Thursday, January 31, 2013

Syria warns of "surprise" response to Israel attack

Syria warned on Thursday of a possible "surprise" response to Israel's attack on its territory and Russia condemned the air strike as an unprovoked violation of international law. Damascus could take "a surprise decision to respond to the aggression of the Israeli warplanes", Syrian ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul-Karim Ali said a day after Israel struck against Syria. "Syria is engaged in defending its sovereignty and its land," Ali told a website of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Syria and Israel have fought several wars and in 2007 Israeli jets bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear site, without a military response from Damascus. Diplomats, Syrian rebels and regional security sources said on Wednesday that Israeli jets had bombed a convoy near the Lebanese border, apparently hitting weapons destined for Hezbollah. Syria denied the reports, saying the target had been a military research center northwest of Damascus. Hezbollah, which has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he battles an armed uprising in which 60,000 people have been killed, said Israel was trying to thwart Arab military power and vowed to stand by its ally. "Hezbollah expresses its full solidarity with Syria's leadership, army and people," said the group which fought an inconclusive 34-day war with Israel in 2006. Israel has remained silent on the attack and there has been little reaction from its Western backers, but Syria's allies in Moscow and Tehran were quick to denounce the strike. Russia, which has blocked Western efforts to put pressure on Syria at the United Nations, said that any Israeli air strike would amount to unacceptable military interference. "If this information is confirmed, then we are dealing with unprovoked attacks on targets on the territory of a sovereign country, which blatantly violates the U.N. Charter and is unacceptable, no matter the motives to justify it," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdullahian said the attack "demonstrates the shared goals of terrorists and the Zionist regime", Fars news agency reported. Assad portrays the rebels fighting him as foreign-backed, Islamist terrorists, with the same agenda as Israel. "It is necessary for the sides which take tough stances on Syria to now take serious steps and decisive stances against this aggression by Tel Aviv and uphold criteria for security in the region," Abdullahian said. An aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday that Iran would consider any attack on Syria as an attack on itself, but Abdullahian made no mention of retaliation. Hezbollah said the attack showed that the conflict in Syria was part of a scheme "to destroy Syria and its army and foil its pivotal role in the resistance front (against Israel)". BLASTS SHOOK DISTRICT Details of Wednesday's strike remain sketchy and, in parts, contradictory. Syria said Israeli warplanes, flying low to avoid detection by radar, crossed into its airspace from Lebanon and struck the Jamraya military research centre. But the diplomats and rebels said the jets hit a weapons convoy heading from Syria to Lebanon, apparently destined for Assad's ally Hezbollah, and the rebels said they - not Israel - hit Jamraya with mortars. The force of the dawn attack shook the ground, waking nearby residents from their slumber with up to a dozen blasts, two sources in the area said. "We were sleeping. Then we started hearing rockets hitting the complex and the ground started shaking and we ran into the basement," said a woman who lives adjacent to the Jamraya site. The resident, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity over Israel's reported strike on Wednesday morning, said she could not tell whether the explosions which woke her were the result of an aerial strike. Another source who has a relative working inside Jamraya reported that a building inside the complex had been cordoned off after the attack and that flames were seen rising from the area after the attack. "It appears that there were about a dozen rockets that appeared to hit one building in the complex," the source, who also asked not to be identified, told Reuters. "The facility is closed today." Israeli newspapers quoted foreign media on Thursday for reports on the attack. Journalists in Israel are required to submit articles on security and military issues to the censor, which has the power to block any publication of material it deems could compromise state security. Syrian state television said two people were killed in the raid on Jamraya, which lies in the 25-km (15-mile) strip between Damascus and the Lebanese border. It described it as a scientific research centre "aimed at raising the level of resistance and self-defense". Diplomatic sources from three countries told Reuters that chemical weapons were believed to be stored at Jamraya, and that it was possible that the convoy was near the large site when it came under attack. However, there was no suggestion that the vehicles themselves had been carrying chemical weapons. "The target was a truck loaded with weapons, heading from Syria to Lebanon," said one Western diplomat, echoing others who said the convoy's load may have included anti-aircraft missiles or long-range rockets. The raid followed warnings from Israel that it was ready to act to prevent the revolt against Assad leading to Syria's chemical weapons and modern rockets reaching either his Hezbollah allies or his Islamist enemies. A regional security source said Israel's target was weaponry given by Assad's military to fellow Iranian ally Hezbollah. "This episode boils down to a warning by Israel to Syria and Hezbollah not to engage in the transfer of sensitive weapons," the source said. "Assad knows his survival depends on his military capabilities and he would not want those capabilities neutralized by Israel - so the message is this kind of transfer is simply not worth it, neither for him nor Hezbollah." Such a strike or strikes would fit Israel's policy of pre-emptive covert and overt action to curb Hezbollah and does not necessarily indicate a major escalation of the war in Syria. It does, however, indicate how the erosion of the Assad family's rule after 42 years is seen by Israel as posing a threat. Israel this week echoed concerns in the United States about Syrian chemical weapons, but its officials say a more immediate worry is that the civil war could see weapons that are capable of denting its massive superiority in airpower and tanks reaching Hezbollah; the group fought Israel in 2006 and remains a more pressing threat than its Syrian and Iranian sponsors.

Hagel defends record at confirmation hearing

By Ernesto Londoño
Lawmakers on Thursday demanded that secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel explain controversial remarks he has made and votes he cast during his Senate career, as the Nebraska Republican sought to defend his record at a confirmation hearing. In a tense exchange, Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) pressed Hagel on whether he stood by his opposition to the decision to surge U.S. troops into Iraq in 2007. Hagel, who once called the surge the “most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam,” resisted McCain’s repeated attempts to solicit a “yes” or “no” answer. “I’m not going to give you a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I’ll defer that to the judgment of history,” said Hagel, arguing that his comments at the time were a reflection of his opposition to the war in Iraq and not just the surge. He added: “I did question the surge. I always ask the question: Is this going to be worth the sacrifice? We lost almost 1,200 Americans and thousands of wounded. Was it required? Was it necessary? I’m not sure. I’m not that certain that it was required.” McCain, whose vote could influence Republicans who are on the fence, parried: “I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, and you’re on the wrong side of it.” Hagel told the Senate Armed Services Committee that, if confirmed, he would ensure U.S. policy is “worthy of our troops and their families and the sacrifices we ask them to make.” He provided the committee a detailed rebuttal to criticism that he has faced in recent weeks, including allegations that he is too dovish on Iran, foolhardy on nuclear containment and eager to slash defense spending. “Like each of you, I have a record,” Hagel said. “A record I am proud of, not because of any accomplishments I may have achieved, or an absence of mistakes, but rather because I’ve tried to build that record by living my life and fulfilling my responsibilities as honestly as I knew how and with hard work.” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the committee chairman, said during opening remarks that Hagel would have to explain “troubling” statements he made in the past about Middle East policy. He nonetheless called Hagel a “person of integrity, and one who has a personal understanding of the consequences of decisions relative to the use of military force.” Hagel’s is likely to be among toughest confirmation hearings for the defense secretary job in recent years. His predecessor, Leon E. Panetta, sailed to confirmation in the summer of 2011, as he transitioned from the helm of the CIA. Panetta’s predecessor, Robert M. Gates, another former CIA chief, was unanimously confirmed by the Armed Services Committee in December 2006, replacing Donald H. Rumsfeld, who left the post as an unpopular secretary. Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), the ranking Republican on the committee, charged that Hagel has been wrong on many policy issues in the past and accused him of trying to backpedal on issues in an effort to get confirmed. “This apparent willingness to walk by or alter his position, possibly for the sake of political expediency on such important issues, is deeply troubling and sends a concerning message to our allies and our adversaries, alike,” Inhofe said. The Republican senator took other jabs at Hagel when he questioned him, asking rhetorically about what he described as the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s endorsement of his nomination. “I have a difficult enough time with American politics,” Hagel responded. In the face of strong criticism of remarks and positions he has defended in the past, Hagel, 66, has sought to win over senators from both parties in recent weeks during dozens of meetings on Capitol Hill. A Hagel aide said the former senator hopes that the effort and his response to questions Thursday will get him confirmed for the job. Votes in the committee and full Senate could come next week. The effort to vilify Hagel and his record, which began when his name was first floated for the job in December, has remained at a buzz but has not reached the type of crescendo that has doomed high-profile political nominations in the past. “We’ve had a very aggressive strategy for tackling some of the issues that have been raised,” the Hagel aide said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the nominee’s outlook. “I think we’re in a good place.”

Opposition calls for Friday marches across Egypt
Political parties have announced on Thursday the planned routes for Friday marches across Egypt. In Cairo, marches from Al-Nour Mosque in Abassiya and Raba’a Al-A’daweya Mosque in Nasr City will converge at the Presidential Palace. The marches will begin after Friday prayers. The Popular Current said the marches are meant to reaffirm the demands of the Egyptian people and to protest against the policies of President Mohamed Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Current listed Alexandria, Daqahleya, Beheira, Kafr Al-Sheikh, Fayoum, Minya, Aswan, Qena and North Sinai as governorates where marches have been planned. Marches from Al-Arbaeen Square in Suez and from Al-Fardous Square in Ismailia to their respective Governorate Buildings will be held. The Popular Current said routes of the marches in the rest of the governorates especially Port Said and Sharqeya have yet to be decided. Port Said, Suez and Ismailia have been hit hardest by the latest round of violence that shook the country. They are currently in a state of emergency. Al-Dostour Party was organizing more marches from Hadayeq Al-Qoba, Matareya, Al-Hijaz Squares and Ain Shams. The party has also planned a march from Sayeda Zeinab Mosque to complete the demands of the revolution on Thursday evening. The National Salvation Front (NSF) said on Thursday masses of Egyptians will protest on Friday to announce their rejection of a regime that wants to impose its individual will on the people. “The people will go out to reaffirm the same demands the National Salvation Front has held on to and repeated in its statements without the president listening… which escalated the crisis,” the Front said in a press statement. The Front affirmed that the protests will be peaceful and will be raising six demands including the formation of a national rescue government and the formation of a committee to amend the constitution. The opposition group is also demanding the dismissal of Tala’at Abdallah, the current prosecutor general, forming a judicial committee to investigate the recent deaths of protesters, and ending the state of emergency which was imposed on the governorates overlooking the Suez Canal. The NSF said Friday’s planned protests will be an expression of the people’s anger against Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Russia denounces Israeli strike on Syria as unprovoked attack on sovereign country

The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement expressing deep concern over Israel’s airstrike on Syria saying that it violates the UN Charter. The Ministry website says; if this information is confirmed that would mean that we have to deal with unprovoked attacks on the territory of a sovereign state which is inadmissible, whatever objectives are declared as a justification. Russian diplomats are taking urgent measures to clarify the situation and to establish the details of the incident. Russia has again called upon the international community to stop the violence in Syria, prevent foreign intervention in the conflict, and assist the start of a nationwide dialogue based on the Geneva agreements. Syrian military command reported that Israeli aircraft bombed a research facility near the country’s capital Damascus on Wednesday killing two people and wounding five. The statement called the attack a “blatant act of aggression” and blasted Israel for supporting Syrian terrorists. So far, the Israel has refused to comment, but unnamed sources in the US have told news agencies that the Israeli Air Force did strike a truck convoy on the Syria-Lebanon border that supposedly carried anti-aircraft weapons. Lebanese media has reported a number of air raids conducted by Israel war planes over its territory but said nothing about any strikes. If confirmed, the air strike will be Israel’s first attack on a Syrian target since 2007 when the Israeli Air Force destroyed what they thought to be an almost complete nuclear reactor in the east of the country, near the border with Iraq. Syria denied the site was a nuclear facility. Wednesday’s alleged attack would also be Israel’s first direct intervention into the almost-two-year Syrian crisis caused by the standoff between President Bashar Assad and an armed opposition supported by radical Islamists. Russia has repeatedly called upon the international community to help stop the violence by forcing the opposing sides to negotiation table. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says it was the opposition that rejected talks in Syria adding that the crisis would end when the opposition abandons its obsession with ousting Assad, and if this does not happen the fighting will continue and more people will die. At the same time, Lavrov pointed out that the Russian point of view was that preserving or deposing President Assad’s regime was not a priority. What really mattered, he said, is an immediate stop to the bloodshed and the stabilization of the situation in Syria.

Syrian opposition leader ready to hold talks with Bashar al-Assad
The internationally recognised leader of the Syrian opposition has offered to hold direct negotiations with the Assad regime for the first time, in a dramatic volte face. A spokesman for Moaz al-Khatib, the Damascus cleric who leads the Syrian National Coalition, told The Daily Telegraph he was speaking "in a personal capacity" in making the offer. But he said the Coalition would discuss the proposal "in the next few days", possibly even Thursday. If it agrees and President Bashar al-Assad makes good on his own offer of negotiation, the proposal could bring the first major breakthrough between the two sides for more than a year. Mr Khatib posted the offer on Facebook, saying: "I announce I am ready for direct discussions with representatives of the Syrian regime in Cairo, Tunis or Istanbul. I became aware thanks to the media that the regime in Syria has called on the opposition to enter into dialogue." He said the offer depended on the release of political prisoners, and of exiles being allowed to return. He did not explain why he had made the decision, or how he would persuade other members of the Coalition to go along with the change of heart – up to now the opposition has demanded Mr Assad step down before any talks take place. The Syrian National Council, the largest individual component, rejected the proposal immediately.However, there are growing signs of unease, including among the Coalition's backers in the West and the Gulf, at the current impasse, particularly with radical jihadists playing an ever more prominent role in the fighting inside the country. Mohammed Ali, Mr Khatib's spokesman, said the extent of the violence had to be acknowledged. "What he is thinking is to stop the blood, and to save the lives of the people," he said. "You can't say, 'fight, fight, fight'." The Coalition is furious at the lack of support from the Western powers and Gulf states which negotiated its creation and promised to recognise it as "legitimate representative" of the Syrian people – in theory allowing aid to flow into its coffers and support to be directed to the rebels. There has been little sign of that, with focus instead turning to the plight of Syria's 700,000 refugees. Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia each pledged $300 million to that cause yesterday, part of a United Nations appeal for $1.5 billion, now reached. Justine Greening, the international development secretary, more than doubled Britain's pledge from £21 million to £50 million. Mr Khatib was a compromise choice to bring together the different factions – Arab and Kurdish, Islamist, Christian, Alawite and secular – in the opposition. However, he has failed to win the international public profile garnered by leading figures in the opposition movement in Libya at an equivalent stage of the uprising there.

Afghan youth orchestra to perform in US

Afghanistan's youth orchestra flies to the United States on Saturday for a concert tour highlighting changes in the war-torn country since the ousting of the Taliban, who banned music. Fifty students from the National Institute of Music and 12 faculty members will play at New York's famed Carnegie Hall and a series of other venues, the founder and director of the institute, Ahmad Sarmast, told AFP. Some of the musicians are orphans who in the past made a living selling odds and ends on the streets and have never before left their impoverished country. The orchestra also includes girls, who were prevented from attending school by the Taliban who ruled Afghanistan for five years before being ousted in the 2001 US-led invasion for sheltering Al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks. All the students are aged between 10 and 20 years old. "They are extremely excited and happy to go on this tour and be a symbol of the positive changes happening in Afghanistan," said Sarmast. The director, who trained in Moscow and spent time in Australia before returning to Afghanistan in 2008, said the orchestra would play a variety of pieces, including traditional Afghan and Western classical music. The school operates under the education ministry with large contributions from Western donors, and sponsors for the US tour include the World Bank and the US State Department. The aid allows the school, which also teaches the children a standard curriculum of English and sciences, to award scholarships to talented youngsters from the streets so they can study alongside the country's tiny elite.

Australia and South Africa say no to Pakistan Super League

Pakistan Super League has suffered a setback after Cricket Australia (CA) and Cricket South Africa (CSA) decided not to issue NOCs to their contracted players for the twenty20 tournament scheduled to be held in Lahore from March 26. Geo News channel reported that Cricket Australia had made it clear with reference to a query that they wouldn't be sending their contracted players to Pakistan because of the security situation. "Due to the ongoing security concerns in Pakistan, Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers' Association would not be supportive of any international or state contracted player participating in the Pakistan Super League," a spokesman of Cricket Australia told the channel. Australia is the only team not to have toured Pakistan since 1998 because of security situation. They last toured Pakistan when Mark Taylor was captain for a full series but in 2002 they backed out of a tour to Pakistan expressing security concerns because of the 9/11 incident. Australia has subsequently compelled the Pakistan board to play its "home" series against the Aussies at neutral venues. To make matters worse, a cricket website, also reported that it had received a statement from Cricket South Africa that it would not issue NOC's to its players for the PSL. The statement said that the security assessments did not provide the required level of comfort. "The independent security reports will at this stage not allow CSA to provide a NOC for any player. CSA's current agreement with SACA, our cricketers association, is that we will not send players to the PSL based on the security reports," said. The PCB already aware of the problems it will face in convincing other boards to send their players for the PSL has even offered a life insurance worth USD 2 million for players coming to Pakistan and tax free incomes from the league. Few days back the International Federation of Cricketers, FICA had also advised its member players to stay away from the PSL. An official of the board when asked about the development said so far they had received nothing from any board about not sending their players for the PSL. "We are making strong efforts to convince boards that it is safe to play in Pakistan. Haroon Lorgat is also working in this area. Hopefully we will see positive results soon. For the moment we can't comment on this situation," he said.

Misery of Pakistan's abandoned wives

An increasing number of Pakistani women say they have been forcibly separated from their children in the UK, and abandoned in their country of birth by their British husbands. The BBC's Tulip Mazumdar travelled to Pakistani-administered Kashmir to meet two such women. Their names have been changed for legal reasons. When Shagufta's family told her she was marrying a young British man, and moving to Britain to start a whole new life there, she says she felt "excited". "At that time I was very happy. I thought life in the UK would be very good. I thought my husband's family would be nice to me." That is not how things turned out. Almost 11 years since she married and moved to the UK, she is back in Mirpur reminiscing over photos of her baby girl. She says her husband has left her stranded in Pakistan, and forcibly taken their only child. "The problems started as soon as I got to the UK where I lived with my husband and my in-laws," she says. "My husband treated me very badly. He used to beat me and even threaten to kill me. I wasn't allowed out of the house, and I was banned from speaking to anyone outside the family." Shagufta says after her daughter was born, things got even worse. Then one day, soon after her little girl had celebrated her first birthday, she says her bags were packed and she was taken to the airport. She was told she was going to see her family because her mother had died. "When I arrived in Pakistan, I was met by my in-laws. They snatched my passport and told my brothers to come and take me away. I have been living without my daughter ever since." We traced Shagufta's husband back to the UK, but he refused to speak to us.
'Tip of iceberg'
Shagufta's story is becoming an increasingly familiar one. Lawyers, charities and the British High Commission in Islamabad say they are coming across more women who say their British husbands have dumped them in Pakistan. Whilst a minority of women do speak out, it is believed hundreds more stay silent. Solicitor and chairperson of parental abduction charity Reunite, Anne-Marie Hutchinson, says she dealt with about 20 abandoned spouses cases in 2012, but says that's just "the tip of the iceberg". "Very few manage to actually get assistance, the majority - I anticipate - are just dumped and that's it," she says. "If they were in the UK they could get divorced, they could get maintenance… but if they're in Pakistan, they have no claims. "The other thing is, when they do dump her back in Pakistan, she is often ostracised in the community… People will say 'she's been sent back, she must have behaved terribly in England'." There can be enormous family pressure on British-born Pakistani men to come to their native country to find a traditional Pakistani bride. The wife will not generally speak very much English and will have little in common with her British husband. Aurangzeb Khan from Bradford, who was visiting family in Mirpur, says his "hands were tied" when he was made to marry his first cousin. "We were totally different people. I was born and brought up in Britain with my English friends." He abandoned his wife for five years after they were married, before they had any children, although he later allowed her to join him in the UK. "I wouldn't say it's cruel. I was forced into the marriage and I retaliated," he says. 'Tricked' Nearby, I met another woman, Sadia. She says after she gave birth to her three sons in the UK, her in-laws made it very clear she was no longer of use to them. "They would say we have got the children now, we don't need you. You should just work in the house. A wife's place is under her husband's feet." She says she was eventually tricked into coming back to Pakistan on a family holiday, but when she arrived her passport was confiscated by her in-laws, and she was thrown out of their home, whilst they kept the children. She says she eventually agreed to a divorce because she was told she would be allowed to keep her children if she signed the papers. But she says her husband's family took the boys back to the UK. Sadia says her father has since forced her to remarry because he could not afford to look after her. We spoke to Sadia's husband in Britain. He denied abandoning her and said she had chosen to leave the children with his family. He described her as "crazy" and said that she had been a bad wife. There is limited help on hand for women like Shagufta and Sadia. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office says that it can put women like them in touch with charities and lawyers in the UK and Pakistan, but it cannot offer consular assistance to people who are not British nationals. Most of these women were never in the UK long enough to get UK citizenship. Azhar Mehmood runs a women's welfare group and works with the British High Commission in Mirpur to raise awareness about forced marriage - but is increasingly hearing from women who say they've been abandoned. "There is a thinking in a few families that they want a good, pure Pakistani child so they have good heirs to their properties. They know they can leave these girls in Pakistan - and they won't be able to get much help." Both Shagufta and Sadia would like to use the UK courts to get access to their children. Despite the many obstacles facing them, both have vowed to continue fighting until they get to see their children again. Gripping a photo of herself scooping up her three children in her arms on their front porch in the UK, Sadia says: "I dream about my three boys every night. "Physically I am here, but my spirit is with them. I don't have any greed to come back to the UK, I just want to see my sons."

Stop trying to convince Bangladesh to tour Pakistan
Former captain Shahid Afridi feels under current situation no international team will tour Pakistan and advised the PCB to stop trying to convince weak teams such as Bangladesh to play in their country. Afridi said on Geo News TV on Wednesday that while he understood the honest efforts made by the board to somehow revive international cricket in Pakistan but felt running after teams like Bangladesh would serve no purpose. "I don't think teams will tour Pakistan in present circumstances. It is better if the board waits for the situation to improve in our country. When things improve all the teams will want to play in Pakistan it is a matter of time," Afridi said. The flamboyant all-rounder, who rejected a lucrative offer of around Rs 40 million to play in the Bangladesh Premier League, said he was not in favour of the board trying to convince teams like Bangladesh or other weaker sides to come to Pakistan. "It is unfortunate the way Bangladesh reacted. But it is serving us no purpose. It only creates negativity. It is better if we just focus on our domestic cricket and the Super League is a step in the right direction," he said. He pointed out that Pakistan was one of the leading teams of the world and had shown that it can do well anywhere in the world, despite not playing at home since 2009. "Our cricket is doing well and our team is performing well. So we shouldn't be too worried about when teams will come to Pakistan it will happen eventually we just have wait patiently," he said. Afridi said he would be playing against Afghanistan for the Pakistan A side next month. "I might also play a four day match to get more practice to get back into proper form," he said. Indications are that the board will appoint Afridi to lead the Pakistan A side against Afghanistan with senior wicketkeeper, Kamran Akmal also getting a chance to play after being sidelined for the Test series in South Africa. Afridi also said that the Test series that starts in South Africa would be a real test for the players. "But I think it will be an engrossing and tough series because our test team is well balanced and capable of surprising anyone anywhere. But we have to play to our best against the world's number one team," he said.

Roadside bomb kills 2 polio workers in NW Pakistan

Associated Press
A roadside bomb killed two Pakistani polio workers on their way to vaccinate children in a northwestern tribal region near the Afghan border on Thursday, an official said. The two men were on their way to Malikhel village as part of the U.N.-backed anti-polio campaign when the bomb hit their motorcycle, said government administrator Yousuf Rahim. The attack — the third this week against polio workers in Pakistan — took place in the Kurram region, a known militant stronghold. On Tuesday, gunmen riding on a motorcycle shot and killed a policeman protecting a polio team in Gullu Dheri village of Swabi district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The polio workers escaped unharmed in that attack. In a separate incident in the northwest on Tuesday, a man wounded a polio worker with an axe. Rahim said it was not immediately clear if the two workers killed Thursday were the actual target of the bombing. Javed Husain, a doctor at a hospital in the town of Parachinar, said the slain men were working as contractors for the government-run anti-polio program in the area. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks but suspicion fell on Islamic militants. Some of the militants oppose the vaccination campaign, accuse health workers of acting as spies for the U.S. and claim the polio vaccine is intended to make Muslim children sterile. Pakistan is one of only three countries where the crippling disease is endemic. The virus usually infects children living in unsanitary conditions; it attacks the nerves and can kill or paralyze. As many as 56 polio cases were reported in Pakistan during 2012, down from 190 the previous year, according to the United Nations. Most of the new cases in Pakistan were in the northwest, where the presence of militants makes it difficult to reach children. In December, gunmen killed nine polio workers in similar attacks across Pakistan, prompting authorities to suspend the vaccination campaign in the troubled areas. The U.N. also suspended its field operations in December as a result of the attacks, though it has since resumed some activities.

Karachi in a daze as dozen killed in targeted killing

At least three people have been shot dead in Karachi as gory incidents of targeted killings continue to haunt the commercial hub of the country. According to Geo News’ correspondent, armed men riding on a motorcycle opened fire on a vehicle on city’s main thoroughfare Sharae Faisal near Nursery Bridge, killing three people on the spot. Rescue workers rushed to the spot and shifted the bodies to a near by hospital. The number of people killed in the metropolis today has reached 12. Earlier, the police had recovered six bodies dumped in gunny bags from different areas of the city. According to the police, two bodies bearing bullet wounds were found from Askari Park situated near Pak Colony and University Road. Three gunny-bagged bodies were found from Qaimkhani Colony of Baldia Town late on Wednesday night, who were kidnapped, tortured and then killed. Police claimed that unidentified people threw the bodies from a car near Baho Chowk. It said that all the three were abducted from Orangi Town area last day at 6 pm. Another body was found near Timber Market located in the Old City Area. Meanwhile, a man was gunned down near Habib Ground located in Landhi area. The deceased was identified as 24-year old Danish.

Reko Diq to yield hefty profit for Balochistan

The Express Tribune
Renowned scientist Dr Samar Mubarakmand said during a briefing to Balochistan Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi on Wednesday that the provincial government has won the Reko Diq case in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and will now implement the project. “Work will first begin on 2.2 billion tonnes of ore and gold reservoirs worth $400 billion,” he said. According to Dr Mubarakmand, the Geological Survey of Pakistan spotted the Reko Diq reservoirs in 1978 and an agreement was reached with Australian company Tethyan in 1993. Now, however, this agreement has come to an end and Balochistan has also won the case in the ICJ. He further said that, under this project, as many as 15,000 tonnes of raw material will be excavated annually worth $411 million and government of Balochistan is expected to earn an annual profit of $321 million. The provincial government allocated Rs1,400 million for this project whereas only the water supply will take Rs1,980 million, being completed in a span of a year and a half. Furthermore, Dr Mubarakmand said the local people of Balochistan will be recruited for the project’s non-technical positions. Balochistan Governor Magsi stressed upon a timely execution of the project so that the masses can benefit as soon as possible and directed both the chief secretary and the finance secretary to ensure an efficient provision of funds. Additionally, he, too, emphasised the need for the local people to be given more jobs, and for project offices to be established in Quetta instead of Islamabad. Furthermore, Magsi directed the authorities concerned to guarantee foolproof security arrangements.

Gwadar Port control transferred to China

Besides giving approval to Strategic Trade Policy Framework 2012-15, the federal cabinet gave formal go-ahead to Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline Project and handing over of Gwadar Port management from Port of Singapore to a Chinese company.Giving briefing on the decisions taken by the cabinet, Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said a number of MoUs with various governments were also approved. The minister, highlighting the performance of his government, said it was a singular achievement of the government that it had brought down the inflation and had doubled the revenue generation since assumption of power.Earlier, in his opening remarks at the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf made it loud and clear that the demand to dissolve the Election Commission of Pakistan was unconstitutional, adding neither the chief election commissioner nor any member of the ECP could be removed in an unconstitutional manner. “I want to convey a message to the anti-democracy elements that we shall not succumb to their intrigues. We shall not let anyone derail democracy. We gave and are ready to give any kind of sacrifice for the country and democracy,” he added. Ashraf said no one would be allowed to derail the country’s democratic setup, adding Pakistan was going to have elections in a few weeks.Kaira said the cabinet had accorded approval to handing over of Gwadar Port management from Port of Singapore to China Overseas Holding to make the port operational for the collective betterment of the people of Balochistan.To a question, he said it was the decision of Port of Singapore which was earlier tasked to make the port functional and the federal cabinet had just accorded approval to the deal.“Both the companies have settled their deal,” Kaira said, without giving a timetable for the transfer.Kaira said that Singapore’s PSA International could not develop or operate Gwadar ‘as desired’ and said he hoped that under new management the port would soon contribute to country’s flagging economy.“The Chinese will make more investment to make the project operational,” Kaira said.Kaira said the cabinet had also given formal approval to the Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline Project and also allocated funds for the project while a four-member committee, headed by the federal finance minister, had been constituted to monitor progress on the project.Kaira revealed the cabinet had also approved legislation to further strengthen the office of ombudsman. Explaining the point, he said the term of the federal ombudsman would be fixed at four years, besides granting financial and administrative autonomy to him. The ombudsman would be empowered to initiate contempt proceedings for any violation, he revealed. Earlier, such powers only vested in the office of the federal tax ombudsman.He further said that under the proposed legislation, it was made obligatory for all the government departments to comply with the orders of the ombudsman within 15 days while it would also be made mandatory that all the cases filed in the office of the ombudsman should be settled within 45 days.To another question, Kaira admitted that the country was facing a power shortage due to which the people were facing difficulties, but quickly added the PPP-led government had initiated a number of projects to add inexpensive electricity to the system and mentioned Bhasha Dam, Neelum-Jhelum and a few other projects which would help ease the crisis on completion.To another question, he said the government was not averse to dialogue and the five-member committee would hold talks with all the stakeholders, including the leader of opposition in the National Assembly on holding of elections of the national and provincial assemblies the same day. The committee would complete the task assigned to it in next eight to 10 days, he pointed out.The federal information minister was all praise for the political forces and said the incumbent National Assembly would be remembered in the history for the remarkable job it had done, especially, the legislative business it had conducted during the past five years had no parallel.During the cabinet meeting, Law Minister Farooq H Naek and Interior Minister Rehman Malik exchanged hot words when the former objected to the statement of the latter about imminent terrorist attacks in Karachi and said that it had panicked the people of the port city and adversely affected the overall economic activities in the country. Malik, responding to him, said it was his duty to keep the people abreast with threats. He also gave a detailed briefing to the cabinet members on the overall law and order situation with particular reference to the volatile situation in Karachi.

Nine injured in Peshawar blast

A bomb exploded in a police van near Bacha Khan Chowk in Peshwar, injuring nine people, Geo News reported. According to sources, miscreants had fixed a timed device in a police van near Bacha Khan Chowk and Jinnah Park that went off when the policemen were not present in the van. However due to the explosion, nine pedestrians were injured. The injured have been shifted to Lady Reading Hospital. The bomb disposal squad added, that the explosives weighed half a kilogram.

Pakistan: A family’s suicide

EDITORIAL: Daily Times
In an act of tragic desperation, an unemployed factory worker has killed himself and his entire family due to the demon of poverty and hunger. The 45-year-old Muhammad Qasim had been unemployed for about five months due to the factory where he worked being closed down because of the frequent gas and electricity load shedding. The factory was located in Faisalabad where many others have also been shut down due to the energy shortage, laying off hundreds of thousands of workers. Taking a gun, he shot dead his wife and five children in their sleep, turning the gun on himself in a final act of desperation. It has been estimated by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) that 1,600 people ended their lives due to mass poverty in 2011, with this number increasing in the following year. These suicides are the very last resort for those thousands upon thousands of people driven to the brink of complete deprivation because of unemployment, inflation and lack of basic facilities. That this particular incident, where one of the children was only a year old, is heartbreaking no doubt, but what is even sadder is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. With millions deprived and the gap between the rich and the poor widening every day, frustration, suicides and crime are all increasing. While the government may have invested time and capital in pro-poor initiatives such as the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), which has been applauded by even the World Bank, such schemes do not reach every needy person from the massively stricken masses. The energy shortage is typically seen as bothersome, inconvenient and miserable, but this hardly highlights the mammoth unemployment that results because of it, in turn contributing to the deprivation and poverty prevalent in the country. The government’s real fault lies in the fact that it has taken no steps towards fixing this major woe. Short-term measures such as the Rental Power Projects (RPPs) have been struck down and Independent Power Projects (IPPs) will be years in the making. Not much has been done by the authorities to kick-start any energy projects on a war footing. Our vast coal reserves, which promise to be a national treasure for this fuel-starved nation, remain untapped and alternative energy is still in the pilot stage. The collective suicide of this man’s family should serve to wake up those who have the power to resolve the problem although, judging from the track record of the last five years, this seems a fond hope. A couple of years ago, a man set himself on fire in front of parliament to protest against the state of the country’s poor and we stayed callous and aloof. This man and his innocent family may just have died in vain.

President Zardari calls for early finalization of Pak-Iran projects

Radio Pakistan
President Asif Ali Zardari has called for concerted efforts to increase trade and economic interaction among the people of Pakistan and Iran. He was talking to an Iranian delegation led by Senior Advisor to the Supreme leader on International Affairs Ali Akbar Velayati in Islamabad. President Asif Ali Zardari has also called for early finalization and implementation of Pakistan-Iran projects‚ especially those in the energy sector‚ transport‚ trade and commerce to promote greater bilateral cooperation. The President said people of Pakistan have special attachment with their Iranian brethren and highly value their fraternal ties. The President said there is an urgent need to address the issue of tariff and non tariff barriers to promote mutual trade and increase trade volume. Suggesting encouragement of trade in local currencies the President said that the two countries should seriously consider preferential tariff and free trade arrangements. He also urged the need to further facilitate visa procedure and opening of new border posts for greater connectivity and interaction. The President reiterated Pakistan's commitment for expeditious implementation of all mega projects including Pak Iran gas pipeline‚ one thousand megawatt Taftan-Quetta transmission line‚ four hundred megawatt Gwadar power supply project and construction of Noshki-Dalbandin sector of Quetta Taftan Highway. The President said that ECO Container Train would revolutionize cargo and transit facilities between the two countries. He also urged the need to further ease visa procedures and opening new border posts for greater connectivity and interactions. Discussing regional situation and shared challenges‚ the President emphasized upon the need for joining hands against the shared threat of militancy and extremism. Referring to situation in Afghanistan‚ he stressed for the need to have greater coordination for promotion of peace and stability in the neighboring country. About Middle East‚ the President said Pakistan desire peace and stability in the region and will continue to support every effort in this regard.