Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pakistan: Conspiracy to bring pro-Taliban PM

Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Dr Farooq Sattar has said that attempts were being made to hijack May 11 elections, Geo News reported. Addressing a press conference along with Awami National Party (ANP) leader Shahi Syed and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Rehman Malik, Farooq Sattar said Pakistani and international establishment was part of the conspiracy to hijack polls. MQM leader said Pakistan was being led to impartial elections. He demanded equal opportunities for all political parties to contest polls. He demanded of the Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) and the caretaker government to ensure free, fair and transparent elections, adding Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the interim government should fulfill their responsibilities. ANP leader Shahi Syed said Taliban were hitting only three political parties. He said they would render any sacrifice for Pakistan. Former interior minister Rehman Malik said terrorists want to disintegrate the country. He said MQM chief Altaf Hussain had warned about Talibanization a year ago. Malik said President Zardari, Altaf Hussain and Asfandyar Wali had vowed to fight terrorism. PPP, ANP and MQM will have to chalk out joint strategy to fight this menace, he added. He warned that conspiracy was being hatched to bring pro-Taliban prime minister in Pakistan.

Musharraf banned from politics for 'life'

A Pakistani court has imposed a lifetime ban on former president Pervez Musharraf from contesting elections, the latest blow since he returned from exile to make a political comeback. The Peshawar High Court handed down the lifetime ban Tuesday after hearing an appeal by Musharraf's lawyer to allow him to run in the upcoming election. "The former dictator [Musharraf] had ordered senior judges and their families be put under house arrest and twice abrogated the country's constitution," Court Chief Justice Dost Mohammad Khan said when reading out the order. Musharraf returned to Pakistan in March, planning to stand in May 11 vote after four years in self-imposed exile. But, judges barred him from running and put him under house arrest in connection with a pair of court cases against him. One involves his decision to fire senior judges, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, while in power. The other relates to the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Government prosecutors have accused Musharraf of being involved - allegations he has denied. Musharraf seized power in a coup in 1999 when he was serving as army chief and ruled for nearly a decade. He stepped down in 2008 because of growing discontent with his rule.
Appeal expected
One of Musharraf's lawyers, Saad Shibli, said he would go to the Supreme Court to challenge Tuesday's ruling, claiming the former leader should not be singled out for punishment for his actions while in power since others were involved. "About 500 officials at different levels and institutions were part of Musharraf's actions, and if those actions come under scrutiny, all those people should be involved in this matter,'' Shibli said. It was the first time a court in Pakistan had declared a citizen ineligible from running for public office for life. On April 20, a court remanded the former president in custody for two weeks, a deadline set to expire on May 4, as judges pushed ahead with plans to put Musharraf on trial for a crackdown on the judiciary during his time in office. On Tuesday, an anti-terrorism court in the garrison city of Rawalpindi put Musharraf on a 14-day judicial remand for charges of failing to provide adequate security for Bhutto before her assassination. The new deadline of May 14 means Musharraf will be in detention on election day. The elections are seen as a key moment in Pakistan's attempts to shake off a legacy of decades of military rule as they represent the first time a democratically elected civilian government has completed a term in office. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the man Musharraf ousted in a coup in 1999, is seen as the front runner.

President Zardari for talks to resolve Syrian crisis

President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday reiterated that Pakistan supported all efforts to facilitate a peaceful Syrian-led and inclusive solution meeting the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people through a comprehensive political dialogue involving both the government and opposition. The president said this while speaking to Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, who called on him at the Bilawal House. The meeting was attended among others by Ghassan Dallah, Dr Ali Muhra, Senator Farhatullah Babar and Jalil Abbas Jilani. He said Pakistan believed that Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty must be respected and that any outside interference would only complicate a complex situation and would have serious consequences for the neighboring countries. The drive for peace in Syria must be led and owned by the Syrian people, he said and offered Pakistan’s readiness to play its role in finding a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. Senator Babar said the president while expressing concerns at the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Syria appreciated the efforts being made by Lakhdar Brahimi, joint representative of the UN and the League of Arab States, and expressed the hope that he would convince the protagonists to resolve their differences through negotiations. The president said Pakistan enjoyed friendly and fraternal relations with Syria. The Syrian deputy foreign minister said Syria valued its friendly relations with Pakistan and was keen to further strengthen its bilateral ties in various fields. The president hosted lunch for the Syrian delegation.

Ill-Considered Advice on Syria

To hear Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tell it, the way forward on Syria is clear. The United States should be doing more — directly arming the rebels seeking overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, establishing a no-fly zone. This is not a new line for these two legislators and others in Congress who share their views. But it has gathered force since the Obama administration disclosed last week that it believes Mr. Assad’s forces have used sarin gas against Syrians. For all their exhortations, what the senators and like-minded critics have not offered is a coherent argument for how a more muscular approach might be accomplished without dragging the United States into another extended and costly war and how it might yield the kind of influence and good will for this country that the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have not. Mr. Graham and Mr. McCain to the contrary, the administration has not adopted a hands-off approach to Syria. Early on, it collaborated with the Europeans on a political solution, which failed. It is the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Syrians ($400 million), and it just doubled its nonlethal aid to the opposition to $250 million. With mixed success, Washington has also worked to organize fractious rebel groups into a more cohesive and effective whole, while delegitimizing Mr. Assad. Unlike Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham, who have also faulted President Obama for withdrawing troops from Iraq and tried to goad him into a more militaristic position on Iran, the president has been trying to disentangle the United States from overseas conflicts and, as a result, has been very cautious about military involvement in Syria. That may have to change now that Mr. Assad’s forces are accused of using chemical weapons. Mr. Obama backed himself into a corner when he warned the Syrian leader that using chemical weapons would constitute a “red line” and be a “game changer,” suggesting strongly and perhaps unwisely that crossing that line would trigger some kind of American action. The failure to act now could be misread by Mr. Assad as well as leaders in Iran and North Korea, whose nuclear programs are on America’s radar. But Mr. Obama should only act if he has compelling documentation that the sarin gas was used in an attack by Syrian forces and was not the result of an accident or fertilizer. The Financial Times reported the evidence is based on two separate samples taken from victims of the attacks. With the civil war in Syria now in its third year and the death toll at more than 70,000, the situation has deteriorated. Mr. Assad remains in power, sectarian divisions have intensified and fleeing refugees are destabilizing neighboring countries. Most worrisome, jihadis linked to Al Qaeda have become the dominant fighting force and, as Ben Hubbard reported in The Times, there are few rebel groups that both share the political vision of the United States and have the military might to push it forward. There have never been easy options for the United States in Syria; they have not improved with time. And Russia and Iran, both enablers of Mr. Assad, deserve particular condemnation. Without their support, Mr. Assad would not have lasted this long. Still, the country is important to regional stability. Mr. Obama must soon provide a clearer picture of how he plans to use American influence in dealing with the jihadi threat and the endgame in Syria.

Afghanistan: young woman shot dead by her father in front of 300 people for 'dishonouring' family

The killing of a young Afghan woman by her father in front of a large crowd last week - on the grounds that she had “dishonoured” the family - is further proof that the authorities are failing to tackle shocking levels of gender-based violence in the country, Amnesty International said today. The woman, who has two children, was shot dead last Monday (22 April) by her father in front of a crowd of about 300 people in the village of Kookchaheel, in the Aabkamari district of Badghis province in north-western Afghanistan. The woman, named Halima, who was believed to be between 18 and 20 years old, was accused of running away with a male cousin while her husband was in Iran. Her cousin returned Halima to her relatives ten days after running away with her. His whereabouts are unknown. The killing came after three of the village’s religious leaders, allegedly linked to the Taliban, issued a fatwa (religious edict) that Halima should be killed publicly, after her father sought their advice about his daughter’s elopement. Halima’s father and the three religious council members who issued the fatwa have reportedly gone into hiding. The local police say they are investigating the case, but no one has yet been arrested in connection with the killing. Amnesty International’s Afghanistan researcher Horia Mosadiq said: “The deeply shocking practice of women being subjected to violent ‘punishments’, including killing, publicly or privately, must end. “The authorities across Afghanistan must ensure that perpetrators of violence against women are brought to justice. “Violence against women continues to be endemic in Afghanistan and those responsible very rarely face justice. “Not only do women face violence at the hands of family members for reasons of preserving so-called ‘honour’, but frequently women face human rights abuses resulting from verdicts issued by traditional, informal justice systems. These systems must be reformed and the police must prevent such verdicts being carried out.” The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) documented more than 4,000 cases of violence against women in a six-month period last year (21 March-21 October 2012) - a rise of 28% compared with the same period in the previous year. The AIHRC has also criticised the Afghan police in Baghdis for recruiting suspected perpetrators of such violence, including a Taliban commander and his 20 men implicated in the stoning to death of 45-year-old widow Bibi Sanuber for alleged adultery in 2010. In August 2009, Afghanistan passed the Elimination of Violence against Women Law, which criminalises forced marriage, rape, beatings and other acts of violence against women. “Afghanistan’s law for the elimination of violence against women is a very positive step, but it will not be useful unless it is properly enforced - something we haven’t seen so far,” said Horia Mosadiq.

Bangladesh defends rejection of foreign aid for collapse

Bangladesh has defended its decision to turn down foreign help following Wednesday's collapse of a building near Dhaka that killed at least 382 people. Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir told the BBC authorities were confident they could deal with the crisis and emergency services did "a good job". Hundreds are thought to be trapped but hope of finding more alive is fading. Most victims are thought to be garment factory workers. The building's owner has been arrested. Mohammed Sohel Rana is one of eight people detained, along with at least two garment factory owners.They face allegations of negligence, illegal construction and persuading workers to enter the building in Savar - a day after visible cracks appeared. Separately two companies whose suppliers were based in the building, Britain's Primark and Canada's Loblaw, said on Monday they would pay compensation and offer emergency food aid to victims who worked for their suppliers. 'Proud' Mr Alamgir said that the Bangladeshi authorities "were confident we could manage it ourselves" in the rescue operation and had "enough people" involved in the rescue operation. He pointed out that nearly 2,430 of at least 3,000 people who had been in the building survived. The minister said this figure was "better than the average international effort in such cases". "We did a good job and I am proud of my people - the firemen, the military, the police, the local volunteers who all came in to help." Mr Alamgir added that foreign countries had not provided a list of specialist equipment Bangladesh had asked for. Both the UK government and the United Nations have said they had teams of experts ready to head out to Bangladesh, but their offer of help was turned down. 'No-one seen alive' Anger at the building's collapse has triggered days of violent protests in Dhaka demanding those responsible be punished and for an improvement in factory conditions. Garment industry workers across the country were given the weekend off, in the hope that the anger would fade. But on Monday, thousands of workers walked out of factories in the Ashulia and Gazipur industrial districts shortly after they opened, and staged a protest march, reportedly setting fire to an ambulance. Bangladesh has one of the largest garment industries in the world, providing cheap clothing for major Western retailers that benefit from its widespread low-cost labour. But the industry has been widely criticised for its low pay and limited rights given to workers and for the often dangerous working conditions in garment factories.

Reign of terror - Day 4: Nine killed in Peshawar blast

The Express Tribune
At least nine people were killed and more than 60 injured in a bomb blast on Peshawar’s crowded Arbab Road Monday morning. Two Afghan consulate officials were among those killed in the blast, the Afghan consul general told The Express Tribune. The bomb was attached to a motorcycle that had been parked on a service lane near a bus stop, about 10 feet away from where a police mobile was parked. As a result of the blast, five people were killed on the spot, while dozens, including four policemen, were injured. Two buses packed with passengers were badly damaged in the explosion, while the police mobile was also damaged slightly. The injured victims were shifted to the nearby hospitals, where four of them succumbed to their injuries, pushing the death toll to nine. Five of them are stated to be in critical condition. SP Cantt Faisal Kamran told The Express Tribune that four policemen, who were sitting in the mobile vehicle, were also injured but since the mobile was shielded by the buses it was spared the brunt of the explosion. He did however warn that they were expecting more such attacks in the coming days. Initially, the blast was mistaken to be a suicide attack. However, by evening the BDS team had gathered enough evidence that suggested the bomb was planted on a motorcycle. AIG Special Branch and head of Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) Shafqat Malik said the mistake was made because they had recovered body pieces from the site of the blast, which they initially assumed belonged to a suicide bomber. “The ill-fated person whose body was found in pieces could have been a passerby, but he wasn’t a suicide bomber,” he explained. Afghan consulate officials killed Two of the victims, Idrees Khan and Hilal Ahmad, were employees of the Afghan Commercial Office and Afghan Refugees Office, which is run by the Afghan government and is located on Arbab Road. A spokesperson of the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad, Zardasht Shamus, told The Express Tribune: “Idrees was an employee of the refugee office while Hilal was working for the commercial office. Both were employees of the Afghan government”. He added that Hilal was the son of Qazi Muhammad Amin Waqad, a member of the Afghan High Peace Council, an outfit tasked with peace negotiations with Taliban in the war torn country. Afghan Counsul General Syed Muhammad Ibrahim Khel said the two officials had been working in the Afghan consulate in Peshawar and did not have diplomatic status. Khel said that Hilal and Idrees were headed to their office in the University Town area when the blast occurred. Afghan embassy spokesperson Shams Zadasht says that Afghan authorities have requested the Pakistani police to share details of their investigations into the attack. Zardasht told The Express Tribune that he was not sure if the two Afghan consulate employees were the target. ANP targeted in Charsadda, Mardan At least one person was killed while 15 others, including Awami National Party workers, were wounded in a blast targeting a convoy of ANP candidate in Charsadda district Monday evening. DSP Salim Riaz told The Express Tribune said that ANP’s Muhammad Ahmad Khan was leaving his election office when a remote-controlled bomb planted in the middle of the crowded Sardheri Bazaar went off near his vehicle. Meanwhile, a bomb planted by unidentified militants near the hujra of ANP local leader Haji Khan Daraz, detonated in the Katlang area of Mardan early Monday morning. While the hujra was partially damaged, no human loss was reported. Meanwhile, an Awami National Party candidate’s security guard was gunned down by unidentified attackers in the Hakeemabad area of Nowshera district Monday afternoon. Johar Ali, a private security guard for ANP’s Shahid Khattak, was on duty at the candidate’s home when two masked men on a motorcycle opened fire on him, killing him instantly, police said. Meanwhile, two candidates in Karak’s NA-15 and PK-14 constituencies – Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Sami (JUI-S) candidate Moulana Shah Abdul Aziz and Malik Qasim Khan – came under attack in separate incidents on Monday. Both escaped unharmed.

Pakistan: Battle for democracy

Going by the set of candidates, their manipulative electioneering campaigns and the party leaders' largely empty, if not indecorous, rhetoric at the rallies are any indicators the outcome of the May 11 election is not expected to be very different from before. Of course, there are quite a few new entrants - some only for inclusion in the 'also-ran' list - but most of the front-runners are chips off the old block. If they are not close blood relations of the party leaders then they are time-tested cronies or safe bets on their family seats. Even the latest players in the power game have preferred 'electables' over their committed workers. Yet in the fullness of time the outcome of the May 11 election would be recorded as different, very different, from ever before - for the reason that this is taking place despite the stiffest and most prohibiting challenges. Given a high incidence of violence in many parts of the country particularly in provincial capitals of Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar, the forces opposed to this democratic exercise seem to be calling the shots, at least as of now. Three major political parties - PPP, ANP and MQM - have been literally confined to have at best corner meetings instead of public rallies, a situation that is a crass contradiction of the much-hallowed characteristic of impartial and transparent election. No wonder the leaders of the three parties are crying foul, complaining inaccessibility to a level playing field and pre-poll rigging. With only 10 days left for the polls the election wagon is running the endgame lap. The anti-democracy forces will spare no device in order to derail the wagon of democracy; we may have more violence at more places. But whatever cost the democratic forces they cannot afford to abandon the race and thus yield to anti-democratic forces. For all practical purposes for democracy in Pakistan it is 'to be or not to be' question. By derailing the electoral process now under way the anti-democratic forces will have won and the future Pakistan an anachronistic fiefdom runs by extremists. And if some parties now in the field feel safe and un-rattled by violence they are sadly mistaken. Read what the spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman says; he says "we are against the secular and democratic system which is against the ideology of Islam ...and we are not expecting any good from other parties either, who are supportive of the same system". Why they are not being targeted, the spokesman says, that's "our own prerogative". No doubt in the situation that tends to obtain during the next week or so the prospects of an election that would be peaceful, largely participated and rightly reflective of the national will are slim if not dismal. But some of the steps of late taken by the authorities will certainly help restore the balance between the threat posed by the TTP and its genre and the polity's mood to exercise its democratic right to choose its rulers. The most crucial step is the government's decision to deploy forces including troops in all the districts of Balochistan. Some 18,461 teachers had refused to perform polling duties in 11 sensitive districts fearing violence. Not only on the day of election but all along since May 1 the troops and paramilitary forces would be deployed hoping it would give boost to presently nearly stalled electioneering activity. In fact, the threat to timely election in Balochistan is double-edged. Both the TTP and the nationalists are working hand in glove to sabotage the polls, the former out to assert that election is anti-Islam and the latter to establish that the province is beyond the writ of the government of Pakistan. At the same time the political parties have to forge unity in defence of election on time not only by condemning violence but also by desisting use of abusive language against each other, which tends to cast them more as power-hungry gamblers than as national leaders. That they have yet to sit together and think out a united stand against terrorist attacks is indeed disappointing. Perhaps they don't realise the consequences of a failed election. Not only the outcome of the polls held in the absence of level playing field would be controversial it may trigger a replay of 1977 failed election facilitating General Ziaul Haq to take-over. It's heartening that the caretaker government would brook no delay in holding election on May 11. But it's not the government and the candidates that have to secure timely election; the voters too owe a responsibility in that they should turn up at the polling booths in large numbers. A poor turnout is also a negative development that can help the anti-democratic forces claim that the people are also opposed to having a democratic system in Pakistan. We are in the midst of a gigantic battle for the survival of democracy in Pakistan, and it can be won only by putting aside party affiliations and personal reservations.

Pakistan: ''' The silence of the lambs ''

It is the worst of times for the secular parties participating in the elections. They are being targeted for not being in the good books of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The centrist and right wing parties on the orher hand are conducting their election campaigns without any constraints. Of the four provinces in Pakistan, three are awash in blood. Punjab has not been touched as the TTP is tactically concentrating on the other three provinces so as not to disturb their bases in Punjab. This tactical tilt by the TTP has already been dubbed as an attempt to skew the election results. The plan seems very much in place to bring parties of the TTP’s choice into power. The recent statement by PTI chief Imran Khan, requesting the TTP to renounce violence during the elections and allow a new Pakistan to emerge through the ballot, is absurd to say the least. The TTP would rather have their own version of Pakistan, something for which they have split so much blood over the years. And if Imran believes that after coming to power he could turn the extremists around from their so-called desire to build an Islamic emirate in Pakistan to creating an Islamic welfare state, he may be living in a fool’s paradise. The same is true of the PML-N. If they think that having been left to bask freely in the election campaign the TTP would be easy to rein in once PML-N is in power, the party may be better served by giving a second thought to their approach to the TTP. At least 50 people have died since April in election-related attacks. More attacks are in the offing, as declared by the TTP. People are already speculating over the possibility of the elections not taking place. Just as every attack has emboldened the militants’ resistance to the polls, so has it diminished the confidence of the public in the elections. The fear of May 11 being bloodier has been reflected by thousands of teachers in Balochisran who have refused to do polling duty on the day. The caretaker Minister of Law has indicated the possibility of requesting the army to take over security so that the elections can be conducted without hindrance. Any means that guarantee people getting a chance to reach the polling booths in all the provinces should be adopted by the caretaker government to resist the undemocratic forces from establishing their grip on the polity. The TTP are killing, shooting and maiming even the innocent to disrupt the polls. None of the threatened parties — the PPP, the MQM or the ANP has shown cowardice in the face of danger. All these parties have shown solidarity and resolved not to back off from the elections, which are essential for Pakistan. The silence in Punjab over the miscreants’ acts is becoming intolerable. People are questioning the PML-N’s and PTI’s silence over the killings and shootings. Again if the notion is that all will be well once the elections are over, perhaps it would eventually be the centre-right parties bearing the brunt of the TTP’s nefarious designs. Everybody in Pakistan is trying to make a new Pakistan, the TTP, the PTI, and now even the PML-N has joined the chorus. Would it not be a better idea to save Pakistan from the hands of the militants and let it be what it should be, a democratic state?

Pakistan: Bomb-hit political parties see conspiracy against ‘moderates’

Daily Times
Three ‘moderate’ political parties of the country, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party (ANP) see conspiracy of ‘national and international establishments’ behind continued terrorist attacks against them. The establishments are going to repeat the Afghan Jihad policy of 80s in view of the scheduled withdrawal of NATO forces in 2014. The ‘enlightened’ parties of the country joined hands on Monday after facing a series of terrorist attacks on their election offices and public gatherings in Karachi and other parts of the country during the month of April. Speaking at their first-ever joint press conference at the Karachi Press Club, the leaders of the three parties said that terrorists have targeted only the progressive parties during their electioneering. On other hand, they added, the right wing parties have been provided open ground to run their election campaign. “A clear ideological line has been drawn,” said senior PPP leader Taj Haider while addressing the joint press conference. He said that progressive parties are at one side, which strive for the elimination of extremism and terrorism and hence are being attacked and restrained from their election campaign. On other side, he added, some parties, whom the terrorists believe to be their warrantors, have continued electioneering. “The Afghanistan and Pakistan region had been burning for the last 30 years. Do Western powers want to hand it over to fundamental forces again, when they leave?” he asked. He stated that terrorists attacking progressive parties are militant wings of right-wing political parties. “It appears that an international, national and local conspiracy is behind this ideological division,” remarked MQM leader Haider Abbas Rizvi. He opined that the international forces support this division as the NATO forces have to pass via this route on their withdrawal from Afghanistan. “Do not repeat the mistake again. You had taken the same decision in haste during the previous withdrawal from Afghanistan. The area will go in the hands of religious extremists,” the MQM leader said. He warned that such a policy would cause reoccurrence of incidents like 9/11. The national and international establishments will again be caught due to repetition of their policies, Rizvi said, adding, “They should choose their friends carefully.” ANP leader Bashir Jan said that the three parties are being punished for the bold policies they followed during their last five-year rule.

Pakistan: Fears of election delay mount

Having mandated to hold general election on May 11, the caretaker government too has failed to prioritize the issues confronting the country. After assuming the power, like outgoing government of the Pakistan People’s Party, the caretakers mostly relied on press statements, making vows and pledges about holding the election—the quickest of all actions was elevation of the caretaker Prime Minister’s son and things like that, knowingly ignoring the core issue of terrorism. Bodies kept tumbling here and there amidst the bloodshed unleashed by the extremists, nationalists and terrorists. Thus today the fears loom laerge over the much-hyped vows of holding the election especially in Kyber Pakhtunkhawa, Balochitan and Karachi. Despite all-out support of the Pakistan’s armed forces and the superior judiciary, the Interior Ministry never came up with anti-terrorism measures, leaving the electioneering process exposed to terrorists. Army, Rangers, police and intelligence agencies seam either non-existent or are proving too vulnerable to the planning of terrorist-outfits. Frequency with which the terrorists are striking is a testimony to this effect. Deny it if you can. Consequently, first the Teachers Association in Balochistan, fearing risks associated with their election duty, refused to conduct the elections in the restive Balochistan and subsequently, the provincial lecturers on Monday joined the teachers’ boycott. They are not wrong either. So far, after the negotiation with the Balochistan government, the teachers have agreed to perform election duties in only Lasbella and Chagai out of 12 sensitive districts of the province. Realizing the sensitive the development taking place in the country, a meeting of Corp commanders in Army’s General Head Quarters in Rawalpindi has approved the deployment of troops for the security during the upcoming elections throughout the country. Thereafter, the Army and FC began troops’ deployment in the sensitive districts of Balochistan, and the first contingent of the Pakistan Army has departed from Quetta to Mastung. Under the contingency plan, around 50,000 Balochistan Constabulary, Police and Levies along with 22000 military and Para-military troops will be deployed in 30 districts of the province. As a last resort, a similar troops’ deployment is on the cards for the KPK and Sindh. But the details of the plan are being awaited. Considering the risks involved in the election process, the troops deployment should have done a little earlier. Yet the late is better than never. Finally, the Election Commission of Pakistan too has taken notice of frequent incidents violence in various parts of the country and directed the provincial governments to provide protection to candidates and political leaders, taking ‘earnest measures to ensure a highly guarded atmosphere for the elections. Much delayed condemnation of recent killings, firing and bomb blasts on the part of the Election Commission of Pakistan has further eroded the credibility of the Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim and the other members of the ECP. Unfortunately, the Election Commission of Pakistan is seen more worried about ransacking of the vehicle of a lady candidate in Lahore instead of the unabated bloodbath being executed in the FATA, the KPK, Quetta and Karachi. The Election Commission must redirect its energies and efforts to conduct the general elections peacefully in all parts of the country rather than guarding the personal images of a few. The people of Pakistan want safety to the human life and property. Political rhetoric in the election run-up does not matter. The Interior Ministry and the Election Commission, leaving aside the rhetoric making headlines, should do some thing serious to take the people into confidence, who are supposed to go to the field to face the consequences thus it should take measures to ensure safety of the election staff. Watching the apathy of the Election Commission and other security staff, today teachers and lecturers of Balochistan have refused to join election duty what if the election staff in other restive areas of the country also says ‘no’ to the election duty. The situation in Peshawar and its adjoining tribal areas is far more dangerous even on Monday morning a bomb blast rocked the University Road resulting in more killings and injuries. Performing election duty under imminent risk and threat to life is a big ask and if some says ‘no’ to it hardly it is a matter of surprise. To win back confidence of the election staff and voters to come out in the greater interest of the country, the security forces must take over the administrative control over the infrastructure, plugging in all the lapses from where the terrorists can sneak in otherwise the mounting fears of delay in the election will turn into a reality.

Pakistan’s late Bhutto still leads her party in campaign

The most popular politician in Pakistan’s largest party won’t be staging any rallies or participating in debates as May’s historic national election nears. The reason: She’s dead. Yet Benazir Bhutto, assassinated more than five years ago, is still the standard bearer of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). In its TV commercials and banners, she has been pushed to the forefront of the party’s uphill campaign to return to power in Parliament after a widely criticized five-year term. Hers is the face of the party on its official manifesto. She looms over smaller photos of her widower, President Asif Ali Zardari, and their son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who lead the party but are rarely seen in public. The PPP’s campaign in the runup to the May 11 vote has been proscribed by security concerns. The Pakistani Taliban, which asserted responsibility for Bhutto’s murder, has warned the secular party that its candidates and rallies will be attacked. In recent weeks the militants have killed several leaders and workers in the parties that formed the PPP government’s ruling coalition. That may be part of the reason that Bhutto, who served twice as prime minister and was Pakistan’s only woman premier, has become a constant presence in the race. But her embattled party really has no other option but to stress its lineage, analysts say. The newly ended government was marred by an economic meltdown and persistent corruption cases against top officials. Even though the party and its coalition partners made history as the first civilian government in Pakistan’s 65-year history to complete a full term — thereby shepherding a democratic transition of power — that accomplishment has not lowered the price of wheat or gasoline, given people jobs or diminished poverty. Zardari polls miserably. The former prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was drummed from office by Pakistan’s Supreme Court last year for refusing to submit to its orders to reopen a money laundering case against Zardari. And the public blames Gilani’s successor, Raja Pervez Ashraf, a former energy minister, for crippling electrical and natural gas shortages. Bhutto Zardari, 24, is too young to run for a seat in the May 11 election — the minimum age in Pakistan is 25. In a video released Tuesday, the party heir reassured voters that he “wanted to launch the election campaign in the streets of my country alongside my workers,” but he said it was too dangerous. “Once again the enemies of peace and prosperity are standing in front of us,” Bhutto Zardari said. So the party is left with only ghosts to burnish its image. In campaign ads and on placards, Benazir Bhutto is always clad in a fashionable headscarf — in some photos merely casting a serene gaze, in others raising an arm forcefully, as if at an eternal rally. The latter image has been paired with one of her son giving a victory sign. In placards hung around the capital, Islamabad, touting one of the party’s National Assembly candidates, Bhutto takes the top position — usually reserved for living prime minister candidates in other parties’ signs. The PPP’s signage and literature also rarely fail to invoke the memory of her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who founded the party and later served as Pakistan’s prime minister and president. Both of them are bestowed the title “shaheed,” or martyr, whenever mentioned in party speeches and materials. “She has got a cult status, and the Bhutto name has got a cult status,” said Usman Khalid, a former Pakistani Army brigadier general. “Martyrdom and martyrs matter.” As the old PPP slogan goes: “Bhutto is still alive today and Bhutto will still be alive tomorrow.”

Will pre-election violence impact Pakistan's elections?

At least eight people were killed and 40 more injured in a suicide bombing this morning in northwest Pakistan. The country has seen scores killed in pre-election violence. At least eight people were killed and 40 more injured in a suicide bombing on a busy road in the Pakistani city of Peshawar Monday morning. The attack capped off a weekend of election-related violence as the country prepares to go to the polls May 11.The bomber missed his ostensible target, a local commissioner, instead crashing his motorcycle into a passenger bus, Pakistan’s News International reports. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the bombing, but the Pakistani Taliban have carried out a range of similar attacks against secular political parties over the past several weeks. Indeed, the explosion came just a day after two Taliban attacks targeting political candidates in northwestern Pakistan killed at least eight and injured dozens more. The Taliban and other groups have been responsible for at least 77 deaths in 44 election-related attacks since the beginning of April, Human Rights Watch told The New York Times."We are not in favor of democracy. Democracy is for Jews and Christians," Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud said in a recent propaganda video, according to CNN. He implored Pakistanis not to participate in the upcoming elections. "We want the implementation of Sharia [law], and for that jihad is necessary,” he said. The May elections will be the first in the country’s checkered political history when one democratically elected government will make way for another, and the uptick in militant violence leading to the historic vote has rattled both domestic and international observers. But they remain divided on whether or not the spate of attacks will have a significant affect on the election’s outcome at the national level, particularly since neither of the two parties leading in polling over the past three months are among those targeted by the attacks. As one analyst writing in the Pakistani daily Dawn argues, the violence, though significant, is too sporadic and narrowly targeted to create the kind of chaos necessarily to significantly sway the election’s results. As for violence making elections impossible, the quantum would have to jump multifold and that too in key urban towns to spread the kind of fear that would result in elections being postponed. The ‘threshold rule’ applies here: the state has virtually no capacity to prevent targeted violence up to a certain threshold; beyond this, the militants have little chance of carrying out a coordinated campaign of major attacks in city centres in a short time. There is little reason to believe this will be upended over the coming fortnight. Two of the frontrunners in the national campaign are the center-right Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and the centrist party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Taliban attacks, on the other hand, have largely targeted left-leaning parties, including the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), and the Awami National Party (ANP). Local candidates for these parties complain that the violence has forced them to dramatically scale back their campaigning activities, leaving the field open for Islamist candidates to win over voters. "If you tie my hands, and you want me to fight, I can’t,” Mian Iftikhar Hussain, a local candidate for the ANP in the city of Peshawar, told Dawn. Overall, however, there is halting optimism in many quarters for Pakistan’s fragile democratic institutions. As the Monitor reported in March, the Pakistani National Assembly recently completed a five-year term for the first time in the country’s history, a signal that the country is finding new and non-militaristic ways to respond to its political grievances. “These five years we saw many instances of corruption, confrontations with the judiciary, and absence of law and order,” says Rasul Bakhsh Raees, a professor of political science in Lahore, pointing to Karachi and Balochistan. “But the military decided not to intervene, which shows even their attitude is changing.” … “Every phase of democracy in Pakistan has been a battle, but the trend shows it’s [heading] toward improving the overall institutional balance,” [he says]. Violence also cast a shadow over Pakistan’s last election, in 2008. On Dec. 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister and the head of the PPP – then the leading opposition party – was assassinated after a campaign rally. Two months later, however, her party and the PLM-N emerged victorious from the campaign and formed a coalition government. That August, former military leader Pervez Musharraf stepped down as president and went into exile, formally ending his nine-year military rule.

Pakistan's campaign trail politicians use stealth to outwit Taliban threats

In a country where politicians strive to hold vast political rallies with huge crowds of supporters, it is hard to imagine a campaign event more low key than the one held recently in an almost pitch-black backstreet in Dera Ismail Khan. Illuminated only by the headlights of a nearby car, the candidate standing for a seat in Pakistan's parliament made a brief speech to the hundred or so supporters mustered at short notice, before being ushered back to his armoured car by a team of bodyguards wearing white bulletproof vests over their white cotton shalwar kameez. Ever since the Pakistani Taliban declared war on politicians from the country's three mainstream secular parties last month, such "corner meetings" have become the new normal for politicians such as Waqar Ahmed Khan, a sitting senator from the Pakistan People's party (PPP). "He knows he has to be careful," said Mansoor Akbar Kundi, the vice-chancellor of the city's university and a friend of Khan. "The Taliban threat makes activists and candidates like Waqar less active than they would otherwise be. They just can't penetrate among the masses like they could in the past." Khan plays down the threat, saying the shabby city is not as badly hit as other areas in the predominantly Pashtun lands bordering Afghanistan, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). But just a few hours earlier, an activist from another party had been killed when his car was fired at. The incident barely registered in the national media of a country growing used to a relentless campaign of violence against politicians. So far more than 50 people have been killed, including one candidate, and 200 injured. The Pakistani Taliban are determined to use fear and violence to rig historic elections due to be held on 11 May in favour of rightwing religious parties that sympathise with the militants – and many analysts think they are succeeding. Politicians can's say they weren't warned. Last month, the Taliban released a video telling the public to stay away from rallies held by the PPP, the Awami National party (ANP) and Muttahida Qaumio Movement (MQM). All three are secular, have shared power during the last tumultuous five years and backed military campaigns against militants. The ANP has been the worst hit so far, with several party workers killed. On 17 April, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a party meeting in Peshawar, killing 16 people. The Taliban said they were targeting Haroon Ahmad Bilour, a party leader whose father was killed by a suicide bombing in December. Party leaders even fear they will be denied a sympathy vote – although it is a secret ballot, polling stations known to be ANP strongholds could be targeted. The onslaught has had a dramatic impact on a campaign that can often feel lacklustre, even in a large town such as Dera Ismail Khan. Secular politicians increasingly have to make do with social media in a country where illiteracy is still rife, while rightwing and Islamist parties have been holding traditional rallies with few security concerns. Instead of rallies and public gatherings, politicians increasingly have to make do with social media in a country where illiteracy is still rife. The ANP has announced it will only hold small, closed-door party gatherings. The ANP, traditionally a secular liberal party that has long taken a tough line against the Taliban, could be wiped out by the blizzard of violence. The attacks have forced it to close dozens of election offices in recent weeks. The party was already thought likely to suffer at the polls after a being widely criticised during its five years heading the provincial government in KPK. "We will never know whether the ANP has lost or gained support because their supporters will be too frightened to vote," said Ijaz Khan, a professor of international relations at Peshawar University. "The elections cannot now be free and fair, and that means the result in KPK and FATA will forever be suspect." Some candidates from parties targeted by the Taliban have opted to contest seats as independents, or have jumped ship to religious parties (although even in normal circumstances Pakistan's ultra-pragmatic politicians often move between parties). Although senior ANP leaders have been issued police protection, the party said not enough had been done to protect its activists and candidates. "Police are a help, but we have seen that suicide bombers are able to cross through all checkpoints and get extremely close to where our candidates are," said Bushra Gohar, a vice-president of the ANP. "It shows there are real weaknesses in their security plan." The Taliban have justified their war saying the secular parties had "committed genocide of our tribal people and Muslims while remaining in power for five years". Analysts say the Taliban are not just seeking revenge, however, but also trying to ensure that the next parliament is as sympathetic as possible to their cause. "If there is a more right-of-centre government it will decrease further the level of co-operation Pakistani will extend to the US in Afghanistan in the fight against the Taliban," said Khan. Rightwing and religious parties that have called for peace talks with the Taliban have been left largely untouched by suicide bombers. "When you live in the jungle you have to live by the rules of the jungle," smirked Mehmood Bettani, a candidate for a provincial assembly seat with Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazal, a leading religious party. He moves freely around Dera Ismail Khan with none of the elaborate security of his secular opponents. "Privately we might talk about the problems of the Taliban, but you can't say it publicly or you risk being attacked." The MQM, the dominant force in Karachi, has also suffered. Several party activists and one candidate have been killed from the party, which last year organised a "referendum" inviting the public to denounce the Taliban. And the Taliban threat is a big headache for the PPP, which is widely expected to be punished at the ballot box after five years leading a coalition government that has presided over a faltering economy, electricity crises and persistent Taliban violence. The PPP cancelled a mass gathering planned for the beginning of April that had been intended to kick off their campaign. One of the PPP's few weapons is the star power of the Bhuttos, who established the party in 1967. But after two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed by the Taliban on the campaign trail in 2007, the heir to the name of party founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, is his inexperienced grandson Bilawal. Officials for the party, which saw one of its provincial assembly candidates, Adnan Aslam, killed in April, have made clear that the 24-year-old Oxford graduate will not be hitting the campaign trail or appearing at events where the Taliban could get close to him. The PPP recently issued a video message from Bilawal, who complained he could not campaign publicly because his mother's murderers were trying to kill him too. "I wanted to contest polls living among you; I wanted to launch the election campaign in the streets of my country alongside my workers … but we are at war against a mindset," he said. Not enough politicians from the right have condemned the violence, critics say. Their rhetoric often appears designed to appeal to the Taliban, or at least to those Pakistanis who have some sympathy for militants and like the idea of pulling out of "America's war" in the region. "They don't realise that although today they are targeting liberal parties tomorrow they will be next," said Gohar, the ANP leader. "The Taliban are attacking the entire democratic process." On Sunday Imran Khan told a huge rally in Dera Ismail Khan, which gathered without incident, that he would withdraw all troops fighting the Taliban in FATA if his party was elected to power. "They don't realise that although today they are targeting liberal parties tomorrow they will be next," said Gohar. "The Taliban are attacking the entire democratic process."
Under attack
24 April Peshawar – bomb outside PPP leader's home kills four; Dera Ismail Khan – bomb hits convoy of independent candidate; Karachi – bomb kills five MQM party activists
18 April Charsadda – ANP leader injured by remote controlled bomb
16 April Peshawar – suicide bomb attack on ANP leaders kills 17, wounds 60
14 April Swat – ANP candidate killed by bomb; Charsadda – ANP candidate wounded by bomb
11 April Hyderabad – MQM candidate gunned down
31 March Bannu – bomb attack kills two, injures six including ANP candidate
30 March Karachi – bomb kills district ANP leader
22 December Peshawar: Bashir Ahmad Bilour, an ANP senior leader, among eight killed and 17 wounded by suicide bomber

Pakistan’s dangerous polls

While analysts are speculating that the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Pakistan will be a game changer, there are forces at work trying to coerce people into staying at home on the day of the polls. The electioneering efforts of major political parties — the Pakistan People’s Party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Awami National Party—have been targeted by terrorism in recent weeks. Every day, the Taleban, determined to derail upcoming elections, are bombing offices and conventions of political parties and attacking politicians in Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar. Their assault has been brazen and consistent, and have brought life in the country’s busy commercial hub, Karachi, to a near standstill. At the turn of a major historic event in Pakistan’s history — the unprecedented completion of tenure by a democratic government — the attacks on representatives of democracy show the tightening grip of extremism in the country. Persistant attacks by militants during election period is a new phenomenon in Pakistan and bears a disturbing similarity to elections in Afghanistan, where forthcoming presidential elections are bound to face a formidable challenge by the ever-burgeoning militancy. But perhaps even more disturbing than this offensive of bombs and bullets, is the fact that political parties are not making a concerted effort to condemn this assault on democratic politics. For once, Pakistan’s political parties should momentarily forget their myriad ideological difference, and collectively condemn the militants. At this critical point in time, Pakistan’s political forces should be united in declaring Taleban pariahs, who have no place in the country’s future. The religious parties and influential religious leaders must participate in this endeavour, especially since hundreds of clerics have declared a fatwa making voting a religious obligation. If these attacks by militants are not vociferously condemned, it will only adversely affect voter turnout on polling day. Pakistanis, especially the young lot, are desperate to cast their votes and make a change. And it would be most unfortunate if these dastardly attacks result in a low voter turnout.

Pakistan Taliban using violence as election strategy, killing 46 since campaign launch

Pakistan’s latest milestone in its democratic development should be historic national elections on May 11. But already there is concern of prepoll rigging – except not the kind that involves stuffing ballot boxes. The Pakistan Taliban has carried out a deadly wave of explosions, suicide bombings and targeted shootings that has left 46 people dead and more than 190 injured since campaigning officially started on April 21, according to Human Rights Watch. Another attack, in which eight people died, occurred Monday in Peshawar.The target is always the same: a candidate, an activist or an office belonging to one of Pakistan’s secular political parties. “We are against all politicians who are going to become part of any secular, democratic government,” Pakistan Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan told the Associated Press on Sunday. Secular liberal parties say the Pakistan Taliban is waging a deliberate election strategy. “Their objective is to create fear among people so that they don’t vote for us in elections,” said Faisal Subzwari, a leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, in an interview with German radio. “They want the right-wing parties to win.” Pakistan finds itself at a crucial crossroads. A country that has spent more than half of its 66 years under military rule has just witnessed a civilian government completing a full five-year term for the first time without being overthrown. But with national and provincial elections less than two weeks away, the country is bracing itself for still more violence. The authorities appear powerless to stop the attacks. Pakistan’s security forces have struggled to thwart Pakistan Taliban attacks since 2008. Raza Rumi, a political analyst and director of the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute think-tank, said the violence amounts to campaign manipulation. “What is happening is that the Taliban is basically calling the shots as to who is allowed to contest the elections and who must be discredited in the process.” Leaders of right-wing parties calling for negotiations with the Pakistan Taliban problem have been spared, leading secular politicians to complain that they are campaigning at a disadvantage. “Pakistani democracy, still wobbly on its feet, cannot withstand such a bludgeoning. Violence that continues until polling day could undermine the credibility of election results,” wrote Dawn newspaper columnist Huma Yusuf. In the latest violence since Saturday, the Pakistan Taliban was blamed for attacks on the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Awami National Party all over the country. Secular parties have complained they are risking the lives of their candidates and supporters if they hold rallies in places like Karachi, where the Pakistan Taliban control some neighbourhoods. The divide between secular and right-wing parties during the election campaign period is most stark in the north in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which borders the tribal areas, and Punjab, the country’s most populous province representing the most number of seats in the national assembly. Both the Pakistan Muslim League’s Nawaz Sharif, who has served as prime minister twice already and is looking to return to power, and former cricket superstar turned politician Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Movement for Justice is challenging Mr. Sharif’s Punjab power base, have appeared regularly at large political rallies. Both have criticized Pakistan’s foreign policy as being too closely aligned to the United States. They have also called for negotiations with the Pakistan Taliban. In recent days, Mr. Khan has said that, if his party won the election, he would pull back troops from the tribal areas.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Lawyers, public chant "hang him" as Bangladesh building owner led to court

Bangladeshi lawyers and protesters chanted "hang him, hang him" on Monday as the owner of a factory building that collapsed last week killing nearly 400 people was led into court dressed in a helmet and bullet-proof jacket, witnesses said. The drama came as rescue officials said they were unlikely to find more survivors in the rubble of the building that collapsed on Wednesday, burying hundreds of garment workers in the country's worst industrial accident. Heavy cranes were being used to lift huge concrete blocks from the wreckage of Rana Plaza, where 385 people are now confirmed to have been killed. The building housed factories making clothes for Western brands. Eight people have been arrested - four factory bosses, two engineers, building owner Mohammed Sohel Rana and his father, Abdul Khalek. Police are looking for a fifth factory boss, David Mayor, who they said was a Spanish citizen. Rana, a local leader of the ruling Awami League's youth front, was shown on television being brought to Dhaka in handcuffs after he was seized in the border town of Benapole by the elite Rapid Action Battalion following a four-day manhunt. Rana was arrested by police commandos on Sunday, apparently trying to flee to India. "Put the killer on the gallows, he is not worth of any mercy or lenient penalty," one onlooker outside the court shouted. The court ordered that Rana be held for 15 days "on remand" for interrogation. Khalek, who officials said was named in documents as a legal owner of the building, was arrested in Dhaka on Monday. Those being held face charges of faulty construction and causing unlawful death. Bangladesh does carry out the death penalty for murder and for most serious categories of manslaughter. Hundreds of the mostly female workers who are thought to have been inside the building when it caved in remain unaccounted for. A fire overnight further hampered the last desperate efforts to find survivors. "We are giving the highest priority to saving people, but there is little hope of finding anyone alive," army spokesman Shahinul Islam told reporters at the site. About 2,500 people have been rescued from the wrecked building in the commercial suburb of Savar, about 30 km (20 miles) from the capital, Dhaka. Late on Sunday, sparks from rescuers' cutting equipment started a fire in the debris as they raced to save a woman who may have been the last survivor in the rubble. Her body was recovered on Monday afternoon. "We could not save her, even though we heard her voice this morning," a tearful rescue worker told reporters at the scene. Officials said the eight-storey complex had been built on swampy ground without the correct permits, and more than 3,000 workers - most of them young women - entered the building on Wednesday morning despite warnings that it was structurally unsafe. A bank and shops in the same building closed after a jolt was felt and cracks were noticed on some pillars on Tuesday. The collapse was the third major industrial incident in five months in Bangladesh, the second-largest exporter of garments in the world behind China. In November, a fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory in a suburb of Dhaka killed 112 people. Such incidents have raised serious questions about worker safety and low wages in the poor South Asian country, which relies on garments for 80 percent of its exports. The industry employs about 3.6 million people, most of them women, some of whom earn as little as $38 a month. In a development that may raise questions about the authorities' handling of the rescue operation, a spokesman at the British High Commission on Monday confirmed that an offer of technical assistance from Britain had been declined. Anger over the disaster has sparked days of protests and clashes, and paramilitary troops were deployed in the industrial hub of Gazipur as garment workers took to the streets again on Monday, smashing cars and setting fire to an ambulance. The unrest forced authorities to shut down many factories, which had reopened on Monday after two days of closures. Police fired teargas to disperse protesters. The main opposition has called for a national strike on May 2 in protest over the incident. Emdadul Islam, chief engineer of the state-run Capital Development Authority, said last week that Rana had not received the proper construction consent for the building, and had illegally added three stories to the original five.

Sarabjit’s release sought on humanitarian grounds

India has sought the release of the alleged spy Sarabjit Singh, now in deep coma after being assaulted in a Lahore jail by co-inmates, on humanitarian grounds. It has also asked Pakistan to consider the option of transferring him to India for further treatment if it was medically feasible. Terming the current state of affairs a mismatch between Indian expectations and Pakistani delivery, Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid said the issue was too tragic and important for “us as a nation” and human beings for frivolous criticism, especially by the media and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Asked whether he would travel to Pakistan just as the Italian Minister did in the case of the nation’s marines, Mr. Khurshid, while ruling out this option considering the current relations between India and Pakistan, said the government did not need recommendations from the media. “We continue to do our best. Right now it is important that he gets the best possible medical attention. If his medical condition permits, we could fly him out and give him the best possible treatment. Mr. Khurshid is here to hold a review meeting of all bilateral issues with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. No plans to shift Anita Joshua writes from Islamabad: Hours before New Delhi formally appealed to Pakistan to transfer Sarabjit to India for treatment, Islamabad said there were no plans to shift him and that he was getting the “best possible care’’ in Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital. Dawn.com quoted an unnamed hospital source as stating that Sarabjit was “brain dead.” Members of his family — who reached Lahore on Sunday — have been allowed to meet him whenever they want. For the first time, some television channels showed grainy footage of what they claimed was Sarabjit on life-support in the hospital. Also, according to Dawn.com report, the brutal attack on Sarabjit inside Kot Lakhpat Jail was planned. He was attacked with bricks and iron rods that the inmates pulled out from under-construction sewerage lines. The clarification on the possibility of shifting Sarabjit came in the wake of television reports suggesting that he could be moved to a hospital overseas. Both the federal administration and the provincial government ruled out the possibility.

Why do U.S. senior officials visit China in succession?

On April 24, U.S. deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns began his two-day visit to China. Burns is the fourth U.S. senior official Chinese top leaders met in recent one month. Analyst said a series of visits by U.S. senior officials to China aim to find out the direction for the future development of Sino-U.S. relationships after the leadership transitions in the world's two largest economies amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Former U.S. senior officials also visit Beijing one after another
After the conclusion of China's "two sessions", the country's most important annual political convention, U.S. senior officials paid a series of visits to Beijing, during which, high-level officials of both sides held talks on important issues including economy, foreign diplomacy and military. On March 19, the new U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, also U.S. president special representative, visited China. Between April 13 and 14, John Kerry paid his first visit to Beijing as the new U.S. Secretary of State. During his visit, the two countries singed and issued the joint statement on climate change. On April 21, Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff embarked on his first visit to China after taking office. It is learned that U.S. National Security Advisor to the President Tom Donilon will visit China in May. China and the U.S. will hold the fifth round of strategic and economic dialogue in Washington D.C. in July. Besides the incumbent U.S. officials, former U.S. senior officials including former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Financial Minister Henry Paulson, also paid visit to China recently. They both met with Chinese leaders.
China, U.S. "test the waters"
On April 24, several experts interpreted U.S .officials' visits to China at the symposium on Asia-Pacific strategic change and a new type of Sino-U.S. ties. When interviewed by reporters of Beijing News, former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said during visits, China and the United States not only talked about Korean Peninsula, but also currency devaluation and H7N9 bird flu. Wan Fan, professor with the Institute of International Relations Studies under China Foreign Affairs University, thinks the primary task of the U.S. officials' visits is "pathfinding". With new leaderships at the helm in both countries, they need to better understand the policy of each other so that they can set the directions for the future. In addition, the two sides have common concerns about regional hot issues and global issues including the DPRK nuclear issue, the Diaoyu Islands related issue, the financial reform, the energy issue and the Mideast issue.

Karzai: US gives funds to national security team

Associated Press
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Monday that his national security team has been receiving payments from the U.S. government for the past 10 years. Karzai confirmed the payments when he was asked about a story published in The New York Times saying the CIA had given the Afghan National Security Council tens of millions of dollars in monthly payments delivered in suitcases, backpacks and plastic shopping bags. During a news conference in Helsinki, Finland, where he was on an official visit, Karzai said the welcome monthly payments were not a "big amount" but were a "small amount," although he did not disclose the sums. He said they were used to give assistance to the wounded and sick, to pay rent for housing and for other "operational" purposes. He said the aid has been "very useful, and we are grateful for it." The newspaper quotes Khalil Roman, who served as Mr. Karzai's deputy chief of staff from 2002 until 2005, as calling the vast CIA payments "ghost money" that "came in secret, and it left in secret." It also quotes unidentified American officials as saying that "the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington's exit strategy from Afghanistan." In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment on the report, referring questions to the CIA, which also declined comment. In 2010, Iran acknowledged that it had been sending funds to neighboring Afghanistan for years, but said the money was intended to aid reconstruction, not to buy influence in Karzai's office. The Afghan president confirmed he was receiving millions of dollars in cash from Iran and that Washington was giving him "bags of money," too, because his office lacked funds. At the time, President Barack Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, denied that the U.S. government was in "the big bags of cash business," but former U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley had said earlier that some of the American aid to Afghanistan was in cash. U.S. officials also asserted then that the money flowing from Tehran was proof that Iran was playing a double game in Afghanistan — wooing the government while helping Taliban insurgents fighting U.S. and NATO forces. Iran denied that.

Pakistan: 'Moderates being pushed away from ballot exercise'

Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP) in a joint press conference announced that they will participate in the upcoming general elections despite repeated terrorist attacks on their election campaigns. The three parties held a joint press conference in Karachi today (Monday) after a meeting on Sunday to chalk out a strategy to compete with an ongoing wave of poll-related terrorist attacks against them. PPP leader Taj Haider, ANP leader Bashir Jan and MQM leader Haider Abbas Rizvi represented their respective parties in the joint press conference. During the press conference PPP leader Taj Haider condemned terror attacks on political parties, adding that no investigations were being carried out against the terrorist groups carrying out these attacks. Haider further said that the terrorist organizations were militant wings belonging to right-wing parties and terrorist groups had confirmed that some political parties were their sponsors, adding that it was these parties that were continuing their election campaigns without any problems. Questioning why the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and caretaker government were not doing anything to control the situation, Haider also said that the caretaker Interior Minister had already said he supported the PML-N, adding that the ECP had cleared 55 terrorist for contesting the upcoming general elections. Meanwhile ANP leader Bashir Jan said that the Election Commission has failed to implement its own regulations. Jan further said that ANP will participate in the election and will not boycott them. MQM leader Haider Abbas Rizvi said secular parties were being targeted by terrorists, adding that it seems like terrorists have been given a free hand to target PPP, MQM and ANP. Rizvi also said that the establishment was supporting right wing parties, adding that they will not bow down before religious extremists. Rizvi added that PPP, MQM and ANP had sacrificed a lot and wanted to promote a moderate system in Pakistan. They said hurdles were being created for moderate and secular political forces with an aim to keep them away from the upcoming polls.

Punjab's Thief Minister Shabaz Scam : Auditor Gen of Pak reveals Rs30bn payments to 'few floor mills' in 1 yr. Shocking scam !

PPP, ANP and MQM say elections at all costs

Elections will be held on time, reiterated the representatives from the three main parties – the Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) on Monday, Express News reported. ANP leader Bashir Khan, PPP leader Taj Haider and MQM leader Haider Abbas Rizvi addressed a press conference to condemn the recent attacks on their party members and offices ahead of the general elections. “In the current situation all parties with liberal, secular and modern agenda are the target of extremists,” Rizvi said while emphasizing that Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are the most effected provinces in the recent wave of terrorism. “We will not surrender to these religious extremist and neither do we want to get in a fight,” Rizvi clarified. “But we want to tell the world that we have the right to defend ourselves and we will do so.” All three parties agreed that there is a clear difference between the political activities of the rightist parties and progressive parties. Interim government and ECP “We do not expect the interim government to finish terrorism from Pakistan, but it is their responsibility to conduct peaceful elections,” Rizvi explained while answering a question regarding the responsibility of caretaker set up. The ECP has failed to implement the rules it made,” Khan expressed reservations regarding the poll body. “It [ECP] banned wall chalking but some parties continue to do so and we see no action against them.” “Look at the scrutiny process,” the ANP leader exclaimed. “Parties which have links with banned organizations were allowed to contest elections without nay hindrances while some had to face a lot of music.” “We demand the interim government to conduct free and fair elections,” Khan further said. “Every party should have equal opportunities to get in touch with the people ahead of the elections.” “It seems that they [terrorists] have been given permission to attack whoever they please,” Rizvi expressed. “It’s apparent that neither the interim government and nor the ECP are taking any steps to curb the attacks.” “ECP, the interim government and terrorist are on one page to either postpone elections or get their choice of people in power,” Khan alleged and cemented Rizvi’s belief that the institutions have shown incompetency in the matter. Role of the west “It is apparent that there is a local and international conspiracy to divide the country with progressive parties on one side and religious extremist on the other. “Why aren’t they [west] condemning the recent attacks?” Haider questioned supporting Rizvi’s stance regarding the involvement of west in the recent attacks on political parties. “Decisions made in a hurry by international establishment lead to events like ‘nine-eleven’ and ‘seven-seven’ and we can now see them leaning towards the right,” Rizvi warned the external factors. “Media should decide on whose side are they? [our side or the rightist parties],” Haider concluded.

RMG sector in Bangladesh: Between a rock and a hard place

There is that old adage, don’t kill the golden goose. The garment sector in Bangladesh has been giving for many years now. Along with the remittances of overseas workers, the earnings by the RMG sector, Bangladesh has significant foreign exchange reserves of almost $14b. But it has come at a cost. Bangladeshi’s have received bad news on both fronts: Nov 2012: Tazreen Factory Fire kills 110, Jan 2013: Bahrain labour camp fire kills 10 Bangladeshis, Feb 2013: 19 Bangladeshi workers die in road crash in UAE, April 2013: 32 Bangladeshi workers injured in Greece demanding unpaid wages, and now the death of 300 people along with many more missing. Are these just hiccups along the way and we should not disturb the goose that gives, or are these to be taken as warning signs that the goose needs substantial makeover? One thing is for sure: impressive economic growth, averaging well over 6%, has been fuelled by the export oriented RMG sector and the remittances of expatriate workers. Consider the following observations by the Bangladesh Planning Commission: “The dynamism in manufacturing sector will benefit from greater outward orientation. Bangladesh has seen this from the highly positive experience of the Ready Made Garments (RMG) sector. . To increase the export potential as well as to diversify the export base, the Sixth Plan will seek to further reduce trade barriers within the context of the World Trade Organization (WTO) framework.” The same document goes on to comment: “Employment abroad and associated remittances have played a major development role in Bangladesh. This element of the employment strategy will be strengthened. In addition to the current strategy to export low skilled manpower, the effort would focus on the ability to export well trained skilled and semi-skilled manpower to existing as well as new destinations.” Bangladesh has made great strides: in many of the components measuring the Human Development Index, Bangladesh has pulled ahead of neighbouring SAARC countries, and many have forecast that with better governance and public policy, Bangladesh can move into the ranks of middle income countries by 2050. Poverty headcounts have fallen, from almost half the population to about a third of the population. But a third of the population means Bangladesh continues to be a country where a large number of people still live in poverty. The Planning Commission notes: “Notwithstanding this past progress, the Government recognizes that Bangladesh is still a low income country with substantial poverty, inequality and deprivation. An estimated 47 million people are living below the poverty line with a significant proportion living in households which are female headed, in remote areas, and consisting of socially excluded and other vulnerable people. Most of the labour force is engaged in informal low productivity and low income jobs.”What is clear in this planning document is what Bangladesh plans to rely on for continued economic growth. Despite gains, we still have a 47 million strong army of very poor people who will be willing to take all the risks that culminate in injury and death, both at home and abroad, to improve their lot. Our economic policies explicitly rely on continued availability of this work force to fuel our economic growth. Simply put, our current competitive advantage is not high productivity skills, but rather cheap labour, and our progress, at least in the immediate future, will depend on making this cheap labour available to the global economy: export goods made by cheap labour at home and export cheap manpower abroad. Prof. Anu Muhammad has written about value chain in the RMG sector, and according to him, “for every garment that is sold at $100 in the western market, the governments of those countries get $25, the foreign buyer makes $50 and, of the rest, a little more than $24 goes to the owners, raw material suppliers, etc, while the workers get less than one dollar.” That’s less than 1% of the total value added created. Yet that 1%, however meagre, has been of tremendous assistance to many poor households in Bangladesh. The RMG sector in Bangladesh got it started when manufacturers in countries like South Korea, hampered by export quotas and higher wages, shifted production to low wage countries like Bangladesh. And Bangladesh continues to benefit from rising labour cost in countries like China. In March 2012, McKinsey released a report stating that 86% of purchasing officers in Europe and North America expect to reduce sourcing from China, and 89% expect to increase sourcing from Bangladesh. According to the report, exports from Bangladesh are expected to double by 2015 and triple by 2020. As the sector grows, pressure will grow to increase labor wages. The RMG is a low margin business, and unless there are significant productivity improvements, Bangladesh will have to rely on cheap labour to remain competitive. So, the story of low wage is likely to continue going forward, and yet, for many of the millions of people living still in poverty, the RMG sector, even with its low wages, may be the only hope to improve their lives and livelihood. We are shocked when events like fire and building collapses kill and injure many. We point fingers, and ask why we cannot provide a safer work conditions, if not better wages. Compliance has been an ongoing problem in the RMG sector. Mckinsey reports that on corporate social responsibility (CSR), Bangladeshi exporters have a poor record. Of the 5000 or so manufacturing facilities in the country, 50-100 factories have achieved high degree of compliance. That is 1% of all manufacturing facilities. Compliance takes money, and in a low margin business, where cost competitiveness is the only leverage Bangladeshi manufacturers have, the impact of compliance on cost is a real issue. Despite repeated safety events and calls to alter course, very few seem interested in paying for the cost of safer working conditions.Some blame the government and the owners. Says Laia Blanch of War on Want, “It is dreadful that … governments continue to allow garment workers to die or suffer terrible, disabling injuries in unsafe factories making clothes for western nations’ shoppers. How many more lives must be lost or crushed before ministers and companies act to stop these scandalous human tragedies?” Others point the finger at buyers. Sam Maher Sam of Labour Behind the Label, is quoted in the Guardian: “It’s unbelievable that brands still refuse to sign a binding agreement with unions and labour groups to stop these unsafe working conditions from existing. Tragedy after tragedy shows that corporate-controlled monitoring has failed to protect workers’ lives.” The Workers Rights Commission has been campaigning for a binding legal contract between buyers and workers representatives in Bangladesh that would require Bangladeshi manufacturers to improve fire safety standards with buyers making a commitment not to buy from manufacturers who violate safety standards. The agreement would have gone into effect if five large buyers signed on. Only two did. The programme has not been implemented. Charles Kernaghen, director of International Global Labor and Human Rights is quoted in CNN stating: “These are the lowest wages in the world, and the factories with the worst health and safety conditions. Yet the big companies love the cheap wages, the long hours, because they are all about the costs.” The NY Times quotes one expert from University of California, Berkeley, that the prices paid by Western buyers “are so low that they are at the root of why these factories are cutting corners on fire safety and building safety.” Bloomberg reports that at a meeting in Dhaka in April 2011, attended by many of the largest US retailers, including Walmart, to discuss a memorandum that would require the retailers to pay for improvements, the buyers refused. Walmart representatives are quoted to have said that modifications needed to improve fire and safety standards are costly, and with 4500 such factories, the cost would be prohibitive for the buyers. So that’s the trap: the golden goose is caught between a rock and a hard place. Garment manufacturing in Bangladesh is a low value, high volume business. Low margins and the need to remain cost competitive keeps owners from making safety improvements. Prof. Ross of Clark University states that, “factory owners are in a bind. They are forced to be ruthless and brutal, and they are.” Successive governments have failed to bring about change in the manufacturer’s attitude, convinced by the argument that buyers could simply move business elsewhere if costs rise. In many ways, governments are complicit in pushing the problem aside. Following the Tazreen fire, the government’s investigators concluded that the fire was a result of sabotage, exactly the same conclusion reached by the BGMEA. Sabotage by whom and why we never heard about, but sabotage rules out negligence and absolves the owners of responsibility. Convenient! Publicly available estimates suggest that upgrading safety standards would cost about $3 billion. If spread over 5 years, the upgrades would cost about 10 cents per piece of garment exported out of Bangladesh. $600 million per year committed to prevent major disasters does not seem like a large number. But think about it, if it saves 300 lives, that’s a cost of $2 million per life of a worker whose skills have an economic value of maybe $1000 in wages per year. It is much cheaper to mourn and pay workers families $2000 each in compensation. Incentives are indeed very skewed. How much do we really care? Yes, when it happens en masse, we express our grief and shock, declare a day of mourning, keep our national flag half-mast, and observe a moment of silence. But in our country things like these are daily occurrences: two burned alive when vehicle set on fire during hartal, five killed by police shooting, three killed by having their arteries slit, seven killed by mob, two killed in crossfire, missing without trace, and the list goes on. Take each category and add up reported deaths in daily newspapers, and it won’t be long before the number 300 is reached. A number like 300 dead all at once shocks us and makes it a lot more difficult to digest than the stream of one’s and two’s that die needlessly every day. In the last 6 months we have seen 400 workers die in factory fire and building collapse. If that same figure is stretched over a year, that is about one death a day in an industry that employs over 3.5 million workers. Looked from the latter perspective and from the cost benefit angle, a hiccup and not an unmitigated disaster! A rather sad commentary on the very poor in our midst, who have lost lives and livelihood.

Bangladesh: How cheap is cheap? Collapse of a garment Factory

THAT many of the RMG producers have been cutting corners to manufacture ‘cheap’ and ‘competitive’ goods have been exposed from time to time in the last several years. It has shown through the several RMG factory disasters costing many lives. The latest man made disaster and death of nearly four hundred people in Savar, exposes the callous disregard for human lives on the part of some petty entrepreneurs strutted by party and political patronisation and motivated by unmitigated greed to make a quick buck. We note, and we hope the government as well as the RMG owners and their association the BGMEA do too, the fact that the consumers are at last starting to acknowledge that in buying so called cheap stuff they are in fact becoming a party to deaths in garment factory disasters that are taking place in Bangladesh. We too feel that the retailers of our RMG products in the USA and Europe cannot shirk their part of responsibility in the deaths due primarily to lack of appropriate working conditions and lax safety arrangements. For example, a year and a half before the Tazreen factory fire, the Wal-Mart shareholders had rejected by 50-1 vote a proposal that required the suppliers to report annually on the safety measures of their factories on the grounds that it would ultimately lead to consumers paying higher cost for the product. And some of the buyers have held their retailers squarely responsible for the deaths in Savar. It is unfortunate that the Bangladeshi RMG manufacturers have convoluted the idea of ‘competitive’ and ‘cheap’. And while the producers have been trying to be so, it is the workers that have been bearing the brunt of this in terms of poor wages and through their lives. The retailers have taken the manufacturers for a ride while the manufactures have done the same to the workers. We would hope that the RMG factory owners would understand that producing competitive goods does not mean sacrificing the interest and the safety of the workers. It is time to stop cutting corners and to come out of the hold of a captive market and demand appropriate prices for our products.

Move Sarabjit Singh to India for treatment, family demands

The Times of India
Family members of death-row Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh on Sunday crossed over to Pakistan through Attari border and demanded that he be transferred to India for treatment, even as tweets by Pakistani journalists, which were later removed, sparked rumours that he had died. Late on Sunday night, Indian officials said Sarabjit's condition remained critical. Sarabjit was admitted to Jinnah Hospital with serious head injuries on Friday after he was hit with bricks and blunt objects by two fellow inmates in the Kot Lakhpat jail. Doctors said he continued to be in deep coma . Sarabjit has been kept in a separate ICU under tight security. His family was allowed a glimpse of him through the ICU window. Pakistan on Sunday night also granted Indian diplomats consular access to Sarabjit for the second time. Sarabjit's treatment a challenge: Pakistani doctor A Pakistani doctor attending on Sarabjit Singh said, "With the level of his deep unconsciousness, Sarabjit's treatment has turned out to be a major challenge to the medical board." Sarabjit suffered a critical bone fracture in the jail after which he was taken to the Jinnah Hospital's surgical emergency on Friday evening, the doctor said. After examination by neurosurgeons and physicians on Sunday, the medical board was of the view that there was no need of surgical intervention at this stage. Sarabjit's family members-wife Sukhpreet Kaur, sister Dalbir Kaur and daughters Poonam and Swapandeep Kaur-had a glimpse of him in the ICU on Sunday afternoon. They were not allowed to enter , according to hospital officials. The family members were received in Lahore by Sarabjit's lawyer Awais Sheikh, where medical superintendent Sheikh Ijaz briefed them about his condition. Pakistan on Sunday night granted consular access to Indian diplomats to Sarabjit for the second time. Two Indian officials had been camping outside the hospital since Saturday morning for access. Pakistan officials said as per the protocol, consular access is allowed for convicts only once but as a goodwill gesture Pakistan has decided to allow access for the second time. The first access was given early Saturday morning. Pakistan gave gratis visa to family members of Sarabjit. India is seeking permission from Pakistan to allow members of the India-Pakistan Judicial Committee to see Sarabjit in the hospital. The panel, which is currently inspecting prisoners in Rawalpindi, has Justice (Rtd) A S Gill and M A Khan as Indian members. In a preliminary probe report submitted to the government, jail authorities said security lapse was the main cause of attack. Prison sources said one of the attackers told officials that he attacked because Sarabjit was a murderer of innocent Pakistanis. Dalbir told TOI , "Two months back, Sarabjit sent me a letter saying that he felt threatened from three persons, in jail," she said. Pakistani officials, however, claimed that Sarabjit had never complained to jail authorities about threats to his life. Earlier at the Attari border, Dalbir had told TOI, "We are carrying 'amrit' (holy water) from Golden Temple in Amritsar. This 'amrit' has powers which will rejuvenate my brother who is battling for life. Pray for Sarabjit so that he gains consciousness." Sukhpreet said, "My husband will be hale and hearty again. See how many people have come for us, their prayers are also with us."

UN-backed Afghan vaccination drive to reach 8 million children

During a United Nations-backed global campaign to vaccinate children this week, Afghan Government officials are aiming to administer anti-measles and anti-polio vaccines along with additional doses of Vitamin A to about eight million children below five across the country. Globally, the World Vaccination Week is marked between 24 and 30 April with the theme ‘Stop Measles Now’ this year. In Afghanistan, a national anti-polio vaccination campaign was launched on 21 April with thousands of health workers and volunteers fanning out across the country’s 34 provinces in the first three days to administer anti-polio drops to children below five, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), which supports government efforts to eradicate polio and measles. The anti-polio campaign is significantly important in Afghanistan because, as the WHO said, 160,000 to 180,000 Afghan children below five missed their routine vaccination, including for measles, in 2012. One of the priorities of WHO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Afghanistan is to eradicate polio – a challenge given that many Afghans see vaccination as a taboo, leaving the country as one of only three countries in the world, along with Pakistan and Nigeria, where polio is endemic. Afghan Minister for Public Health, Dr. Suraya Dalil, said last week that two new cases of polio have been reported in Afghanistan this year – one each in eastern Nangarhar and Kunar provinces. The number was 36 last year. Dr. Dalil said that during the three-day campaign – focused on anti-polio vaccination – aimed to vaccinate around eight million children under five, which constitute about 90 per cent of Afghan children of that age group. Besides anti-polio drops, the children are also given Vitamin A capsules, which are necessary for children’s normal health and growth. “Around 57,000 health workers and volunteers are taking part in the national drive throughout the country,” said Ms. Dalil, adding that the three-day anti-polio campaign would cost about US$3 million. According to WHO, the global Vaccination Week is focusing on measles elimination in Eastern Mediterranean Region because all the countries of the region have set 2015 as the target for measles elimination. The Week highlights the importance of protecting individuals from vaccine-preventable diseases and celebrates the achievements of immunization programmes in promoting health communities. In Afghanistan, the immunization coverage has ways to reach the goal of at least 80 per cent coverage in every district and 90 per cent nationally. “It is for more people and their communities to be protected from vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Dr. Ahmed F. Shadoul, the Representative of World Health Organization (WHO) in Afghanistan. “We all must work together to convince people that immunization saves lives of their lovely children, mobilize action to increase vaccination coverage and reinforce support for achieving national, regional and global immunization goals.” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his message on the World Malaria Day, urged the global health community, including political leaders in endemic countries, to maintain their commitment to provide universal access to malaria interventions and end needless suffering from this preventable and treatable disease. Since 2000, malaria mortality rates have fallen by more than 25 per cent globally. However, 50 of the 99 countries with ongoing transmission are now on track to meet the 2015 World Health Assembly target of reducing incidence rates by more than 75 per cent. Malaria still kills an estimated 660,000 people worldwide, mainly children under five years of age in sub-Saharan Africa. Every year, more than 200 million cases occur; most of these cases are never tested or registered. According to a WHO report published in 2011, Afghanistan is the third country in Eastern Mediterranean Region with endemic malaria. Despite 19 per cent decrease in the number of malaria cases as compared to the last year and 98 per cent decrease in the cases since 2002, still 391,365 cases of malaria were reported during last year.