Tuesday, February 12, 2013

State of The Union 2013 - President Obama Speech

Obama challenges Republicans to help middle class grow

State of the Union: Obama pledges to reignite economy

President Barack Obama has pledged in his annual State of the Union speech to revive the sluggish US economy by creating "good, middle-class jobs". The Democratic president promised "smarter" rather than bigger government for "the many, and not just the few". He also called for efforts to reduce gun violence and urged bipartisan immigration reform. In the Republican response, Senator Marco Rubio will urge Mr Obama to end his "obsession" with raising taxes. 'North Star' Speaking in the House of Representatives, Mr Obama told his audience that his generation's task is "to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth - a rising, thriving middle class". Delivering growth and jobs will be the "North Star that guides our efforts", he added. But he insisted that nothing he proposes will raise the deficit "by a single dime". Mr Obama's economic blueprint has a familiar ring - he pledged during last year's election campaign to create a million manufacturing jobs during his second term. But Republicans are strongly opposed to increased government spending, amid a rancorous political divide over how to tame the US budget deficit. Mr Obama proposed reforms to reduce the cost of Medicare but argued "we can't just cut our way to prosperity". Correspondents say the president is popular and has political capital to spend after November's election victory, but that he only has about a year to push his legislative plans. Washington's attention will then turn to the mid-term elections, when the party in the White House usually sheds congressional seats. In his speech, Mr Obama also called for federal investment in infrastructure, clean energy and education. People on either side of the gun control debate, which flared up again after December's school massacre in Connecticut, watched the president speak from the gallery. First Lady Michelle Obama sat with the parents of a Chicago teenage band majorette shot and killed just days after performing at last month's presidential inauguration. Republican Representative Steve Stockman of Texas has invited musician Ted Nugent, a staunch gun-control opponent who remarked last year he would be "dead or in jail" if Mr Obama were re-elected. Conservative divisions The White House has proposed a ban on certain weapons and on high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as universal background checks on gun buyers. But analysts say only the last of those measures stands much chance politically. In addition, Mr Obama announced the withdrawal of 34,000 US troops from Afghanistan by next year. North Korea chose to conduct an underground nuclear test less than a day before the president's showpiece annual speech. Mr Obama said the US will "lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats". He praised bipartisan efforts to draw up an immigration bill, adding that if he is sent comprehensive reform legislation, "I will sign it right away". Mr Obama will take to the road in the coming days to push his economic recovery proposals, stopping in the US states of North Carolina and Georgia and in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Sen Rubio, a possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate, is expected to attack Mr Obama's economic policies, as he delivers his party's official riposte. The Cuban-American senator, who will make his address in English and Spanish, will refer to the pain felt by residents of the working-class neighbourhood in which he grew up. He will tell Mr Obama: "I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbours." The Florida senator will also warn the president that the "tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle-class families". Underscoring conservative divisions, immediately after the Rubio speech Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul will deliver the Tea Party's rebuttal to Mr Obama's address. "We are the party that embraces hard work and ingenuity, therefore we must be the party that embraces the immigrant who wants to come to America for a better future," Mr Paul will say, according to a text released in advance.

US To Halve Afghan Force In The Next Year

More than half of all American troops based in Afghanistan will be withdrawn from duty over the next 12 months. Barack Obama is set to make the announcement in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, a source familiar with his speech has confirmed. There are currently 66,000 US service members in Afghanistan. The final withdrawal of most foreign combat troops is not due until the end of 2014. There were no immediate details on how quickly the drawdown would take place. Military experts suggest it is unlikely to happen until late Autumn so as not to adversely impact the number of troops NATO will have in place to fight the Taliban after the spring thaw in Afghanistan. A residual force to train Afghan soldiers and to conduct anti-terror missions will remain behind after the formal withdrawal. Mr Obama has made ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the centrepiece of his presidency, and often declares a long decade or more of American war is almost over. The president is also likely to use Tuesday's address to Congress to expand upon his other goals for the year. They include job creation and a push for the ambitious progressive plans he outlined in his second inaugural address three weeks ago. Mr Obama hopes to encourage lawmakers to join him in reforming laws on gun ownership and immigration and boosting taxes to raise government spending power. He will also address North Korea's announcement that it successfully detonated a nuclear device earlier on Tuesday in defiance of UN warnings. The White House said the president would make the case that the nuclear program had only further isolated the impoverished nation.

China "firmly" opposes DPRK's nuclear test; Yang summons ambassador

China "firmly" opposes the latest nuclear test conducted by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), according to a statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. "On Feb. 12, 2013, the DPRK conducted another nuclear test in disregard of the common opposition of the international community," said the statement, adding that "the Chinese government is firmly opposed to this act." Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi also summoned DPRK ambassador to China Ji Jae Ryong later on Tuesday to lodge a solemn representation. Yang said China was "strongly dissatisfied with" and "firmly opposed to" DPRK's third nuclear test, according to a press release issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The press release quoted Yang as saying, "China always supports the denuclearization on the (Korean) Peninsula in an aim to safeguard the peace and stability of the peninsula," and that China will still work to address the concerns of all the involved parties under the framework of the Six-Party talks through dialogue and consultation in a balanced way. Yang also urged the DPRK to refrain from any words and actions that may further worsen the situation and return to the right track of dialogue and consultation at an early date. The DPRK's official KCNA news agency has confirmed the nuclear test took place. "The scientific field for national defence of the DPRK succeeded in the third underground nuclear test at the site for underground nuclear test in the northern part of the DPRK on Tuesday," said the news agency. Pyongyang has already conducted similar nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. The Foreign Ministry said in the statement that it is the firm stand of the Chinese side to bring about denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, prevent nuclear proliferation and safeguard peace and stability in Northeast Asia. "We strongly urge the DPRK to honor its commitment to denuclearization and refrain from any move that may further worsen the situation. To safeguard peace and stability on the Peninsula and in Northeast Asia serves the common interests of all parties," said the statement. It added, "The Chinese government calls on all parties to respond in a cool-headed manner and persist in resolving the issue of denuclearization of the Peninsula through dialogue and consultation within the context of the Six-Party Talks." The six-party talks, a negotiation mechanism that includes the DPRK, the Republic of Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, were launched in 2003 but stalled in December 2008. The DPRK quit the talks in April 2009.

India sees Pakistani hand in North Korea’s nuclear test

India on Tuesday officially protested against the third nuclear test by North Korea which it sees as evidence of a clandestine proliferation network from Pakistan. Indian sources stressed that if the test was found to have been conducted with enriched uranium, it would confirm Pakistani "proliferation linkages". Criticizing North Korea for violating international commitments, New Delhi asked Pyongyang "to refrain from such actions which adversely impact on peace and stability in the region". Sources said the test revealed significantly improved technical capabilities of the North Koreans, which in itself suggested heightened proliferation activities. "If the speculation is correct that the test was carried out through enriched uranium, it would demonstrate cascading and clandestine proliferation linkages,'' a source said. After the test on Tuesday, North Korea also announced that its nuclear capabilities had diversified, fuelling more speculation that enriched uranium was used for the test. KCNA, North Korea's official news agency, said, "It was confirmed that the nuclear test that was carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturized and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment." South Korea recorded seismic activity compatible with a six-seven kiloton explosion. If this is confirmed, North Korea, officials said, could be well on its way to building a functional nuclear warhead, though its delivery systems may take a while to develop. "When you talk about any nuclear test conducted by North Korea, the role of Pakistan can never be far behind,'' a source said. Pakistan on Tuesday yet again blocked moves to facilitate negotiations for a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) in the Conference on Disarmament. Official sources said both developments were inter-related. Pakistan had transferred the technology for enriching uranium to weapon grade in exchange for the knowhow for missile development from the Communist dictatorship as part of a deal negotiated by Benazir Bhutto and Kim Jong-il. Pakistan has prevented negotiations for FMCT citing asymmetry with India in its fissile material stockpile. In its nuclear tests of 2006 and 2009, North Korea used plutonium and it was only in 2010 that it was revealed that the country had a sophisticated uranium enrichment programme. The existence of North Korea's Yongbyon centrifuge plant used for enriching uranium became public in 2010, when Pyongyang allowed foreign experts to visit the facility. Separately, the Indian assessment of the nuclear test is that it's a failure of Chinese foreign policy. The Pyongyang account has been the responsibility of Beijing, but China has failed to restrain North Korea both from going steadily down the nuclear path or persuading it to come to the negotiating table at the six-party talks. The test puts Beijing in an unenviable position. It has already supported fresh sanctions by the UN Security Council, which has piled them on North Korea. Beijing could support further sanctions, or it could take unilateral action against Pyongyang. Both ways, it risks ruining ties with one of its closest allies. Beijing-Pyongyang ties have been strained of late, In fact, last week, the Chinese government used the Global Times to warn North Korea. In an editorial, it said, "If North Korea insists on a third nuclear test despite attempts to dissuade it, it must pay a heavy price. The assistance it will be able to receive from China should be reduced. The Chinese government should make this clear beforehand to shatter any illusions Pyongyang may have." The test prompted the UN Security Council to call for an emergency meeting later on Tuesday. It is also expected to figure in US President Barack Obama's State of the Union address.

Afghan Officials Admit Torturing Detainees

An Afghan presidential investigative commission has confirmed that Afghan police and security officials are torturing detainees, despite promises of reform. But the head of the commission denies statements by the United Nations that torture and ill-treatment are systematic in Afghan detention centers. Commission head Abdul Qadir Adalatkhwa acknowledges that almost half of the people they interviewed said they had been tortured and even more said they had no access to defense lawyers. He says members of the delegation confirm the existence of torture, mistreatment, beatings and threats that occurred mostly during the arrest of detainees or during interrogations. But Adalatkhwa says his commission's two-week fact-finding mission did not find evidence to support a recent U.N. report saying there were systematic, widespread abuses of conflict-related detainees in Afghan custody. The U.N. report, released in January, concluded that torture was an institutional policy or practice and not just used by a few individuals in isolated cases. It says U.N. interviewers had seen injuries, marks and scars consistent with torture and ill-treatment, including prolonged beatings, electric shocks and hangings by the wrists. Georgette Gagnon, one of the authors of the U.N. report, says the findings of the presidential commission represented the first recognition of torture in Afghan detention facilities. "Admitting there is a very serious problem is a very good first step," Gagnon noted. "But the next step is action and, in our view, prosecution of officials who are committing torture." The U.N. report also says of the 105 child detainees they interviewed, 80 of them had experienced torture or ill-treatment. During the one-year period that the United Nations conducted its investigations, it noted a decrease in the number of allegations of torture in National Directorate of Security facilities during the period. That was a period when there were fewer transfers from international military forces and increased monitoring by those same forces. But once International Security Forces in Afghanistan resumed transfers and reduced monitoring, there was an increase in torture incidents. Gagnon says human rights advocates are concerned this kind of oversight and pressure will be cut back once international forces leave in 2014. "There are concerns, certainly among Afghan communities, Afghan legal aid lawyers, Afghan women, Afghan NGOs [non-governmental organizations], also officials within the Afghan government, that without sustained international support, the gains made certainly on human rights will either diminish or certainly not be advanced," she said. President Hamid Karzai is to discuss the commission's findings with the judiciary board, his top legal advisory body, Wednesday. The United Nations says its investigation covered a one-year period from 2011 to 2012 and was based on multiple interviews of officials and detainees in 89 facilities across 30 provinces.

New Afghan Middle Class Fears for Its Future

The landmarks of this capital city’s new middle class light up a once-restrained night sky — vast and glittering wedding halls with aspirational names like “Kabul-Paris,” streetlamp networks, come-hither billboards for energy drinks. After the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, thousands of Afghan families returned from abroad, or came in from the countryside, to construct urban and increasingly Westernized lives. They built homes and careers based on an influx of foreign money, expanded bureaucracies and new educational opportunities. And they are the ones most haunted by the fear that it could all just be a bubble, doomed to pop once foreign money and Western militaries stop holding it up. “We are enjoying life,” said Rasool Mohibzada, 31, a former taxi driver who sold chickpeas and balloons in Pakistan during the Taliban years, but after returning to Kabul won a job as an I.T. manager for the British Council, the cultural relations agency of the British government. Sitting in the large house he built on a $95,000 plot of land in airy western Kabul and playing with his 5-year-old daughter, he is a member of a young Afghan generation whose eyes burn with modest aspiration for what would be by outside standards an ordinary life — access to electricity, schools for his son and daughter, rule of law, security. “But I am quite afraid about the future at the moment,” he said. “If I got the chance, I would go now.” Though all of Afghanistan’s major cities have grown and changed, the biggest differences, by far, can be seen in Kabul. Its population has exploded, now more than 5 million compared with 1.2 million in 2001, and its streets, planned for 30,000 cars, are clogged with 650,000, according to the mayor, Mohammad Yunus Nawandish. He is drawing up an expanded city plan that can accommodate up to 8 million residents. The new urban elite makes up only a tiny slice of Afghan life — most of the newcomers to Kabul are impoverished migrants who now occupy terraces of rough mud houses that have splashed up onto the rocky hillsides surrounding the city. And the norm is still grinding poverty for about 70 percent of Afghans, who live in the countryside, or about 25 million people by some estimates. Taken as a whole, life expectancy for Afghans is still just 48 years, and the average annual national income per capita is about $410. That makes the contrast with the markers of the middle class all the more striking: in Kabul, there are beauty parlors, a bowling alley, new television stations, access to health care (although Afghans must travel abroad for serious treatment), restaurants like Afghan Fried Chicken and children’s birthday parties hosted at nice hotels. At the private American University of Afghanistan, privileged young adults — some of them the offspring of top officials and businessmen who have minted fortunes in the war economy — stride the five-acre Kabul campus, paying up to $6,000 a year for degrees in law and other subjects. Some in the new generation have succeeded in the private sector, like Haji Safiullah, 42, a serious, thin-faced man, who owns three pharmacies and is branching out into construction, building apartment blocks in Kabul, Jalalabad and Mazar-i-Sharif. “I am one of the people who have invested more than $1 million in different businesses,” Mr. Safiullah said. Even as the United States is deliberating how large a force, if any, will stay in Afghanistan past the 2014 end of the international combat mission, Mr. Safiullah holds to the belief that the Americans will not leave Afghanistan altogether for many years. All the same, he is clear about the shape that catastrophe will take if the world averts its gaze: a deterioration of security and an economic collapse. “To tell you the truth, I am not that worried about the future, because the international community has invested a lot in Afghanistan,” he said. “They will not let this investment fail.” However, he keeps a Kalashnikov rifle beneath his counter just in case. Others are mindful of how much could be lost if Taliban values are allowed to dominate Kabul again, particularly women like Malalai Ishaqzai, 47. She was part of a first wave of women to join Parliament, serving from 2005 to 2010, and started a business selling bottled fruit juices. She lives in an enclave of Kabul apartment blocks called the Mikrorayon, where billboards hawking energy drinks, cellphones, bodybuilding gyms, private schools and airline flights illustrate the perks of new urbanites. Ms. Ishaqzai, too, refuses to believe that the United States will abandon the Afghan Army to defend the country alone. “If the Americans leave, 100 percent I can’t live here as an ex-M.P., as a politician,” she said. Many members of this new generation that came of age in the past decade now work in government ministries or for programs run by development organizations like the World Bank, where they can earn monthly salaries as high as $5,000. But their programs, paid for by organizations like the Department of Agriculture, are gradually winding down or shifting to the Afghan government’s budget, and civil servants’ pay is being cut. The World Bank estimates that there are 5,000 staff members in the main ministries whose salaries are paid by foreign money. Some Western officials here expect some share of those people who returned from abroad in the past 10 years, from Europe, for example, or the United States, to leave once ministry salaries are reduced and when the economy inevitably slows. The richest Afghans already have second homes abroad and can leave if security worsens. But others in the middle class and below lack that option. Many families tell stories of a brother or son who has gone to India to find an illicit path abroad or who is trying another escape plan. Asylum applications by Afghans to 44 leading industrialized nations last year reached 31,780 by November, according to provisional estimates by the United Nations, only slightly below the rate of applications in 2011, when 36,247 Afghans sought asylum abroad, the highest number since 2001. Many seek to enter Europe: Afghanistan was the top country of origin for asylum seekers in the European Union in 2011, according to the European Asylum Support Office, and that trend continued last year. The American Embassy in Kabul says it has not seen an increase in nonimmigrant visa applications. But last year, the United States suspended an educational exchange program taking hundreds of Afghan high school students to America because many were failing to return to Afghanistan. Many, however, are determined to stay, and have visions of driving more change on their own terms. More than 80 prominent young Afghans recently caused waves when they announced a new independent political movement crossing ethnic lines. They are optimistic about Afghanistan’s prospects, even as they acknowledge the difficulties. “In these 10 years, the country has changed, and it can work,” said Haseeb Humayoon, who runs a business consultancy and is a founding member of the movement, called Afghanistan 1400, referring to the year 2020-21, or 1400 in the Afghan calendar. “If we want it to develop as a country, then we have to start for ourselves,” said Najlla Habibyar, the chief executive of the Export Promotion Agency and another founding member. It is at wedding celebrations, so central to Afghan culture and society, that hope is easiest, and the fears are most remote. There is comfort in some measure of freedom, and in some of the finer things, for now at the very least. At a party recently for Sami Yadgari, about 1,000 raucous male guests packed one hall of Uranus Palace, one of Kabul’s huge and dazzling wedding complexes. Mr. Yadgari’s new wife and the female guests celebrated in a separate hall. For about $12,000 for a night’s revelry, the dinner tables were lavishly supplied, the space was elegantly decked with ornate chandeliers, and armed security guards kept watch. Mr. Yadgari, who works for the Ministry of Finance, thrashed the air jubilantly in a ring of male dancers as a wedding singer blasted out a ballad hailing Afghan pride and perseverance. “This is the land of freedom,” he sang. “This is the land of high mountains. This is the land of heroes. Each stone of this country is a ruby.”

Pakistan: Taliban take a hard line on Viagra

Islamists have warned shopkeepers in Peshawar not to sell drugs which enhance the sexual potency of men. Is Islam against sexual pleasure and should such pills be banned? Many Pakistanis and religious experts say no. Shopkeepers in the Karkhano market in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar told the media on Monday, February 11, that the Taliban had warned them not to sell "Viagra-style" male potency drugs or otherwise be prepared to "face the consequences." They said that they had found handwritten pamphlets in their shops containing threats from the Islamists. "Selling sex drugs, vulgar films and obscene movies are against Shariah law," read the pamphlets distributed in by the Islamist group Tehrik-e-Taliban in Khyber. "All those involved in this business are warned to quit this occupation and start a lawful business," news agency AFP quoted the warning as saying. Khyber, a Taliban stronghold, borders Peshawar and is the capital of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The Islamists have been known to introduce strict Shariah laws in many parts of Pakistan’s northwest where they have complete or partial control.There are a number of other prominent religious clerics and scholars in Pakistan who are also against the use of sexual stamina or enhancement tablets. They use anti-West sentiment to make their cause, saying Viagra is "un-Islamic" and even "evil" as it comes from the West.
Sexual enhancement
Yet Viagra and similar alternatives are quite popular not only in Pakistan's northwestern areas but throughout the country. In nearly every city, there are shops with local hakims, herbal medicine doctors, selling miracle concoctions guaranteed to increase sexual stamina within weeks. "There seems to be a thriving industry of local hakims in Pakistan built around men's health issues. I have heard of these witchdoctors prescribing everything from ginger to opium to increase their clients' sexual stamina," said A. Hassan, a liberal poet in Karachi, adding that this was proof that most Pakistanis did not subscribe to the Taliban's views on sexuality. But there are also religious scholars, such as Muhammad Rafiq Khalil, who believe that Islam is not against the enhancement of sexual pleasure, even if medication is used. "If you have any ailment, get it treated. Islam allows sexual enhancement. But it prefers natural methods, such as almonds and nuts, herbs, and fat-rich food to increase sexual appetite," Khalil, who is based in Lahore, told DW, adding that in any case, it was best to "avoid artificial medicine." Had Islam been against sexual pleasure, Khalil noted, it would not have permitted men to have four wives at a time. "It is up to you how many times you want to sleep with your wife. Everybody has different urges," he said, adding that it was "stupid" on the part of the Taliban to ban Viagra and such pills. "If I had so many wives," Hassan commented, "I think I'd need a little Viagra pick-me-up every now and then."Liberal Pakistanis fear that their space in Pakistani society is shrinking with the increasing influence and power of Islamic extremists. They say that by banning sexual drugs, the Taliban want to impose their fundamentalist ideology on Pakistanis.
"The Taliban do not represent the whole of Pakistan"
"The Taliban do not represent the whole of Pakistan," said S. Siddiqui, a student in Karachi. "Pakistanis love to have fun and enjoy life to the fullest. We do not want a tribal society in Pakistan." Moazum Rauf, a writer and lecturer at the University of Lahore, thinks that male potency is naturally a big issue in the Islamic Republic because "a good Muslim has to sexually satisfy 70 hoories [nymphs] in heaven." "Actually, we should ask those hoories in the afterlife if they are happy with this kind of sexual drive. They might have a different take," Rauf joked. Liberal Pakistanis like Siddiqui say they feel threatened by the rise of the Islamists in their country. Viagra or no Viagra, they want a free life, they say. Liberal lifestyle

Obama to announce major Afghanistan troop drawdown

Eager to end a war he didn't begin, President Obama announced in January plans to speed up the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In Tuesday's State of the Union address, the president will announce a milestone in the timetable on that drawdown, a senior administration official said. "President Obama will announce that 34,000 U.S. troops will return home from Afghanistan by this time next year, decreasing by half the number of U.S. forces serving in Afghanistan," the official told CBS News. "Further reductions will continue through the end of 2014 as Afghans take full responsibility for their security." Many questions remain about the ability of Afghans to maintain their own security against repeated attacks from al Qaeda, as well as numerous insurgent groups in both their own country and from Pakistan. The White House insists, however, that their timetable will work. "Afghan forces continue to grow stronger, with 352,000 now in training or on duty," the administration official said. "Afghan forces are leading nearly 90 percent of operations across the country, and by this spring, they'll be assuming the lead across the entire country, with the United States and ISAF stepped back to a train, advise and assist role." There are an estimated 100,000 international troops still in Afghanistan, with 66,000 of those being Americans. The U.S. and its partners have said they expect all those troops to leave the country by the end of 2014. Leading the drawdown of international security forces is the recently promoted Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who took command of the U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan on Sunday. The outgoing commander, Marine Gen. John Allen, said he told Dunford that the end won't be pretty, adding: "Our victory here will never be marked by a parade or a point in time on a calendar when victory is declared."

Pakistan: Assemblies will dissolve in a few weeks

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Tuesday said that national and provincial assemblies would be dissolved within few weeks to pave a way for holding free, fair and transparent elections in the country.
Addressing a gathering of Pakistani Diaspora at a dinner hosted by Shaukat Saleem in the honour of Prime Minister and first lady Nusrat Pervez Ashraf, the premier said that the future of Pakistan lies in impartial and fair elections and unfettered democracy. First Lady, Nusrat Pervez Ashraf, Pakistan's High commissioner to UK Wajid Shamsul Hasan, President PPP (UK) Hasan Bukhari were also present on the occasion. Eulogizing the much-needed contribution of the overseas Pakistanis in the development and prosperity of the country, the Prime Minister said that the present dispensation would again introduce a bill in the parliament to give right to Pakistani Diaspora of participation in the general elections. The Prime Minister was of the view that if overseas Pakistanis are allowed to cast their votes, they should also be permitted to seek votes in the general elections.He said that “Pakistani people, struggling abroad, are very diligent, hard working and resilient and represent the country in a graceful manner. Overseas Pakistanis from different parts and remote areas of Pakistan, struggle abroad to create respectable space and place, which is a source of pride for the country. The Prime Minister said that he was grateful to Almighty Allah for his ascent to the position of premiership. Expressing thanks to President Asif Ali Zardari and Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for reposing their confidence in him, Raja Pervez Ashraf said that he belonged to rank and file of the party and rose to this position by the grace of Allah. The PM said that the status of “United Kingdom as the mother of parliaments was not secured over night, rather long struggle had been waged to rope in this place. Pakistan is blessed with numerous resources, a population of over 180 million people and rich cultures”. The PM said that fight against terror has changed political dynamics of the entire world. He said that it is difficult to ascertain whether being a party to a war on terror was a wise decision on part of Pakistan or not. He said that he salutes all those who sacrificed their lives for the cause of Pakistan. He said that when PPP was voted into power in 2008, all political parties within and outside the parliament was convened along with heads of armed forces to resolve the issue of terrorism. He said that all stakeholders unanimously decided that the entire nation would stand behind the armed forces against war of terror. The PM added that “in Swat where there was no writ of law, the armed forces launched an operation and laid down their lives. Normal conditions were restored and 2.5 million IDPs were repatriated back to Swat”. The PM said that Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto introduced adult franchise in 1970 and people were allowed to cast their votes to whom they wished to be in power, adding that Bhutto also laid the foundation of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. The PM said that Bhutto also initiated other important mega projects like steel mill, Karma project, Heavy Mechanical complex and self respect of common man had been restored. The Prime Minister told the overseas that Pakistan was passing through the evolutionary phase, but the common man would ultimately be reaping benefits of the democracy. Referring to the role of media in Pakistan, he celebrated that around 100 news channels were functioning freely.. The PM underscored that the present assemblies of Pakistan would be the first in history to complete their constitutional tenure. Commenting on the historical ‘power friction between the presidency andf the parliament, he said that “Asif Ali Zardari had been elected as president with an overwhelming majority, but he voluntarily returned his powers to the parliament in the supreme interest of democracy and country. The president had realized that his real strength in fact rested with the democratic system that was why, he transferred all powers to parliament and the elected prime minister.” The PM said that the present regime paved way for providing assembly to Gilgit Baltistan, renamed NWFP as KPK and demands for new provinces were gaining momentum. He said that “ small provinces could be managed administratively in a better manner, but these issues are also being politicized unnecessarily and the people should not get frustrated over such problems” The Prime Minister concluded his speech by praising the positive role of British Prime Minister David Cameron for getting access for Pakistani products in the EU markets. Pakistan's High Commissioner to UK, Wajid Shamsul Hasan also spoke on the occasion.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: ''New Governor''

MYSTERY continues to surround the removal of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor Masood Kausar — and just as confusing appears to be the appointment of Shaukatullah Khan as the new governor. Sacked on the day he completed two years in office, Mr Kausar had managed to draw the ire of many within the PPP and even the tribal MNAs and senators. The general complaint: Mr Kausar, despite being an old PPP ideologue, did little to ‘help’ his party in the province; his age and health prevented him from being very active; and, as per usual in such situations, he had spent too much time padding his own nest. If the writing was on the wall for Mr Kausar for some time, the timing of his dismissal was unexpected and President Zardari appears to have suddenly yielded to the growing chorus of complaints. Whatever the reasons for his dismissal, Mr Kausar’s governorship is unlikely to be remembered for anything significant, good or bad. The logic behind Shaukatullah Khan’s appointment appears to be just as opaque. Where Mr Kausar’s nomination was pushed by the ANP, the new governor appears to have been selected by President Zardari without any consultations with provincial allies. This much Mr Khan has going for him: he is astonishingly well-connected through marriage and other ties with many political leaders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata and he appears to be a non-controversial choice. As the first ever civilian governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from Fata — the only previous Fata native who held the governor’s office was a retired general — it would appear that President Zardari is making some attempt to reach out to Fata’s representatives, who were particularly vocal about their unhappiness with Masood Kausar. But to what end? Understanding the tribal mindset and being able to mingle with ease among its people and leaders ahead of a general election — the first ever to be contested in Fata along party lines — could provide a boost to the PPP, but few seasoned observers of Pakhtun politics appear convinced that Governor Khan can make much of a difference. Unhappily, the problem in Fata goes deeper than the appointment of a single official, however senior, can make a difference to. Integration into Pakistan proper, economic development of the region, improved basic service delivery and security are the fundamental needs of Fata. For that to happen, though, the politicians — tribal, provincial and federal — and the security forces would need to sit down and hammer out a road map, and then focus unrelentingly on its implementation. But then, neither the army nor the president appears particularly interested in doing that.

Pakistan: Abysmal performance

Sindh's Annual Development Programme has allocated 24.8 billion rupees for development projects out of a total budgetary allocation of 161 billion rupees in seven months of the current fiscal year, a Business Recorder exclusive reveals. This is alarming though not surprising. Pakistan's provincial governments as well as the federal government announce a significant allocation for development programmes, which allows them to claim that their commitment to development far outpaces that of their predecessors; however rarely, if ever, is the budgeted allocation for development actually disbursed. The fact that for Sindh disbursement so far has been only 15 percent of the total budgeted for the year should be a source of serious concern to the peoples' representatives who are going to go back to their electorates to seek a fresh mandate within the next three to four months. Failure to utilise funds earmarked for development projects is all the more dire because in today's Pakistan, with private sector activity held hostage to massive loadshedding, law and order problems and the crowding out of private sector borrowing due to heavy borrowing by the state, federal and provincial governments can increase economic activity through utilisation of development funds. This, in turn, would have raised gross national product with its positive impact on all major macroeconomic indicators and increase the number of employment opportunities. The federal finance ministry has developed a reputation for not disbursing funds for development given its failure to either check the rise in current expenditure relative to what is budgeted or indeed to generate the budgeted revenue. Thus it diverts funds budgeted for development programmes to meet current expenditure to ensure a budget deficit that is more sustainable than would have otherwise been possible. Thus one may legitimately question whether Sindh's finance department had the necessary resources to make the releases. A high-level meeting on the utilisation of development funds for various ADP projects under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah was informed that the fault for the small releases to-date lay with the relevant departments which failed to seek the release of funds allocated to them for use for identified development schemes. In this context, the question arises whether the failure to request for release of development funds earmarked for specific projects is not attributable to Pakistan's extremely low absorption rate. This may provide only part of the answer and the perception is that the appallingly poor utilisation of development funds is inexplicably an indication of a lack of political will as well as capacity to implement schemes that would not only benefit the public at large but also the political fortunes of the incumbent government. It is extremely unfortunate that provinces have not been able to meet the challenges that they vigorously fought for and succeeded in getting in terms of greater financial autonomy and devolution of critical and politically sensitive social sectors (education, health etc) in the National Finance Commission (NFC) award as well as the 18th Amendment. True that provincial capacity remains inadequate but all provinces, to a greater or lesser degree, need to urgently build the requisite capacity in terms of not only generating more revenue than they have so far been able to generate but also to utilise allocations earmarked for the appallingly and poorly performing social sectors.

Lahore: Unhappy residents

EDITORIAL : Daily Times The residents of Model Town, Lahore, are fuming. It appears the Punjab government, Model Town Society and City District Government Lahore have chalked out a plan to ‘commercialise’ Model Town by building theme parks, restaurants and shopping arcades in place of the lush green parks and green belts that Model Town is well known for. More than 1,000 residents of Model Town held a protest demonstration on Sunday from Central Park to Ferozepur Road, holding up placards under the banner of ‘Movement to Save Parks’. These residents are infuriated that their home, which is one of the few societies in Lahore to be blessed with green areas and recreational parks, is being despoiled in the name of progress. It is obvious that the Model Town Society has a huge part to play in this entire affair. There seem to be a few individuals in this society who have failed to follow procedural norms such as consulting Model Town’s residents, addressing their concerns, planning and strategising how to most effectively go about this sort of ‘development’. Such haste can only spell one conclusion: there seems to be plenty of money to be made when it comes to projects such as these and, for a few elements within Model Town Society, this seems to be the prime reason behind pushing forward with this venture instead of sitting down with the residents of Model Town and coming up with an agreed plan. Now the residents are angry. They feel cheated and deprived of the right to make informed decisions about where they live, which this is their right. They should be allowed to have a say in what happens to their neighbourhood/society. Lahore has already been a maze of dug up roads and inefficient alternative routes, and the citizens have been subjected to extreme inconvenience for the last one year due to the construction of the Metro Bus Service. Now Model Town is about to go the same way. The concerns of the residents of Model Town must be addressed and, if any objections arise, carefully looked into. If Model Town Society fails to reach a consensus with those who live there, it is advised that all plans for this commercialisation be dropped. There is a huge probability that if such ill-advised plans are allowed to go ahead, the residents could take their grievances to court and, if recent cases are anything to go by, the superior courts are inclined towards protecting the environment from dastardly plans to ruin it. There has to be some appropriate urban planning, with the citizens fully consulted and made to feel as though they matter. Model Town Society should remember this.

Bilawal: PPP will continue its struggle for strengthening democracy

Radio Pakistan
The Chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party‚ Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said that PPP will continue its struggle for strengthening democracy in the country. He was talking during meeting with delegations of party parliamentarians in Lahore on Tuesday. He said that there is no ambiguity about the time to hold next general election. Information Minister‚ Qamar Zaman Kaira led the delegation from Gujrat and Mandi Bahauddin while Federal Minister for National Regulation‚ Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan led the delegation from Sialkot and Narowal. During the meeting‚ party's organizational issues in the concerned districts were discussed.