet is not proceeded against. The report comes after the chairman of the FBR, Ali Arshad Hakeem, offered Pakistani tax evaders the chance to pay around $420 to have their slates wiped clean in return for committing to pay tax regularly from next year. The wealth that has concentrated in a few hand has the potential of fetching much more than Rs one trillion in tax a year. However, tax collection has even not covered the budget deficit that has kept on mounting. The problem is not limited to lawmakers, it is that of the entire prosperous class of Pakistan. Their lifestyles totally betray their declared income. Another difficulty is that even when breaches of the tax laws are discovered, the rich and politically connected are rarely prosecuted and this manifests how weak is governance in the context of overall enforcement of law in Pakistan.

Punjab has 65pc of share in corruption

National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman Admiral (retd) Fasih Bukhari telephoned Federal Law Minister Farooq H Naek claiming that Punjab province has 65 percent of share in overall corruption in the country. During his conversation with the law minister, Fasih Bukhari said that representatives of Punjab should be summoned in Cabinet Committee. He welcomed the Cabinet Committee to counter corruption in the country, advising that the session of the committee should soon be convened. Bukhari held Punjab province responsible for 65 percent of the corruption due to which, he said that presence of Punjab representatives in the committee meeting should be ensured.