Saturday, August 31, 2013


Lata Mangeshkar Solo Superhit Songs

Pashto Song: Rasha dilbara zaliman me jarawe

Karachi: A 'targeted' operation

As to what ails Karachi the diagnostic report was available all these months and years. That most of the lawlessness in the megapolis is the criminals' handiwork, who enjoy political protection being members of parties' 'militant wings', is a fact which was never in doubt. As to who are these criminals, their identities are on record with the local police and other agencies tasked with law enforcement in Karachi. No wonder the city of Karachi is now a safe haven for target killers, street raiders, extortionists, kidnappers and religious extremists. So the issue is no more who the culprits and whose protection they live under; the issue is how to treat this cancer which is eating into the peace and tranquility of twenty million residents of Karachi. The MQM that enjoys the local citizenry's overwhelming political support believes the only antidote that can work is that the city should be handed over to the army, a remedy fully endorsed by the constitution under Article-245. But its political opponents see 'some conspiracy' behind an out-of-power MQM that's tossing like a fish out of water. The harsh realities on ground in the mega city, however, transcend these contending postures - the city is in an ever-tightening grip of violence and the residents tend to lose their hope of things getting better anytime soon. So if for nothing else the MQM's call has at least succeeded in shaking the federal government out of its slumber of nonchalance over this colossal governance failure of a provincial government under the pretext that law and order is essentially and constitutionally a provincial matter. Constitution is replete with dictates that the federal government is inherently tasked to act as the defender of citizens' basic rights to life and liberty in general and to intervene for the purpose of "preventing any grave menace to the peace or tranquility or economic life of Pakistan or any part [read Karachi] thereof". If Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has finally decided to cross his wrongly conceived 'Rubican' and called for what he calls a targeted operation in Karachi let it be so. But only as the last chance - for time is no more on the side of wishful thinking that short of a drastic action it's possible to uproot and destroy the deeply-entrenched criminal gangs and mafias. Also at the moment we would desist from debating whether or not the involvement of army to check and eradicate violence and lawlessness in Karachi that has acquired the dimensions of an existential threat to our national independence is democratic. But we do know that the interior minister has set for himself a huge challenge by undertaking the responsibility to prepare ground for a 'targeted' operation in Karachi. Nisar's plan for a 'targeted' operation that is expected to be approved by the Federal Cabinet next week, envisages three major thrusts: that the chief minister Sindh will act as 'captain' of the team tasked to conduct the operation; the police and Rangers would be given free hand to go after criminals and all consensus of all the stakeholders to political power in Karachi would be clinched on the point that none of them would seek exemptions from arrest of their 'affiliates'. One would wish best of luck to this rather ambitious scheme, given that all of it more or less has been tried before and failed. Some two years back the Supreme Court had given its verdict on the Karachi situation and recommended remedial measures which were ignored contemptuously by the government, a failure that made the Chief Justice to observe during a hearing on Wednesday that had court's verdict been implemented 'different demands' - an apparent reference to the MQM call - 'would not have been made'. And two years on the situation in Karachi is even worse. Violence continues to bedevil the public life in Karachi. For a change, let there be a political miracle, in that all concerned parties and groups across the board join the interior minister on the table and agree on a joint action to restore peace and tranquillity in Karachi. But mind you, time is the essence - not a day passes without a dozen or so innocent citizens falling to the bullets of target killers.

Pakistan: 4 killed in North Waziristan drone strike

The Express Tribune News
A drone attack in Northern Waziristan killed four people on Saturday, Express News reported. The drone fired 2 missiles at a house in the Mir Ali area.
On Friday, the adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz announced that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will raise the issue of drone attacks with the US on his maiden visit to Washington. Meanwhile, Pakistan will also seek commendable support from international leaders at bilateral summits during the UN General Assembly Session in September. Earlier, US Secretary of State John Kerry hinted towards an end of the CIA-operated drone campaign in the tribal areas of Pakistan, as he said on August 1 that the signature strikes could end “very soon”. This was the first time that a senior US official has indicated that there could be a definitive end to the programme, which the CIA has in the past called an effective counter-terrorism weapon. A total of approximately 565 militants had been killed in around 400 drone strikes in Pakistan, alongside 2,324 non-combatants including 646 children and women.

Founding an open Malala school system

The best tribute to Malala’s mission would be to promote the passion and the portals for which she stood, suffered and then vowed to struggle through the rest of her new life
The Tipperary and Children International Peace awards have brought a new luster to Malala Yousafzai’s name, the girl exemplar to have defied the harrowing terrorist assault to destroy the dream, drive and the avenues for female education in Pakistan. She has in a way shamed our governments and security shoguns, which despite having lost about 50,000 of their compatriots have stuck to mere sermons and statements but avoided any effective action to neutralise even a few thousand terrorists. Even Malala’s parents were forced to seek shelter overseas, demonstrating that no safety on this soil can be guaranteed to any one marked for opposition to the obscurantist terrorist agenda. The world, at large, however, poured praise and accolades over her including an address at the United Nations and a nomination for the Nobel peace laurel. For the activists of female equality, education and empowerment Malala has become a living incarnate of the idealistic feat that Faiz Ahmed Faiz summed up as Ghoom phir ke koocha-e-qautil se ho aaye hain (We have walked through the assassins’ lanes and lairs). The resounding global applause and recognition swayed even the government of Pakistan to confer an award on her. Yet in real terms, the government flubbed miserably the quintessence of tribute to her courage and sacrifice that evidently demanded to crush the forces that thwart the dream of education for millions of our Malalas and remove the obstacles that impede their path and progress. The best tribute to Malala’s mission thus would be to promote the passion and the portals for which she stood, suffered and then vowed to struggle through the rest of her new life. Crusading for the preeminence of the ‘power of pen and the book’ is now her dream and devotion. Her very life that the western medical expertise so miraculously wrested from the mutilation wrought by her assailants has become a living testament to the power of knowledge. Her mission thus can be best attained by extending education and ensuring an equal and unrestricted access to it not only to every male and female child but also to the grown up enthusiasts who somehow missed this opportunity at their earlier age. Building an adequate string of schools and facilities for this evidently would not be possible in our country where an overtly militaristic mindset has persistently squandered and would definitely keep squandering most of our resources in the security and armament sectors. Still, in this age of innovative information technologies a virtual school support system to spread knowledge and education to all and sundry can be structured at a relatively far lesser cost and investment. The virtual, open or air school system, as some planners may contend, certainly cannot be a substitute for the actual brick, concrete or mud and straw built schools and the guidance and grooming afforded through the personal care, affection and involvement of the teachers. Nevertheless, the virtual version can be a supplementary support to the students, not been endowed with the physical infrastructure, and serve as the sole source of learning for those left out of it. The system, in some ways, of course, can be certainly made even more interesting and effective as the lessons can be designed through the collaborative insight and contribution of highly qualified and visionary teachers and experts including the child education psychologists. The modern techniques of learning through games, hobbies, recreation, routine activities, observations and experience can also be easily incorporated. Such wealth of shared wisdom and expertise cannot be evidently afforded at the actual customary school premises. Some rare additional stimuli can come in the lessons demanding equipment, laboratories, displays and the demonstrations that are generally deficient or non-existent in most of our schools. This strategy could even cut through the constraints of veil and the worries of travel odds and exposure to reach the normal schools as children can learn in their own homes relishing the love and warmth of their own kin and folk or in the company of their friends. The system can of course also be tuned to impart a proper feel and ambience of the actual classroom, sports and school environment by plugging in periodic gatherings and workshops for the learners at various appropriate and conveniently accessible sites. The curricular and co-curricular material similarly can also be provided on radio transmissions, streamed on mobile screens and rendered on audio and video discs. The militant Maulana FM in Swat vitiated the minds of the masses through his jihadi jabber making it incumbent on the forces of peace, tolerance and accommodation to use the same waves as a vehicle to groom the new generations for knowledge to nudge curiosity, creativity, skill building, tolerance and cross cultural harmony and happiness. The virtual or open education systems have already become quite well established at the university level even in countries like Pakistan, which spurred by the prescience and realisation by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, interestingly, was the second nation on earth to have pioneered the institution in May 1974. The world’s first Open University was founded in the UK in 1969, by Harold Wilson, the two-time premier and one of the most illustrious Labour leaders who heralded some really far-reaching socioeconomic reforms. Bhutto became the first world leader to emulate and implement the concept. Enrollment in new virtual instructions or the so-called distant learning now has gradually grown not only in Europe and other continents but also in the world-renowned Ivy League institutions like the Yale and Harvard. Open and virtual universities similarly, notwithstanding various snags and snafus, have been quite satisfactorily functioning in Pakistan. Their mode, mechanics and experiences thus can be also be carefully calibrated to evolve their school stage version. Scores of distant learning schools are actually now operating not only in Canada, several African and South American countries but even in India. The resources required for this system if not provided by the public exchequer can be generated from seed money from the Malala Foundation, NGOs, and some further global courtesy and cooperation. Gordon Brown, a former British Premier (2007-10) and a successor to the Harold Wilson’s mantle, for instance, has often elicited a keen interest in the advancement of education in Pakistan. The USAID that has been already sponsoring several programmes to promote education, training and research, perhaps could also be solicited for appropriate help. The programme once initiated can certainly be made to sustain mostly through advertisement revenues like our TV channels. The system, notwithstanding its mode and management must maintain the real spirit, legacy and efflorescence of the Malala mission as an ever flowing fountain of free and unrestricted access to an absorbing, unbiased and quality based education to all, transcending barriers of faith, sect, creed, caste or ethnic dispensations.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Gang Rape Epidemic in India
The subjects of sex and property have nourished the Indian film industry for years. The female body has always been an object of gaze. Barring few notable exceptions, the stories are about a man in whose world a woman is but an accessory. The hero fights the battle and the heroine nurses the wound; the hero kills the villain and his woman submits her body and soul to him. They become block-busters, those harmless pieces of entertainment. “Let us watch it. So what if it is rubbish?” If this be the motto of our people, then I dare say: we are doomed. This sexist culture is reinforced by the Hollywood movies where the modern man finally finds his refuge, his model, his own image. Hollywood’s ability to detoxify every human experience is what appeals to us. The political is made apolitical and the anti-political, the dissenting, is turned into an object of ridicule. In our haste, we ignore the painful and honest voices. Our age admires the human-machine Arnold: his brick-like body, his machismo. In India during 2011, the total number of reported rapes was 24,206. One can fairly guess that, given the harassment of women who raise their voices, the real number of rapes was significantly higher. A month ago, Digvijay Singh, a senior leader of the Congress Party made a rude remark about a woman politician, and the entire country had a good time laughing at his sexist jibe. It is not uncommon in India for women to get raped even inside police stations; the army too has to its credit a large number of cases where women were raped by its personnel and then murdered. A year and half ago, I visited Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi on the surcharged day when India was playing a cricket match against its arch rival Pakistan. JNU is the bastion of the left, with excellent records in academics and activism. The campus was in a “nationalistic” mood (that is: an anti-Pakistani, anti-enemy mood). During the match, when an Indian batsman would score a boundary, the pro-India group would hoot, and when the Indian batsman would get out, the pro-Pakistan group would shout and hoot. This soon led to an ugly brawl during which the female students were singled out and targeted: in other words subjected to double violence for (a) being members of the “pro-Pakistani” group and (b) being women. She must know how to behave. “She is the enemy’s woman”, hence…. But it is heartening that JNU is making gender studies compulsory for everyone who is enrolled in the University. A month ago, a young woman at JNU was shot with a pistol in a classroom. She thankfully survived, but the young man who shot her died after he consumed pesticide. The media is in a state of mourning today, but yesterday, Amitabh Bachan, an Indian actor of distinction was asked by a journalist: “Why don’t you play a lead role, a role of a protagonist?” Would this journalist ever bother to ask this same question to a woman actor of the same age? No, because she would be an “old woman.” Female writers of hallmark and distinction are asked “Why haven’t you married?” Such nonsense is uttered, and people read it with delight. Sexism as an industry survives in India with much fanfare and approval. Sexism is part of the mass entertainment on which this country survives. Under the current circumstances, with another Indian gang rape being publicized world wide, the media has already started “Live self-defense training programs” that raise some ugly and profound questions about disciplining the body. If the media is so genuinely concerned, it must immediately start live or recorded classes on women’s studies. But such a thing will never happen. It is at best a quixotic dream. The media’s recently found love for fascism is sufficient proof of its concern toward the plight of working-class women. The “country” means: a tiny elite of the super-rich. Aided by the US and European bourgeoisie, a new aesthetic of culture is being circulated. Women are its first victims. Imperialism never respects. It is the sadistic pleasure of destruction that it thrives on. Its connecting motor is hatred of the other: blind and brute hatred. Rape in India is becoming an act of collective spectacle. After each rape, the politicians from the right use it as an occasion to teach women which values are Indian and which ones are not. According to Raj Thakrey, the recent incident would not have happened if the inept and corrupt Chief Minister and his Deputy had not been in office. In other words: “Get me elected, and I will ensure that such incidents do not happen.” For many Muslim fanatics, a rape becomes an occasion to “keep our women within bounds.” The youth too respond: they walk with candles under the glare of media cameras, upload their photos on FaceBook and then compete for “likes.” They gleefully participate, with hearts beating like water pumps, in the great debates organized by serious-looking journalists. And the media sincerely cries over it, weeps, confesses its helplessness. On other occasions it takes up the issue of a trial and condemns the rapists after “shifting through evidence with the seriousness of a Learned Judge.” Women are gang raped by the army and police in “disturbed” areas. But these incidents are never even discussed by our elite English-speaking journalists. They are mostly busy discussing castration and the death penalty. Given the fact that the vast majority have already succumbed to the lure of capital and its culture, it seems that those of us who live on the fringe are being asked to get used to the rapes and then to the banal televised outbursts. - See more at:

UK's no vote on Syria harms ties to US

The UK parliament's decision not to support military action in Syria has thrown Prime Minister Cameron's policy in the region into disarray. The defeated motion was poorly managed and further sours relations with the US. David Cameron certainly did not expect 30 members of parliament (MPs) from his own party, the Conservatives, and nine MPs from its coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, to help defeat his motion for military intervention in Syria - the first time in recent history that the House of Commons has blocked the government from launching military action. It was a huge blow to the UK prime minister, but given the shaky coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the lack of support from the ultra-conservative UK Independence Party (UKIP), and with public opinion largely against an intervention in Syria, it wasn't altogether surprising. "It was, frankly, unbelievably poor parliamentary management on the part of the coalition government, to have gone into this vote without having it absolutely nailed down," Richard Whitman, Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent, told DW. Just why Cameron pressed for the motion to be passed through parliament so quickly, Whitman says, and before the UN inspectors had reported back on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, remained a mystery and MPs from his own party, the Conservatives, agree."The West made great play of getting weapons inspectors into Syria. At the very least, we should give them time to report back," John Baron, one of the Conservative MPs who voted against the motion, told DW. While France was quick to step into the breach and assure the US that it is "ready" for intervention in Syria after Thursday's UK 'no' vote, British Prime Minister David Cameron is scrambling to save face by insisting the UK was still seeking a "robust response" in Syria and was still "deeply engaged" on the world stage. Iraq's 'long shadow' But Cameron seems to have failed to gauge the shift in attitude towards military missions among lawmakers in Britain. "I certainly think Iraq has cast a long shadow. The threshold for military action has certainly been raised quite a bit. And I think that No. 10 [the government] miscalculated the extent to which that threshold has been raised," Whitman said. "The tragedy is it's going to complicate British foreign and security policy in the short term," he said. "Because what is Britain's position on Syria now?"According to Whitman, at one point, it was all about lending support to the Syrian rebels, now the UK seems to focus purely on punitive action against Assad - the latter made more difficult by the fact that Assad's air defence systems are much more advanced and have a much wider reach than, say, Libya's. And that's what Baron and other MPs as well as military officials are concerned about - prolonged military engagements with no clear objective or strategy beyond mere punitive action, particularly if there is no legitimization in the form of a UN mandate. "We cannot keep riding roughshod over the UN," Baron told DW. "It lessens our authority when, perhaps in future, we may have to condemn similar actions by countries less friendly to the West." Special relationship Britain's traditional "special relationship" with the US is also likely to be damaged by the negative vote, but Whitman acknowledged US-UK ties have been rough around the edges for some time."The relationship between the US and the UK was undergoing a recalibration anyway, ever since Iraq - the circumstances of Britain withdrawing from Iraq, the US thought it was premature," Whitman told DW. "So, it [the Syria vote] wasn't a watershed." Rather, it's several issues accumulating to sour relations in the long term. Britain's involvement in Afghanistan has also been seen as problematic in the US, Whitman pointed out, and reducing British defence expenditure has not helped either. "But also the strange position the UK finds itself in the EU now, with ambiguity to what its future relationship there may be, all that has accumulatively complicated the UK's relationship with the US." What next for the EU? And indeed, the handling of the Syrian issue could prove a pivotal moment in European foreign policy, as the US and France will likely try to recruit new allies, such as Poland, Whitman said. "It will be interesting to see what kind of political coalition France will be able to pull together within the EU and where the UK stands within that coalition." Another rebel Conservative MP, Crispin Blunt, who also voted against the government's Syria motion, thinks that UK foreign policy needs a major rethink. "It is possible that last night finally saw the United Kingdom moving to a foreign and defence policy which is much more appropriate to a country of our size," he said in a statement to DW.

Afghanistan: Ending violence with violence
Once upon a time, mosques were considered to be places of solace, tranquility, and safety. It was when religion was neither a business nor was it used as an element of facade. But simplicity and dedication gained strength. It was when politics had never infiltrated the mosque. Now no place is safe—mosques, schools, markets, shrines, military barracks and playgrounds. The questions remain: why such sacred places are no longer safe and snug? And why our blood is spilled everywhere and everyday. It’s all because we face the scourge of militancy. Militants have become real life vampires whose sanguinary nature knows no bounds. This nation has suffered irreparable losses in men and material because of militants. These losses are becoming intolerable. But there is none who could place a full stop to their deadly activities. They have become the embodiments of terror while the general public is treated as scapegoats. Living up to their modus operandi and targeting once again a mosque, the militants killed a district chief in northern Kunduz province on Friday morning. 19 others were also killed in the suicide attack. The dead included the Dasht-e-Archi district’s administrative head Sheikh Sadruddin, his bodyguards, a public representative’s brother and some other civilians who had come to offer condolences to the family of a tribal elder who died a day earlier. The attack left 30 others injured. According to the Deputy Police Chief for Kunduz, the suicide bomb blew up at about 3:30am when a number of people were sitting in the condolence ceremony. The militants have become that much cunning, untrustworthy and treacherous that they can use any trick and any ploy to mow down government officials, public representatives, and tribal elders. The fury is elicited even more as these butchers don’t spare public places and education centers too. They don’t spare graveyards as well. They don’t stop spilling the blood of Afghans. They claim they have been fighting against foreigners but it is the Afghan nation that has borne the agonizing pain of fundamentalists’ repulsive actions. And it is the civilian population that has become the victim of a war orchestrated to annihilate terrorism. There is hardly a day where they don’t spill the blood of Afghans. They claim they have been fighting to bring peace and stability in the country and to push the foreign forces out but war itself is anti-peace. They have been at war over the past dozen years, claiming to be bearers of peace. Isn’t it absurd to say something and do something else? It is very contradictory. They claim they are fighting in the name of Islam while their very war is against the peace teachings of this great religion. Islam never allows targeting civilians or those who are not in the battlefield. It also doesn’t permit to target women, children and elderly and also trees and animals. What the Taliban have been doing is totally against Islam. They kill anyone - combatants and non combatants - irrespective of their gender, age and profession. They have become such a ruthless breed that none is safe in this country from their illogical ire and their insanity. They hate everything that belongs to Afghanistan. Even though reconciliation and diplomacy are effective tools, but looking into their mounting deadly attacks violence should be met with violence. The government should show its force to the militants as until now they have interpreted the peace appeals of the government as its weakness.

Afghanistan women’s football team defeats Kyrgyzstan
Afghanistan national women’s football team defeated the national women’s football team of Kyrgyzstan during a regional match, organized ahead of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Gold Cup.
The friendly matches will be played between Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, as part of the preparations for the upcoming SAFF Gold Cup. The Afghan women’s football team is expected to play it’s second friendly match against Tajikistan on Monday, the Football coach of Afghanistan, Yousuf Kargar said on Sunday. Afghanistan defeated Kyrgyzstan by 1-0 during it’s first friendly match in Kyrgyzstan, after Sajia Sahar hit the first and only goal of the match, leading Afghanistan to 1-0 victory. The Afghanistan women’s football team will participate in the upcoming South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Gold Cup, which is scheduled to be organized in Nepal on 31 August, and will continue until 11 September. The friendly matches between the four nations will continue for a week, until the SAFF Gold Cup matches are started. The Afghan team has been playing internationally since 2008 and has mostly competed against teams in the region, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Last year, the Afghan women’s national team, with Sahar as captain, took third place in the South Asian Football Federation tournament. During the competition, they beat their arch-rivals Pakistan 4 to 1.

Billy Joel - We Didn't Start The Fire

After British Vote, Unusual Isolation for U.S. on Syria

With a few exceptions in the past half-century, there has been a simple rule of thumb when it comes to international conflict: America does not use force without Britain at its side. So when Prime Minister David Cameron was unable to muster the votes in Parliament for support for a strike in Syria — even one limited to stopping the future use of chemical weapons — shock could be heard in the voices of senior White House officials who never saw the British rejection coming. “Bungled by Cameron,” said one. “Embarrassing,” said another. “For Cameron, and for us.” Now Mr. Obama is left to cope with miscalculations on both sides of the Atlantic. If he goes ahead with the strike — which seems all but inevitable, based on the statements of senior administration officials who say the president is determined to restore “international norms” against the use of chemical weapons — he will look more isolated than any president in recent memory entering a conflict. True, Britain stayed out of Vietnam — it was dealing with issues in the Malay Peninsula and Indonesia at the time — and there was no need for Britain in small actions in Panama and Grenada. Ronald Reagan angered his close partner Margaret Thatcher by providing minimal assistance in the Falklands War. But the Middle East, site of Britain’s former empire, is a different matter — territory in which Britain and the United States have long history and deep interests. For that reason, it was symbolically important that Britain was side by side with the United States in both Iraq wars in the past two decades, not only marching to Baghdad in 2003 but holding key parts of the country. It was a key player in the Balkans, a NATO operation. And so while its decision to sit this one out, over Mr. Cameron’s objections, may have more to do with the specter of Iraq among the British public, it is what one former adviser to Mr. Obama, who declined to be quoted by name, “the kind of setback that reeks of misjudgment and mismanagement.” Other former players in the Obama team, at least when speaking on the record, were only slightly more forgiving. “I think Obama is fighting a lot of war weariness and war wariness in both Britain and the U.S.,” said Christopher R. Hill, Mr. Obama’s first ambassador to Iraq and a longtime diplomat before becoming dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. “But you could almost see it coming. When you don’t have an overall diplomatic strategy, it’s hard to marshal a coalition. It’s better to have diplomacy backed by force, than force without a diplomatic strategy.” Instead, Mr. Obama has talked about restoring “international norms” against the use of chemical weapons, an argument he might reasonably believe would resonate with the British public, given the horrific experience British soldiers endured as they faced gas attacks during World War I. He may have also relied on Britain’s deep involvement in the Libyan intervention two years ago. But in this case, Mr. Obama has done comparatively little to explain his longer-term strategy for changing the course of events in Syria without getting sucked into a war. In fact, he has argued the opposite — that a brief strike will do the trick of teaching the Syrians a lesson. “It doesn’t seem credible,” said Eliot Cohen, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and the author of “Supreme Command,” a study of presidents and their relationships with the military. “The argument has been that you can do a strike, call it a day, and say ‘We taught them a lesson.'” If so, said Mr. Cohen, who served as a counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the State Department, “I fear it will just be a symbolic use of power.” The British Parliament, however, fears it will be something else: the beginning of another conflict in which the West will inevitably get sucked in.

Demos held across world over US-led military strike on Syria

People around the world have held demonstrations to express opposition to a Western military intervention in Syria. In Jordan's capital, Amman, protesters expressed support for the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and chanted anti-US slogans on Friday. “We are here today in protest against the prospective strike on Syria. The Arab people oppose any military strike by the United States and its NATO allies against Syria,” said a protester during the rally.In Turkey, people gathered outside the US consulate in the southern city of Adana to denounce the possible military action on the Arab country. In the Turkish city of Istanbul, people held similar demonstrations and chanted slogans against the United States. Anti-war demonstrations were held in Venezuela and Greece as well. On Thursday, Londoners took to the streets to say no to a strike on Syria while in the US, anti-war rallies were held in a number of cities including Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. On August 21, the militants operating inside Syria and the foreign-backed Syrian opposition claimed that hundreds had been killed in a government chemical attack on militant strongholds in the Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar. A number of Western and Arab countries have also accused Damascus of carrying out the attack. However, the Syrian government has denied their allegations as baseless. Since August 27, speculations have become stronger about the possibility of a military attack on Syria. The UK parliament on Thursday voted against a motion by British Prime Minister David Cameron to authorize military action against Syria. Washington says it is willing to carry out an attack against Syria without the approval of the UN or its allies. Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since 2011. According to the United Nations, more than 100,000 people have been killed and millions displaced due to the violence.

US ready to decide on military action in Syria 'on our own' - White House

President Obama could well consider a military strike in Syria despite the British Parliament rejecting a motion authorizing the UK’s involvement in the conflict. White House officials told reporters Thursday that the statement from United States’ closest ally, reluctance from the United Nations Security Council, and widespread uncertainty in the US Congress would not be enough to sway Obama from a limited missile strike on Syrian targets. Obama, who has been criticized for not consulting with Congress over Syria, met with lawmakers and other top leaders in a White House conference call Thursday. “We have seen the result of the Parliament vote in the UK tonight. The US will continue to consult with the UK government - one of our closest allies and friends. As we've said, President Obama's decision-making will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States,” said a White House statement following the meeting. “He believes that there are core interests at stake for the United States and that countries who violate international norms regarding chemical weapons need to be held accountable.” A White House statement released after the 90-minute teleconference said the call included, among others, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as well as relevant committee chairmen and ranking members. "The views of Congress are important to the President's decision-making process, and we will continue to engage with Members as the President reaches a decision on the appropriate US response to the Syrian government's violation of international norms against the use of chemical weapons," the White House statement read. Hegel also said on a recent trip to the Philippines that "it is the goal of President (Barack) Obama and our government ... whatever decision is taken, that it be an international collaboration and effort," adding that the US would continue to consult with Britain on the matter. "Our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together. And I think you're seeing a number of countries publicly state their position on the use of chemical weapons." When asked whether it was in Assad's power to do anything to prevent the threat of military action against his country, Hagel replied that he did not wish to "speculate on hypothetical situations." US Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that administration officials failed to provide any new evidence but only revealed the government has allegedly intercepted "some discussions and some indications from a high-level [Syrian] official" regarding use of chemical weapons. "The main thing was that they have no doubt that Assad's forces used chemical weapons," Engel said. The administration also plans to release a declassified intelligence report on the recent chemical weapons attacks in Syria Friday, according to Major Garrett of CBS News. The White House will reportedly release the legal justification for military action if Obama orders it, as well. “When the president reaches a determination about the appropriate response…and a legal justification is required to substantiate or to back up that decision, we’ll produce one on our own,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in the hours before the British vote. Thursday’s intelligence presentation did not implicate Assad in the chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus, White House aides told the New York Times, but administration officials believe they have “enough evidence to carry out a limited strike that would deter the Syrian government from using these weapons again.” Assad and the Syrian government have blamed the chemical attack, documented in gruesome footage throughout the Internet, on opposition forces. The White House has admitted that the US has “no smoking gun” to prove Assad was behind the attack, leaving enough doubt for the British House of Commons to reject military action. While UK MPs debated possible a possible missile strike US Congress was in the midst of a summer recess, although Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said a vote would not be necessary. “There have been consultations. There will be more consultations,” she told Time magazine. “This is not to send troops over, as I understand it…obviously, it would be good to wait, but if time is of the essence that’s the decision the administration has to make. I think there is lots of ways of doing consultations which is adequate.”

U.N. inspectors start leaving Syria; Obama meets with security team

Pakistan: Article 245 being misinterpreted: Raza Rabbani
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Raza Rabbani Thursday said those demanding to call out army in Karachi are not presenting a full picture and Article 245 of the Constitution is being misinterpreted. “If the army does come to Karachi, it will render the High Court unable to exercise its powers,” Senator Rabbani said while speaking from the floor of the Senate. Speaking on the same issue, Senator Maula Bux Chandio warned that an (army) operation will leave everyone screaming at the end of the day. “I am against an operation in Karachi. I am saying this with my eyes set on Col. Mashadi that an operation will leave both you and us screaming,” Chandio said.

Pakistani singer: Faiza Mujahid - Meri Zindagi

Nayyara Noor-tera saya jahan bhi ho sajna

Blasphemy in Pakistan: Why is Asia Bibi still in jail?
Four years ago, Asia Bibi was asked to fetch water while working in the fields. Some of her Muslim fellow workers refused to drink it because they considered it to be “unclean” since it was collected by a Christian. A dispute ensued and her co-workers complained that she blasphemed against the Prophet Muhammad. Then she was arrested, sentenced to death by hanging, and has been languishing in a jail ever since. Her husband and five children live under death threats and have been forced into hiding. The case has prompted widespread international condemnation, including from heads of state and the Pope.
Pakistan has the strictest anti-blasphemy laws. Several sections of Pakistan’s Criminal Code forbid damaging or defiling a place of worship, outraging religious feelings, defiling the Quran or defaming the prophet Muhammad. The wording of the laws is vague and can be subject to abuse, either by the authorities or by any Pakistani who can accuse a fellow citizen of blasphemy with a personal complaint to the prosecutor. Punishment can be life imprisonment of or even death. Those accused of blasphemy are frequently threatened or attacked, even before any investigation has been carried out. People take to the streets and violence waged by pro-blasphemy groups ensues.
Asia Bibi’s case is such a political hot potato in Pakistan that it appears to have paralyzed the authorities. In Pakistan, some of those who publicly called for Asia’s release were murdered. For example, the Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was assassinated by his very own bodyguard because he defended Asia Bibi and vocally opposed Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Pakistan’s Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of Pakistan’s cabinet, was also assassinated for speaking out. Each time that a Christian villager is accused of blasphemy, heaps of Christian neighbors flee the area out of fear that they are next in line to be harassed or accused of the same “crime.” While Asia Bibi’s case has been widely featured in media reports around the world, scores of victims accused of blasphemy vanish into the shadows without the public hearing of them. Despite the international and domestic commotion, Asia Bibi is still in jail. How can that be? Why hasn’t the Pakistani government released her? In 2010, President Asif Ali Zardari dropped plans to issue a presidential pardon after hardline pro-blasphemy groups staged massive demonstrations against the measure. Hitting a sensitive nerve, the case has shed light on how the Pakistani government has been taken hostage by militant extremists. Pakistani judges are under pressure from mobs waiting outside their courtrooms, ready to spark riots. Lawyers fear assuming the defense of the accused. And rather than doing what’s right, it’s easier for the Pakistani authorities to turn a blind eye. Releasing Asia Bibi and amending article 295 of the Pakistani penal code, its inflammatory anti-blasphemy law that places Pakistani society at the mercy of religious extremists, would help Pakistan demonstrate that it will not bow down to those who threaten the rule of law through violence and intimidation.

Who is Veena Malik’s billionaire boyfriend? Find out!
Who is Pakistani actor Veena Malik dating these days? No, she’s not gone back to her Supermodel co-star Ashmit Patel. Neither is she with any cricketer. We spotted her with businessman Shaikh Umar Farukh Zahoor, who is her current boyfriend.
Shaikh who?
He is Norway based, and is apparently a billionaire with interests in real estate, gold and mining. Which means he is pretty much like an Arab Sheikh, isn’t he? Moneywise, at least. The two are really in lurrve and all, even praying for each other, we heard. While Veena visited the Ajmer Sharif dargah in India, her boyfriend prayed at Mecca and Madina. Looks like they are crazy about each other!
Will Veena and Shaikh get married?
We’re happy that the Silk Sakkath Hot Maga actor has finally found true love. But will her long distance relationship last? Maybe, or maybe it’s time to think about marriage! But then, what will happen to Veena’s Bollywood career? Keep guessing!

Judge overturns jail term for Pakistan doctor who helped find Osama bin Laden

A doctor who was jailed for 33 years for helping the CIA find Osama bin Laden had his prison sentence overturned by a local judge Thursday. Shakeel Afridi was arrested for treason last year over his role in a CIA-backed fake polio vaccination campaign which he used to collect DNA samples from bin Laden and his family in order to prove the al Qaeda leader's whereabouts to U.S. authorities. Afridi was later charged and sentenced for alleged links to the banned militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam. The doctor filed an appeal, which was heard by judicial official Sahibzada Mohammad Anees in Peshawar, Thursday. Anees declared Afridi's sentence was incorrectly imposed because the officer acting as a magistrate in the original trial did not have the authority to hand down a 33-year prison sentence. Anees referred the case for re-examination. Special public prosecutor Iqbal Durrani read out the verdict to journalists outside the courthouse. Durrani said he opposed the appeal decision, claiming Afridi had set up a hospital in the Bara subdivision of the Khyber tribal region providing healthcare to Lashkar-e-Islam militants. "He was also funding the banned militant organisation against the state," Durrani said. Afridi's lawyer, Samiullah Afridi, denied these charges, asking how his client could help the same organization which held him hostage until he paid a large ransom, requiring him to sell his house. The lawyer also said his client had been denied legal representation in the original trial. Afridi's sentence last year angered the United States, which withheld $33 million in aid for Pakistan in retaliation. Afridi remains in custody, Reuters reported.

South Korea shatter Pakistan's Hockey World Cup dreams

The Express Tribune
Pakistan lost to South Korea 2-1 in the Asia Cup Semi-final on Friday, Express News reported. Pakistan managed to score just one goal from four penalty corners, evicting the team from the Asia Cup race. Team green cannot qualify for the World Cup following its defeat in the Asia Cup semi-final. Pakistan has played six World Cups so far.

Pakistan: Torture: the police’s language

The police in Pakistan does everything except what it is meant to do: enforce the rule of law and prevent crime. In fact, having excelled as spoilers of the citizen’s peace, the force is used to carry out illegal jobs of the politicians and those who matter in the power circles. In a study carried out by the Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD) in three districts of Punjab, Faisalabad, Multan and Rahimyar Khan, a not unusual but persistent picture of the police culture has emerged. Bribes, torture, extra-judicial killings, manhandling at the time of arrest, resistance to lodge a First Information Report (FIR), misbehaviour with women, altering investigation processes without informing the complainant are excessively rampant. Combined, this is what makes up the popular misnomer: ‘Thana culture’, something the Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif had vowed to dispense with. However, the rise of police encounters in recent years in Punjab certainly builds the case for a broken promise. The underlying theme of the report by DCHD is the third degree torture applied by the police that even makes innocent people confess to crimes they had never committed. Suspects are tortured to either protect the actual criminal or to get away with avoiding arduous investigative processes by cutting them short at the initial stage. People usually avoid going to the police, fearing that it will make things worse for them. Theoretically, in the case of a crime, the police is considered the first step towards the ends of justice. The prevalence of murders for personal revenge, acid-throwing incidents, abusive traditional punishments by panchayats (traditional courts), and the recent phenomenon of setting up of Taliban courts in Karachi are the results of a parallel justice system operating in society. The criminals have become fearless, making their own rules and dividing turf conveniently among different groups in, for example, Karachi, where they are busy killing people for extortion money and other reasons. According to one report presented in the Supreme Court, nearly 400 police officers are running crime rings in Karachi. The question arises that if the police is not doing what it is supposed to do, what then is it doing? Used for personal and political purposes by the higher ups, no attention is paid to its capacity building and neither is there any effective system within the police to convict officers complicit in crime or involved in abusing the law. This is where the rub lies. The only way to remove this anomaly is to ensure mechanisms to hold the police accountable for its misdeeds.

President Zardari: Demands for Karachi’s handover to army unjustified

President Asif Ali Zardari said in unequivocal terms on Thursday that there was no justification for calling the army out in Karachi in the presence of elected governments at the Centre and in the provinces. The president expressed these views during a meeting with Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah at the Bilawal House here. The law and order situation in Karachi in particular and in Sindh in general came under discussion. Zardari said the Sindh government should make an example of criminals and no slackness would be tolerated in protection of life and property of the masses.Sources said the president grilled the chief minister over the Karachi situation and the failure to provide timely relief to flood victims in the interior Sindh. Shah briefed the president on the steps taken to improve the law and order situation in Karachi and provision of relief to flood victims; however, the president said it was not enough. Zardari asked the chief minister to give a free hand to the police and other law enforcers to eliminate the criminals from all parts of Karachi without succumbing to political affiliations. The president also directed practical steps for provision of relief to flood victims.

President Zardari to be in politics after vacating presidency

President Asif Ali Zardari will do politics and work for his Pakistan Peoples Party after vacating the presidency on Sept 8, Khursheed Ahmed Shah, the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly and a senior PPP figure, told reporters on Thursday. Answering questions at a reception for him by the Parliamentary Reporters Association about the future role of Mr Zardari after completing his five-year term as president, Mr Shah said: “He is our leader. He will remain in the country and do politics.” Pointing out that Mr Zardari had suffered more than 11 years in prison, Mr Shah said there was no question of his going into exile. Mr Zardari will become the first democratically elected president in the country to complete his five-year term, which runs out on Sept 8. He will be succeeded by Mamnoon Hussain of Pakistan Muslim League-N who was elected to the office by a parliamentary electoral college on July 30.

China Over Syria : Action won’t help

China is urging restraint amid growing tensions over Syria, saying any military intervention in the crisis would only worsen turmoil in the Middle East. Foreign Minister Wang Yi said yesterday military action would not help, and repeated China opposed anyone using chemical weapons. “A political resolution has, from the very beginning, been the only way out for the Syrian issue.” There should be no rush to prejudge findings of a UN team investigating chemical weapons claims, he said. “China calls on all sides to exercise restraint and remain calm,” Wang said. Chinese petroleum enterprises have left Syria as a result of local turmoil, the Ministry of Commerce said. Zhong Manying, director of the ministry’s department of Western Asian and African affairs, said Chinese companies and citizens had been advised to leave.

What is behind Obama's actions in Syria?

Just last weekend, the United States took a cautious stance on the issue of the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, but this week the Obama administration appears to be gearing itself up to take military action against embattled Syria. This shift is surprising, but it also reflects the changes to Obama's strategy in Syria. For some time now, the Middle East has been in a state of chaos. Conflict in Egypt is escalating, and the United States has been embarrassed by its financial and material support for the military forces that have overthrown an elected government; the planned peace talks between Israel and Palestine have been called off after Israeli security forces shot dead three Palestinians during clashes in the West Bank; there are daily bombings in Iraq and terrorism attacks has become commonplace. Obama's Middle East policy has hardly been a resounding success. Furthermore, the Unites States was embarrassed by Russia only this month, after the latter granted American fugitive Edward Snowden a years' asylum. For years, the two have been competing on the Syria. With old and recent scores to settle, Obama will be looking at options to change his course of action. Meanwhile, eager to push for a military intervention in Syria, France too is brandishing the great banner of morality. A combination of such factors can only make U.S. intervention more likely. But one thing is sure. Washington will hesitate to repeat past mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan. Analysts therefore conclude that the most likely option is limited air strikes in Syria. According to the U.S. media, the military strikes under consideration, involving sea-launched cruise missiles or possibly long-range bombers, will be directed at specific targets. The U.S. will be hoping to kill two birds with one stone: to deter and degrade the military capacity of the Syrian government, while minimizing civilian casualties. However, the United States still faces an unavoidable question: In the absence of a UN mandate, or any clear proof of guilt, what gives America the right to attack a sovereign state? Nor can a growing crescendo of anti-war voices simply be ignored. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an opportunity to find a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis. Iran, Lebanon and Jordan have said no to military intervention in different forms. Even among the U.S. allies, there is discord. "Regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria, we ask, along with 36 other States, for a report of UN experts from the Secretary General of the United Nations," Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said in a statement on Wednesday. Last night, in a move that finally recognized huge public opposition to military intervention in Syria, the British Parliament voted against its own government's proposal supporting the principle. Prime Minister David Cameron has been forced to acknowledge in public that the UK will not now take part in any such action. This represents a devastating blow to western military hawks . Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that foreign intervention will not lead to peace, but as has been proved by the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, it will achieve nothing other than to undermine regional stability. The current situation in Syria is at a tipping point. The choice lies between military intervention or peaceful resolution. President Obama must weigh his options carefully.

Syria crisis: Commentators react to Cameron defeat

Prime Minister David Cameron's Commons defeat over military intervention in Syria has prompted a wave of debate online. What does it mean for the UK, Mr Cameron's leadership and the West's role in Syria? Kevin Maguire, writing in the Mirror, says it was "humbling and catastrophic" for Mr Cameron but "what a wonderful night for democracy, international law, the British people and Ed Miliband". Mr Cameron, he says, was unable to explain convincingly how Britain entering the war would benefit Syrians or Britain, and suggests the prime minister was "playing a bigger, more dangerous game". "The suspicion is that triggering regime change lurks behind Cameron's yearning to intervene," he says.
'Bursting to intervene'
In the Daily Mail, Max Hastings also questions Mr Cameron's motives. "Cameron has been bursting to intervene in Syria for many months," he writes. "He may well believe it is the right thing to do, but does he also hope such an action will enable him to show off his leadership on a great international issue?" Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph gives some thought to where the Mr Cameron of old has gone. "Long before the debate, a young Tory pointed out that the problem with intervention in the past had been the rush. The West, he said, has 'two crucial qualities which should always condition foreign policy-making: humility and patience'. That young Tory was David Cameron, seven years ago," he writes. "Even in February 2011 he said he was 'not a naive neo-con who thinks you can drop democracy out of an aeroplane at 40,000 feet'. Yet since then, he came to place great faith in the 'bombs and missiles' that he used to disparage. And he failed to realise how little support he had." The Guardian calls the prime minister's defeat "an almost unprecedented failure". "The prospective missile attack on Syria is not a foreign policy moment on a par with the Suez war in 1956, the Norway debate of 1940 or Chanak in 1922, all of which led to the fall of 20th Century prime ministers," it says, in an editorial. "But it was a massive reverse nevertheless. It is a reminder that things are different in hung parliaments and that Mr Cameron's control of his party has been seriously weakened." Andy Boddington, writing in the Lib Dem Voice blog, wonders, if this is the moment when "we stop believing we are a world power". "At long last we, or at least our parliament, believe that we cannot bomb our way to peace. This could be the point where we believe our best interests, and those of the world, lie in using our financial and political resources to promote a world that works without war."
'None of our business'
But former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown fears the Commons defeat can only do damage to the UK. "We are a hugely diminished country thi [sic] am. MPs cheers last night. Assad, Putin this morning. Farage too as we plunge towards isolationism," he writes on Twitter, sparking a big online debate. He later adds: "In 50 years trying to serve my country I have never felt so depressed [or] ashamed. Britain's answer to the Syrian horrors? none of our business!" For the Independent, the result of the vote is a victory for the institution of Parliament itself. "Parliament, so often bemoaned as a whipped and weak talking shop, proved that, when faced with the gravest of decisions, it can still call the executive to heel," it says, in an editorial. Conservative MP Douglas Carswell who admits to "reluctantly" voting with the government at the last minute, agrees. Writing in his Telegraph blog, he says: "For decades, our country has been run by a tiny, self-regarding mandarinate in Whitehall. Not for much longer. Parliament is now claiming powers that, thanks to a historic quirk, have given Downing Street the powers of a monarch. "If the Commons insists it has the final say over going to war, it won't be much longer before Parliament wants confirmation hearings for senior mandarins and budget hearings. "Instead of a presidential system, perhaps our prime minister might once again be first among equals. Of the cabinet, and commanding a majority in the Commons. But not in control of it." 'Damaging blow' After the vote, Mr Cameron said he would respect the wishes of the majority and rule out joining US-led strikes. So where does that leave President Barack Obama and the UK's relations with the US? The Independent's Washington correspondent David Usborne suggests it may prove to be a "damaging blow to the so-called special relationship that Britain in particular is always so anxious to emphasise and nurture". He says Mr Obama now appears "more isolated in the world", and possibly facing "emboldened" congressional critics. He adds: "The first indications from within the White House, however, were that Britain breaking away would not deter him from moving forward, however, and nor would the absence of any resolution at the United Nations." Outspoken TV chatshow host Piers Morgan, a Briton living in America, says the Commons defeat is unlikely to worry his adopted country. "I think UK commentators are rather overdoing the 'crushing blow to special relationship' line, America will do what it wants, as always," he tweets.

Britain says no to Syria intervention as U.S. considers actions

Any possibility of British involvement in a military campaign in Syria has been effectively ruled out after British lawmakers voted down the prospect in parliament, costing the US the nation’s closest ally in a potential strike. By a 285 to 272 margin British MPs rejected the government’s motion to support in principle military action against Syria. A second vote was due to be held on committing to action following the report by United Nations weapons inspectors, who are currently investigating claims that President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on civilians. British MPs also voted down an opposition Labour amendment calling for more information about the deployment of chemical weapons in Syria. The Labour amendment was defeated Thursday by 332 votes to 220. “A number of Tories in the no lobby with Labour,” wrote Labour MP Jon Trickett. MPs on both sides of the aisle expressed doubt over British involvement in Syria during a six hour debate in the House of Commons. Cameron called back lawmakers from their summer vacation to determine whether Britain would join US-led military action in Syria, if the US decides to do so in the coming days. The vote could be a blow to Cameron’s authority after he has advocated UK military action in the event US forces deploy missiles in the Middle East. British Prime Minister David Cameron asserted that such action would put a halt to human rights atrocities in Syria, while Labour party MPs said they required more evidence of Assad’s guilt to intervene in the Middle Eastern nation’s two-year civil war. Cameron, while advocating limited attacks against the Assad government, admitted he was not "100 percent certain” that Assad was behind a recent chemical attack, but that it was “highly likely”. After the defeat in the parliament, Cameron admitted it was clear that Britons did not want action and said he “will act accordingly.” One MP shouted “resign” as Cameron pledged he would not order an attack.Phillip Hammond, the UK Defense Secretary, said the US “will be disappointed that Britain will not be involved”, however he did not think it would halt the process, “I don’t expect that the lack of British participation will stop any action,” he told the BBC. US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel commented on the UK's decision, explaining that a concerted international effort is the way forward in this matter. "It is the goal of President (Barack) Obama and our government ... whatever decision is taken, that it be an international collaboration and effort," he said on a trip to the Philippines. Hagel added that the American approach will be "to continue to find an international coalition that will act together. And I think you're seeing a number of countries state, publicly state, their position on the use of chemical weapons." When asked whether it was in Assad's power to do anything to prevent the threat of military action against his country, Hagel replied that he did not wish to "speculate on hypothetical situations." The vote came just before US President Barack Obama met with congressional lawmakers and other key leaders to brief them on possible military action in Syria. White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday that the US was prepared to “go it alone” in Syria to protect American “core national security interests.” “The president of the United States is elected with the duty to protect the national security interests of America,” he said. “The decisions he makes about our foreign policy is with our national security interests front and center.” Doug Brandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, told The Guardian that “caution has grown” within the Obama administration. “I think they’ve found over the last couple of days both a lack of support at home, both among the American people and Congress, and then they look internationally and suddenly they don’t feel quite so surrounded by friends,” he said.

'US, NATO, hands off Syria' – hundreds of New Yorkers during massive protest against US strike on Syria

Hundreds of people protested at New York’s Times Square on Thursday over possible US plans to strike Syria’s regime which it believes to be behind a deadly chemical attack.
Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backers of the opposition who want a US intervention, and Americans who say they can't stomach another war all took to the iconic Manhattan Square. "US, NATO, hands off Syria," chanted hundreds of protesters, weaving through thousands of tourists, some carrying pictures of Assad, and some just declaring themselves against another US war.
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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fast-food workers protest for higher wages in Los Angeles

By Tiffany Hsu and Alana Semuels
Fast-food protests that started in New York spread to Los Angeles and other cities across the nation Thursday as workers called for higher wages and the chance to unionize. Dozens of fast-food workers and supporters marched outside a South Los Angeles Burger King at 6 a.m., chanting their demand for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Holding signs with slogans such as “Burgers and Lies,” “Yo Quiero $15,” and “Lovin' a Living Wage,” they began moving into formation before sunrise, headlights speeding by on the 110 Freeway behind the restaurant in the Brodway-Manchester neighborhood. As the sun slowly rose and honks from passing passing cars increased, the employees and protest organizers from the Service Employees International Union, many decked out in “Fight For 15” T-shirts, snaked around the corner at Broadway and Century Boulevard. The fast-food protests began in New York last November. There have been three protests in New York since then, and they have spread to Chicago and other cities. Thursday's protest is to mark the first for fast-food workers in Los Angeles and other cities. "This is our fourth strike in New York, and now we have 50 cities striking with us," said Tyeisha Batts, 27, one of the protesters, who has worked in fast food for six years. "I'm ready for a change." The Los Angeles area has 181,595 fast-food workers, earning a median hourly wage of $9, according to protest organizers from SEIU. They say – pointing to an MIT living wage calculator – that an adult living in the area with one child needs to earn $23.53 an hour full time to afford basic necessities. One worker who planned to protest told KTLA-TV early Thursday morning that it’s unfair that some of his colleagues have been in the industry for more than 20 years “and they still earn 8 bucks an hour.” “They have a family to feed and everything….They have two, three jobs and things just shouldn’t be like that,” he said. The protests come as more workers in blue- and white-collar jobs begin to agitate for better working conditions. But the fast-food protests are unique because they are not targeting one employer or company, but a whole industry. Workers were expected to protest outside a number of fast-food outlets, including Wendy's, McDonald's, Burger King and Subway. The fast-food industry used to employ mostly younger people just trying to make some extra money as they went through school. Now, workers are older and depend on the work to feed families. Analysis by the Economic Policies Institute shows that the average age of minimum-wage workers is now 35, and that 88% are 20 and older. "This morning, I'm out here taking a stand for all the fast-food workers around the world," Derrick Langley said. "If you're not going to stand up for yourselves, we will." But industry groups such as the International Franchise Assn. said protesters' goals are “unrealistic.” Individual franchisees, not the bigwigs at corporate headquarters, determine wage levels for workers, according to the group. And many such operators are contending with thin margins made worse by a lagging economy, high commodity costs and soaring energy costs, according to the group. "Mandating increased wages would lead to higher prices for consumers, lower foot traffic and sales for franchise owners, and ultimately, lost jobs and opportunities for employees to become managers or franchise owners,” Steve Caldeira, the association’s chief executive, said in a statement.

U.S: Fast-food workers continue fight against low wages: 'This is our right'

Thousands of workers to take part in a nationwide walk-out as part of a growing movement for industry workers' rights
Veronica Clark, a mother of three children and the sole breadwinner for her family in Detroit, has spent the last six years looking for a better paying job, to no avail. Every day, she puts on the shirt McDonald's provides her with and a pair of work pants of her own and goes to work serving burgers for $7.40 an hour. Clark, 47, is paid less per hour in real terms than the lowest paid US workers were half a century ago, when, on 28 August 1963, hundreds of thousands of citizens flooded into Washington for the historic march for freedom and jobs for black Americans. One of the marchers' demands was a minimum wage raise from $1.25 to $2, reflecting their belief that the wage floor did not enable hardworking men and women to live in dignity. In today's dollars, that would represent a raise from $8.37 to $13.39, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute this week, substantially less than the minimum wage of $7.25 today. Clark works between 36 and 40 hours a week to give her daughters, Crystal, 14, and Veronique, 15, and their brother, André, 16, a decent roof over their heads. But she takes home around $800-$1,000 a month, wages so low the government subsidises her earnings with food stamps. On Thursday, Clark plans to skip her shift at the burger giant for a day to take part in a nationwide protest by US fast-food workers designed to highlight wages that have fallen, in real terms, in the past five decades. Thousands of workers in 50 cities are expected to take part in the one-day demonstration, to demand $15 an hour wages and the right to unionise. It is the fourth time Clark, one of 53,000 fast-food workers in the city, has taken action to protest low wages. Unafraid of being fired for her actions, she says she is "doing what I have to do" to try to lift her and her family out of poverty. "I'm not scared," said Clark. "This is our right. We're trying to work on that too, to get unionised." The workers are supported by a broad coalition of unions, local community organisers and members of the clergy, who have successfully escorted workers threatened with the sack or other discipline for their actions, back into their jobs. The movement to raise the minimum wage has grown since 200 workers in New York staged a one-day strike last November. By July this year it had expanded, with seven other cities including Chicago, Detroit and Washington DC hosting strikes. The fast-food industry has long been the province of low wages, but unions and poverty campaigners point out that it is no longer an entry-level job for teenagers, but has disproportionately replaced many better-paying jobs lost in the recession. It is now one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the US, occupied by many family breadwinners. Women make up two-thirds of workers in the fast-food industry, and the median age of a female worker is 32, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A quarter of fast-food workers are raising children, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research Campaigners argue that, while wages remain low, profits at the big US chains, such as McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Domino's and Papa John's, are booming, reporting higher revenues and fatter operating margins than before the recession. McDonald's, which has 1.8 million employees, made $5.46bn in profits in 2012, while Domino's, with 34,000 employees made $112m the same year. So far, the strikes have yielded few tangible results and critics say that while unemployment stays high and jobs are in high demand, employers have no incentive to increase wages. President Barack Obama is pushing to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. The last federal raise of the minimum wage was in 2009. But even if Congress were solidly behind him, which they don't appear to be, the higher figure would still leave the US behind many other industrialised countries. The differences are stark. The US lags behind the UK, where the minimum wage is £6.11 ($9.50) Australia, where it is 15.96 Australian dollars, ($16.91), France, €9.43($12.68), and Tokyo,$9.10. And while the US's nearest neighbour, Canada, doesn't have a minimum wage, the lowest provincial wage in Alberta is $9.73 in US dollars. Although Canada is not part of the US strike for a minimum wage, it also has a fast-food campaign to raise the minimum wage to $14. Armando Zapata, 22, from Ottawa, Canada, works for Tim Horton's, a fast-food coffee and donut restaurant. It has taken him three years, he said, to find a job that pays what he needs to finally make ends meet, at $11.50 Canadian ($US 10.96) an hour. But he says it is "unimaginable" that US fast-food workers earn as little as $7.25. "Instead of always being stressed about money, I finally got to a stage that I am making ends meet," said Zapata. "I was struggling to feed myself but it's unimaginable that someone could feed a family on much less – $7.25 an hour." The restaurant where Zapata works is unionised, and as a result it pays a dollar above other non-unionised Tim Horton restaurants. It also pays health benefits. Fast-food workers in Ottawa typically earn $10.25 an hour, the minimum wage, or close to it. Such disparities raise a question: how can fast-food companies pay workers higher wages in some states, districts and countries, yet still make a profit, while arguing that paying higher wages elsewhere will hurt their profits? When the Guardian asked one outlet, McDonald's, how it could pay workers in Australia $16.91, while paying workers in Detroit $7.40, they sent a statement in reply. The story promoted by the individuals organizing these events does not provide an accurate picture of what it means to work at McDonald's. We respect the strong relationship which exists among McDonald's, our independent operators, and the employees who work in McDonald's restaurants. Our restaurants remain open, with our dedicated employees providing strong service to our customers. It went on to say that McDonald's pays "competitive pay and benefits to all our employees". "Our history is full of examples of individuals who worked their first job with McDonald's and went on to successful careers both within and outside of McDonald's." Pastor WJ Rideout the III, of All God's People church in Detroit, is part of a local coalition of campaigns for a minimum wage of $15, a group that includes the Service Employees International Union as well as D15 and Good Jobs Now. "People can't survive off $7.25 an hour," said Rideout. "A gallon of milk is almost $5 today and a loaf of bread is $4. Every thing has gone up significantly but the minimum wage has not. People are crazy to think you can live on minimum wages. Fast-food jobs are no longer starter jobs, they are mom-and-pop jobs, even senior citizens jobs. We call them survivor jobs now, because all people are doing is surviving. I see the hurt and the pain." Rideout said he expects thousands of Detroit's 53,000 fast-food workers to come out on strike on Thursday. Asked if he thought the protest would change anything, he said: "President Obama asked for $9 an hour before we did the strikes. A Democratic senator in California [Senator Barbara Boxer[ has now asked for it to be raised to $10. This is happening all across America. We are going to keep pushing until we see a change."

Syria: Are UK anti-war protests gaining momentum?

By Gerry Holt & Justin Parkinson
It is more than 10 years since the invasion of Iraq began. During the long build-up to the conflict, amid debates over weapons of mass destruction and government intelligence, public opinion was divided. Those against war made their feelings known. A mass demonstration took place in London in February 2003. Two million people marched through the streets, according to organisers. But, with the indicators growing stronger that some sort of military action is likely in Syria in the next few days, how loud is anti-war sentiment this time round? 'Sold a pup' With less than a day to go before MPs and peers were due to debate the government's proposals, a demonstration took place opposite the entrance to Downing Street. Several hundred people, ranging from teenagers to the elderly, held placards bearing slogans such as "Hands off Syria" and "Cut war, not welfare". Ann-Kristine Westwood, a grandmother from Nuneaton, Warwickshire, told the BBC: "I can't see what we've achieved in 10 years in Iraq or Afghanistan. And I'm convinced we are being sold another pup. "We can't afford schools, houses, teachers, nurses, but we buy as many bombs as we want. The people in this country can't afford another war." She added: "The mothers in Syria are going to be terrified. We are now the terrorists." As a man with a loudspeaker denounced the government, another man, in his late 20s, who declined to reveal his name, said: "We want to bring home to the politicians the fact that the vast majority of people in this country are against war. "I think this may be a way to change some politicians' minds before the vote." He added: "I've been interested in the Iraq war and the military intervention in Libya for a long time, but it's only now that it's reached this height of ridiculousness. This is the first time I've really felt compelled to come out and protest. "I'm absolutely astonished how quickly this has happened and how much the government has rushed into this." More marches But most of the protesters were what might be called "veterans", those old enough to have been involved in the Iraq march. What of the less committed? Ian Chamberlain, a spokesman for the Stop the War Coalition (SWC), said anti-war sentiment was building. Some 5,000 people were expected to march from Embankment to Trafalgar Square via Downing Street once more this Saturday, he said. "I think we speak on behalf of a lot of people at the moment, as we did in 2003 and on Iraq, when two million went out on to the streets of London [to march] against intervention there," Mr Chamberlain said. "We've seen in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya how intervention by the West has not been humanitarian." But how many people does SWC speak "on behalf of"? The Sun newspaper commissioned a YouGov poll of almost 2,000 adults and found that they were opposed to the use of British missiles against military sites in Syria by two to one. YouGov's president Peter Kellner, said: "The public are very wary of any form of military engagement. They certainly don't want any British arms to go into Syria - even lightly defensive arms, let alone tanks and artillery. "But we asked specifically about this idea of missile attacks on military targets in response to chemical warfare and by two to one the poll found people don't want that." Mr Kellner added: "If one goes back 10 years ago to a similar situation to what we have now - the build-up to a special debate in Parliament about Britain going to war in Iraq - the week before the parliamentary vote only one third of the public wanted Britain to go to war without specific authorisation from the United Nations. "But on the day of the parliamentary votes, when there hadn't been authorisation, it went from 33% to 50% and three weeks later, when Baghdad fell, it was 66% support. "So public opinion is currently against British military involvement but I'm not certain it will stay against. It will depend on what happens in the next 24, 48, 72 hours." 'Tired of war' People do not know what will happen. A "boots-on-the-ground" intervention in Syria is deemed unlikely, but perhaps targeted missile strikes could take place. Some think this will be enough to deter President Assad's government from using chemical weapons in future. Others fear the reaction could lead to a wider, ongoing, bloody conflict. The disagreements transcend political party lines. But will it be like 2003 again? Will thousands of children skip school once more in co-ordinated protests? Will the centres of cities come to a halt? After Iraq and Afghanistan, UK Independence leader Nigel Farage, has said the "great British public are tired of being at war". Can tiredness be turned into passion? Mr Chamberlain said: "By mobilising people on the streets we're going to make it very clear what public opinion is [on Syria] and put our MPs under pressure to make the right decisions." One of the protesters, Frank Friedmann, spoke of widespread anger, but added that, in the face of the government's decision, there was a "feeling of futility" about protest. He added: "But I've come down here from Leicester to play my part." The next few days will show how many people feel compelled to join him.

Putin and Merkel agree UN Council must study Syria probe

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed Thursday on the need for the UN Security Council to study a report by UN experts on the alleged chemical attack outside Damascus, the Kremlin said.
"Both sides proceed from the fact that active work will be continued within the framework of the United Nations and other formats on issues of a political and diplomatic settlement of the current situation," the Kremlin said in a statement. "In particular, it is important that the Security Council examines a report by UN inspectors about possible facts of the use of chemical weapons in Syria," it added. In Berlin, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert confirmed the telephone conversation, saying Putin and Merkel agreed that the "conflict can only be resolved politically". The German chancellor "emphasised that the inhumane poison gas attack against Syrian civilians requires an international reaction," Seibert added. The conversation comes as Russia is expected to veto any attempts to win UN Security Council backing for Western-led military action against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad over last week's attack, which activists say killed hundreds of people. The United States, Britain and France have said Assad's regime was to blame for the alleged chemical attack but Russia has suggested it was the rebels seeking to discredit the regime. The German government spokesman said that Merkel, who will fight for a third term in September 22 elections, had told Putin that discussions at the UN Security Council should lead to a "unanimous and quick international reaction". "She is hoping for a quick conclusion to the UN inspection mission and a comprehensive report for the UN Security Council," Seibert's statement said. Speaking on Russian national television, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said it was important to "undertake all the necessary steps to prevent the possible negative development of the situation" or the use of force against Syria. "We are working towards that goal, our efforts are aimed at that," state-run ITAR-Tass new agency quoted him as saying. Read more:

Russia: West is acting in Muslim world like a ‘monkey with a grenade’

The Washington Times
Western countries are behaving in the Islamic world like a “monkey with a grenade,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted on Tuesday as the United States and its allies mull military action against Syria. “The West behaves towards the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade,” Mr. Rogozin posted to his 150,000 followers as Russia begins to evacuate its citizens from Syria, AFP reported. Envoys from the United States and its allies have told rebels fighting President Bashar Assad that Western powers might attack Syria within days, Times Live reported. Read more: Follow us: @washtimes on Twitter

Foreign Firm to Survey Afghan-Tajikistan-Turkmenistan Railway Project
The Afghan Ministry of Public Works (MoPW) on Thursday said that a foreign company would soon begin an assessment the Afghan leg of the Afghanistan-Tajikistan-Turkmenistan railway project. The MoPW refused to reveal the name of the company, which just recently won the bid to survey to project, until the Asian Development Bank (ADB) had vetted and approved the firm for contracting. The company's documents were sent to the ADP office in the Philippines this week. "The Asian Development Bank has always helped Afghanistan in carrying out several infrastructural projects," said Nurgul Mangal, the Deputy Technical Minister of the MoPW. "The Bank has committed to fund a part of the project, and the assessment of will begin soon after the firm is approved." Mr. Mangal said that his Ministry tentatively approved the foreign company to evaluate the technical and financial modalities of the Afghan section of the transnational railway construction following a competitive bidding process. The 550 KM railway line is intended to be completed in a span five years. The entire project is estimated to cost approximately $960 million, much of which will be provided by the ADB. In addition to the Afghanistan-Tajikistan-Turkmenistan railway project, recently, President Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif agreed to establish a railway line between their two nations to better facilitate travel, trade and commerce.

Pakistan overturns sentence of doctor who helped find bin Laden

A Pakistani judicial official on Thursday overturned the 33-year jail sentence passed on Shakil Afridi, the doctor who helped CIA agents hunting for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden who was killed in 2011. U.S. officials have hailed Afridi as a hero for helping pinpoint bin Laden's location before the secret May 2011 raid by U.S. special forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after more than a decade of searching. Judicial official Sahibzada Mohammad Anees ordered a new trial on the grounds that another official had exceeded his authority when handing down last year's sentence. Afridi remains in custody. "The assistant political agent ... did not have the authority to award 33 years' imprisonment to Dr. Shakil Afridi," said the written judgment. "The assistant political agent played the role of a magistrate for which he was not authorized." A political agent and his assistant are representatives of the Pakistani government in the tribal areas, which are not covered by the country's judicial system. Afridi's sentence further damaged ties between Pakistan and the United States when they had already strained over the bin Laden raid. Angry U.S. senators symbolically withheld $33 million in aid from Pakistan in retaliation. Relations since then have slowly improved but there remains plenty of residual distrust on both sides. Lawyer Samiullah Afridi said Afridi plans to submit an application for an early hearing. Afridi was accused of running a fake vaccination campaign, in which he collected DNA samples, that is believed to have helped the American intelligence agency track down bin Laden. Pakistani officials initially said Afridi would be tried for treason for helping the United States, but court documents showed he was jailed for being a member of a militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam. Afridi denied the charges and a spokesman for the group said they had no ties with him. "Shakil was himself kidnapped by militants," Afridi's lawyer told Reuters. "He had to pay a lot of money for his release. There is no question that a person like him would treat militants or give them funds." Afridi's new trial will be conducted under the auspices of the political agent of Khyber Agency, Anees said in his statement. Anees is a commissioner with responsibility for law in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Russia, Pakistan Hold 'Strategic Dialogue'
Officials from Russia and Pakistan are wrapping up a two-day "strategic dialogue" in Moscow on August 29. Media reports from Pakistan say Foreign Secretary Jalil Jilani is leading his country's delegation in the talks, with topics ranging from economic, political, and defense cooperation to regional and international security issues. Commentators say the talks mark a high point in bilateral ties after years of frosty relations. Russia has been supportive of Pakistan becoming a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and helped Pakistan obtain observer status in the organization. For its part, Islamabad backed Russia's bid to gain observer status in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Defense ties between the two nations are also closer. Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kiyani visited Moscow last year and the Russian Air Force chief visited Pakistan earlier this month.

PPP supports targeted operation in Karachi

The Express Tribune
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) supported calls for a targeted operation in Karachi on Thursday, Express News reported. PPP leader Naveed Qamar was representing his party during the National Assembly today, where he said that an operation should be conducted without any discrimination. He further said that a targeted operation is the only solution to the prevailing violence in the city and the judiciary should also support this suggestion. Earlier today, the federal interior minister proposed a targeted operation to counter the ongoing violence and killings in Karachi. Background Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took notice of the deteriorating law and order situation in Karachi on Wednesday. The notice came after MQM demanded that the army be deployed in Karachi. MQM chief Altaf Hussain had demanded army deployment to protect the life and property of the Kutchi community in Lyari. He had clarified that the Constitution allows them to make such a demand. Nawaz decided that a special cabinet meeting will be held on September 2 or 3 in Karachi to discuss the situation in the city and determine what parties are in favour of this demand. Earlier, major political parties in Sindh rejected MQM’s demand to deploy army in Karachi to maintain law and order. Imtiaz Shaikh of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) had said that his party would not extend any support if the forces are moved in Karachi for law and order. “Police officials should be appointed on merit and given full authority, otherwise no change will take place,” he said. “It should be examined as to why the situation in Karachi reached a point where the MQM had to make this demand”, said PTI Deputy Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi. However, he did not subscribe to the demand. Jamaat-e-Islami Karachi chief Mohammad Hussain Mehnati had said that calling the soldiers was not a solution to every problem. The provincial government should end its reconciliation policy and take action against the criminals, he said.