Thursday, December 20, 2012

Putin's diplomatic strategy becomes more pragmatic

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday held his eighth press conference on major domestic issues and foreign relations in 12 years and the first of its kind since his return to the Kremlin this May.
Putin, in front of some 1,200 Russian and foreign journalists, started off by reviewing the results achieved in economic and social spheres in the country. During his direct conversation with reporters, which lasted four and a half hours, the president outlined his ideas on domestic and international issues. Russian analysts said Putin's answers indicated that his diplomatic strategy in his third presidency has become more pragmatic as Moscow intends to get closer to the east and mend ties with countries at variances. CHINA-RUSSIA TIES AT HIGHEST LEVEL Putin said China-Russia relations are at the highest level in history, when answering Xinhua's question about how he sees bilateral ties between the two countries. Russia looks forward to developing joint projects with China in areas such as big-hull civilian aircraft manufacturing, Putin said, adding that bilateral cooperation in investment and finance were also very promising. "This is obvious that Russia-China relations have developed at a fast pace this year. They were at the highest level ever and they keep going in that direction," Yakov Berger, a professor at Russia's Far East Institute, told Xinhua. Putin also set new goals to bolster China-Russian relations, suggesting that some part of the countries' bilateral trade would be conducted in national currencies. "Relationship with China is the best example of what two countries could achieve if both of them want it. Still, there are the new challenges in bilateral relations, because traditional structure of their economic exchanges became insufficient," said Alexander Fedorovsky, an expert from the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of Russian Academy of Science.Putin was asked by several reporters about the anti-Magnitsky Act passed by the Russian parliament Wednesday. In emotional exchanges with the audience, Putin said the controversial bill was not aimed at punishing U.S. foster-parents but the authorities and policy makers. "What Putin said on that topic is mostly a political game. He knows it pretty well the bill he may sign shortly would not seriously affect the U.S.-Russia ties," Sergei Karaganov, dean of Moscow's High Economic School, told Xinhua. Putin said he did not use anti-American rhetoric, but still cannot let anyone offend Russia with impunity. "Reset is not our word, we didn't see the need in it at all, our relations used to be good enough," Putin said. "We are not enemies, we need to look for compromise though it worsens our relations, but we need to safeguard national interests," Putin stressed. Putin said the United States made serious mistakes in Libya and Russia was not going to repeat them in Syria. Russia was not concerned with the fate of President Bashar al-Assad's family, but hoped Syrians could stay integrated and launch the political settlement as soon as possible. SIGNALS FROM ABROAD Putin said Moscow heard positive signals from Georgia and Japan, the two countries that Russia has had uneasy relations with. Admitting that Moscow has no ready-tailored proposal on how to normalize relations with Tbilisi and can't retreat from the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Putin said Russia-Georgia ties should be resumed. "Still, since the problem cannot be solved directly, it could be bypassed. In this respect, Moscow could deal with Georgia in the same way it deals with Japan -- restoring normal economic and humanitarian relations in the absence of diplomatic ties, in case of Tbilisi," Karaganov said. He referred to Putin's words that Moscow has received signals from the new Japanese government about its intention to sign a peace treaty with Russia. Yelena Yatsenko, president of the Eurasia Heritage Foundation, said relations with Georgia were a difficult issue for Moscow. "The stalemate between Russia and Georgia could last for a long time, until the new generation of Georgians comes to power. Current generation cannot forgive Russia's recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," she told Xinhua. Georgia cut off diplomatic relations with Russia after a brief war between the two countries in August 2008 over control of the Georgian breakaways of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Blow for John Boehner in bid to avoid fiscal cliff
CONFRONTED with a revolt among the rank and file, House Republicans abruptly put off a vote on legislation allowing tax rates to rise for households earning $1 million and up, complicating attempts to avoid a year-end "fiscal cliff" that threatens to send the US economy into recession.
In a brief statement, House Speaker John Boehner said the bill “did not have sufficient support from our members to pass.” At the same time he challenged President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to work on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff. “The Senate must now act,” Mr Boehner said. Emerging from a hurriedly-called evening meeting of House Republicans, Steve LaTourette said Mr Boehner had told lawmakers he's “going to call the President and he's going to go down and talk to him and maybe they can hammer something out.” There was no immediate response from either the White House or Mr Reid's office. The legislation was crafted to prevent tax increases set to kick in on January 1, 2013, on tens of millions of Americans. But another provision that would have let rates rise for those at the upper income range - a violation of long-standing Republican orthodoxy - triggered the opposition of anti-tax lawmakers inside the party.The abrupt turn of events left precious little time for divided government to prevent across-the-board tax increases and deep spending cuts from taking effect with the new year. Economists say the combination threatened a return to recession for an economy that has been recovering slowly from the last one. The House will not meet again until after Christmas, if then, and the Senate is expected to meet briefly tomorrow, then not reconvene until next Friday (AEDT). The fiscal cliff issue has dominated the postelection session of Congress. More broadly, it marks the end of a tumultuous two-year period that began when tea party-backed Republicans roared into the House demanding lower taxes, only to be asked by their leadership to bless higher tax rates at upper incomes. Mr Boehner said the legislation - he'd dubbed it Plan B - marked a move to “protect as many American families and small businesses as possible from the tax hikes that are already scheduled to occur” with the new year. Referring to one of the core themes of Mr Obama's re-election campaign, he said the President has called for legislation to protect 98 per cent of the American people from a tax hike. “Well, today we're going to do better than that,” he said of the measure that raises total taxes by slightly more than $300 billion over a decade. “Our bill would protect 99.81 per cent of the American people from an increase in taxes.” Democrats said that by keeping tax rates unchanged below $1 million - Mr Obama wants the level to be $400,000 - Republicans had turned the bill into a tax break for the wealthy. They also accused Republicans of crafting their measure to impose a tax increase on 11 million middle class families. “This is a ploy, not a plan,” said Democrat Sander Levin. He accused Republicans of being “deeply cynical,” saying the legislation would scale back some education and child tax credits. A companion bill on the evening's House agenda, meant to build GOP support for the tax bill, called for elimination of an estimated $97 billion in cuts to the Pentagon and certain domestic programs over a decade. It cleared the House on a partisan vote of 215-209 and is an updated version of legislation that passed a little more than six months ago. Those cuts would be replaced with savings totaling $314 billion, achieved through increases in the amount federal employees contribute toward their pensions and through cuts in social programs such as food stamps and the health care law that Mr Obama signed earlier in his term.

Pakistan reports 9th death in polio team attacks

Associated Press
Another victim from attacks on U.N.-backed anti-polio teams in Pakistan died on Thursday, bringing the three-day death toll in the wave of assaults on volunteers vaccinating children across the country to nine, officials said. Hilal Khan, 20, died a day after he was shot in the head in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said health official Janbaz Afridi Since Monday, gunmen had launched attacks across Pakistan on teams vaccinating children against polio. Six women were among the nine anti-polio workers killed in the campaign, jointly conducted with the Pakistani government. The U.N. World Health Organization suspended the drive until a government investigation was completed. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the killings "cruel, senseless and inexcusable." Speaking at his year-end news conference Wednesday, Ban said the victims were among thousands across Pakistan "working selflessly to achieve the historic goal of polio eradication." The suspension of the vaccinations was a grave blow to efforts to bring an end to the scourge of polio in Pakistan, one of only three countries where the crippling disease is endemic. Azmat Abbas, with UNICEF in Pakistan said the field staff would resume the work when they have a secure working environment. "This is undoubtedly a tragic setback, but the campaign to eradicate polio will and must continue," Sarah Crowe, spokeswoman for UNICEF, said Wednesday. However, local officials in the eastern city of Lahore continued the vaccination on Thursday under police escort, and extended the campaign with a two-day follow-up. Deputy Commissioner Noorul Amin Mengal said about 6,000 Pakistani government health workers were escorted by 3,000 police as they fanned out across the city. "It would have been an easy thing for us to do to stop the campaign," he said. "That would have been devastating." No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks but some Islamic militants accuse health workers of acting as spies for the United States and claim that the vaccine makes children sterile. Taliban commanders in the country's troubled northwest tribal region have also said the vaccinations can't go forward until the U.S. stops drone strikes in Pakistan. The insurgent opposition to the campaign grew last year, after it was revealed that a Pakistani doctor ran a fake vaccination program to help the CIA track down and kill al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in the town of Abbottabad in the country's northwest. Prevention efforts against polio have managed to reduce the number of cases in Pakistan by around 70 percent this year, compared to 2011, but the recent violence threatens to reverse that progress.

Balochistan: Gunmen attack passenger buses

Unidentified gunmen attacked two passenger buses near Mach in Balochistan’s Bolan district late on Thursday killing three and injuring six. Some passengers were kidnapped by the attackers as well, DawnNews reported. According to sources in Levies Forces, unknown attackers, apparently came down from nearby hills, opened fire on two passenger buses near Mach which spread chaos among the passengers. The Sadiqabad-bound buses were coming from Quetta. Initial reports suggest the attackers have taken some of the passengers hostages. The injured were being transferred to a Quetta hospital. The incident has halted traffic on Quetta-Jacobabad highway.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's address on Dec. 20‚ 1971 raised morale of people

Radio Pakistan
Political leaders and analysts say that historic address of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto this day (Dec. 20) in 1971 raised morale of the people and helped bring the state apparatus back on track. In his impressions in Radio Pakistan's programme 'Naey Ufaq'‚ one of the founding leader of the PPP Dr. Mubashir Hassan said there was a very delicate situation both internally and externally and Shaheed Bhutto made a balanced address to satisfy all concerned. Another PPP leader Taj Haider said people were disappointed due to Fall of Dhaka tragedy and the address of Shaheed Bhutto gave them hopes about future of the country. He said Shaheed Bhutto talked about different segments of the society and sought their cooperation in rebuilding the country. Prof. N.D. Khan said despite uncertainty Shaheed Bhutto conveyed the message to rebuild Pakistan as envisioned by Quaid-e-Azam. He lived up to his commitment and gave the country a unanimous Constitution. Dr. Mehdi Hassan said Shaheed Bhutto told the demoralized nation not to worry as he is fully resolved to get things right with the help of people. He pursued pro-people policies and succeeded in different fields.

Saudi activist : Women will be safer if they start driving

Allowing Saudi women to drive will be safer than having them commute with male drivers, a Saudi activist, Tahani al-Juhni, told Al Arabiya in a TV interview this week. “One journalist at al-Riyadh newspaper urged the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice to follow up on a case of a driver, who after driving female teachers to their homes, raped one of them,” said the activist. Al-Juhni warned that there are about 2 million chauffeurs in the kingdom and half of them are illegal. “Those illegal drivers are dangerous for society, especially since there is no law that governs them.” She warned that some drivers have been known to harass women as well as children. “Saudi women press on the issue because of the registered crimes published in newspapers, and others by the way were not published,” said al-Juhni. According to the activist, the responsiveness of Saudi society in tackling the issue has improved over the years. “Since 1990, the issue was shunned when some people started demanding that Saudi women drive but in the past three years demands for women to drive have become stronger, some cases even went to the courts.” Article 2 in the Saudi constitution guarantees justice and equality, the only injustice in Saudi society is the rule against women driving claimed the activist. She goes on to say that allowing women to drive will lessen the economic burden on families in the Kingdom.

Top Egyptian election official steps down

Official overseeing referendum on draft constitution resigns amid allegations of irregularities.
One of the top officials in charge of overseeing Egypt's vote on a contentious draft constitution has resigned citing health problems, while critics believe the resignation was prompted by widespread irregularities. Zaghloul el-Balshi, the secretary general of the election committee, attributed his resignation to "a sudden health crisis", according to a copy of a letter he sent to the committee on Wednesday that was published by several Egyptian dailies including the privately owned el-Watan. Relatives told local Egyptian media that el-Balshi had undergone eye surgery. "The effort I put in over the past period has caused a sudden health crisis," the letter of resignation read. "As you know, it is impossible to carry out my mission with this health condition," it added. Critics, however, believe the resignation was prompted by reports of widespread irregularities. "The violations were blatant, and he couldn't bear more, so he resigned. Don't believe what is said about his health condition," Hossam Eissa, professor of law in Ain Shams University and a leading opposition member, said. "Half of the people will not recognise this constitution." In an interview with daily al-Masry al-Youm, a senior member of the committee, Mahmoud Abu-Shousha, warned the opposition "not to exploit the sickness of the man and describe his resignation as caused by what they consider violations in the first round". Egypt's Justice Ministry has ordered an investigation into allegations.
Prosecutor general
Meanwhile, the country's prosecutor general has withdrawn his resignation, first issued on Monday. Talaat Ibrahim Abdallah told reporters he initially submitted his resignation under pressure from prosecutors holding a sit-in in front of his office. Those officials accused him of pressuring a judge not to release some 130 anti-Morsi protesters taken into custody this month following clashes with Muslim Brotherhood members. The December 5 violence was one of the most tense moments Egypt has witnessed in recent weeks.
Charter controversy
Many of the country's judges boycotted overseeing the constitutional referendum, though the law requires that each polling station must be supervised by a judge. The latest branch of the judiciary to boycott is the administrative prosecution union. They are protesting what they called the "abduction" of the Supreme Constitutional Court, which the Muslim Brotherhood accused of conspiring against the referendum. Brotherhood supporters held a sit-in for weeks to prevent members from convening. The run-up to the two-stage referendum vote on the constitution has been marked by often violent protests in which at least eight people have died. Morsi and his backers say the constitution is needed to advance Egypt's transition from decades of military-backed autocratic rule. Opponents say It is tailored to serve Islamic parties and ignores the rights of women and of minorities, including 10 percent of Egyptians who are Christian. The first day of voting last weekend resulted in a 57 percent vote in favour of the draft basic law, according to official media. The final stage on Saturday is expected to endorse that result as it covers parts of Egypt, particularly rural areas, thought more sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Greece abuses refugees, violates their human rights and EU law - Amnesty International

Greece fails to provide a proper treatment for refugees and respect their rights, violating international and EU laws, according to an Amnesty International investigation. The latest report reveals cases of refugees being cruelly mistreated. Due to its position, Greece remains one the ‘the gates’ to the EU for tens of thousands of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers, who try to cross the border looking for shelter and better life within the union. Under international law Greece is obliged to respect the principle of non-refoulement, which states that no-one should be deported to any country or territory where they face the risk of persecution or other forms of serious harm. It also provides the right for every refugee to apply for asylum. However, for many refugees coming to Greece from war-torn Syria this has not been the case: “Greece is proving itself incapable of providing even the most basic requirements of safety and shelter to the thousands of asylum seekers and migrants arriving each year,” says John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Director for Europe and Central Asia. Moreover, in some cases, according to Amnesty’s twelve-page report called “Greece. The end of the road for Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants”, Greek authorities have been pushing back the mass of refugees and migrants using life-threatening methods. ‘Greece totally unworthy of EU’s Nobel Peace Prize’ A witness ‘N’ from the Syrian city of Aleppo told Amnesty that the police sunk one of the boats in a flotilla carrying refugees from Turkey. “Greek police arrived in a patrol boat and started pushing their inflatable dinghy back towards Turkey. Then a police officer used a knife to stab the plastic fabric of the boat, which then sank, leaving people to swim to the Turkish shore,” the report reads. Another Syrian refugee shared with Amnesty his story, which took place back in August. A 31-year old ‘K’ had a narrow escape trying to get into Greece. He along with 39 people was arrested on arriving in Greece early in the morning. They were kept in police detention until midnight, when officers bussed them all back to the river and loaded them into two boats. “The police directed the boats into the middle of the river and he maintained that two armed policemen pushed everyone into the river, without life-jackets. When they made it across the river to the Turkish shore, he could only count 25 out of the group of 40 people that the police had brought to the river,” says the report. However, even refugees who are not immediately rejected still face a tough challenge to apply for asylum and register themselves officially. The Attika Aliens Police Directorate in Athens, where asylum-seekers can register, works only one day a week, Saturday, and accepts around 20 people a day. That is why the queue forms days in advance and stretches hundreds long down the street. Witnesses told the Amnesty that some people spent up to five weeks to apply. Cases of people fighting for their place and ending up in hospital have not been uncommon. Not surprisingly the majority of refugees do not manage to register and give up seeking official status. Without papers they risk being arrested in mass sweep operations and spending up to a year or more in overcrowded, unhygienic detention facilities. “This risk has increased since August 2012, when police sweep operations on irregular migrants intensified,” the report says. The briefing also stresses that conditions in such detention facilities in Greece have been criticized by international organizations. “Detention for immigration purposes in Greece is used as a matter of course rather than, as international human rights standards require, as a last resort,” reads the report. Another “worrying” issue touches upon unaccompanied children. Amnesty International claims they found children detained with adults in very poor conditions. Aside from violations by the Greek authorities, Amnesty also noted “a dramatic rise in the number of racially motivated attacks throughout 2012.” “The Greek authorities must condemn in a loud voice and effectively investigate and prosecute all racially-motivated violence” said Dalhuisen. The report cites the well-publicised economic problems in Greece as one of the main reasons for its poor treatment of refugees. However, it stresses that it does not excuse numerous violations of human rights and international laws. "Greece's failure to respect the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers is taking on the proportions of a humanitarian crisis," said Dalhuisen.
“The current situation in Greece is totally unworthy of the Nobel Peace Prize winning European Union and so far below international human rights standards as to make a mockery of them,” Dalhuisen said.

Syrian conflict becoming increasingly sectarian – UN
The Syrian civil war is becoming increasingly sectarian, as Sunni-majority rebel forces fight government troops supported by country’s religious and ethnic minorities, a new UN human rights report has revealed. The Syrian civil war is becoming increasingly sectarian, as Sunni-majority rebel forces fight government troops supported by country’s religious and ethnic minorities, a new UN human rights report has revealed. The report – which is based on interviews with Syrians who fled the country and covers the period between September 28 and December 16 – said that foreign fighters with links to extremist Sunni groups are infiltrating Syria to fight against the regime of President Bashar Assad. The foreign fighters, described as “militant, radical Islamists, or Jihadists,” are reportedly operating independently but coordinate with the Free Syrian Army, an armed opposition group supported by Western nations. “The commission is extremely worried by the presence of foreign fighters… who are not fighting for human rights and democracy,” said Sergio Pinheiro, the head of the independent UN commission that produced the report. While they are fighting against government forces, they are not doing so “with the same agenda as the Free Syrian Army,” continued Pinheiro. “By their own admission, they are very proud of their breaches of humanitarian law.” More than 20,000 people have been killed on both sides of the Syrian conflict since the fighting began, according to UN estimates. Most of the casualties in the nearly two-year war were civilians, and both sides are responsible for human rights abuses such as torture and executions, Pinheiro said. The rebels have hidden in Syrian cities among the civilian population, resulting in deadly government artillery and air strikes, the report said. Evidence suggests that government forces do not take sufficient precautions to avoid civilian casualties, and that the resulting attacks are “disproportionate to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated,” the report continued. The conflict has also continuously drawn in other minority groups – especially Christians, Armenians, Druze and others – who mostly support President Assad. The main divisions in Syria are between the Sunni and Alawite communities; most of Syria’s senior government and military leaders belong to the latter. As the fighting between government and rebel groups approaches the end of its second year, the conflict has become overtly sectarian in nature, the report said. The commission has received credible reports of anti-Assad groups attacking Alawites and other minority communities. In response, some of them have formed armed self-defense groups known as “Popular Committees” to defend their neighborhoods. “We think this is a war where no military victory is possible,” Pinheiro said. “It is a great illusion that providing arms to one side or the other will help end it.” As the conflict drags on, the belligerents have become “ever more violent and unpredictable,” leading to conduct that is increasingly in breach of international law, the report concluded.

Russia will not repeat U.S.'s Libyan mistakes in Syria: Putin

Russia was not going to repeat in Syria the mistakes made by the U.S. in Libya, President Vladimir Putin said here Thursday. The U.S. mistakes led to the assassination of their diplomats in Libya and the increasing ethnic and tribal conflicts in that war-torn country, Putin said. Russia was adamant the crisis in Syria must be settled by the Syrian people themselves, Putin told reporters during his annual press conference, which was attended by more than 1,200 domestic and foreign reporters.

Chinese vice premier meets U.S. president on ties
Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan met with U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday to discuss China-U.S. relations. Wang was to wrap up his three-day visit to the United States on Thursday. He arrived in Washington on Tuesday to co-chair the 23rd Session of the China-U.S. Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade with acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk from Tuesday to Wednesday. Earlier on Thursday, Wang also met separately with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.

'Plan B' Would Actually Raise Taxes on the Poor

One of the touted benefits of "Plan B" is that it only raises taxes for those making $1 million or more. As Eric Cantor said this morning, the plan would raise revenue "without hurting many small businesses" or taxpayers. But a closer look at the tax impacts of Plan B shows that while it raises taxes on most million-plus earners, it also raises takes for many low-income earners. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center found that the average taxpayer earning $1 million or more in cash income would see their taxes go up by an average of $72,000. A small number of those million-plus earners will see a tax cut, due to an anomaly in the Alternative Minimum Tax. But lower income earners will also see a tax hike. People making between $10,000 to $20,000 will see their taxes go up by an average of $262. People making $20,000 to $30,000 will see their taxes go up by $219. Granted, those are minor increases. But drilling down deeper, you find that some of those low-income earners could see a sizable increase. One in five of Americans who earn less than $20,000 a year will see an increase of $1,070 -- a sizeable amount for low-income earners. In fact, the only taxpayers who will get an overall tax cut under Plan B are those who earn between $200,000 and $1 million. People making between $200,000 and $500,000 will see an average tax cut of $301. Those making between $500,000 and $1 million will see their taxes go down by $164. The reason is that Plan B has two parts - raising taxes on high earners and eliminating deductions for low earners. The plan raises the tax rate for those making $1 million or more to 39.6 percent from its current rate of 35 percent. It would also raise the capital gains and dividend tax rates for those earners to 20 percent from 15 percent. Yet Plan B also eliminates many of the Obama-led tax credits that largely benefit low-income earners, including the 2009 enhancements to the child tax credit, the earned income tax credit and others. Repealing these credits hurts families with children the hardest, according the Tax Policy Center. This is not to say that Plan B is good or bad. But its true impact on taxes is broader than many in the House would lead us to believe.

Dangers on India streets shape lives, stifle dreams of young women

It is almost every Indian woman’s nightmare, lived daily when in public — a stream of obscene comments, unwanted hands being placed on them and then being blamed for causing the sexual violence. The gang-rape and beating of a 23-year-old student by six men on a bus in New Delhi may have sparked days of protests and demands for authorities to take tougher action, but for women in India it is just an extreme example of what they have to live with. Many in India’s capital and across the country say they are constantly on guard, fearing everything from the routine gropings they suffer on public buses to far more violent assaults. Some say they have structured their entire lives around protecting themselves and their children.
Here are the stories of three women:
Gita Ganeshan, a 52-year-old bank worker, moved to New Delhi with her husband four years ago from the central city of Bhopal to protect their oldest daughter after she was attacked in the Indian capital, where she was studying. The young woman had been out for a morning walk in a park near her house when four men surrounded her and began tormenting her, Mr. Ganeshan said. “One of the men squeezed her breast. She screamed and kept screaming and running till she came home,” she said. She said she and her daughter would go to the park when she visited the city. “This was a park where we would walk every day. The girls would jog or run and we would walk along,” she said. “Just that one day, she went alone and this happened and it changed our outlook as far the safety of our girls was concerned.” Her daughter gave up jogging and wouldn’t leave the house alone for months. Her parents got themselves transferred to the city to look after her. “That was when we decided that protecting our children had to be our first priority. We’ve given them a good education. We cannot now tell them now not to pursue their careers because it is not safe to be out working late,” she said. She has trained the young woman to be alert: “Never let your guard down.” Now, Ms. Ganeshan is thinking of moving to the central city of Indore to protect her younger daughter, who got a job there. But for now, she has arranged a special plan to watch over her from far away. Every evening, her daughter calls as soon as she gets off the bus on her way home from work. The two talk for the next 15 minutes while the young woman walks the kilometre to her home, Ms. Ganeshan said. “Every day, I wake up and my first thought is of my daughters and their safety. I call them up, or they call me,” she said. “It is a real fear we confront when, even for a few hours, we are not in touch over the telephone.” Sandhya Jadon, 26, a lawyer from the northern town of Agra, said the harassment starts as soon as she leaves her home. “For most men, any woman who is out of the four walls of her house is fair game,” she said. Last week, she was repeatedly groped on a public minibus. “It was broad daylight. I was heading to court, and this man kept trying to touch my thigh. I shouted at him and he had the gall to ask me, ‘So what can you do to stop me?’ ”he said. She shouted, made the driver stop and got off. But the man continued sitting in the bus and grinning at his audacity. Not one of the 10 other passengers came to her help. Most looked away, she said. “All day that day I was disturbed. I was shaking inside but also angry. Why do we women have to suffer this?” she asked. For the next few days, she avoided public buses for fear she would run into the man again. She feels relatively safe at court, in her lawyer’s robes. But she still doesn’t stay late at work and asks her parents to meet her at the bus stop to walk her home. “But the fear — that something bad will happen if you are not careful — is always with you. It hangs over your work; it hangs over everything you do — what you wear, or don’t wear; how you talk or how you walk. It is like this big suffocating cloud hanging over you every single day of your life,” she said. Priyanka Khatri, a 21-year-old college student, said fear of attack has forced her to limit her world. There are no movies in the evening, no late-night parties, no outside activity at all after sundown. College events are cut short because she has to get home. “Whatever happens, I have to be home before dark. Otherwise, my parents get so worried and they will keep calling me on my cellphone till they know I’m safe,” she said. Ms. Khatri ri said she will only go out in the evening accompanied by her parents to a nearby temple or a family wedding. She is shadowed by fear when she gets dressed in the morning. “I wouldn’t dream of wearing shorts or skirts in public,” she said. She is petrified by her daily commute to school on public buses. “Usually I carry a safety pin with me, because in buses there are always men who will try to touch you,” Ms. Khatri said. “Some men are so brazen, you tick them off and they will persist on groping you. Then you feel you have to do something. So I stick my pin into them, or I use my elbow, and just jab them with my elbow. But that too makes you afraid.” And she has tempered her dreams to fit the reality of life in Delhi. The outgoing badminton enthusiast longed to be an event planner. Instead, she is looking for teaching jobs, “because then I can be home before dark.” If her precautions fail and she is attacked, Ms. Khatri has a backup plan, she said. “I will scream. I always have a scream.”

India's rape problem needs a rewiring of society's attitude

Four years ago, a young female journalist driving home from work at 3 a.m. was shot dead in her car in India's capital, New Delhi. The state's chief minister, Sheila Dixit, a woman, remarked that the girl was returning home all by herself "at night in a city where people believe ... you know ... you should not be so adventurous." This week, a 23-year-old woman, accompanied by a male friend, boarded a bus on a busy road in the capital at 9 p.m., only to be brutally raped by a group of men. She was then savagely beaten, stripped and thrown onto the road. The girl and her friend, who was attacked for trying to protect her, were returning home after watching a movie. She is battling for life in hospital, according to her doctors. India's rising rape cases -- one every 22 minutes, according to the National Crime Records Bureau -- betray what is wrong with society. Millions of Indians continue to believe that women invite trouble on themselves by being careless. Mothers often chide daughters for wearing provocative clothing, in most cases a sleeveless garment or a pair of hip-hugging jeans.In cities such as New Delhi, easily the most-policed state in the country, few women will take public or private transport unescorted after nightfall. More than 600 rape cases have been reported in New Delhi alone this year, according to government records. Worse still, many more go unreported because a large number feel insecure about reporting rape or even sexual harassment to lawmakers, either because they are not taken seriously or because in several cases the protectors have turned perpetrators. Earlier this month, a girl who was raped in her village by four men, was then allegedly raped by a police officer who was handling her case, according to medical examiners. She had to be rescued by a police team that raided the hotel where she was being held.The incident happened in Uttar Pradesh, which borders Delhi. Around the same time in Punjab, another northern state, an officer who was protecting his daughter against sexual harassment -- locally referred to as "Eve teasing" -- was shot dead in public view, allegedly by a local political party member who was troubling her. The truth is, when most women report sexual harassment in India's cities, towns and villages, they are typically met with a shrug. Slowly, but firmly, the onus of remaining safe seems to have shifted to women, instead of being shared by society and law-keepers. At a protest rally held in the city on Tuesday, when women waved placards saying: "Don't teach me what to wear, teach men not to rape," it was meant as a wake-up call for society, for mothers and fathers, for law-keepers as well as lawmakers. Other posters saying: "Don't get raped," with words crossed out to read: "Don't rape," were a chilling reminder of how vulnerable and isolated women feel in India. India's apparent nonchalance towards sexual harassment has escalated into a major crisis. And we're not just talking about the odd sly remark or attempt to grope a woman but far more serious assaults. India's misplaced tolerance has helped this cascade into a brutal, violent menace.

Indian women live in fear of violence

It is almost every Indian woman's nightmare, lived daily when in public a stream of obscene comments, unwanted hands being placed on them and then being blamed for causing the sexual violence. The gang-rape and beating of a 23-year-old student by six men on a bus in New Delhi may have sparked days of protests and demands for authorities to take tougher action, but for women in India it is just an extreme example of what they have to live with. Many in India's capital and across the country say they are constantly on guard, fearing everything from the routine gropings they suffer on public buses to far more violent assaults. Some say they have structured their entire lives around protecting themselves and their children.

Afghan talks begin; hope for peace

Representatives of Afghanistan’s warring factions met here on Thursday for two days of landmark talks that diplomats hope will bolster a fledgling peace process in the war-torn country. For the first time since a US-led bombing campaign drove the Taliban from power in 2001, senior figures in the movement sat down with officials from the government and other opposition forces for a round table discussion on the country’s future that was brokered by a French think tank. The organisers, the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), confirmed the closed-door talks had got underway at an undisclosed location near Paris but would not divulge the agenda or other details for fear of compromising a potentially significant confidence-building exercise. The talks come against a background of accelerating efforts to draw the Taliban and other opponents of President Hamid Karzai into negotiations on how Afghanistan will be run after Western troops withdraw at the end of 2014. The alternative, diplomats fear, is a multi-sided civil war that will make more than a decade of Western intervention in the country look like a colossal waste of human life and hundreds of billions of dollars. Karzai’s government has drawn up a roadmap for peace, which involves persuading the Taliban and other insurgent groups to agree a ceasefire as a prelude to becoming peaceful players in the country’s nascent democracy. As a first step in that direction, Karzai’s administration has been attempting to secure the release of top Taliban prisoners held by neighbouring Pakistan. Progress on the prisoner issue is seen as vital if the Taliban is to be drawn into direct negotiations with the government. Karzai’s roadmap envisages these taking place in Saudi Arabia next year with both Pakistani and US involvement. To date the Taliban has refused to negotiate with the government, which it regards as a puppet of the United States, and initial discussions with American officials were suspended in March. But the presence here of senior figures Shahabuddin Dilawar and Naeem Wardak has been seen as a sign that the group is contemplating going beyond exploratory discussions. Dilawar is a former deputy head of the Taliban’s Supreme Court who had to be granted a UN special exemption to come to France because he is usually subject to a travel ban under international sanctions on the organisation. Karzai’s roadmap for peace explicitly envisages Taliban leaders being brought into a power-sharing government and/or being appointed to posts such as provincial governors in their ethnic Pashtun strongholds in the south and east of the country. Such steps would be fraught with difficulty given inevitable concern that Taliban control of huge swathes of the country would roll back the advances made in terms of democracy, human rights and the rights of women over the last decade. It was the presence in Afghanistan of Al-Qaeda’s late leader, Osama Bin Laden, that triggered Western intervention in the country in reaction to the Sept.11 attacks on the United States. Separately, officials say a powerful roadside bomb has killed five civilians and two police officers near a police checkpoint in western Afghanistan. The governor of Nimroz province, Mohammad Sarwar Subat, says the blast occurred on Thursday as a vehicle carrying the civilians was heading for a court hearing in the provincial capital, Zaranj.

Pakistan Backs Wire-Tap Evidence to Bolster Anti-Terrorism Law
Pakistan’s National Assembly approved a bill allowing use of electronic evidence from wire- tapping and communication intercepts against terror suspects after a large number of acquittals by anti-terrorism courts for lack of proof. “It is an accepted fact that terrorists are not getting convicted and are not brought to justice because of lack of relevant rules and laws,” Law Minister Farooq H. Naek said while presenting the bill in the National Assembly, or the lower house, in Islamabad today. The U.S. “Country Reports on Terrorism 2011,” released in July, put the acquittal rate for terrorist cases to as high as 85 percent in Pakistan, which is seen as a hub of global terrorism. Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was found and killed in a Pakistani town by U.S. Navy SEALs in May 2011. Nuclear-armed Pakistan is an ally of the U.S. and has lost more than 40,000 people to bombings by the Taliban since joining the U.S. in the war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The bill, which was unanimously passed by the National Assembly, now goes to the Senate, Pakistan’s upper house.

Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline to be completed on time

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar
on Thursday said President Asif Ali Zardari will soon visit Iran and the gas pipeline project would be completed in given time frame. Speaking to media representatives outside the Parliament House, she said Pakistan and Iran have been enjoying good relations and the present government has further strengthened its ties with the neighbour. The foreign minister said that Pakistan categorical opposes the US drone attacks on its land which is violation of its sovereignty. She said Pakistan’s bilateral relations have improved with India, Afghanistan and United States during the current year. Speaking on Afghanistan, Khar said peace and stability in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s favour and the entire region supports peace process in the war-torn country. Condemning attacks on polio workers, the minister vowed to provide “fool proof security” to the health workers and said the government is in touch with the international health workers organisations.

In Pakistan, Tax Evaders Are Everywhere — Government Included

Tax evasion is a chronic problem in Pakistan — only about 2 percent of the population is registered in the tax system, and the government collects just 9 percent of the country's wealth in taxes, one of the lowest rates in the world. But now a new investigative report is making headlines. It says that just a third of the country's 446 federal lawmakers bothered to file income tax returns last year. "Tax evasion is a social norm in Pakistan," says Umar Cheema, a reporter for the Pakistani English-language newspaper The News, and a founder of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan, whose first project is this report. "They are tax evaders. They are tax dodgers. And those who are paying some amount, it doesn't match with their living style. They live like [a] prince, and they pay like a poor man." One of those who reportedly skipped filing was Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari. Zardari's spokesman has said the president did pay taxes last year, though he has yet to provide public proof of doing so. Cheema says he learned about Zardari and the other politicians with old-fashioned gumshoe reporting and a combination of publicly available data and questionnaires he sent to lawmakers.Officials inside the tax bureau quietly passed along information as well. Cheema's report doesn't take into account the taxes politicians pay on their parliamentary salaries; those taxes are automatically deducted from their paychecks. The report focuses instead on supplementary income — what lawmakers make on their properties and businesses outside their parliamentary duties, many of which they do not declare. The report's findings made banner headlines in all the major Pakistani newspapers last week. Naseer Rajput was shopping at a local market in Islamabad and said he was outraged. "A poor man pays all his taxes, and those who get elected to become our rulers evade taxes. But they expect their people to pay?" Rajput says. Mohammed Farooq, 40, agrees. He says he pays his taxes, and so should leaders. "I have been a taxpayer since 1992 and submit my returns regularly, and pay taxes regularly," Farooq says. Hundreds of thousands of people have made money illegally, and the tax authorities never question them, he says. They don't ask how they got their luxury vehicles or how they got their big houses — and maybe they should, he adds. This is the kind of discussion Cheema was hoping to inspire. "It has put on alert the people in Pakistan and abroad, and people realize in Pakistan who they are voting for," Cheema says. Cheema says the tax payments for those who did file on their supplementary incomes are laughably small. Last year, Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a member of the Senate, paid just 82 rupees — a little less than $1 — in taxes, the report says. In an email to Reuters, Sayed disputed the report, saying he actually had paid $6. Cheema says that taxes are more than just money. "This tax payment is something that establishes your relationship with the state, and when you don't pay your taxes, your relationship with the state ceases to exist," Cheema says. Cheema plans to revisit the issue in the spring, when the Pakistani election is likely to be called. He hopes to make taxes a campaign issue.

Why Polio Remains Endemic In Afghanistan, Pakistan, And Nigeria

A global multibillion dollar immunization campaign over the past few decades has made most of the world polio-free. But in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria the crippling disease remains endemic. Despite a coordinated United Nations polio-prevention drive in all three countries, dozens of children become paralyzed and ultimately die from the highly infectious disease every year. Political unrest, poor health infrastructure, and government negligence are among the reasons for the failure. But the cause analysts cite most often is opposition from religious militant groups. In all three countries, the most afflicted regions are those where the government's reach is weakest and the presence of Islamic militants is strongest. From the remote, mountainous villages along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to towns across northern Nigeria, insurgents have kidnapped, beaten, and assassinated vaccinators in a bid to stop local antipolio initiatives. In justifying their resistance to the polio-prevention campaign, Taliban factions in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- as well as Nigerian militant groups like Boko Haram -- have claimed polio vaccinations are "un-Islamic" and an attempt to thwart the will of God.
'A Western Plot'
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, Taliban factions have also called vaccinations a Western plot to sterilize Muslim populations. Hard-line clerics in Nigeria’s Kano state have issued similar warnings, saying the drugs distributed by the UN were laced with chemicals to make African girls infertile. Polio vaccines used in the three countries are made in laboratories worldwide, including in the United States, making them a source of resentment for insurgents. Pakistani militant groups like the Tehreek-i-Taliban claim the vaccinations are made out of pig fat or have traces of alcohol, both of which are banned under Islam. Some Islamic clerics have even issued fatwas saying that any person who became paralyzed or died from polio would be given the status of a "martyr" for refusing to be duped by a western conspiracy.
Insurgents also claim polio vaccinators are spies.
In Pakistan, such beliefs gained particular credence after it emerged that the CIA used a fake vaccination team headed by a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, to collect information about Osama bin Laden. In Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area, local Taliban leaders have also issued a fatwa banning polio vaccinations until the United States ceases drone strikes in the area.
Spate Of Violence
In enforcing these bans, militants have killed scores of foreign and local humanitarian aid workers. In the past week, gunmen in Pakistan killed eight polio vaccination workers. In Afghanistan on December 1, gunmen killed a 20-year-old Afghan woman who distributed polio vaccinations in the eastern Kapisa Province. This spate of violence has coincided with growing cases of polio in Afghanistan and Nigeria -- and threatens to stifle recent progress toward defeating the disease in Pakistan. In Afghanistan, an polio-prevention campaign involving thousands of volunteers and a number of international agencies almost wiped out the deadly disease in 2010. The Afghan government registered only 25 polio cases that year, but that figure tripled to 76 last year. Afghan President Hamid Karzai blamed the Taliban, demanding that they allow teams of vaccinators to administer antipolio drops to children in areas under their control. Meanwhile, the cancellation of the immunization programs in Pakistan on December 19 due to the recent violence threatens to reverse recent gains toward eradicating polio in that country. Some 56 polio paralysis cases where reported in Pakistan this year, down from 190 cases in 2011. In Nigeria, attempts by Islamic extremists to ban a United Nations immunization campaign have resulted in the infection returning to eight previously polio-free countries in Africa, according to the UN. Last year, Nigeria recorded 43 cases of polio, compared to just 25 cases the year before.

Female Vaccination Workers, Essential in Pakistan, Become Prey

By DECLAN WALSH and DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. The front-line heroes of Pakistan’s war on polio are its volunteers: young women who tread fearlessly from door to door, in slums and highland villages, administering precious drops of vaccine to children in places where their immunization campaign is often viewed with suspicion. Now, those workers have become quarry. After militants stalked and killed eight of them over the course of a three-day, nationwide vaccination drive, the United Nations suspended its anti-polio work in Pakistan on Wednesday, and one of Pakistan’s most crucial public health campaigns has been plunged into crisis. A ninth victim died on Thursday, a day after being shot in the northwestern city of Peshawar, The Associated Press reported. The World Health Organization and Unicef ordered their staff members off the streets, while government officials reported that some polio volunteers — especially women — were afraid to show up for work. At the ground level, it is those female health workers who are essential, allowed privileged entrance into private homes to meet and help children in situations denied to men because of conservative rural culture. “They are on the front line; they are the backbone,” said Imtiaz Ali Shah, a polio coordinator in Peshawar. The killings started in the port city of Karachi on Monday, the first day of a vaccination drive aimed at the worst affected areas, with the shooting of a male health worker. On Tuesday four female polio workers were killed, all gunned down by men on motorcycles in what appeared to be closely coordinated attacks. The hit jobs then moved to Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, which, along with the adjoining tribal belt, constitutes Pakistan’s main reservoir of new polio infections. The first victim there was one of two sisters who had volunteered as polio vaccinators. Men on motorcycles shadowed them as they walked from house to house. Once the sisters entered a quiet street, the gunmen opened fire. One of the sisters, Farzana, died instantly; the other was uninjured. On Wednesday, a man working on the polio campaign was shot dead as he made a chalk mark on the door of a house in a suburb of Peshawar. Later, a female health supervisor in Charsadda, 15 miles to the north, was shot dead in a car she shared with her cousin. Yet again, Pakistani militants are making a point of attacking women who stand for something larger. In October, it was Malala Yousafzai, a schoolgirl advocate for education who was gunned down by a Pakistani Taliban attacker in the Swat Valley. She was grievously wounded, and the militants vowed they would try again until they had killed her. The result was a tidal wave of public anger that clearly unsettled the Pakistani Taliban. In singling out the core workers in one of Pakistan’s most crucial public health initiatives, militants seem to have resolved to harden their stance against immunization drives, and declared anew that they consider women to be legitimate targets. Until this week, vaccinators had never been targeted with such violence in such numbers. Government officials in Peshawar said that they believe a Taliban faction in Mohmand, a tribal area near Peshawar, was behind at least some of the shootings. Still, the Pakistani Taliban have been uncharacteristically silent about the attacks, with no official claims of responsibility. In staying quiet, the militants may be trying to blunt any public backlash like the huge demonstrations over the attack on Ms. Yousafzai. Female polio workers here are easy targets. They wear no uniforms but are readily recognizable, with clipboards and refrigerated vaccine boxes, walking door to door. They work in pairs — including at least one woman — and are paid just over $2.50 a day. Most days one team can vaccinate 150 to 200 children. Faced with suspicious or recalcitrant parents, their only weapon is reassurance: a gentle pat on the hand, a shared cup of tea, an offer to seek religious assurances from a pro-vaccine cleric. “The whole program is dependent on them,” said Mr. Shah, in Peshawar. “If they do good work, and talk well to the parents, then they will vaccinate the children.” That has happened with increasing frequency in Pakistan over the past year. A concerted immunization drive, involving up to 225,000 vaccination workers, drove the number of newly infected polio victims down to 52. Several high-profile groups shouldered the program forward — at the global level, donors like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Nations and Rotary International; and at the national level, President Asif Ali Zardari and his daughter Aseefa, who have made polio eradication a “personal mission.” On a global scale, setbacks are not unusual in polio vaccination campaigns, which, by dint of their massive scale and need to reach deep inside conservative societies, end up grappling with more than just medical challenges. In other campaigns in Africa and South Asia, vaccinators have grappled with natural disaster, virulent opposition from conservative clerics and sudden outbreaks of mysterious strains of the disease. Their natural first reaction is frustration. But then, each time, vaccinators have optimistically predicted that, with enough donations and a redoubled effort, they would get the situation under control. “This isn’t over, not by a long shot,” Sarah Crowe, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Children’s Fund, said after the killings. “There’s still great energy in the campaign.” Still, Pakistan needs all the help it can get. One of just three countries in the world where the disease is still endemic, Pakistan counted 198 new infections last year — the highest rate in the world. Militant commanders have been criticizing polio vaccination campaigns — a prominent yet weakly protected sign of government presence in far-flung areas — since 2007 when Maulvi Fazlullah, a radical preacher on a white horse, strode through the northwestern Swat Valley. Mr. Fazlullah claimed that polio vaccines were part of a plot to sterilize Muslim children, but in recent years Taliban commanders in the militant hub of North Waziristan have come up with a more political complaint: they say that immunization can resume only when American drones stop killing their comrades. Suspicion of vaccination has also intensified since the Central Intelligence Agency used a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, to run a hepatitis B vaccination scheme in order to spy on Osama bin Laden’s house in Abbottabad in 2011. Heidi Larson, an anthropologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who analyzes local support for vaccines in different countries, believes the C.I.A.’s use of Dr. Afridi has hurt the polio drive more than the Pakistan government or the eradication campaign itself will admit. “We’re risking people’s lives here,” she said. “More people are dying as vaccinators than have from polio. There’s something wrong with that equation.” But Oliver Rosenbauer, a spokesman for the W.H.O., said that only 1 to 2 percent of Pakistani families refuse polio vaccines, and that has not changed substantially since the C.I.A. ruse was exposed. It may be too soon to accurately assess the impact of this week’s violence on eradication in Pakistan or globally. In any event, the rest of the world had a banner year — not a single case in India, which once had more than any other country, and no outbreaks outside the virus’s two persistent epicenters of northern Nigeria and the nearby Sahel regions of Niger and Chad, and the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. Where immunization has worked, it has often included the work of female volunteers — which can have other public health benefits, too. Ms. Crowe, the Unicef spokeswoman, said that in Pakistan, “every encounter a vaccinator has with a mother delivers other messages about breast feeding, hand-washing or encouragement to take children to health centers for other immunizations.” The anti-polio drive has tried to integrate itself so deeply into the country’s faltering public health system that an attack on vaccinators is seen not as a blow against the West, but as a blow against the lives of local women and children. “This is not about polio,” said Dr. Bruce Aylward, who heads polio eradication at the World Health Organization. “This is someone attacking health care workers who are delivering basic interventions.”

Governor Punjab Latif Khosa to be removed from office
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has reportedly decided on Thursday to remove Punjab Governor Latif Khosa from his post. Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) Parliamentary leader in Punjab Makhdoom Ahmed Mehmood is likely to replace Khosa, sources say. Mehmood is a member of the Punjab Assembly from PP-292, Rahim Yar Khan. The move came after a meeting between Mehmood and Pakistan’s President and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari. Former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his son Ali Musa Gilani also attended the meeting.

Peshawar under attack

BY: Gulmina Bilal Ahmad
Isolating Peshawar from FATA or the rest of the province will never provide a lasting solution to the problem of terrorism Peshawar is often dubbed as the ‘city on the frontier’ due to its proximity to the Pak-Afghan border. It is traditionally the administrative centre of the Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. The strategic location of this city has turned it into an economic hub for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and the rest of the country as well. However, under the present circumstances, this strategic location and proximity with FATA has become more of a disadvantage for the city and the province as well. The most recent attack on Peshawar airport/airbase points towards the vulnerability of the city to such attacks. Hundreds of attacks have been launched by terrorists not only on the Ring Road encircling the city, but also on various locations within the city as well. Only this year, more than 140 civilians and 40 security personnel lost their lives to terrorists’ attacks only in Peshawar, which if compared to the total number of fatalities in the whole province is quite high. Only during 2012, 350 civilians and 94 security personnel lost their lives in KP. A simple comparison reveals that about 40 percent of civilian fatalities and 42 percent of security personnel fatalities in KP occurred only in Peshawar. This recent attack on Peshawar airport claimed five lives and injured more than 40 people. This attack showed how coordinated these terrorists are. However, the security forces responded quickly; they cordoned off the area and killed all the attackers in an operation that lasted into the next day. Without questioning the efforts of the security personnel in providing security to civilians, what we need to ponder is why did such an attack occur at all and that too at one of the most sensitive areas of the city? It is evident from the track record of terrorists, especially the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that they are fighting against the security forces and have often attacked their sensitive installations. Similar attacks have occurred before at the GHQ Rawalpindi, PNS Hafeez, Karachi, and at Kamra base, and all were linked to the TTP and other terrorist organisations. However, luckily, all assets of the Pakistan Air Force remained safe in the attack and the terrorists were killed before they actually entered the airbase. The reason why I pointed towards the vulnerability of Peshawar to such attacks in the beginning is that it is surrounded by tribal areas and even a part of Peshawar called Frontier Region Peshawar or abbreviated, as FR Peshawar, is also a part of FATA. As a large number of the TTP militants and other terrorists are based in the tribal belt, their easiest target in most cases remains Peshawar. Isolating Peshawar from FATA or the rest of the province will never provide a lasting solution to the problem of terrorism. The authorities have tried doing it in the past, but due to the fact that Peshawar remains the administrative capital of KP and FATA, such an approach cannot be adopted for an extended period of time. The most plausible solution to put an end to terrorism remains a comprehensive anti-terrorism strategy, which Pakistan still lacks. NACTA or the National Counter Terrorism Authority that was created in 2009 is in the doldrums. I have pointed towards this previously as well. This authority has seen six different coordinators since its inception. The authority was formed as a coordination body between different civilian and military agencies. Additionally, it was given the task to propose a comprehensive anti-terrorism policy. However, sadly the authority that is still fighting for its legal status can never be successful in proposing an effective policy against terrorism. What we need more than ever is coordination at all levels and the only hope lies with NACTA. However, it should not be put under the control of the Interior Ministry. Such a step will only politicise the authority. NACTA should be made independent as it was intended to be when the authority was created. The much-required independence will provide a better opportunity to its office bearers to work independently of any external pressures. Better coordination between security agencies will improve the overall security situation of the country. All the development indicators in the country rely on an improvement in security and Pakistan needs it more than ever.

President Zardari: Champion of Human Rights

By Rubina Sadat Qaim khani
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 by the UN General Assembly was a real landmark but it took years and years to realize its true meanings in the context of Pakistan where forces of darkness prevailed and prevented the smooth promotion and protection of the same rights.
The credit goes to the democratic government of Pakistan that this year the day was commemorated with a difference and mark. Pakistan too this year had much to remember and commemorate in the sphere of human rights. Both at home and abroad, significant events took place to position Pakistan very much in the list of countries pursuing the goals set out in 1948. In Paris, President Asif Ali Zardari addressed a conference jointly organized by Pakistan and UNESCO on the theme: “Stand up for Malala, Girls Education is a Right”. The president used the occasion to underline the argument that Pakistan is fighting the forces of darkness, hatred and violence. Since Malala was the focus, the president reiterated to the international community that Pakistan was committed to providing equal rights for education to boys and girls and appealed to the world community to extend support and cooperation in this regard. The democratic government has introduced meaningful and far reaching constitutional amendments and this is again history in making that the Pakistan government is completing its term, which had boosted its confidence in the fact that democracy was the only vehicle that could deliver peace and prosperity to the people and the region. The credit must be given to all political forces and great peoples of Pakistan who have made fundamental changes in the constitution regarding education for all children and it had been declared a fundamental right and the state’s responsibility. The establishment of parliamentary forum on children and its declared objectives are also set in this direction. We are committed to defeat the forces of extremism and our collective resolve would have a transformational effect in defeating the forces of an extremist mindset that is against education for girls. The extremists have already been given a heavy blow when the entire nation stood behid Dukhtar e Pakistan. Having met Malala in Birmingham before coming to Paris, the president told his audience that her recovery is a symbol of the resilience of the Pakistani nation and also a symbol of the battle between the mindset that Malala represents — a bright, progressive future for Pakistan — and the second mindset, a fringe minority of darkness, violence, hatred and conflict. President Zardari rightly announced Pakistan’s donation of $ 10 million for the Malala Fund being set up as part of the global efforts for girls’ education, dubbed the ‘Malala Plan’. This is another milestone and a great accomplishment of the democratically elected government and reflects the great vision of our Shaheed leader Shaheed Benazir Bhutto. It was also encouraging and satisfying that at the same time back home Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf announced in a function in Islamabad on the Day that the government was considering the promulgation of personal laws for the minorities, including marriage and divorce bills for Christians and Hindus. This, the PM said, would fulfill a longstanding demand of the minorities and help bring them at par with the Muslim majority. Certainly in the case of Hindus, this has of late given rise to concerns since they had little or no legal cover for their marriages and divorces. The PM further announced that the government was contemplating the appointment of human rights defenders under the ministry of human rights. The ministry is constantly working on this issue and plans to introduce a comprehensive bill on the subject very soon. The PM too reiterated the government’s determination not to give in to the narrow minded and bigoted agenda of the extremists. Also in Islamabad, the PPP human rights cell held a seminar on “The Role of Political Parties in Promoting a Culture of Human Rights” to go with this year’s theme, “Inclusion and Participation in Public Life”. Notably, all the speakers at the seminar agreed that the greatest threat to the rights of the people today is the culture of intolerance and extremism. It is religious extremism, they argued, which has separated us from Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti. The cell under the leadership of Nafeesa Shah recognized through citations and medals the courage of Salmaan Taseer, Malala Yousafzai, Shahbaz Bhatti and Fauzia Wahab. I personally did the comparing and witnessed the proceedings of the seminar which were appreciated by the presence of great intellectuals and intelligentsia. Civil society and the working class too commemorated the Day, the former dedicating themselves to the campaign to end violence against women under the rubric: One Billion Rising, a symbolic reference to the estimated one billion women all over the world who have been subjected to violence. Whether it is Malala, the almost martyr, or the actual martyrs Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and others who stood firm against extremism and paid the ultimate price, Pakistan has seen many struggles against the fanatics who have made Pakistani state and society suffer a lot. However, what has also happened in recent years is the growing awareness in the polity and society of the need to combat this deadly affliction by promoting enlightenment, modern ideas, education and a progressive culture. The PPP-led democratic government too has been part of this growing awareness phenomenon. However, there is little room for complacency as the examples of human rights abuses of all shades and varieties show. Awareness is good as the first preliminary step, but there is still much to be done and miles to go before we can sleep. But the good omen is that it has been realized across the board and a noble journey is commenced with a direction and determination led by President Zardari. All the civil society organizations, stakeholders and political forces should give a big hand to president for his noble cause of human rights and especially for standing the rights of the children in Pakistan.

Zardari signs 'Free and Compulsory Education Bill' into law

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has signed the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2012 into law, which aims to ensure that all children between five to 16 years of age are provided free education. "In pursuit of Benazir Bhutto's vision of free and compulsory education, the government has fulfilled yet another promise made to the people," The Express Tribune quoted Zardari, as saying. He urged provincial governments to promulgate similar legislations in their respective assemblies as well. He said the responsibility for providing free education rests with both federal and provincial governments. Elaborating upon the newly signed law, Zardari said the federal government will now provide free textbooks and uniforms to children and ensure schools have qualified teachers. Free pre-school education, early childhood care and free medical and dental inspection will also be provided to all citizens and no child will be subjected to corporal punishment, he said. "Under the law, private schools will be required to provide free education to disadvantaged students, who will comprise 10% of each class," Zardari said, adding that school management committees will be established to persuade parents into sending their children to schools. "We will honour our international commitments and achieve the targets set by the Education for All and Millennium Development Goals initiatives. Islamabad Capital Territory will be a role model in the education sector for the provinces," he added.

Pak requires political will to make 'hard decisions' on energy crisis

Afghanistan Sun
Political will is required from the government of Pakistan and opposition parties to make hard decisions on the country's energy crisis, according to Alex Thier, who is USAID's Assistant to the Administrator for the Office of Pakistan and Afghanistan Affairs. Thier, who returned from a trip to Pakistan last week, said that USAID programmes would have added 900 megawatts to the grid by early next year, reports The Express Tribune. "Pakistan is only going to solve its energy crisis if it better governs the energy system," said Thier, adding that this requires work on the transmission system's losses, cracking down on theft, ensuring payment of electricity bills and an efficient load shedding management system. "What really needs to happen is at the political level, that some of these changes, like making sure the electricity tariffs are equivalent to the costs because otherwise the circular debt problem is never going to go away. If Pakistan can't generate electricity and basically can't charge consumers for the electricity that it generates then the system is never going to reach a balance. But you can't charge people more for energy if you don't provide it consistently, so you need to improve the management and delivery of the system," he added. Thier said the Pakistan government has made clear to the US that their number one development priority for Pakistan is Diamer-Bhasha Dam. Thier said the US has committed to working with the Asian Development Bank and the government to carry out the necessary studies - feasibility, environmental, social safeguards, engineering and financing. "The financing plan is deeply tied to these questions of energy reform. The financing plan basically has to say that is there a business model by which this investment will be productive and will yield sufficient returns over time to pay back loans, to pay the private sector and so on. So all five of those feasibility studies need to be conducted in order to get the international financing to actually build the dam," said Thier. In new programmes, USAID is spending 44 million dollars on the Pakistan Private Investment Initiative, which aims to match private sector funds in investment in small to medium enterprises in Pakistan, he added.

Makhdoom Ahmad Mehmood likely to replace Khosa as Punjab governor
According to the sources, Makhdum Ahmed Mehmood of PML-F would take charge as new governor. The sources said that the decision was taken during Mehmood’s meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari AT Bilawal House in Karachi Former PM Yousuf Raza Gilani.also attended the meeting.

Pakistan: Underpaid, overworked and imperilled – the plight of lady health workers

Farhat Sultana, 40, has had stones and tennis balls hurled at her, wolf whistles blown by none other than the fathers whose children she vaccinated, even cheap one-liners like “humein katray kyun nahin pilati?” (Why don’t you administer the drops to us), followed by winks and guffaws. Having risen to be a lady health supervisor (LHS), she is now area in-charge of the anti-polio campaign in Baldia Town and has been working with polio immunisation since 1994, when the programme started. Had it not been for this brigade of 90,000 or so lady health workers and countless volunteers, whatever success Pakistan has witnessed today in bringing polio figures down so drastically would have been difficult. With 56 cases recorded in 2012, Pakistan has made good progress, compared with 192 last year, according to the government. Globally, cases of death and paralysis from polio have been reduced from 350,000 in 1998 to less than 1,000 last year. In the last quarter century, through global efforts the number of endemic countries from 120 has been reduced to just three – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. And so while these battalions of Pakistani field workers have met all kinds of abuses with dignity and grit (partly because most LHWs were given the ultimatum that if they did not cooperate their employment would be revoked), today, after six women have lost their lives, the question foremost on their minds is if the paltry sum they are being paid to eliminate the debilitating paediatric disease from this country is really worth it. The killings may also have serious political ramifications for the multibillion-dollar global campaign. International donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have been generously supporting these three-day campaigns aimed at some 35 million Pakistani children younger than five, employing 225,000 health workers. These volunteers, belonging to the area, are paid Rs 1,000 for the three-days to cover from 100 to 150 houses a day. Their supervisors are paid Rs 3,000. “But it is actually more than three days as they are given a one-day refresher/training a week before the campaign begins,” said Sultana, who supervises teams in Baldia Town. These trainings include teaching the field workers how to interact with parents, warding off unsavoury elements and behaviour, tackling refusals, and then filling up the pro-forma so that they can provide the field information accurately to their respective area in-charge. But, according to Nasim Munir, president of the Karachi chapter of the All Pakistan Lady Health Workers Association, these workers do more than their share of work. “Our field workers do the work of the communications officers and the social mobilisers hired by Unicef and WHO,” said Munir who has been working on polio edatication for the last 13 years. This grouse was echoed by quite a few government-employed LHWs and the lady health supervisors (LHS). “They are supposed to handle refusals by motivating parents who are not convinced, distribute posters and pamphlets before the campaign begins, talk to clerics of the mosques. Instead, all these tasks are lugged on to the field workers because they are from the area, know the language, are familiar with the culture and sentiments of the people and they have direct access to their homes,” explained Munir. “Why can’t our women get the kind of high salaries and perks that these people get who have been hired by international agencies?” According to the LHWs, the three days usually extend to five or more and they are not paid anything extra and the 9-to-5 working hours are extended as well. “Those who have been missed, the teams have to go again, sometimes three or four times, until the job is done. At times, in a place like Karachi, where there are many high-rises, like Gulshan Town which has over 4,000 multi-storey buildings rises, the work gets all the more gruelling. “They climb six, seven or even more floors only to be told the child is sleeping, or the child is unwell or the mother is busy and they could try another time, with no consideration whatsoever, the inconvenience caused to the team.” With the recent attacks, however, these problems have taken a backseat and safety has become their top priority. “Can they provide us with security?” asks Sultana. She has her reservations. Nasim Munir said: “They were providing security in Gadap Town after the incident in July but clearly it was not enough or those providing security were not doing their job as Omar Farooq, one of the polio field workers, from that area was shot dead on December 17.” According to the health workers, it is impossible to provide security to each and every team, given the dearth of security forces in Karachi alone and the personnel that are available are deployed for influential people with clout and politicians of the city. Munir suggests reverting back to the old ways of holding camps. “Police cannot help us, and there are not enough rangers to accompany each and every one of our team. In fact, they are as much a target. So the only solution is to set up camps where parents can bring their children like it was done in the good old days. At least it would then be easier for the law enforcing agencies to manage the security issue somewhat.” Dr Samrina Hashmi, president of the Pakistan Medical Association’s Sindh chapter, explained that the door-to-door measures were taken precisely because parents were not bringing their children to the EPI (Expanded Programme on Immunisation) centres to get them vaccinated. However, she thinks if the vaccine has to be taken to the children, and because it would be impossible to provide security to each team, perhaps they could be accompanied by local clerics or even the local doctors, both of whom are held in high esteem. “But if that is not possible anymore, perhaps more centres in schools, mosques and clinics can be set up where these drops are administered,” she said. However, Dr Shahnaz Wazir Ali, adviser on polio to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said categorically that “stationery approach alone” will not be effective as the idea is to get every child immunised. The PM’s adviser conceded that the killing was a set-back to the campaign but it should not deter the health workers just when the goal of the “endgame” was so close. “The provincial government will need to take stock of the situation and revisit the campaign,” she said, adding that the centre would back it fully. “The Punjab government went right ahead as schedule and completed its three-days of campaign; they increased the security for the workers as did the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in some parts of the province,” pointed out Wazir Ali.

Threatened polio immunisation campaign

EDITORIAL: Daily Times
The targeted killing of four women polio vaccinators in Karachi and one woman near Peshawar has rendered the polio immunisation campaign a high-risk enterprise. Two male immunisers were also wounded in the attacks in Karachi. A day earlier, a worker with the local government-World Health Organisation (WHO) programme was killed in the city. Earlier still, a paramedic was killed and a Ghanaian doctor associated with WHO was wounded along with his driver in Karachi. The current attacks took place in Pashtun-dominated areas in Karachi, indicating the probable hands behind the dastardly act. Although the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan governments expressed their commitment to continue the campaign, WHO has announced the suspension of the campaign. Condemnations have come from the US and the UN and throughout Pakistan. Karachi and some cities of interior Sindh saw protests against the attacks. The security forces have launched an operation in Karachi against suspects and reportedly killed two people and seized weapons. Meanwhile reports while writing these lines say attacks against women immunisers are continuing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. That underlines the importance of proper security arrangements for immunisation workers if the suspension by WHO and continuation of the critical campaign are to be saved from the savage clutches of the dark and backward looking forces that are holding our society hostage to their antediluvian agenda. The Taliban have been resisting the polio immunisation campaign for years. The programme was launched in Pakistan, one of only three countries in the world still polio-endemic, in 1994 with WHO’s help. It had relatively smooth sailing until 2005, when Mullah Radio began fulminating against it on his illegal FM channel. His example spread to other Taliban-run illegal FM stations, all of them initially painting the immunisation campaign as a conspiracy to make Muslims infertile and thereby reduce their population. New arguments were mustered against the polio immunisation campaign over the years, but they reached the peak of hostility after the Osama bin Laden raid. Now the Taliban have managed to declare a ban in Waziristan, which has put 240,000 children in the tribal areas at risk. The irrationality of the Taliban mindset is nowhere better on display than in this motivated offensive against a healthcare programme that will ensure our children are safe from the crippling disease. The polio virus is threatening to carry over borders into neighbouring countries and perhaps further abroad, which could bring in health restrictions against Pakistani citizens seeking to travel internationally. The targets selected, women and men associated with the work and unable to defend themselves against such attacks, prove that the Taliban, apart from attacking military facilities like the attack on the Pakistan Air Force base in Peshawar following earlier assaults against the Mehran base in Karachi and the Kamra air base, are now also focusing on soft targets. Apparently the authorities had received prior warnings of possible attacks against the polio immunisation teams, but no security was provided to them. This is one more failure of the security authorities, for which Interior Minister Rehman Malik received more than his fair share of flak in the National Assembly from even his own party MNAs. Pakistan will not be able to ensure a better future for its people or its children unless the whole country is united and mobilised in support of the security forces’ efforts against the terrorists. A tiny minority of fanatical extremists and their tacit or explicit supporters in society and sections of the media have managed to so muddy the waters regarding whether or not this war is ours, etc, that the national will required to combat the menace is conspicuous by its absence, the brave souls who still stand up against the fanatics and terrorists notwithstanding. The struggle against the terrorists is for the very soul of Pakistan. Let it not be said with hindsight that we were found lacking.

Pakistan: Lift ban on YouTube

The blanket ban on YouTube in Pakistan subsequent to its transmitting an outrageous film in the mid of September continues to the detriment of a broad section of society which used this Google-owned website to augment their learning. The government requested the parent company to block sacrilegious transmission before taking the decision. It was upon the refusal of the company to block the material that a blanket ban was imposed. The company refused the government request because it was not register in Pakistan and Pakistani laws do not govern it. YouTube suspended its services to many Islamic countries, including Egypt, Libya, Malaysia and Iran; even the Indian population was refused access. But this proved to be a temporary phase for them and the service has since been restored there after these countries blocked the blasphemous material and allowed other material for the use of its population and the issue was settled. But in Pakistan any meaningful closure to this blasphemy episode seems nowhere in sight and YouTube, the most popular website of the world, will likely remain blocked in the near future. The government action of banning the entire website, rather than blocking only the objectionable contents, has gone beyond harming local internet users who include students, scholars, intellectuals, educational institutions, professionals and their representative bodies, big or small business and other sections of society, particularly the youth. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority said towards the beginning of November the ban would be lifted in two weeks, but it seems the government is not using the common sense to allow access to the website. But a good number of Pakistanis, particularly the population knowing the use of computer and its applications, have accessed to the website using other proxy servers. Virtually the government itself invited the illegal use of severs. This unlawful use has resulted in the disrupting or at least slowing down of various Google services and they include: Gmail, Gmail Chat, Google Talk, Google Drive, Google Analytics and Google Maps which an increasing number of Pakistanis are found to be using to navigate in their cities and across the country. Essentially, rather than filtering the blasphemous content, the authorities chose to put in place a wall by blocking the whole platform of YouTube which is only one-thirds of the whole Google regime .The government must act objectively by lifting ban on the website by blocking the outrageous material as has been done by other countries.