Thursday, February 7, 2013


CIA nominee pressed on U.S. drone policy, waterboarding

John Brennan, President Barack Obama's nominee for CIA director, said on Thursday he did not try to stop waterboarding, an interrogation technique that some consider torture, as he faced tough congressional questioning on that issue, security leaks and the use of drones to kill U.S. terrorism suspects. Lawmakers pressed Brennan on controversial counterterrorism tactics employed while he was a CIA official under former President George W. Bush, and others whose use he helps oversee in his current role as chief counterterrorism adviser to Obama. The issue of the now-banned harsh interrogation techniques derailed Brennan's consideration for CIA director four years ago, and he met it head-on at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. "I did not take steps to stop the CIA's use of those techniques. I was not in the chain of command of that program," Brennan said. "I had expressed my personal objections and views to some agency colleagues" about waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning, nudity and other techniques, he said. "But I did not try to stop it, because it was something that was being done in a different part of the agency under the authority of others, and it was something that was directed by the administration at the time," he said. DOCUMENTS FOR LAWMAKERS' EYES ONLY In a bid to smooth congressional concerns about counterterrorism activities under his watch, Obama on Wednesday ordered the Justice Department to give House and Senate intelligence committees access to a classified legal opinion on killing U.S. terrorism suspects with drone strikes. Brennan, 57, has been central in overseeing U.S. government policy on the use of the armed, unmanned aircraft in counterterrorism operations in the Obama administration. But some, mostly Democratic, lawmakers are demanding that the White House provide more of the legal documents underpinning its position that Obama can order lethal strikes overseas on U.S. citizens suspected of terrorist activity. The administration insisted that only lawmakers be allowed access to the classified Justice Department papers, which means the committee's lawyers are unable to read them. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the intelligence committee's Democratic chairwoman, complained to Brennan that the committee's staff had been banned from seeing the administration's classified legal opinion. "The reason for providing information just to committee members at times is to ensure that it is kept on a limited basis," Brennan said. "It is rather exceptional, as I think you know, that the Office of Legal Counsel opinion - or advice - would be shared directly with you." The hearing was recessed briefly after Brennan started speaking because of protesters, who began yelling "Torture is always wrong" and "Stop the drones." Some of the most intense questioning of Brennan came from liberal Democrats, not the conservative Republicans who have raised the strongest objections to one of Obama's other security nominees - Chuck Hagel, his choice to lead the Pentagon. Civil liberties groups have criticized the drone program as effectively a green light to assassinate Americans without due process in the courts under the U.S. Constitution. While he faced probing, and at times confrontational, queries from senators, Brennan seemed unflustered and gave little ground. He appears on track for approval by the committee and confirmation by the full Senate. "I sat through a number of these hearings. I don't think I've ever heard anyone more forthright or more honest or more direct," Feinstein told Brennan. "I think you are going to be a fine and strong leader for the CIA." After the hearing, Feinstein said she expects the committee to vote on the nomination next Thursday. DEMOCRATS' CONCERNS Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, expressed reservations about the drone program. "Taking the fight to al Qaeda is something every member of this committee feels strongly about. It's the idea of giving any president unfettered power to kill an American without checks and balances that's so troubling," he said. In an exchange with Wyden, Brennan defended the use of drone strikes to target Americans who joined al Qaeda. "Any American who did that should know well that they in fact are part of an enemy ... and that the United States will do anything possible to destroy that enemy and to save American lives," he said. In 2011 a drone strike killed U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki, described by U.S. investigators as a leader of al Qaeda's Yemen-based affiliate. His 16-year-old son, also a U.S. citizen, was killed in a separate drone strike in Yemen that year. QUESTION OF LEAKS Republicans questioned Brennan in detail about a Reuters story that reported he told former U.S. officials who are now television commentators that the United States had "inside control" over an alleged plot by al Qaeda's Yemen-based affiliate to destroy an airliner using an underwear bomb undetectable by the latest security technology. A few hours after the Brennan conference call, one of the pundits, former White House adviser Richard Clarke, said on ABC TV that the administration had implied "that they had somebody on the inside" who was not going to allow the bombing plot to be carried out. U.S. and European security officials later acknowledged that British Intelligence, with the help of U.S. and Saudi agencies, had succeeded in planting an informant inside the militant group, but that this undercover operation had to be terminated prematurely due to news leaks. Brennan emphatically denied he had given away government secrets or released classified material on the conference call with the former officials. He said that the serious leak was to the Associated Press about an airline bombing plot that had been disrupted.

US to withdraw from Middle East?

Recently,a series of events that happened in Middle East have eased the tension of the region: First, Iran announced that it would participate in six-party nuclear talks. Then on Feb. 5 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid a visit to Egypt which marked the first state visit after the two countries suspended their diplomatic ties 30 years ago. After that, Syrian opposition called for dialogue with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's leadership. Coincidentally, U.S. also declared that President Obama will pay a visit to Israel on March 20 to discuss the probability to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Will the situation in Middle East calm down? When talking about these issues, the US policy towards Middle East during Obama’s second term is an important point for analysis. Observing Obama’s first term, U.S. government carried out a low-pressure strategy in this region: withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, ensuring no direct confrontations between Israel and Palestine, treating Syria and Iran with both repression and talks in order to maintain the moderate speed of “democratic revolution” in Middle East, hence, to give ways to U.S emphasizing its strategy in Asia-Pacific Area. This US policy may continue in Obama’s second term. More important, since the Arab Spring started, the Islamic world hasn’t developed in accordance with U.S. interest. Instead, the Islamic extremists have enhanced their power because of the continuous instability. The United States has noticed the complexity of this problem and has slowed down its pace in Middle East. Of course, the United States will not totally relinquish control of Middle East, which has been the focus of US foreign policy. Besides, the current situation does not allow the United States to withdraw from this region. As Robert Kagan, a senior fellow in the Center for the United States and Europe on Foreign Policy at the American think tank Brookings Institution said, “It is sarcastic that every time Obama’s government tries to turn its focus to Asia-Pacific it is pulled back by Middle East.”

State of the Union Address Likely to Focus on Domestic Issues

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union Address -- the first of his second term in office -- on February 12. The speech to a joint session of Congress will be watched by millions across the nation and around the world.

U.S: Monster blizzard set to slam Northeast

Sexual abuse of children 'rampant' in India

Strike called over Tunisia killing

After fatwas, security upped for Egypt opposition

Security was beefed up around Egypt's opposition leaders on Thursday after several hardline Muslim clerics issued religious edicts calling for them to be killed, raising fears of assassinations similar to that of a Tunisian opposition leader gunned down a day earlier in Tunisia. Egypt's prime minister and the Muslim Brotherhood, which forms the backbone of the country's leadership, condemned the edicts, or fatwas, and the top prosecutor launched an investigation against one of the clerics. The slaying in Tunisia of opposition leader Chokri Belaid and the fatwas in Egypt have sparked an uproar in both countries and raised concerns that religious hard-liners could turn to killings to silence critics of Islamists' rule. In Egypt, hard-liners have reacted with fury to a wave of protests against Islamist President Mohammed Morsi since late January, which have turned into deadly clashes as police cracked down on the demonstrators. Aides to Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood officials have depicted the protesters as thugs and criminals and have accused opposition politicians of condoning or even fueling violence in an attempt to undermine Morsi. Using similar rhetoric, several well-known hardline clerics the past week declared that punishments under Islamic law for those who cause chaos or try to overthrow the ruler apply to the protesters and opposition leaders — including death, crucifixion or amputations of limbs. Another cleric suggested that violent sexual assaults of women protesters in Tahrir Square the past week were justified, calling them "either Crusaders (Christians) ... or widows who have no one to rein them in." After criticism of government silence over the fatwas calling for killing opposition leaders, Prime Minister Hesham Kandil on Thursday warned that such edicts could lead to "sedition and disturbance." "These extremist edicts are not related to Islam," Kandil said, according to the state news agency. "The Egyptian people had a glorious January Revolution for the sake of establishing a democratic society where dialogue prevails, not killing." A day earlier, Egypt's most prominent opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the National Salvation Front, had said on his Twitter account, "Regime silent as another fatwa gives license to kill opposition in the name of Islam." Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Hani Abdel Latif said security authorities will increase patrols in residential areas where opposition leaders live in. He told the website of the state Al-Ahram newspaper that security officials have "put into consideration" the assassination of the Tunisia's Belaid. A security official said ElBaradei's home and several other leaders' homes will be put under observation for their protection. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. The fatwas came after the wave of unrest that swept over Egypt since late January, when protests against Morsi turned to clashes in many places, and demonstrators have cut off roads and held strikes outside government buildings. Dozens were killed in police crackdowns on protesters. Last Friday, protests outside Morsi's presidential palace turned into riots as police rained tear gas and fired birdshots at demonstrators throwing stones and firebombs, and then set fire to protesters' tents. In a sign of the increasing mayhem, police stopped a man trying to drive a bulldozer at the palace's gates the next day. One well-known TV cleric, Mahmoud Shaaban, said the leaders of the National Salvation Front are "setting Egypt on fire to gain power." "The verdict against them under God's law is death," he said on a talk show on a TV station connected to the ultraconservative Salafi movement. He mentioned ElBaradei and another Front leader, Hamdeen Sabahi, saying "they have repeatedly spoken about toppling Morsi." Later in the program, he clarified that the government should carry out the verdict, not private citizens. Separately, another hardline cleric Wagdi Ghoneim issued a video statement pleading with Morsi to crack down heavily on those outside his palace. He said "the verdict under Shariah for those who seek corruption on earth is to be fought, or crucified, or have their arms or legs cut off or be exiled from earth." "Strike with an iron fist. Otherwise, the country will be lost at your hand and they'll say it is your fault. They'll say Islam doesn't know how to rule and that it's the Islamists who wrecked the country," he said. He said that if Morsi's government doesn't act, private citizens will. "We will kill the criminals, the thugs, the thieves and those who give them money and those who help them with words. No mercy with them," Ghoneim shouted. Top prosecutor Talaat Ibrahim ordered an investigation into Shaaban for his fatwa. Another television sheik seemed to justify sexual assaults on women in Tahrir. Activists have reported at least 19 such attacks on Jan. 25, the day Egyptians marked their second anniversary of 2011 revolution that ousted longtime president Hosni Mubarak. In many cases, mobs swarm a woman protester, stripping her and sexually assaulting her. On his TV show on Wednesday, cleric Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah derided opposition statements that attacking women was "a red line" that must not be crossed. "Does that apply to these naked women?" he said. "Most of them are Crusaders ... or widows with no one to rein them in" and ensure they remain modest. "They are going there to get raped," he screamed. He spoke of their curly hair, saying "these are devils named women ... they speak with no femininity, no morals, no fear ... Learn from Muslim women, be Muslims." Abdullah, known as Abu Islam, is current on trial on charges of religion contempt after he told a protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that he tore a copy of the Bible and next time he will urinate on it. The protest took place on Sept. 11 after an anti-Islam film made in the US caused uproar. Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood also condemned the fatwas calling killing the opposition by saying, "the Muslim Brotherhood denounce calls that permit bloodshed and incites for killing." Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world's premier Islamic institution, feared that such edicts "open the doors of sedition and chaos of killing and bloodshed." In a statement, it called upon Egyptians to "to adhere to the position of the Islamic law, which emphasizes the sanctity of blood." The National Salvation Front issued a statement condemning the assassination of the Tunisian politician. The assassination "sounds danger alarms from Tunisia to Cairo, and warns of the cancerous growth of terrorist groups cloaked by religion and carrying out a plot to liquidate the opposition morally and physically." Egyptians have witnessed series of assassinations of top statesmen and writers on hands of Islamic extremists after religious edicts were issued against them back in 1990s during a surge of Islamist extremist insurgency.

Anti-regime demos held in north Bahrain

Bahrainis have once again staged demonstrations against the ruling Al Khalifa regime in a number of villages. On Wednesday, demonstrators took to the streets of the northeastern island of Sitra, the northwestern village of Diraz and the northern village of Nuwaidrat, chanting slogans against the Manama regime. The protesters expressed determination to continue the uprising despite the crackdown by security forces. The recent demonstrations were held ahead of national talks that are scheduled to commence on February 10. Protest gatherings in Bahrain are planned to be held every day until February 14, which is the second anniversary of the uprising. On Wednesday, Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, which is the major opposition bloc in Bahrain, called for the establishment of a transitional government, which represents different national factions, as a first step to resolve the crisis in the country. The group also called on the regime to put an end to the “ongoing crackdowns and media campaigns against dissidents.” Despite expressing readiness to attend the talks, the opposition groups have cast doubt over the effectiveness of the talks. Six members from the opposition and eight from pro-regime groups will attend the talks. The popular uprising began in Bahrain in mid-February 2011. The Saudi regime and the United Arab Emirates sent security and military forces to the country upon a request from Manama to help the Bahraini government quash the peaceful protests. Dozens of people have been killed in the crackdown, and the security forces have arrested hundreds including doctors and nurses.

Saudis demand release of Shia cleric

Saudis have staged fresh protests in the eastern city of Qatif, demanding the release of dissident Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr. The protestors chanted slogans in support of the cleric, held in detention since July 2012, as they marched in the streets of the volatile city on Thursday. Sheikh al-Nimr was shot and arrested by regime forces for criticizing the country’s ruling family. His family members, after being allowed to visit him in prison, said he has been badly tortured in jail. Nimr’s sister has recently said through her Twitter account that prison authorities are denying her brother medical care. On Wednesday, two Shia Muslims were sentenced to prison on charges of attending demonstrations in Qatif. The sentences, which were issued by a court in Eastern Province, were among verdicts in the case of five men accused of holding anti-government protest rallies. On Saturday, the court began the trials of an unspecified number of Shias on similar charges. Since February 2011, protesters have held demonstrations on an almost regular basis in the kingdom's east, mainly in Qatif and Awamiyah, calling for the release of all political prisoners, freedom of expression and assembly, and an end to widespread discrimination. However, the demonstrations turned into protests against the repressive Al Saud regime, especially since November 2011 when Saudi security forces killed five protesters and injured many others in Eastern Province. Activists say there are over 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia. In October 2012, Amnesty International called on the Saudi authorities to stop using excessive force against pro-democracy protestors.

Afghanistan bribery cost 'increases sharply'

The cost of corruption has risen sharply in Afghanistan but fewer people are paying bribes, a UN report says. It said the amount rose in 2012 to $3.9bn, twice the country's domestic revenue and that 50% of Afghans were paying bribes compared to 58% in 2009. Increasing numbers of people say they find it acceptable for civil servants to take small bribes, the report adds. The government blames the international community's system of giving contracts to officials for spreading corruption. However, it accepts that the problem is rife within its own ranks. The BBC's Bilal Sarwary says that what is revealed in this report could just be the tip of the iceberg. It is also unclear to what extent respondents felt able to speak openly about the bribery and corruption they have to contend with, our correspondent says. 'Correct strategy needed' The report was compiled jointly by the UN office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Afghanistan's anti-corruption unit, based on a survey of 6,700 people, It says that while there has been ''some tangible progress'' in the fight against corruption, the total cost of corruption rose to $3.9bn in 2012, a 40% jump over the 2009 figure. According to the report, the bribes Afghans paid last year amounted to double the country's domestic revenue or one-quarter of the $16bn promised by donors for Afghanistan at a conference in Japan last year. But corruption appears to be increasingly tolerated by ordinary people and "embedded in social practices", the report added. More than 68% surveyed considered it acceptable for a civil servant to top up a low salary by accepting small bribes - up from 42% in 2009, it said. "Afghans know that corruption is eating at the fabric of their society," said UNODC regional representative Jean-Luc Lemahieu. "The solution is not only to be found within the government but also within the wider community." The report noted that while the cost of corruption had risen, the total number of people paying bribes had dropped from 58% in 2009 to 50% last year - but they were paying more often. It said that the education sector had become especially vulnerable, with the number of Afghans bribing teachers jumping from 16% in 2009 to 51% in 2012. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly called for greater efforts to deal with the problem. He has appealed to the US and other countries not to give construction, reconstruction and business contracts to Afghan government officials or their relatives, which he says is making the problem worse. UN officials said it was not a question of recognising the problem but finding the right way to do something about it. "Nobody doubts the seriousness of the issue, the art is to design the correct strategy to remedy the situation. The findings of the survey will allow us to do so," Mr Lemahieu said.

The Truth About Balochistan
By Sanaullah Baloch
Over the years, the ruling elite has been polluting the public mind with baseless assumptions and storylines regarding Balochistan. This leaves little room for logical debate on the province and on the appalling socio-economic and political realities that have resulted in the Baloch people’s hostility to the state system. Despite massive media outreach and the Internet revolution, the rigid perception about Balochistan and its people remains unchanged. Facts about Baloch society and its tribal structure, as well as the outdated government-sustained tribal system in which corrupt tribal chiefs are in collusion with the establishment are rarely analysed. These tribal chiefs have played a leading role in the wholesale destruction of the Baloch society. The establishment’s standard narrative on the crisis in Balochistan revolves around such standard assumptions as: the sardars and nawabs are the main cause of the province’s socio-economic backwardness; the Baloch uprising is foreign-funded; and Balochistan is fully empowered and governed by the locals. No serious efforts have been made to understand Balochistan beyond the fact that the province is a mineral-rich region that produces natural gas, and is a colony populated by tribal warlords and their impoverished subjects. There is no denying that the power-hungry tribal chiefs are widely responsible for Balochistan’s woes. But these sardars derive their legitimacy from Islamabad, and are sustained by the government and the civil-military-establishment. However, while the Baloch deeply respect their tribal traditions and culture, this doesn’t hinder their participation in socio-economic development. The first universities, schools and other centres of learning in Balochistan were established by moderate and nationalist Baloch tribal chiefs who were staunch opponents of colonial rule in the Subcontinent, particularly in Balochistan. In the early 1930s, Nawab Yousuf Aziz Magsi established the first educational institution – Jama-e-Yousufia – in Jhal Magsi. He brought revolutionary changes in Baloch society by encouraging education and opposing the sardari system, despite being a sardar himself. Being very concerned about the welfare of the Baloch youth, he widely campaigned for social and political reforms in the province. As far back as the late 19th century and the early 20th century, the Khan of Kalat provided scholarships to young people to help them gain access to education in some of the best colleges and universities of India. He also sought the help of the British to establish schools and colleges in Balochistan. Until 1972, Balochistan was completely ignored when it came to education and economic development. The first Baloch government, headed by Sardar Attaullah Mengal and his visionary education minister, Mir Gul Khan Nasir, gave to Balochistan a university and hundreds of schools and colleges, including a medical college. Special economic zones, including the Hub Industrial Area were a brainchild of Baloch nationlist sardars who wanted their people to be empowered. In 1972, a resolution was moved in the Balochistan Assembly demanding that the federal government abolish the sardari and jirga systems, since the assembly itself did not have the power to legislate such radical changes. The PPP government at the time took no action in this regard. On February 14 1972, eight months later after the passage of this resolution, the National Awami Party presented the resolution in the National Assembly. On June 8, 1972, a resolution was introduced demanding “the eradication of outdated institutions such as the sardari system, the jirga system and the tribal system so that the province of Balochistan may progress socially and economically.” In his speech Balochistan’s senior minister Mir Gul Khan Nasir told the speaker: “Four things have been pointed out as hurdles to the economic and social progress of Balochistan in this resolution. These are: the sardari, tribal and jirga systems, and all other measures by means of which the people of Balochistan have been, and are still being, exploited.” He explained in his speech: “Sardari in the beginning wasn’t a parasitic institution, but when the sardars became agents of an imperial power, the integrity of this institution began to deteriorate. With the passage of time…some knights rose from within the ranks of the sardars…and succeeded in diminishing its influence. But despite this, we do not wish to keep this rusty skeleton of the sardari system as a monument or memorial of the past because as long as this institution remains, even as a vestige, it will keep our nation divided into various tribes and sub-tribes, which will render it impossible for us to achieve economic progress. Therefore, the main objective of presenting this resolution is to completely eradicate from the face of this earth the disease-stricken sardari system…” In Quetta, Chief Minister Attaullah Mengal unequivocally spoke in favour of the resolution, saying, “Now that the tribal system has lost its advantages, keeping it is going to act as a hurdle in the development of the people of these tribes. And the large amounts of annual allowances being given to the royal families of the states that merged with Pakistan and the sardars are putting undue pressure on the country’s economy. Therefore, the sardari system should be abolished…and the annual allowances to former royal families should be discontinued. And all the responsibilities of the sardars need to be transferred to other institutions, just like in the other parts of the country.” Despite the opposition of pro-establishment nawabs and jams, the Balochistan Assembly adopted the resolution with overwhelming majority. But Islamabad paid no heed to the demand. Furthermore, any socio-economic development of the Baloch bothered the regional powers, resulting in the dismissal of the first truly elected Baloch government and also in a full-fledged military operation.

Hundreds of Balochistan Public Servants Receive Salaries While Living Overseas

The Baloch Hal
The Balochistan government says it plans to take stern action against hundreds of employees from various departments who are currently living outside the country but still receiving regular official salary. The Chief Secretary of Balochistan, Babar Yaqoob Fateh, on Tuesday took strict notice of reports that hundreds of government employees were currently living or working overseas but were being paid salary from the official exchequer. Most of these officials have left the country without even getting official leave from the departments where they worked. Every government employee is otherwise required to obtain a no-objection certificate (N.O.C.) from the government before traveling to another country. This precondition has been violated by those who now face strict official action. These public servants have attained private passports instead of applying for passports specific for government officials. Initial findings have revealed that most of the people who have been found involved in this illegal practice are those who were offered jobs under the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-Balochistan Package. The government had offered the Package to Balochistan in November 2009 in an effort to resolve the current political crisis in the province but massive irregularities were reported as people complained that jobs created from the Package were offered to the relatives and supporters of political leaders instead of being offered purely on merit. The new findings indicate that people who got jobs under the Balochistan Package already possessed jobs and they took these jobs only to receive salary without ever showing up for work. “This is absolutely unacceptable,” said the Chief Secretary, “it is not fair to the unemployed youth of the province.” The Chief Secretary has immediately ordered an official inquiry into the matter and directed concerned officials to provide him further details without any delays.

US drone kills 3 militants in Waziristan, jets pound Orakzai

The Express Tribune
American drone programme conducted its first attack of February 2013 in Pakistan, targeting militants in North Waziristan Agency. Three militants, including a foreign fighter, were killed when an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fired missiles on a militant compound in Ghulam Khan tehsil in North Waziristan on Wednesday. An official of the security forces said that around 12:30 pm, a drone fired two missiles on a Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) compound in the mountains of Martal in Bangidar near the Pakistan-Afghan border, around 15 kilometres from Miramshah, headquarters of the agency, killing the three TTP militants. The official added that residents from the surrounding areas immediately rushed to the site to begin a rescue operation and pulled out the bodies from the debris. The first US drone strike of February 2013 follows six attacks conducted in January, in which 42 militants were killed and seven were injured in both North and South Waziristan. Its most high-profile victim last month was Taliban warlord Maulvi Nazir Wazir, also known as Mullah Nazir, a powerful elder of the Wazir tribe. Nazir was killed when a US drone fired two missiles at a double-cabin pick-up vehicle in Sara Kanda of Birmal tehsil in Wana subdivision, South Waziristan on January 2. Fighter jets kill 8 militants in Orakzai Agency Pakistani fighter jets launched a blitz on militant hideouts in Orakzai Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on Wednesday, killing eight militants, an official of the security forces said. The jets bombed TTP hideouts, destroying three in Arghanjo and Lando Qamar in the troubled Mamozai, which borders Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency. The bombardment killed eight militants. It was the fifth such attack on militants this year. According to security forces, the previous four air raids have killed around 38 militants, while 11 hideouts were destroyed. However, the exact figures are difficult to verify. Strategic importance of Orakzai Agency Orakzai Agency is strategically an important area. Covering an area of 700 square miles, the agency shares its borders with Kurram and Khyber agencies, Hangu district and Kohat, Darra Adamkhel. It is the only agency among seven that does not share a border with Afghanistan. Its estimated population is 450,000. Since 2010, most of the agency was believed to be a safe haven for local and foreign militants, but security forces launched an operation to eliminate them. The operation is still continuing. Around 97% of the agency has been reclaimed from militants.

Pakistan’s tobacco consumption: The most in South Asia!

Despite the fact that tobacco is banned in public places, Pakistan is the largest consumer of tobacco in South Asia. Reports have revealed that tobacco smoking is very common among youngsters, and is responsible for various health problems in the young generation. A cigarette consists of various chemicals, which when consumed either in high doses or at low doses, but on a regular basis, can be toxic. Examples of such chemicals include nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar along with heavy metals and several carcinogens like nitrosamines, aromatic amines and polycyclic hydrocarbons. Around 2,000 to 4,000 different noxious chemicals are released when a single cigarette is lit. The adverse effects of these chemicals include systemic cancers, peripheral vascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In developing countries like Pakistan, which have weak anti-tobacco legislation and lack of awareness among the people regarding smoking, tobacco related diseases have shown a significant increase. Tobacco use is not only capable of damaging nearly every organ of the human body but also aids at least 15 different cancers and is single-handedly responsible for 30 percent of all cancer related deaths. The number of cases of lung cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and myocardial infarction are increasing with the increasing sale of cigarettes. Moreover, lung cancer is causing malignancy among the Pakistani males where around 40 percent of males and 8 percent of females are regular smokers. Tobacco-smoking parents are believed to have played a key role in the spread of this habit among the youth. Studies have revealed that every teenager has at least one tobacco-smoking parent and such children were significantly more likely to start smoking tobacco as compared to children of non-smoking parents. According to World Health Organisation (WHO) tobacco use is currently responsible for the death of one in ten adults’ worldwide (about 5 million deaths each year). Moreover, unless circumstances changes, within 25 years the annual death toll will double; millions more will prematurely develop tobacco related illnesses that may lead to chronic disability. Taking to Pakistan Today, Heath EDO Dr Inamul Haq said, “It is alarming that a huge number of youngsters are heading towards tobacco-smoking. There is law on cigarette smoking in public places but there is a lack of implementation. The government is trying to take steps for save our generation from this menace.”

Pakistan: Who is conspiring?

While PML-N President Mian Nawaz Sharif should realise that when he says that there is a conspiracy to delay the coming elections, he raises two questions. He made this pronouncement on Tuesday, while talking just prior to leaving Jeddah for home after performing Umra. The first question is: who he is referring to and why he does not say who exactly is conspiring. This question is particularly pertinent because Mian Nawaz is a former Prime Minister, not just chief of the largest opposition party, and thus should not fear any consequences, nor should he speak in riddles. Where the government, judiciary and armed forces officials have all continuously reiterated their commitment to doing their part to hold free and fair elections on time, there does not seem much room to see villains, where everyone is striving to achieve the same goal. He might be referring to Tahirul Qadri’s long march but that is over without the elections delayed. The forces suspected of wishing to put off elections and back Dr Qadri in the hope that he might provide the excuse to stage a putsch have not been identified and it seems that Mian Nawaz is not going to name anyone. However, when he said that delay in elections were not in the national interest, he showed that those forces would not find his party supporting them. It goes almost without saying that no putsch is possible without the support of at least some political forces. However, by saying what he did, and that too while abroad, he tacitly confirmed the warning by PPP Senator Raza Rabbani of the threat to the next election. Also, being abroad, he expressed support for the granting of the vote to overseas Pakistanis, blaming the government for avoiding this. He did not mention how the government had allowed this issue to become hopelessly confused with that of dual nationals being disqualified from assembly membership. It should not be forgotten that the overseas Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia are prevented from obtaining dual nationality by Saudi law and from voting in Pakistani elections by Pakistani law. However, it should not be forgotten that even residents of Pakistan will only vote if elections are held. For that, it is essential that Mian Nawaz and other politicians show the firmness of their commitment.

Peshawar: Planners in a fix over destruction of schools

The unabated destruction of public sector schools in terrorist attacks has added to the woes of official development planners as they complain of anxiety and lack of focus because of the security crisis. “You rebuild a school one day and the next week you find that the workload has not diminished because they (terrorists) would have destroyed or partially damaged another school building somewhere in a far-off area of the province,” said an official involved in the rebuilding process. It eats away precious financial resources out of whatever little money the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government spends on the education sector under its Annual Development Programme, according to the official. Besides, the persistence with which the militants destroy school buildings adds to the development planners’ workload, divides their focus between new school projects and an always growing number of school buildings needing reconstruction and unsettles the government’s development agenda, according to sources in the planning and development department. According to the education department authorities, the provincial government reconstructed more than 550 buildings of schools that Taliban destroyed in different parts of the province since 2010 and work on some 190 schools was going on in various districts. “The problem is that there does not seem to be an end to this situation. While we are busy in reconstructing the schools they (terrorists) are carrying out their destruction agenda with impunity,” said a senior official of the planning department. According to Conflict Monitoring Centre’s data, militants destroyed 81 schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata in 2012. They destroyed 52 schools in the province, including 13 in Swabi district, 10 in Charsadda, five each in Nowshera and Mardan, four each in Kohat and Laki Marwat, two each in Hangu and Dera Ismail Khan and one each in Swat and Tank districts. The province has not begun the new calendar year with confidence. On January 19 this year, saboteurs blew up a primary school for girls in Peshawar’s suburbs at Badhber. The state’s inability to nab the culprits responsible for destroying the schools ever since the problem started has given them criminal courage. Private schools are also being targeted and in a recent incident a school was attacked in close proximity to Peshawar Cantonment. An improvised explosive device was detonated outside the main gate of a private school at Hassan Garhi on January 4, last. Situated in a densely populated semi-urban Hasan Garhi, the school caters to the educational needs of a small community. Similarly, on January 22, 2013, two buses were damaged in IED blasts outside Quaid-i-Azam International Public School, a private institution, at Chota Lahor in Swabi. Its owner, Mazhar Khan, told Dawn that the school’s different branches had been attacked four times during the past few months. The perpetrators of the crimes remain at large as according to an investigation officer at Chota Lahor police station no headway could be made without solid evidence and eyewitness account. “At the time of the January 22 last explosions there were 18 persons, including six drivers and 12 cleaners, who were present at the crime scene, but none of them came forward to record evidence,” said Hazrat Nabi Khan, an investigation inspector looking into the case. The police investigator said witnesses from among the general public did not come forward to record evidence in terrorism related cases because of personal security considerations. A senior police officer, when contacted, said that investigators usually found themselves stuck up between a rock and a hard place, leaving them with piles of unresolved cases. In a couple of cases of attacks on schools, the police, said the official, managed to get solid evidence, but further progress could not be made because witnesses did not want their identity to be disclosed and the local court ordered the witnesses to come in person to record their statements. “I created problems for myself as I collected witnesses’ accounts in a couple of cases, but got myself at a difficult spot after the court ordered the witnesses to record their statements in person while the witnesses backed off,” said an investigator.

Pakistan: Breaching fiscal discipline

Frontier Post
Gen Pervez Musharraf’s prime minister Shaukat Aziz, who also held the portfolio of finance, created a superfluous “economic boom” by heavy imports majority of which comprised luxury items. PPP government’s first finance minister Shaukat Tareen more or less followed the same policy and his successor Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh did not lag behind making a mess of the national economy either. The mismanagement of the three finance ministers has now resulted in Pakistan’s total debt and liabilities now nearing Rs16 trillion in about a decade’s time. Two policy statements issued by the ministry on Monday conceded that the government breached major limits imposed by parliament under the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act, 2005, that seeks bringing down debt levels and this seems even vulnerable of the sovereignty of state. Of this the domestic debt is around Rs9 trillion and the rest is the international liability. This is a highly alarming situation owing to higher subsidies, lower revenue collections, drying up of external program loans and currency devaluation. Not only the government showed no limits of its bizarre economic management, it also faltered in submitting annual reports on economy to parliament for three years. The Musharraf regime also behaved similarly. The key requirement of the act of reducing the revenue deficit to nil not later than June 2008 and thereafter maintaining a revenue surplus, remained total failure to begin with and throughout the last one decade. The revenue deficit stood between 3.2 per cent of GDP in 2008 to 2.5 per cent of GDP at the end of fiscal 2012. The second condition of confining total public debt below 60 per cent of GDP and then maintaining it at this limit every year, also could not be fulfilled owing to subsidies related to food and energy sectors due to which public debt to GDP stood at 61.3 per cent of GDP at end June 2012. The third key milestone required reducing total public debt by no less than 2.5 per cent of GDP every year for 10 years - 2003 to 2013 - provided poverty alleviation related expenditures did not fall below 4.5 per cent of GDP was met but failed in doubling health and education expenditures. The policy statements admit that reducing debt by 2.5 per cent every year remained a pipedream throughout the decade. Instead total debt to GDP ratio stood at 59 per cent in 2008 and finally increased again to 61.3 per cent in 2011-12. However, the government was able to maintain social sector and poverty related between 6 per cent in 2008 and 8.2 per cent in 2012. What seems to be the most conspicuous of this economic debacle is, once again, the inability of the corrupt Federal Board of Revenue in taxing all the affluent persons and the wealthy corporate sector. Unless, the FBR does not introduce a judicious taxation system, the economic ills of the country cannot heal.

Ajmal Khattak to be remembered on February 7

Radio Pakistan
Third death anniversary of renowned Pashtu poet Ajmal Khattak is being observed on February 7.Born in September 1925‚ Ajmal Khattak was a committed political worker and also a literary man‚ having published a number of books of prose and poetry‚ mostly in Pashto and some in Urdu languages. Khattak started his career as a school teacher in a government school. But he left the job to become a journalist. He worked with dailies Anjam and Shahbaz and did well in both Urdu and Pashto journalism. He later began writing columns on political and social issues. Ajmal Khattak lost the election for the MNA slot in 1970 from Nowshera. He finally won the assembly seat in the 1990 elections to become an MNA on the ANP ticket. He also remained a senator. His early political career began during the Quit India Movement. Ajmal Khattak had served the ANP as central president for two terms when Wali Khan stepped down from the post. He was ousted as ANPs president in 2000‚ after a protracted power struggle with some members of Wali Khan Family. Deciding to leave the party‚ he briefly led a splinter group called National Awami Party of Pakistan. His party did not win even a single seat in the 2002 general elections amidst the religo-political parties alliance in NWFP. He wrote 13 books in Pashto and Urdu‚ including A History of Pashto Literature‚ Pakistan Main Qaumi Jamhoori Tehrikin‚ Da Ghirat Chagha‚ Batoor‚ Gul Auo Perhar‚ Guloona Auo Takaloona‚ Jalawatan Ki Shairee‚ Pukhtana Shora and Da Wakht Chagha. His first poem was published in 1944 in a magazine named Pakhtun (founded by Bacha Khan) while his first poetry collection‚ Da Ghairat Chegha‚ came out in 1958. He died on February 7‚ 2010 after protracted illness.

Democracies must care for Pakistan’s minorities

One of the quintessential functions of a modern state is to foster the multi-faceted development of all its citizens. Ironically, however, few states fulfill this function in the world today. Volumes have already been written on the record of the state of Pakistan in this regard. Ever since M.A. Jinnah converted this once-great land of ancient, composite culture into a separate nation out of an undivided, secular India, selfstyled radical Islamists have been on the ascent in the state. Hell-bent on creating a feudal, irrational order based on the fanatic Wahhabi-Deobandi version of Islam, these obscurantist, reactionary forces have increasingly prevailed upon the state to resort to policies that would make the lives of people of all other faiths and values living in the country miserable. In the process, the plight of Pakistan’s minorities has gone from bad to worse over the years. Most of the minorities in Pakistan – Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Baha’i, Buddhists, Zoroastrians (Parsis), Ahmadis, Shi’ites and Mohajirs – non-Muslims and non-Sunni Muslims both – have either resorted to exodus or conversion. In the undivided British India non-Muslims formed more than a quarter of Pakistan’s population. On partition, they came to account for about 14 percent of its population, albeit concentrated mainly in East Bengal. Today, Sunni Muslims constitute 77% and Shias 20% its 175,646,000-strong population. Non-Muslims – Hindus, Christians and others – constitute 3%. Recent reports and studies of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, the US Commission on Freedom, the Jinnah Institute and other such bodies suggest the minorities’ situation has darkened further. The Pakistan Supreme Court has also confirmed this conclusion in some of its observations. It is unfortunate that the governments of the world’s leading democracies still continue to gloss over Pakistan’s minority rights violations. The agenda of Pakistan’s self-styled Islamists poses a great threat not only to its citizens but also to the entire civilized world. The world’s democracies have already suffered a lot on account of Pakistan- supported radical Islamism. If Washington and other democratic capitals of the world do not get tough with Islamabad and neutralize its radical Islamist forces in time, many more terror attacks might revisit them. Enlightened citizens of the democratic world must assert themselves and make their governments behave. They are subsidizing Pakistan with billions of pounds’ worth of aid. They could tell their governments this money cannot be allowed to go to tyrants. Pakistan is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It has already ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Pakistan must ratify the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) assuring its citizens all civil and political rights, including the right to life, freedom or religion, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, electoral rights and rights to due process and a fair trial. Pakistan, like most of the states in the Middle East, was born of Wilsonian ideas. It has claimed equality with sovereign nation-states in the world today. But it has cared little for its minorities. American citizens could impress upon their government the need to take appropriate measures aimed at making the state of Pakistan respect the rights of its citizens. They could insist that if the establishment in Islamabad does not cease oppressing Pakistan’s minorities, the country must be deprived of its current status in the comity of nations.