Sunday, February 10, 2013

Performances biggest part of Grammy night

Tim McGraw & Faith Hill Color-Coordinate At 2013 Grammy

Mr. Kerry’s challenges

Mr. John Kerry has been confirmed as the United States secretary of state and has officially taken office. Although his predecessor, Ms. Hillary Clinton, left a big legacy to live up to, the five-term senator from Massachusetts is well suited for the job. Mr. Kerry’s new post caps a distinguished political career thus far and is a chance for redemption after his failed presidential bid. Mr. Kerry is a real Boston Brahmin, a scion of a distinguished family that can trace its roots all the way back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony; one ancestor was the colony’s first governor. He served in Vietnam, for which he won a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. He later became an antiwar activist and famously joined hundreds of other veterans in throwing his medals over a fence at the Capitol Hill steps as a way of demonstrating their opposition to the war. After stints as a prosecutor and Massachusetts lieutenant governor, Mr. Kerry ran for the U.S. Senate in 1984, a race he won even though his Democratic primary opponent had the support of the party establishment. From that perch he built a career as a liberal Democrat — one of the most reliably progressive voices in the Senate — focusing on foreign affairs. In 2004, Mr. Kerry won the Democratic presidential nomination to challenge U.S. President George W. Bush. He lost that race, with Mr. Bush winning 50.7 percent of the popular vote and 286 electoral votes to Mr. Kerry’s 48.2 percent of the vote and 251 electoral votes. Mr. Kerry was touted as a possible secretary of state during President Barack Obama’s first term, a post that instead went to Ms. Clinton. He worked assiduously on foreign affairs in the Senate, rising to the post of chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He sometimes served as the president’s special envoy to such hot spots as Pakistan. When Ms. Clinton announced that she would not be serving a second term, Mr. Kerry was one of the leading contenders to replace her. He got that chance when Ms. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who many believed was Mr. Obama’s first choice, was undone by Republican opposition to her nomination. Officially, GOP resistance to Ms. Rice reflected critics’ take on her handling of the Benghazi incident, in which four U.S. State Department personnel, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed by terrorists. As her role was merely reading talking points provided by the intelligence community on the Sunday morning talk shows, that explanation falls short. It is more likely that the GOP had political motives in mind: giving Mr. Obama a black eye after his election victory and shooting down his presumed nominee, and forcing him to nominate a Democratic senator, a move that would call an election and give the GOP a chance to reduce the Democratic control of that chamber of Congress. Whatever the explanation, Mr. Kerry was confirmed last week by the entire Senate in a 94-3 vote. Mr. Kerry faces a wide array of challenges, the most pressing of which is managing a sprawling bureaucracy with a $50 billion budget, more than 50,000 employees and nearly 300 embassies, consulates, missions and other posts around the world. He must prepare his department for tough budget cuts despite new and an ever lengthening list of diplomatic concerns. He must maintain morale as staffs shrink and responsibilities grow. His inbox is already full. He will soon be working to galvanize international reaction to a third North Korean nuclear test, a process that will prepare for efforts to build a coalition to push Iran to seriously negotiate the future of its nuclear program. The crisis in Syria continues to grow and the recent events in Mali and Algeria are a reminder that the U.S. must remain ever mindful of the Islamic terrorist threat even as it draws down from Afghanistan. Mr. Kerry will need to get quickly acquainted with his Japanese counterpart, Mr. Fumio Kishida, so that our two countries are ready to tackle the myriad challenges in East Asia, not least of which is a muscular Chinese foreign policy that threatens Japan and other nations of the region. Our two countries will also be working together to combat climate change, promoting nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, and a long list of other shared concerns and priorities. Questions have been raised about the direction and contours of U.S. foreign policy after Ms. Clinton’s departure. Those concerns are misplaced. First, it is the president, not the secretary of state, who sets U.S. foreign policy. Second, while Ms. Clinton will be sorely missed, we should remember that four years ago people were asking whether the former New York State senator (and first lady) knew much about Asia. Ms. Clinton was a diligent student and worked hard to learn about the region, especially after Mr. Obama made it the focus of his foreign policy. We should expect no less from Mr. Kerry. He is just as smart, and will work just as hard to ensure that Mr. Obama’s second term is a success. We wish him well.

Afghan Youth Orchestra Goes From the Streets of Kabul to Broadway

ZARDARI : PPP will win big in Punjab

The Express Tribune
President Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday reaffirmed the government’s resolve to conduct elections on time, adding that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) would record a resounding victory in Punjab. He said this while discussing several issues, including the present political situation, with Law Minister Farooq H Naek at Bilawal House, Lahore. The president also discussed the removal of governor’s rule in Balochistan, the Swiss authorities response to the government’s letter and other important cases before the Supreme Court, including Minhajul Quran International chief Tahirul Qadri’s petition for dissolving the election commission. Naek congratulated President Zardari on the Swiss authorities’ decision against reinstating graft cases against him and maintained that this endorsed the ruling party’s stance in this regard. He termed it a victory for PPP. They also discussed the proposed candidates for the caretaker prime minister. The law minister also briefed the president about his meetings with the leaders of the coalition partners. He informed him about efforts to end governor’s rule in Balochistan. Interior Minister Rehman Malik also called on President Zardari on Sunday, informing him on the overall law and order situation in the country. Punjab Governor Makhdoom Ahmed Mehmood and PPP’s Punjab chapter president Manzoor Wattoo held meetings with the president as well, discussing a range of issues. Later, President Zardari and his son, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, attended a dinner arranged by the party’s Lahore chapter president, federal minister Samina Khalid Ghurki at her residence. Speaking at the dinner, Bilawal too reiterated the party’s resolve to not let anyone disrupt the elections. He claimed the present government had achieved more with a simple majority than most others did with the ‘heavy mandate’ of a two-thirds majority. Bilawal added that the Constitution had been purified of the ‘nonsense’ of dictators as well. At dinner, the proposal of fielding Khalid Ghurki’s son Sufyan from Lahore was considered. Party officials also briefed Bilawal on the political and organizational situation in Lahore. Meanwhile, Samina Ghurki assured that PPP would win at least six seats for the National Assembly from Lahore. The PPP chairman is scheduled to meet party representatives and parliamentarians for Faisalabad today. According to Sana News, Bilawal has decided that as PPP chairman, he will handle all party issues himself and keep President Zardari away from them.

Zardari was tried as beneficiary, not as accused

The Pakistan People’s Party believes that after the Swiss authorities’ refusal to open a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari there is no case pending against its co-chairman in any court. “There is no case pending against the president in the country,” Law Minister Farooq Naek told Dawn on Sunday. He said three cases involving President Zardari were being tried in the country and in all of them he was not the main accused, but one of the beneficiaries. “The main accused in these cases was Ilyas Siddiqui and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was cited as a beneficiary but Mr Siddiqui was acquitted of the charges and after the death of Ms Bhutto cases involving her became redundant,” he said. He cited a judgment of Lahore High Court (LHC) Rawalpindi bench and said: “In a case I was pursuing for a former chairman of the Capital Development Authority, Shafi Sehwani, the court had issued a judgment that if the main accused in the case had been acquitted than there was no question of trying the beneficiaries.” The minister said that on the basis of evidence presented in the courts, President Zardari was cited as one of the beneficiaries in money-laundering cases tried simultaneously in a Swiss court and local courts. Secondly, he said, Section 248 of the Constitution provided immunity to the incumbent president. If the claim of the minister is accepted by the courts which are trying the cases, President Zardari will face no problem even after leaving the office of president. However, an official of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) said he believed cases against the president could be reopened after he left the office because he enjoyed immunity under the Constitution only till he was in office and not after that. It may be mentioned that the government and lawyers of President Zardari had never pleaded in the Supreme Court that there was no case pending against him as a beneficiary of money laundering. They always referred to Section 248 which concerned his immunity. Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was removed by the Supreme Court for not writing a letter to the Swiss authorities for reopening cases against President Zardari, had also referred to presidential immunity. Replying to a question, the NAB official said the record of the Swiss cases, reportedly in 12 boxes, was under the bureau’s secure custody and could be used if the cases were reopened after the end of the president’s tenure. But the law minister said the record had become redundant. “Actually, it was not any precious record but photocopies of court orders that were already available with NAB,” he said

Russia: France Fighting in Mali Rebels It Armed in Libya

Agence France Presse
The rebels France is battling in northern Mali are some of the very same fighters it helped arm in Libya, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Sunday. "In Mali, France is fighting against those it armed in Libya against (Moammar) Gadhafi's regime in violation of the U.N. Security Council (arms) embargo," Lavrov said in extracts of a television interview published by Russian news agencies. Lavrov has previously criticized French arms drops to rebels fighting Gadhafi's regime, denouncing France's interpretations of a U.N. resolution allowing the use of force to protect the civilian population. He also claimed that other veterans of the Libyan civil war are now fighting in Syria against the regime of President Bashar Assad. "I'm baffled by our partners' inability" to see the bigger picture, he added. Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, abstained from a March 2011 vote allowing international strikes against Gadhafi's forces, leading to the fall of his regime. Moscow has frequently said the NATO response in Libya exceeded the resolution. France last month intervened in Mali at the request of Bamako authorities after Islamists rebels began advancing southward towards the capital. The rebels had taken over the north of the country following a March 2012 coup in Bamako and the region had become a haven for Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

What do tall women think about shorter men?

Punishment promised in horse meat scandal

Britain and France warn of sanctions as UK unit of food retailer says it believes contamination of beef was deliberate. The French and British governments have promised to punish those found responsible for selling horse meat in beef products at the heart of a growing scandal that started in Britain but is quickly spreading to France. Benoit Hamon, French consumer affairs minister, said on Saturday that an investigation had found that the horse meat had originated in Romania, although there were links with French, Dutch and Cypriot firms and a factory in Luxembourg. Owen Paterson, UK environment minister, said more cases of contaminated food could emerge as British retailers conducted tests for horse meat on processed beef products. The scandal threatens to affect consumer confidence in Europe's giant food industry, with pressure rising for greater checks. The British unit of frozen foods group Findus began a recall this week of its beef lasagne from retailers on advice from its French supplier, Comigel, over concerns that some packs contained high levels of horse meat. Findus France said it too had recalled lasagne and two other products after discovering that they included horse meat from Romania rather than beef from France as it had thought. Sanctions warning Hamon said an EU-wide alert had been sent out and that it was not yet clear whether there had been an intentional fraud or the meat had been sold as beef by accident. "I can assure you that, whether it's a question of negligence or direct responsibility, there will be sanctions," Hamon said on iTele television. Separately, Matthieu Lambeaux, Findus France's director-general, said in a statement the company would file a legal complaint on Monday. "We thought we had certified French beef in our products. But in reality, we were supplied with Romanian horsemeat. We have been deceived," Lambeaux said. Hamon said a Luxembourg factory had been supplied by the French firm Poujol, which had bought the meat frozen from a Cypriot trader, who in turn sub-contracted the order to a Dutch trader supplied by a Romanian abattoir. However, Findus's supplier Comigel, a frozen foods producer based in eastern France, told a newspaper it had bought the meat from another French company, supplied from a Romanian abattoir. In Britain Findus said it believed the contamination was deliberate. "The early results from Findus UK's internal investigation strongly suggests that the horsemeat contamination in beef lasagne was not accidental," it said. London meeting Findus's product recall was followed in Britain by supermarket chain Aldi, which withdrew two frozen beef products supplied by Comigel after they tested positive for horse meat. Paterson summoned Britain's leading food retailers and representatives of food processors to an emergency meeting at his office in London on Saturday to discuss the crisis. He said participants were determined to get to the bottom of a scandal which he said was either caused by "gross incompetence or what I suspect is an international criminal conspiracy". Britain's government is under pressure to appear on top of the scandal, which comes less than a month after supermarket chain Tesco and fast food outlet Burger King found horse meat in beef burgers from an Irish supplier. Britons generally do not eat horse meat, regarding its consumption as a quirk of French appetites. However, the meat has also fallen out of favour with consumers in France.

Meat industry under scrutiny as horsemeat scandal spreads

Kerry urges Iran to offer "real substance" about nuclear program

HRW urges Qatar to protect migrant workers’ rights
Qatar should set out a timetable “as soon as practically possible to abolish the sponsorship system and militate against the serious threat of trafficking and forced labour,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged. “We understand change cannot be brought forth overnight in a country with over a million migrant workers,” Jan Egeland, deputy executive director, told Gulf Times yesterday after announcing the key observations from HRW’s World Report 2013. HRW, one of the world’s leading independent organisations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, has urged Qatari authorities to impose sanctions on violators of laws designed to protect migrant workers’ rights. HRW has called upon the Qatari authorities “to ensure migrant workers have not paid illegal recruitment fees, and prohibit companies from doing business with recruitment agencies and subcontractors, in Qatar and abroad, that impose illegal charges on workers.” “The 2022 World Cup presents Qatar with an unprecedented opportunity to take the lead on migrant workers’ rights in the Gulf region, and to leave a positive and lasting legacy,” Egeland stated. “We are calling for a great games and not a boycott. It is a great thing that the World Cup is coming to the Arab world,” he said. Nicholas McGeehan, a Middle East researcher with HRW, was of the view that “Qatar cannot afford to run a 21st century World Cup with a 19th century labour system.” “We have had discussions with the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee and are impressed by their commitment. But there is a lack of reforms in key areas,” he said. HRW, which also spoke to Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, hopes to work together in partnership, according to McGeehan. Egeland believes that Qatar has plans for positive change. “We will monitor this each and every year until 2022,” he declared. McGeehan urged that “Qatar ought to enforce the good laws, repeal the bad laws and sanction the violators.” “We have seen the beginnings of some political will, but it has to go forward further,” he said. The HRW officials recounted that migrant workers reported “‘extensive violations of labour law in Qatar.” “Common complaints included late or unpaid wages. Some lived in overcrowded and unsanitary labour camps, with no access to potable water, were not properly ventilated, and not furnished with functioning air-condition units.” McGeehan asserted that the “findings of our report are representative of the situation in Qatar.” “Qatar’s increasing prominence on the international stage should not divert attention from its domestic rights record,” Egeland said.

New complaints raised against Morsi

Port Said Lawyers’ Syndicate head Safwat Abdel Hameid filed on Saturday a complaint against President Mohamed Morsi and leading figures in the Ministry of Interior, accusing them of killing protesters of Port Said. Abdel Hameid and lawyer Ashraf El-Ezaby filed complaints to Port Said’s prosecution authority against Morsi, Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim, and Head of Port Said’s Security Directorate Mohsen Rady, in addition to other officials at the Central Security Forces (CSF) department. El-Ezaby filed a complaint against ministry officials on behalf of Mohamed Mahmoud Abu Gabal, Sherif Abdel Aziz, and others who were injured during the clashes that took place in front of Port Said prison. Abdel Hameid filed a complaint on behalf of the father of Mohamed Fawzy, who was killed during the same clashes. The complaints accused Morsi and ministry officials of attempted murder and demanded mandating a judge to hold investigations. Abdel Hameid, who is also a prominent board member in the Al-Wafd party, said Sha’aban El-Maghraby, director of Al-Arab prosecution office in Port Said, has already started investigating the complaint. Meanwhile, work was resumed in Port Said’s courts after being suspended following the deadly clashes that took place in the city. In January, Port Said witnessed deadly violent clashes following a court verdict that sentenced 21 of its resident to death for their involvement in the Port Said massacre. The clashes left tens dead and hundreds injured in Port Said. More casualties occurred during the funeral held for those who died during the clashes. Clashes also took place in Suez, Cairo and several other governorates, marking the day following the second anniversary of the 25 January Revolution. The clashes left more deaths and injuries.

Saudi forces nab women, children

Saudi Arabian security forces have arrested dozens of women and at least five children as the regime has intensified the crackdown on opposition demonstrations in the country.
According to human rights activists, women and children were captured on Saturday after anti-government demonstrations were held in two Saudi cities, Riyadh and Buraida, CNN reported on Sunday. The women and children were calling on the authorities to free their relatives, who have been held for years without access to lawyers or a trial, the activists said. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, a prominent Saudi rights activist, said the protesters are "relatives of political prisoners." "They are asking the authorities to either take these prisoners to court," said Al-Qahtani, "or set them free." 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. “The Saudi authorities must end their repeated moves to stifle people’s attempts to protest against the widespread use of arbitrary detention in the country,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said on October 16. “The right of people to peaceful protest must be respected and the security forces must refrain from detaining or using excessive force against people who exercise it,” he added. There have been numerous demonstrations in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province since February 2011, with protestors calling for political reform. Anti-government protests have intensified since November 2011, when security forces opened fire on protestors in Qatif, killing five people and leaving scores more injured.

More than 100 protest in Saudi Arabia
Protesters call on authorities to release prisoners who haven’t been charged,Residents of the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh say more than 100 people have demonstrated to call for the release of people detained without charge. Saudi security officials say they arrested at least five people. They spoke anonymously in line with police regulations. Dozens of security vehicles blocked the intersections of two streets on Saturday where the demonstrations were taking place. North of Riyadh in the city of Buraydah, around 30 people — mostly women related to the prisoners — held a similar rally.In past years, a small number of Saudis have demonstrated in Riyadh to demand the release of thousands of people detained without charge or trial on suspicion of involvement in militant activity. Some have been held for up to 15 years. Protests are rare in the conservative kingdom.

Obama's State of the Union speech to focus on jobs
President Obama has spent this year talking about debt reduction, gun control, climate change, and immigration, but Tuesday's State of the Union address is expected to focus on the issues that brought him to power: Jobs and the economy. "I'm going to be talking about making sure that we're focused on job creation here in the United States of America," Obama told House Democrats last week. Obama and aides say he will also discuss upcoming budget disputes, including the March 1 deadline for automatic defense and domestic cuts totaling $85 billion, known as "the sequester." The president, elected in 2008 in the midst of an economic crisis, said he will again call for a debt reduction agreement that includes targeted budget cuts as well as new tax revenues to be garnered by ending certain loopholes and deductions. The nation not only needs to reduce its $16 trillion-plus debt, Obama has said, but it needs money to invest in things that can create jobs and build the middle class, including education, infrastructure and clean energy programs. The president's annual State of Union address to a joint session of Congress is on Tuesday night. The event comes less than two weeks after the Labor Department announced that the unemployment rate had ticked back up to 7.9%. Obama will also likely use the speech to put political pressure on Republicans over the budget. In his Saturday radio address, Obama said current GOP plans to avoid the sequester focus on cuts that affect mainly "seniors and middle-class families. They would rather ask more from the vast majority of Americans and put our recovery at risk than close even a single tax loophole that benefits the wealthy." Republicans said Obama got higher taxes -- in the form of higher income tax rates -- as part of the "fiscal cliff" deal in early January; now the emphasis should be on spending cuts. "The president accepted no spending cuts back in the fiscal cliff deal 45 days ago," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., speaking on ABC's This Week. "So you get no spending cuts back then, then you're going to get no revenue now." In his State of the Union address, Obama also plans to discuss the aforementioned topic of gun control, climate change and immigration, and talk about how many of those items can help rebuild the economy and promote jobs. Investment in the clean energy industry, for example, will help address climate change, Obama and aides have said. A legislative package to address gun violence is designed to protect young people, Obama told last week's House Democratic retreat. While regional differences on gun control should be respected, Obama said "the majority of responsible gun owners recognize we cannot have a situation in which 20 more of our children, or a 100 more of our children, or a 1,000 more of our children are shot and killed in a senseless fashion, and that there are some common-sense steps that we can take and build a consensus around." Revamping the immigration system -- including a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants -- will also help the economy, Obama said. "Obviously economic growth is a priority," he said. "But making sure that we're opening up opportunity for everybody is also important. And that's why immigration reform is so critical."

Fashion show in Kabul aims to break barriers

Afghan models paraded down a candle-lined catwalk Friday as men and women watched from the audience in a restaurant off a muddy street in Kabul. The rare fashion show in this war-weary capital was a small production but a big idea – part of an Afghan group’s efforts to empower women by breaking down barriers in this highly conservative Muslim society. “The situation always gets tougher and tougher every day by day, but we should not back down. We are here to move on and move forward, so I think if women step up and they show up in this field, I think they will do a good job,” said Shahar Banoo Zeerak, the designer whose clothes were featured in the show. The idea of women on display remains mostly taboo in Afghanistan more than a decade after the 2001 U.S. assault that ousted the Taliban from power after a five-year reign of terror by the fundamentalist movement. Some women still don’t go outside without wearing blue burqas that cover them from head to toe. Violence against women is still common in Afghanistan, and there are reports of women being stoned, executed in public or imprisoned for having affairs with men. Women have even set themselves on fire to escape domestic violence. Friday’s fashion show was organized by Young Women for Change, an independent, nonprofit Afghan organization committed to empowering Afghan women and improving their lives. Most of the 10 models, which included three young men, who showed off 33 designs including colorful short-sleeved dresses, jeans, tunics and more traditional outfits, were Afghan women who volunteer for the group. One of them, 17-year-old Farkhonda Taheri, had never even seen a fashion show before. She said her father and other family members were supportive of her decision to participate, but her grandmother was not happy. “The biggest challenge for us that we cannot do these things in Afghanistan because people do not like it,” she said afterward. “I was excited because I felt I am going to bring a change.” She said it was important for Afghan youths to take risks to bring change as the country struggles to achieve a semblance of normalcy, with international combat forces preparing to withdraw by the end of 2014. “Who will bring the peace? We are going to bring it. Afghans. The new generation,” Taheri said. There have been a few other fashion shows in Afghanistan, but most were geared toward an international audience and seldom featured Afghan women or a mixed Afghan audience. Reflecting the obstacles, the organizers did not permit local Afghan media to film the event to protect the women, who on occasion appeared without headscarves and in short skirts. “It may not be perfect and professional but it’s a beginning,” said Salma Gul, the 26-year-old tailor who made the clothes.

Afghanistan: Don’t Prosecute Sexually Assaulted Children
The Afghan government should take urgent steps to ensure that rape and sexual abuse of children leads to prosecution of the abusers – not of victims, Human Rights Watch said today. In Afghanistan’s western Herat province, in an October 2012 case that only recently came to light, a court convicted a 13-year-old boy on moral crimes charges, and sentenced him to one year in juvenile detention after he was accused of having sex with two adult men in a public park. Afghan law prohibits “pederasty,” commonly understood to mean sex between a man and a boy, and makes it a crime punishable by 5 to 15 years in prison. “Moral crimes” charges, which under Afghan law include not only pederasty but also all sexual relations between people who are not married to each other, have frequently been used to punish the victim of a criminal offense. “When a man has sex with a 13-year-old child, the child is a victim of rape, not a criminal offender,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Afghan government should never have victimized this boy a second time, but instead should have released him immediately with urgent protection and assistance.” A prosecutor involved in the case told Human Rights Watch that the boy was prosecuted because he said he had consented to engaging in sexual relations with several adult men. The decision in the case is under appeal. The authorities also arrested the men and charged them with moral crimes, but the outcome of their case is unknown. There is no age of consent for sex under Afghan law. Children under age 19 convicted of crimes are entitled to reduced sentences under the 2005 Juvenile Code. United Nations bodies responsible for protecting the rights of children have said that countries should have an age of consent sufficiently high to protect children. In spite of Afghanistan’s strict prohibitions on sex outside of marriage, the United Nations and other organizations have documented numerous instances of sexual abuse of boys through a practice known as “bacha bazi.” The phrase, which translates as “boy play,” refers to boys who work as dancers, performing at parties attended by men, and typically living under the protection of a military commander or other patron. Afghan culture typically prohibits women or girls from dancing for a male audience. While their role as entertainers can be innocent, in many instances these boys are also the victims of sexual assault and abuse. “The Afghan government needs to take urgent steps to protect children from sexual assault, including boys who are abused through the practice of bacha bazi,” Adams said. “Treating boys who have been raped as criminals undermines all government efforts to protect children from abuse.” In 2009, Afghanistan enacted the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women, which for the first time introduced the term “rape” as a criminal offense under Afghan law. The law imposed sentences similar to the 5-to-15-year sentences for pederasty and sex between people who are not married to each other. Although some alleged rapists have been prosecuted under this law, in 2012, Human Rights Watch documented repeated incidents in which prosecutors pursued criminal charges against alleged rape victims for engaging in extramarital sex. Prosecutors told Human Rights Watch that they had pursued criminal charges in such cases because they did not believe victims who said they had been raped, or they believed the victims were of “bad character.” Since the law’s passage, specialized units responsible for prosecuting crimes against women and children have been established in several Afghan provinces with support from international donors. The UN in 2012 documented numerous cases of sexual assault of boys and girls, including sexual assault of boys by armed men and in detention centers. A major limitation of the 2009 law is that it refers only to the rape of women or girls. There is no comparable specific prohibition on rape of men and boys. A wide-ranging revision of Afghanistan's penal code has been planned for several years, but there has been little progress in drafting a new law. “Afghan lawmakers should move forward promptly in revising the Penal Code to provide better protection for both victims and criminal suspects,”Adams said. “The revision should ensure that rape is seen as a serious crime, whether committed against men and boys or women and girls, and that victims are not treated as criminals.”

NATO begins Afghanistan withdrawal

The first phase of NATO's withdrawal from Afghanistan began Sunday with 25 containers containing military equipment entering Pakistan, media reports said. Dawn News said the convoy of 25 containers was provided with routine security for its journey from Torkham to Karachi. According to Xinhua, the containers were heading to the port city of Karachi for shipment. Fawad Khan, who works for private company Bilal Associates responsible for shipment of US cargo from Afghanistan, said his company cleared the US defence equipment at the Torkham border point. 'The convoy left for Karachi after customs clearance,' he was quoted as saying. The US, which currently has more than 60,000 troops in Afghanistan, plans to withdraw several thousands of troops this year. The NATO has set 2014 for a complete withdrawal. It has around 150,000 troops.

Guns N' Roses - November Rain

New US commander takes the helm in Afghanistan

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford took over Sunday as the new and probably last commander of all U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan. The American-led NATO coalition is entering the final stretch of its participation in a war that will have lasted more than 13 years when most foreign combat troops pull out at the end of 2014. Dunford took over leadership of the International Security Assistance Force, and a smaller but separate detachment of American troops, from Marine Gen. John Allen, who had led them for the past 19 months. "Today is not about change, it's about continuity," Dunford told a gathering of coalition military leaders and Afghan officials. "What's not changed is the growing capability of our Afghan partners, the Afghan national security forces. What's not changed is our commitment, more importantly, what's not changed is the inevitability of our success." He takes charge at a critical time for President Barack Obama and the military. NATO decided at its 2010 summit in Lisbon to withdraw major combat units, but to continue training and funding Afghan troops and leave a residual force to hunt down al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said "much work lies ahead" for Dunford as he tries to meet those objectives while at the same time withdrawing about 100,000 foreign troops, including 66,000 from the United States. Dunford, from Boston, Massachusetts, will face serious challenges as he tries to accommodate an accelerated timetable for handing over the lead for security responsibility to Afghan forces this spring — instead of late summer as originally planned. "I told him our victory here will never be marked by a parade or a point in time on a calendar when victory is declared. This insurgency will be defeated over time by the legitimate and well-trained Afghan forces that are emerging today and who are taking the field in full force this spring," Allen said. He added that success would be described as an "Afghan force defending Afghan people, and enabling an Afghan government to serve its citizens. This is victory; this is what winning looks like." Although the Afghan security forces are almost at their full strength of 352,000, it is unclear if they are yet ready to take on the fight by themselves. Before departing, Allen admitted that the Afghans still need much work to become an effective and self-sufficient fighting machine, but he said a vast improvement in their abilities was behind a decision to accelerate the timetable for putting them in the lead nationwide this spring when the traditional fighting season begins. Obama said last month that the Afghans would take over this spring instead of late summer — a decision that could allow the speedier withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. It is also unclear when the remaining 66,000 U.S. troops would return home, or how many American soldiers will remain after the end of 2014. Obama may use his State of the Union address on Tuesday to announce the next steps for concluding the war and a timetable for withdrawal along with plans for a residual force post-2014. Much of that depends on the U.S. negotiating a bilateral security agreement with the government that includes the contentious issue of immunity from Afghan prosecution for any U.S. forces that would remain here after 2014. President Hamid Karzai has said he will put any such decision in the hands of a council of Afghan elders, known as a Loya Jirga. Although Dempsey said earlier in the week that the United States had plans to leave a residual force, a failure to strike a deal on immunity would torpedo any security agreement and lead to a complete pullout of U.S. forces after 2014 — as it did in post-war Iraq. It is widely believed that no NATO-member nation would allow its troops to remain after 2014 to train, or engage in counterterrorism activities, without a similar deal. The head of NATO joint command in Europe, German Gen. Hans-Lothar Domrose, said the alliance was already making plans for a post-2014 presence, plans he said that were "all well advanced." Allen, 59, of Warrenton, Virginia, was the longest serving ISAF commander so far. Nearly two dozen generals have commanded troops from the United States and ISAF since the American invasion in late 2001 — with six U.S. generals including Dunford running both commands in the past five years alone. Also attending the ceremony were U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, Commander, U.S. Central Command, and Gen. James Amos, head of the Marine Corps. Karzai did not attend.

Pakistan: Swiss authorities decision supported government stance

Law Minister Farooq H Naek called on President Asif Ali Zardari at the Bilawal House here on Sunday. During the meeting, the law minister informed the president that the decision by Swiss authorities supported the stance of the government taken before the court. On Saturday, Swiss authorities said they could not open graft cases against President Zardari in response to a letter written by the Pakistani government following the Supreme Court’s order in the NRO implementation case.

Swiss Decline To Reopen Zardari Corruption Probe
The Swiss government has formally decided not to reopen corruption investigations against Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. According to the media reports, Swiss prosecutors notified the Pakistani government of the decision in a letter received on February 10. Senior Law Ministry official Yasmin Abbasey confirmed the reports in an interview with AFP. The letter came in response to a request in November by Pakistan's government seeking a renewal of a probe into persistent allegations that Zardari stole millions of dollars in state funds and deposited them in Swiss bank accounts controlled by his wife. Swiss authorities reportedly responded that the statute of limitations in the affair has expired. The case against Zardari was opened in the 1990s but was halted as a result of a 2007 amnesty. In 2009, the Pakistani Supreme Court ordered the government to reopen the investigation, sparking a domestic political crisis.

In the war on polio, tribesmen lose on all fronts

The Express Tribune
Tribesmen in North and South Waziristan have become collateral damage in the war on polio. While Taliban commanders have banned immunisation drives in both agencies, the political administration has refused to give residents government documents, including national identity cards (CNIC) and passports, if any child in their family is found unvaccinated. Criticising the new policy, chief of the Uthmanzai tribe in North Waziristan, Malik Qadar Khan, said that despite the fact that polio workers were killed in Karachi and Peshawar, the government did not impose such restrictions there. “We are Pakistanis too, so why has the government resorted to this?” Qadir said, adding that they have held jirgas with political officials to look into their concerns, but no progress has been made so far. South Waziristan Political Agent (PA) Shahidullah Khan, however, insisted that documents will only be issued after a person shows an authentication paper signed by a doctor verifying that his children have been administered polio drops. “The restriction is only for those people who intend to apply for fresh domiciles, CNIC and passports,” he added. All efforts to persuade people to administer polio drops to their children have failed, he said, adding that polio cases are rising in the tribal areas. On June 15 last year, Taliban commander in North Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, banned anti-polio drives in the agency “unless drone strikes ended.” He also said that anyone who disobeyed these orders would be “held responsible for their actions.” Following this decision, the Mullah Nazir group in South Waziristan also banned anti-polio vaccination in its agency on June 25. After several unsuccessful negotiations with tribal elders, the political administration on directions of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) Secretariat on December 17, 2012 banned issuance of official documents to Wazir and Dawar tribes across the agencies. Meanwhile, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has said it will set up a protest in Islamabad if a ban on issuing official documents by the North and South Waziristan administrations is not lifted. PTI Chief Organiser Dr Bashir Ahmad Khan said the party will hold a hunger strike camp outside the Supreme Court of Pakistan and also hold rallies against the decision of linking the provision of obtaining CNICs and passports with polio vaccination. The issue has been taken up with the Election Commission of Pakistan, which has requested the Fata additional chief secretary to explain the matter, Bashir said. No response has been given as yet, however. “If the issue remains unresolved, our only option is to approach the Supreme Court against this injustice,” he said, adding “If the tribesmen are unable to get CNICs, how are they supposed to cast their vote?”

Suspected militants with ANA, Pak Army uniforms and explosives arrested in KP

Security forces conducted different raids in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Sunday arresting four suspects, including two key commanders, besides seizing uniforms of Pakistani and Afghan National Army along with a huge quantity of arms and explosives. Security sources told Dawn.Com that the law enforcement agencies conducted a raid in Samar Bagh area of Lower Dir district and seized uniforms of Pakistan Army and the Afghan National Army (ANA) and arrested two suspects, who were shifted for further investigations. The sources further claimed that seven hand grenades, six detonators, three kilograms of explosives, nine mines, 7 mm gun, one Kalashnikov and several Chinese made guns were recovered from the suspects. The officials added that five uniforms of Pakistan Army and Afghan National Army each and the suspects were planning to conduct an attack disguised as ANA or Pakistani army personnel. In another raid in Nowshera district’s Jaroba area in Pabbi tehsil, law enforcement agencies arrested two suspected key commanders affiliated to a militant group. The arrested men were suspected to be the militant’s main source of weapons supply in Tirah Valley. The official sources added that the suspected militants were shifted to an undisclosed location for interrogation.

Pakistan:The ECP relents, only a little

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) continues to remain in the news. As demands from certain quarters for its reconstitution continue, it is business as usual for the institution that is in charge of ensuring that all election mechanisms are in order and loopholes covered. From the authenticity of voters’ lists, to proper submission of nomination papers, to verification of data provided by potential candidates, to strategising the elimination of pre- and during polls rigging, the ECP has a body of work that is not just time consuming but also requires a great amount of transparency of action. One important step taken by the ECP was the ban it imposed on any new recruitments/hiring of personnel for any government departments that could be seen as an attempt to curry favour with the voters before the elections. The ECP directive of January 22, 2013, ordered a complete ban on new jobs before the elections. It also said that foreign donor funds could not be diverted from the projects for which they were originally intended. After the review of the directive requested by the federal law and justice ministry, the ECP in a revised decree has retained the ban on any fresh recruitment excluding those announced before August 31, 2012. The prohibition against diverting foreign donor funds has also been retained, with the concession that any such request would be looked at on a case-by-case basis. The ban on jobs excludes certain constitutional institutions such as the superior judiciary as well as recruitment through the public service commissions, federal and provincial. This decision is the ECP’s answer to the government’s contention that it has a mandate to govern until the assemblies are dissolved, and the complete ban on recruitments would disrupt the work of many ministries and departments. The ECP’s reviewed decision should be taken as a positive since it ensures that no undeserved favour is bestowed on anyone that may be classified as an incentive to tilt the vote in the upcoming elections in anyone’s favour. The government’s incumbency factor, combined with its power to authorise any position to be filled in any ministry, division, department and institution, puts it in the questionable position where it could be tacitly or otherwise using the official paraphernalia to promote its agenda for the purpose of gain in the elections. The ECP, within the parameters of its power, has presented a framework that would limit, if not eliminate, the misuse of power by the federal or any provincial government. The directive vis-à-vis diversion of funds is another positive step that would minimise any attempt at the abuse of donor funds for partisan political advantage. Any foreign donor’s request will be given due consideration, but no parliamentarian or high governmental official will be authorised to take large amounts of money that may be utilised to undertake a project in a particular area, where the rival group/s may not be in a position to do the same. This would be another step in establishing the incumbent government’s promise to ensure an unbiased environment where the populace would cast its vote as per its discretion, evaluating each candidate’s performance record, and not as a token of gratitude for a favour. The 2013 general elections will be a watershed moment in the troubled history of Pakistan, where the democratic system of governance has never been given a chance to establish a foothold. The ECP’s decisions provide a chance to divest the system of some of the anomalies that have been the trademark characteristics of the pre-election modus operandi of parties in power. Let the ECP, the institution in charge of overseeing the elections, fulfil its responsibilities in a fair and transparent manner. That would be a very important step in solidifying the democratic system of governance in Pakistan.