Friday, February 15, 2013

Horsemeat blame game ricochets across Europe

Accusations, denials and threats to sue reverberated round Europe on Friday as meat traders, food processors, retailers and governments all rejected blame for horsemeat found in ever more beef dishes across the continent. In France, wholesalers and officials traded grievances, while more products were removed from sale in Britain, Germany, Austria and Norway; police raided factories in several countries and Dutch prosecutors accused one meat supplier there of fraud. No one is reported to have fallen ill from eating horse in the month since it was first identified in Irish beefburgers, but evidence of widespread mis-labeling and revelations of a complex market in which produce crisscrosses the EU trading bloc have damaged Europeans' confidence in the food on their plate. Governments have come under pressure to act and to explain lapses in quality control, while supermarkets, fast-food chains and ready-meal manufacturers are battling to save reputations, some fighting for their very survival amid a welter of lurid headlines playing on a popular queasiness about eating horses. A French meat company with a famous name accused by the government in Paris of knowingly passing off horsemeat as beef hit back angrily on Friday, accusing ministers of jumping to a hasty conclusion, as its workers feared for their livelihoods. "This verdict arrived at by the ministers ... has condemned 300 families to death," said the Spanghero company's marketing director Christophe Giry, referring to its 300 employees. "We're being used as scapegoats for politicians and everybody," he added. "They needed to find a head." "The government has been too hasty," said company boss Barthelemy Aguerre, a day after ministers said it could not have failed to realize cheap meat from Romania was horse not beef. "I think we will prove our innocence," he added. Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon said: "At the very least there was a lot of negligence ... Millions of consumers have been duped, so we had to act quickly." At Spanghero's factory - a red and white corrugated-iron-clad building in Castelnaudary, a town famed for its cuisine near the southern city of Toulouse - workers were throwing carcasses, sausages and burgers into a dumper truck on Friday. The Spanghero family, a dynasty of French rugby players who founded the firm but sold it in 2009, bemoaned the loss of their good name: "We have been plunged into dishonor," said Laurent Spanghero, whose brother once captained the national rugby team. The Romanian government and abattoirs that routinely slaughter horses have said their exports were properly labeled. DUTCH RAID Dutch prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into an as yet unnamed company believed to have been falsely labeling beef mixed with horsemeat after searching a plant in the south. They said it was "suspected of forgery, fraud and money laundering" and added: "It is believed the company processed horse carcasses from Ireland and mixed them with beef." In a separate development, a Dutch businessman who was convicted last year of selling falsely labeled horsemeat, denied suggestions of involvement in the latest scandal. After a senior Romanian food safety official identified Jan Fasen's company Draap Trading as a buyer of horse meat from Romania, a lawyer for Fasen, who is based in Breda in the southern Netherlands said in a statement he denied all allegations, including of being a key figure in a fraud network. He noted that Fasen was appealing against last year's conviction, which court documents show involved the sale of beef mixed with horse to two French companies. Governments have highlighted that horsemeat poses little or no health risk - though some carcasses have been found tainted with a painkiller given to racehorses but banned for human consumption - and have said retailers are ultimately responsible for ensuring the products they sell are what they claim to be. One supermarket chain, Kaiser's Tengelmann in Germany, said it plans to sue Comigel, a French supplier of frozen beef lasagne and other ready meals, for selling it horsemeat: "We feel cheated and deceived," Tengelmann boss Raimund Luig said. "We will definitely file for damages." German discount supermarket chain Lidl said it had taken beef tortelloni off its shelves after Austrian health authorities said they found horsemeat in one sample made by Liechtenstein-based Hilcona. The latter blamed its supplier. Compass Group, the world's biggest caterer, and Whitbread, Britain's biggest hotel group, added to the list of firms withdrawing beef products found to contain horse. DAMAGE CONTROL Also in Britain, leading chain Tesco, one of the earliest casualties of horse-tainted beefburgers, highlighted a different approach to defending its reputation, telling customers they would be able to track the implementation of systems it is putting in place to ensure the origins of its food are clear. British supermarket bosses signed an open letter to consumers telling them they "share their anger and outrage" at finding food safety "compromised by fraudulent activity or even, as alleged, an international criminal conspiracy". That move came after Prime Minister David Cameron, himself under pressure from voters, appeared to chide the retailers. Britain's Food Standards Agency, set up in 2001 after the "mad cow disease" scandal saw British beef banned by European neighbors, said on Friday that of 2,501 tests for horse DNA in samples of beef products from shops, 29 had shown traces above 1 percent. Authorities in the northwestern English county of Lancashire said they were recalling pies from 47 local school kitchens after they provisionally tested positive for traces of horse DNA. "This does not appear to be a food safety issue, but I've no doubt parents will agree we need to take a very firm line with suppliers," County Councillor Susie Charles said in a statement. EU governments approved an EU-wide program of DNA tests on beef products to assess the scale of a food scandal involving mislabeled horsemeat, the bloc's executive said on Friday. The initial one-month testing plan will also check horsemeat for potentially harmful drug residues, after six horses slaughtered in Britain tested positive for the anti-inflammatory phenylbutazone, which is illegal in meat for human consumption. The British government and the European Union have called for a high-level meeting to investigate the scandal, and it will be on the agenda of a February 25 EU farm ministers' meeting.

Child rape case roils Saudis
The conflicts at the heart of the Saudi Arabian judicial system came to light this week over attempts to release a controversial cleric convicted of torturing, raping and killing his 5-year-old daughter. The ensuing public debate reveals deep schisms in Saudi society, particularly where women and children are concerned. Fayhan al-Ghamdi was arrested after his daughter, Lama al-Ghamdi, arrived at a hospital with severe head and body injuries. It was determined that she had been repeatedly raped. When asked how he could treat his own daughter is such a cruel fashion, al-Ghamdi said that he beat her after he began to doubt that Lama was still a virgin.Lama's mother, who is divorced from the father, is campaigning to have her ex-husband executed, which she argues is the proper Islamic punishment for his crime. Unfortunately, Fayhan al-Ghamdi has a significant following in the kingdom due to his frequent appearances on television, where he holds himself out as an expert of religious law and practices. Reports began circulating this month that al-Ghamdi was being released after paying so-called "blood money" to Lama's mother, amounting to approximately $50,000. The judge overseeing the case was reported as saying that such payment was adequate to see the cleric released from jail. This news quickly generated anger among many Saudis. Surprisingly, given the traditional close coordination between the religious establishment and the civil government, the Justice Ministry quickly intervened, stressing that al-Ghamdi was still in custody. Widespread outrage over Lama's brutal death has been building, and the Saudi royal family is clearly not entirely deaf to public opinion. Indeed, other reports claimed that the case against the cleric is actually still open and that his ex-wife intends to testify against him, in order to push for a more stringent penalty. Even if it is unlikely that al-Ghamdi will be given the death penalty, public sentiment is demanding much harsher treatment. The rights of women continue to be a hot-button issue in the kingdom. While King Abdullah is making some measureable progress on women's rights, through increased educational, employment and travel opportunities, the extremely conservative religious institutions in his country regularly impede his progress. Critics contend that Lama's fate was a direct result of Saudi Arabia's lack of meaningful laws to protect women and children from abuse, as well as the unwillingness of officials to conduct investigations and prosecute cases that are controversial and embarrassing to the clerical establishment. However, the mere fact that this emotional debate has broken through to the international media is a powerful sign of how these issues generate intense interest and concern among Saudis. Dissent in Saudi Arabia has always been a very tricky business. Much press has been given to King Abdullah's recent appointment of 30 women to the Shura Council, the top advisory body in this absolute monarchy. Of course, as has been seen in many countries many times before, the daily realities of working-class women, who must fight their battles for equality and personal safety from a position of grinding poverty, is in many ways largely unrelated to the advancement of a handful of elites into limited positions of influence and affluence. It is important to understand clearly Saudi Arabia's unique position regarding women's rights. No other country, arguably, restricts women to quite the same degree. Not Iran, not North Korea. In fact, no other Muslim country places the same comprehensive and systematic legal limitations on women as does Saudi Arabia. Whatever religious ideas purport to motivate the prohibition on women driving, or doing everyday tasks, like working or traveling without a man's consent, such notions do not hold sway for hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world. They are unique to Saudi Arabia. Importantly, al-Ghamdi's brutalization of Lama was not the result of a religious decision. He acted out of anger, which the law is duty-bound to punish. Watching the Saudi government respond, and the upwelling of public anger against this atrocity, may be an encouraging sign that the country is progressing towards a level of public discourse that will allow it to better adapt to the modern world. Saudi Arabia faces many challenges, and its poorest citizens suffer disproportionately from the rigid rules enforced by conservative clerics. Lama's tragic fate is just one example of the heart-wrenching consequences of the status quo. Hopefully, as the country struggles to address this crime, and the circumstances that allowed it to happen, Lama's suffering may ultimately have some positive consequence after all. Of course, this would be of little consolation to her grieving mother. Hopefully, Saudi officials will take the necessary steps to ensure that there are no more Lamas, and that women, young and old, are protected, not by isolating them from society, but by empowering them within their society.

Saudi Arabian human rights activist calls for child abuse law

A Saudi Arabian human rights activist has called for the approval of new laws in the country on child abuse and domestic violence after a five-year-old Saudi girl was beaten to death by her father. "The absence of laws produce cases like Lama, who died waiting for justice, and this absence of legislation will keep producing others like Lama we may or may not know about," Fawziah al Bakr wrote in a Saudi newspaper. The five-year-old Lama al-Ghamdi was admitted to a hospital in Saudi Arabia’s capital city, Riyadh, last March after suffering severe injuries including a crushed skull, broken ribs, bruises and burns. She died of her injuries in October. Lama was reportedly tortured and beaten to death by his father, Fayhan al-Ghamdi, who is a Saudi cleric. "There is an immediate need to call for a draft law that clearly defines all forms of abuse including verbal, psychological, physical, and sexual abuse. [These] behaviors should be clearly identified by lawmakers and Sharia laws and codified,” Bakr pointed out. She also noted that the Saudi Arabian laws need "to catch up with Saudi society." A campaign has also been launched in Saudi Arabia by a women’s rights activist Manal al-Sharif over the issue. Human right activists have repeatedly warned that domestic violence is on the rise in Saudi Arabia.

Abuse of Black Workers in Saudi Arabia Dates Back to 20th Century
Saudi Arabia and several countries in the Middle East have every now and then hit the headlines for wrong reasons. It has either been a house-maid thrown off the balcony by his irate employer or a worker being returned to Kenya in a coffin. What many Kenyans do not know is that Saudi Arabia, and several of the Middle Eastern countries, are very conservative. We are in the 21st century yet even a female university graduate is not allowed to drive a car. She also has to be accompanied by a chaperon even when she goes shopping. Generally, the females there appear very submissive. However, there is one exception to this - Dr Nawal el Saadawi. The intrepid Egyptian women rights fighter, who combines medicine with writing to get her points across. But the Middle East needs another 100 of such female warriors - Saadawii is but one drop in the ocean. Saudi Arabia has gained the notoriety of administering brutal punishment to its alleged offenders. For instance, it was recently reported in a British paper that up to "45 foreign house-maids were to be beheaded". The same source quotes a human rights group insinuating horrendous slaughters where up to 69 were executed last year, 75 the year before. These include five women, one of whom was beheaded for witchcraft and sorcery. The typical Kenyan teenager would consider this as intrusive authority and chant "Haki yetu, Haki yetu". Not so in the Middle East! This explains why the typical employer there, with the mindset of a slave master, flies into an uncontrollable rage and pushes a "rebellious" Kenyan house-maid off the balcony. But why do Kenyans travel overseas to seek employment? Jobs are difficult to come by here at home and the salaries are generally miserable except for a lucky few. Hence Kenyans will go anywhere to seek their fortunes. They are all over the world - we are told that Kenyans top the list of sub-Saharan Africans in the US. The truth is that the USA with all its short-comings is a modern democratic state. Saudi Arabia is not. I had a sojourn in Lesotho. The pay there was much better than in Kenya. However, the black Southern Africans have their own problems. They tend to look down on other Africans, especially those from the north of the Limpopo River whom they call Makoerekoere - those whose languages we do not understand. Back to Saudi Arabia. She has had a chequered history with East Africa. In the late 18th century, the Sultan of Oman helped drive out the Portuguese from East Africa, pushing them all the way to Mozambique , which remained their stronghold. The reigning Sultan, then known as Seyyid Said, was attracted to the Zanzibar island and the coastal littoral. He however encountered resistance from the Mazrui family of Mombasa The subsequent heavy-handedness of the Omanis was greatly resented by the Mazrui and their Swahili supporters. The well-known scholar, Professor R.W. Beachey in his book, The Slave Trade of Eastern Africa , surmises "that the local Swahili were restive under Omani rule is evident from their exodus to Mafia, and from letters to Goa from the Sultan and notables of Kilwa, pleading for the return of the Portuguese as preferable to the Omani". Indeed, the Mazrui had every now and then successfully defied the pretensions of Seyyid Said. But in the 1830s, Seyyid Said became more wily. We are told that he enticed the prominent members of the Mazrui clan into the Fort Jesus stronghold for a feast. The moment they were inside, the gates were locked up and the feast became a nightmare as the hapless guests were bound hand and foot. They were loaded onto boats heading for the Persian Gulf. We are also told that several were tossed overboard into the shark-infested waters and the remnants languished in Omani dungeons. Thereafter, Seyyid Said made Zanzibar his capital and turned East Africa into his commercial hegemony based on the odious ivory and slave trade. This explains why several employers in the Middle East maintain a mindset of a slave master, especially when dealing with Africans. And in Africa itself, countries such as the Sudan, Mauritania, Northern Mali and Niger still practise a form of slavery on the dark-skinned segments of their populations. A dark-skinned African in the Arab world is still regarded as a slave unless proven otherwise. Yes the African diplomats are feted with cosmetic dignity in the Arab world but the ordinary African is treated with contempt. This, in many ways, explains why the Kenyan workers there are generally treated as lesser humans. The government did the right thing to suspend travel arrangements to the Middle East. This should be supported by all patriotic Kenyans.

Thousands of Opposition Protesters Rally in Bahrain

Thousands of opposition supporters held demonstrations in Bahrain's capital Friday, leading to clashes for a second day. Anti-government protesters jammed a major highway that links several Shi'ite-populated areas to the capital, Manama, to mark the second anniversary of an uprising against the country's Sunni rulers. The march along the main highway was largely peaceful, however breakaway groups clashed with riot police in nearby neighborhoods. Witnesses say demonstrators threw stones and police fired tear gas. Friday's demonstrations began early in the morning and lasted almost all day. During protests on Thursday, a teenage boy was killed by police gunfire on the outskirts of the capital. And overnight Thursday to Friday, a policeman in Manama died after being hit by a homemade explosive. The majority Shi'ite opposition called for the nationwide demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the 2011 uprising amid the wave of pro-democracy movements in other Arab countries. Protesters are demanding democratic reforms in Bahrain and an end to the Sunni monarchy's perceived discrimination against Shi'ites. Bahrain's government crushed the demonstrations in March 2011, sending security forces to clear a protest encampment in Manama and bringing in troops from neighboring Sunni-led Gulf states to restore order. Street battles between Bahraini security forces and Shi'ite demonstrators have continued, mostly outside of Manama. At least 55 people have been killed since the uprising began.

One killed, 26 injured in clashes between protesters and Egyptian police

One person has been killed and at least 26 injured in clashes between anti-government protesters and Egyptian police. On Friday, thousands of Egyptians held demonstrations against and in support of the government of President Mohamed Morsi in the capital. Clashes broke out outside the presidential palace after anti-government demonstrators attacked the building with stones and petrol bombs on Friday night, and 13 people were injured. In response, police used tear gas and water cannon to turn back hundreds of people from the president’s residence. Another 13 people were injured in clashes in other parts of Cairo. The death occurred in Gharbiya governorate, which is located 80 kilometers north of Cairo. “One was killed in Gharbiya governorate when a vehicle hit him during an anti-government protest,” Egyptian Health Ministry spokesman Ahmed Omar said. Anti-government protesters also attacked security forces in the country's second largest city, Alexandria, on the same day. They demanded that Morsi make efforts to realize the goals of the revolution that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Thousands of Egyptians also staged demonstrations in Suez, Port Said, and many other cities and towns to call on Morsi, who took office in June 2012, to fulfill his election promises. Earlier in the day, about 5,000 Egyptians staged a demonstration in Cairo in support of Morsi. The demonstrators gathered in front of Cairo University for the event, which they dubbed the "No to violence" march. Some of the protesters carried banners that read "Yes to Islamic law" while others chanted: "People want the law of God to be implemented." They condemned the recent wave of violent anti-government demonstrations that broke out three weeks ago around the second anniversary of the beginning of the revolution. Many Morsi supporters said that the opposition's incessant demonstrations calling for reform have hurt the economy and have seriously undermined the campaign for change. The Egyptians launched the revolution against the pro-Israeli regime on January 25, 2011, which eventually brought an end to the 30-year dictatorship of Mubarak on February 11, 2011.

Obama addresses gun violence, economy in Chicago

President Barack Obama returned to Chicago today for several hours to address the gun violence that has plagued his hometown, suggesting that tougher gun laws, community involvement and improving urban economic conditions can help. The murders in Chicago last year are "the equivalent of a Newtown every four months. Americans are asking for common sense proposals to make it harder for Americans to get their hands on a gun,” Obama said before an audience at Hyde Park Academy on the South Side. The president pointed out that gun control won't stop every crime. Government can’t solve every problem, the community has to be involved, he said."A child opens fire on another child, there is a hole in that child heart that government can't fill, only community, parents, teachers and clergy and fill that. In too many neighborhoods ...the future only extends to the next street corner or the outstretches of town," Obama said. Obama circled back to economic questions, saying that too many children in America lack the belief they will be able to succeed in life, and the country needs to fix that. "This is not just a gun issue," he said. And he called for strengthening the American "If a child grows up with parents who have work and some education and can be role models," the child gets "a foundation" that helps them succeed, he said. The visit came just days after the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, a teenager killed in a shooting a mile from the Obamas’ South Side home. After attending the services for Pendleton, first lady Michelle Obama invited her parents to join her in the balcony for the president’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. Obama said he was proud of the young men from Hyde Park Academy that he met with earlier this afternoon. “These are all exceptional young men. I’m proud of them because a lot of them have had some issues, that part of the reason (they) are in the program. I explained that I had issues too when I was their age. “I had an environment that was a little bit more forgiving. When I screwed up, the consequences were a little less harsh than when kids on the South Side." At the school, members of the Pendleton family had arrived, including her parents, Cleopatra and Nathaniel. Also on hand were members of the Wortham family. Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham IV was fatally shot in front of his parents’ Chatham home in 2010 when attackers tried to rob him of a new motorcycle. Religious leaders including the Rev. Byron Brazier, pastor of Apostolic Church of God in Woodland, and the Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church, are in the audience. Among the city's political class, Obama adviser David Axelrod and Chicago Alds. Pat Dowell, Leslie Hairston and Willie Cochran were there. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin are scheduled to attend. Students sat in the bleachers alongside people in the community. The ROTC acted as volunteer ushers. ROTC member Timeca Donahue, 16, said the mood at the school has been "very tense and exciting." "This is a once in a lifetime experience. It's extraordinary. It's hard to believe it's really happening," she said. ROTC member Lola Oni, 17, said she is pleased that the president is trying to pass gun control laws. "He's an important person and people look up to him," she said. "If he does pass those laws, it will reduce some of the shooting but people still will have guns." Stephanie Gordon, founder of the chicago chapter of One Million Moms for Gun Control, said she recently recruited Cleopatra Pendleton to join the group. "She can bring a voice," Gordon said. "Every member has a strong voice and are flaming the fuel to bring about stronger gun laws. There are so many inconsistencies in the laws across the country. The NRA is so well funded that our voices tend to get squeezed out. "We don't believe strict gun laws are the only answer but they are a concrete place to start. We're hoping that Congress votes so that the community gets a vote." The stop at Hyde Park Academy was billed by the White House as one of several stops the president is making to press for the economic package he outlined in his State of the Union speech. But the crowd was packed with gun control advocates. Pam Bosley, who said her son, Terell, was fatally shot in 2006 in a crime that remains unsolved, indicatd she's convinced the president's appearance will signify more than just a brief political fascination with urban violence. "We're going to keep pushing this," Bosley said. Rev. Pfleger, a longtime supporter of stronger firearms laws, said Obama's appearance is not an embarrassment for Emanuel as the city battles rising gun violence. "Nobody asked that when the president went to Tucson" after a gunman wounded U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and killed six others, Pfleger said. Rather, Pfleger said he expects the president's speech will mark the beginning of a new federal focus on urban violence. "It's not to embarrass anybody, it's just to help us deal with an issue that needs White House, administration, Justice Department, education department, all the way down to the parent on the street," Pfleger said. "When he comes, his administration comes behind him," Pfleger said. "So all of a sudden, if coming out of this becomes not only the focus on urban America, this has not been done before," Pfleger said. "Remember, urban America. Aurora, Tucson, Connecticut is not urban America. This is saying we're recognizing in America what we've been ignoring for a long time. The primary victim of violence in this country has been black and brown, and America has ignored it. So now he's putting the attention on it." Air Force One landed at 1:23 p.m. at O'Hare International Airport. The president, wearing a black overcoat, walked off the jet accompanied by many members of the Illinois Congressional delegation, Obama was greeted by greeted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whom he patted on the back before boarding the Marine One helicopter. After a quick flight with a clear view of the skyline and the lake shore, Marine One landed at 1:48 p.m. at the Burnham Park landing zone, very close to Lake Michigan and slightly south of McCormick Place. The president walked to his limousine and the motorcade headed to the school. Late this afternoon, Obama is scheduled to head to Florida for some rest and relaxation during the President's Day weekend, the White House has said. The president’s emphasis this week is on promoting job creation and economic recovery, aides say, in the belief that solutions to violence and other social problem hang in the balance. He and Vice President Joe Biden have made the case in recent weeks that the solution to gun violence isn’t just about gun control, but also about improving access to educational opportunities, social programs and mental health services. To clear these pathways to the middle class, Obama on Tuesday night proposed creating “promise zones” in 20 struggling communities, helping them develop plans and leverage federal resources to increase economic activity. He also proposes a plan to support summer and year-round jobs for low-income youth and to put long-term unemployed and low-income adults back to work. Clergy, activists, parents and others in Chicago have said they are eager to hear a plan of action from the president to curb violence. Annette Nance-Holt, whose 16-year-old son Blair was killed in 2007, said that if the president can set up a task force in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at an elementary school Dec. 14, he can do the same in Chicago. Cathy Cohen, founder of the Black Youth Project, said she hopes to hear a plan on how to get illegal guns off the street and how to get young people working. Clergy said they hope the president talks about broader factors contributing to the city's violence, such as a high unemployment rate and a lack of adequate funding for local schools. Chicago's homicides in recent years have numbered far below their annual total of more than 900 in the early 1990s. But while Chicago topped 500 homicides last year, the total fell below 500 in New York City, which has about three times the population of Chicago.

Scientists break down Russia meteor crash

A meteorite crashes into a Russian city, an asteroid barrels toward Earth's direction-- two unrelated events that make us wonder about how dangerous in the infinite frontier.

Obama tears up as he honors Newtown educators

U.S. President Barack Obama awards presidential medals posthumously to six educators killed in the Newtown school massacre.

Atta Shad: The Poet of Modern Sensibilities

The Baloch Hal
By Fazal Baloch
February 13 marks the 16th death anniversary of prominent Baloch poet Atta Shad, best known as the architect of modern poetic sensibilities in Balochi literature. When Atta emerged on the literary scene, Balochi literature was mainly divided between two schools of thoughts. First was driven by the impact of the Progressive Movement with Mir Gul Khan Naseer and Aazad Jamaldini on the forefront. While the second one was purely an indigenous one. Founded by Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi, the forerunner of modern Balochi literature, this school of thought was deeply rooted in classical Balochi poetry. Mainly, emphasizing on the chasteness of language and simplicity of poetic thoughts, this school of poetry subsequently attracted a wide range of poets to its fold including late Murad Sahir, Ghulam Rasool Mulla (popularly known as G.R Mulla) and Ahmed Zaheer to mention a few here. As following the cliches was something very antithesis to his innovative nature, Atta chose to drift away from the oft-trodden path of the poetry and went on creating his own aura which made him stand out in the realm of modern Balochi poetry. The enormity of his imagination rendered him to envision beyond his time. Unlike his peers, he deeply observed the universe, contemplated its nature and deeply pondered upon human aspirations and produced the kind of poetry which is by and large still non existent in Balochi literature. Consider these lines:
Cho Hoda baaz inth pa Bani Adam ay sind o bund Ast kass ey dil ay proshtagen bandan sazeeth (Enough gods for the break up human relations. Is there any god to patch the broken hearts up?)
Maah ay sar beet keh beet rouch ay tah Zind har jagaha beet tahna beet (Whether it is on the moon or in the sun Life is destined to be forlorn everywhere)
Atta bequeathed modern Balochi poetry a fresh poetic diction. His metaphoric and symbolic venture, which is a reflection of his modern sensibilities, also stand apart from the rest of the modern Balochi poets. With the amalgamation of various Balochi dialects, he found a new poetic language for both Ghazal [a poetic form of expression] form of poetry] and Nazm [prose]. His voice, thus, can’t be compartmentalized to any specific region or dialect as is the case with most of the eminent Balochi poets. Atta’s era was the age of socio-political awakening in Balochistan. Though this movement was initiated much before by Yousuf Aziz Magsi and his friends in the early 20th century, it was infused with a new vigor on the literary front by poets like Mir Gul Khan Naseer and Azad Jamaldini with their revolutionary voice. As the two stalwarts were ideologically progressive, they seem more concerned with the social-political ideology than the aesthetic sense of the art. At times their tone especially that of Mir Gul Khan much nears the sloganeering. On the flip side, Atta appears more subtle, metaphoric and symbolic in his approach while expressing socio-political themes. He seems more conscious about the aesthetic sense of the art than anything else. In poems like Sahkandan, Mahnaa, Singjaah, Chahr and Osth ay sodagiran pa motk ey modern Balochi verse has attained new heights. Consider the following roughly translated lines of the poem Mahnaa:
Me, Not startled by the wisdom of ambiguous words That Life is the outcome of years of sufferings If wisdom in its course Thrives on a certain ideology The universe would be bound to perish!
This heralds a new beginning in the realm of Balochi verse which until then was under the spell of traditional and monotonous mode of expression. Modern Balochi verse for the first time seems contemplating on the subject of being, the universe and its relationship with the man. Likewise, his Urdu poetry truly reflects his consciousness with modern sensibility. Unlike his contemporaries, the clichés of Urdu poetry could not appeal to Atta Shad. He abandoned outdated expressions and metaphors that had long been associated with Urdu ‘ghazal’ from the days of Wali Dakkani to Hasrat Mohani. As his oeuvre is deeply rooted in his soil, it is quite rare for mundane expressions and metaphors like Gul o bulbul, Khom o paimana, Saqi, Said, Sayyad, Nasih, Qafas, Aseeri, and Rehai etc to visit the domain of Atta Shad’s poetry. Instead, fresh expressions such as Pani ki lakeer, Aab-e- tah-e-sung, Sannatay ka kora kaghaz, Shab-e-habs-e-bay karaan, Shahd lab, Khazan bakht, Chop ki shikan dar shikan yakh bustagi, Khoshkaba-e-jan and the likes frequently appear on the landscape of Atta Shad’s poetry. While reading his Urdu poetry one would definitely catch a glimpse of the nuances of of Baloch culture and landscape of Balochistan. He added a new poetic flavor to Urdu poetry by versifying certain Balochi folklore, romantic sagas and maxims. Poems like ‘Mahnaaz’, ‘Shah Mureed aur Haani’, ‘Wafa’ and ‘Lori’ represent different aspects of Baloch culture. These poems also help in tracing the psyche of the typical Baloch society.
The short poem ‘Wafa’ (Oath of Allegiance) reads as: On my motherland A bowl of water Worths eternal allegiance Let us quench our thirst And Submit ourselves To the eternal bond of love.
Ironically, the poem is often misinterpreted by many as a satire on the tribal society of Balochistan. It has also been referred to as the scarcity of water in Balochistan. It has, however, nothing to do with the rigidity or inflexibility of tribal society and scarcity of water in Balochistan. Those who attempted to unfold its theme, actually couldn’t grasp the contextual sense of the poem. Atta borrows its main idea from an old yet common Balochi adage which says: Taas e aap bowar sad saal wafa bkan, (drink a bowl of water and remain loyal (to the one who fetch you the water) for hundred years. The adage is reflective of the flexible and benevolent nature of Baloch society. Apart from cultural nuances, the landscape of Balochistan is yet another theme that fascinated Atta Shad. Colors of different weathers, frozen winds, flowing streams, hymning fountains, snow-covered valleys, rocky mountains, barren lands, fluttering trees are a few commonplace expressions frequently visit Shad’s poetry. However, he doesn’t look at Balochistan through the prism of a mere photographer spellbound by its scenic beauty. Rather, he sees Balochistan beyond its landscape by employing the aforementioned expressions and the likes as references to portray the deprivation of the region and sufferings of his people in such a creative way that his verse transcends the geographical barriers and Balochistan becomes the territory where ever tyranny reigns. Over the years Balochistan has been vulnerable to tribal oppression and state sponsored brutalities. The subject occupies a worth mentioning space in Atta Shad’s poetry. The poem ‘Sar-i-Gongzaar-i-Hawas’, one of his masterpieces, evokes the wounds of the 1970s when the province was undergoing military operation. Likewise, the short poem ‘Hukm-i-Hakim’ (the decree) casts light on the murky realities of tribalism, a phenomenon that has long enchained humanity not only physically but also mentally and ideologically. He has to his credit a few random but insightful articles on various aspects of Balochi literature which also gives credence to his potentials as a prose writer. These articles leave the reader wonder why Atta did not devote more time to composing prose. Maybe, it was poetry which did not let a wonderful prose writer emerge out of an even greater poet.

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Valentine's Day celebrated in Pakistan

Like everywhere else Valentine's Day was celebrated in Pakistan as well. The day is increasingly popular among younger Pakistanis, who give cards, chocolates and flowers to their sweethearts to celebrate the occasion. However, while some rejoice in the day's celebrations, others like Pakistan's main religious party, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), staged a huge protest against Valentine's Day on Tuesday in Peshawar, denouncing it as un-Islamic and calling for a "day of modesty" instead. Just stopping short of banning coverage of the day, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulator Authority (PEMRA) circulated a letter saying it received complaints that celebrating the day was not in accordance with "our religious and cultural ethos". But some youngsters dismiss Valentine's Day as being un-Islamic saying that it is about love, which is also relevant to Muslims. In keeping with the day's sentiments, red roses and heart-shaped balloons could be seen everywhere in Islamabad on Thursday with roadside flower stalls linining many of the capital's streets.

Afghanistan peace talks: 'The ball is now in the Taliban court'

"By the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over," declared President Obama to thunderous applause during his State of the Union address this week. This was a speech about ending an unpopular war and bringing US troops home, not about winning a peace, or even trying to negotiate one. "We are still hopeful we might enter talks but we didn't want to raise expectations," a senior US official told me. "The ball is now in the Taliban court." The Taliban suspended unprecedented talks last March with an angry statement describing the US as "shaky, erratic, and vague". They accused Washington of making unacceptable demands during a series of meetings, meant to be secret, to work on "confidence-building measures". For the Taliban, it was about freeing five prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. For the US, it was the release of Bowe Bergdahl, their only soldier in Taliban captivity. There was also a demand for public Taliban commitments including an end to al-Qaeda links, and an agreement to talk to the Afghan government. "The channel is still there, and we hope to pick it up again," said another US official with knowledge of previous talks. US Congressional opposition to a prisoner release, and Taliban refusal to accept conditions or talk to what they say is a "puppet" government in Kabul, remain major hurdles. For both sides, it's still about talking and fighting in the run-up to the US-led Nato troop pullout in 2014. And the main emphasis, for the Taliban and the Pentagon, is still on the war. "There hasn't been a Northern Ireland moment," said one diplomat, alluding to a process where two sides accepted military means could not achieve their goals. "It is more like Colombia when the government and the rebels have started talking but keep fighting."
A crucial element enabling what both Western and Afghan officials call "cautious optimism" is a more engaged Pakistan. Afghanistan's neighbour has long been accused of not doing enough to rein in Afghan Taliban operating from its soil. "I think it has finally sunk in that Pakistan's own security could be threatened by greater links between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban once most of our troops leave," said one US official. In recent months, Pakistan has started responding to long-standing Afghan demands for the release of Taliban prisoners. But the process has not been coordinated with Kabul and prisoners have just dispersed. Some have returned to the battlefield. The new US Secretary of State John Kerry has still not appointed a successor to Ambassador Marc Grossman who stepped down as Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan at the end of last year. During nearly two years in the job, he became the most senior US official to talk to Afghan Taliban. Senator Kerry has also not indicated publicly how much priority he will place on this region. But the well-travelled senator has long been the US trouble-shooter of choice in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was the point man on major crises ranging from the arrest of a CIA agent in Pakistan in 2011 to the explosive row over controversial Afghan presidential elections in 2009. US diplomats say, that as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Kerry kept in regular touch with the special US State Department office focusing on "AfPak". A few years ago, he emphasised his agreement "with the fundamental premise that there is no military solution in Afghanistan". At the time, he spoke of "serious efforts" under way to achieve a negotiated end.
Secret meetings
The most serious efforts came at the end of 2011 and early 2012 in a series of secret high-level meetings involving Ambassador Grossman and Tayeb Agha, an aide to Taliban leader Mullah Omar who has been in hiding for many years. US officials say he proved he had authority to negotiate. The process, also involving German envoys, came close to a deal on opening an office for talks in the Gulf state of Qatar. But, at the 11th hour, at a summit in December 2011 in Bonn, President Hamid Karzai called off the plan, suspicious a deal was being done to undermine his government. An office, or "address" in Qatar is still regarded as an important next step in formalizing a channel of talks. The Afghan leader remains hesitant about the Qatar plan even though he publicly agreed to it during a meeting with President Obama in January and at a recent tripartite summit in the UK involving Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. Britain, on the request of Kabul and Islamabad, is now more engaged in trying to galvanise a process of negotiations while Western troops are still on the ground. The UK summit statement optimistically spoke of a peace deal in six months. No-one expects it could happen so soon. "At least we, and the Pakistanis, now have a deadline to focus on," said one Afghan official involved in the recent UK talks. As is often the case in Afghanistan, there are no formal talks, but a lot of informal talking, including in Doha and Dubai. Conferences, such as the Chantilly meeting organised by a French think-tank last December, also gathered Afghans from all sides. But US engagement on a political track still remains critical. As one senior US official put it, "after all, we are a combatant in this war".

Valentine wish: Can love conquer war in battle-weary Afghanistan?

Suliman and Farzana Sharifi’s marriage is very unusual in Afghanistan. The 23-year-olds have a love match in a country where most weddings are arranged. That fact makes Valentine’s Day, a holiday banned by the Taliban but embraced by many of the country’s urban youth, extra-special for the two.

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Both work hard to surprise each other on Valentine's Day, which they've celebrated for the three years they've been together. “I don’t let him know, he doesn’t let me know," said Farzana, a university student who heads up an Islamic NGO that runs orphanages throughout the country. "Like a month before Valentine’s day we act that we don’t know it is Valentine’s Day. So, we normally surprise each other.”This isn’t just a game – the couple believe that love is simply more powerful than hate, and it could be a weapon in ending the insurgency. “When love comes even the Taliban can’t stop anybody,” Farzana adds. But can love really stop Taliban fighters in other parts of the war-torn country? An American charity put money on it. Getting married in Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest countries, is very expensive. Women’s families can demand dowries of up to $10,000 from prospective husbands, Qasimi said. With the average Afghan earning less than $500 a year, these demands make marriage and family unachievable for many.With the help of local NGOs, Texas-based Comfort Aid International helped organize a mass wedding of 38 couples last year. “We did this to prevent our youth from joining the Taliban side. They often join the Taliban because they are single and poor,” local organizer Sayeed Saleh Qasimi said. That’s were Comfort Aid steps in – it has helped arrange the weddings for more than 1,000 couples already. Local organizations it works with have negotiated with local families to agree to more reasonable dowry prices. One young husband, Sayeed Hussaini, says he simply wouldn’t have been able to get married without the charity’s help. “Everyone wants things in life, like getting married,” the unemployed construction worker said. “But a lot of people are doing bad things for money like joining the Taliban.” He added: “I am jobless but I will not join them.” Hussaini's new wife Fatima is the reason he won’t risk his life. She says she’s grateful for the charity’s help in easing their financial woes, which allowed the couple to marry. So perhaps Farzana is right to hope that love can conquer war. “I think love can change anything,” she said, turning to her husband Suliman. “Yeah, yeah it changed you, it changed me.”

Pakistanis’ trust in civilian govt has nosedived

Most Pakistanis have lost faith in their US-allied government and instead trust the military, says a Gallup survey released on Thursday. Ninety-two per cent of Pakistanis disapprove of US leadership and 55pc of them fear greater interaction between Muslim and western societies could be harmful. “The public’s confidence in the Pakistani national government — sometimes seen by Pakistanis as too cosy to the US government — has nosedived, reaching a low of 23 per cent in March and October 2012,” says the survey report. This is down from 54pc in December 2008, shortly after the beginning of democratically elected President Asif Ali Zardari’s administration. The trust in civilian government in recent years was the highest in 2006, 58pc, dropped slightly to 54pc in 2008, almost halved to 31pc in 2010 and fell to 23pc in 2012. Conversely, confidence in the interventionist military — the organisation that has ruled the nation for over half of its post-independence history — climbed to 88pc in October 2012. The confidence in the military stood at 84pc in 2006, came down to 76pc — the lowest in recent years — by the end of 2008, climbed to 80pc by mid-2012 and peaked to 88pc in 2012. Gallup, one of the most prominent US surveyors, based these findings on a survey conducted from Sept 30-Oct 16, 2012, in Pakistan. The survey directly followed massive demonstrations against the release of an anti-Muslim film made in the US. The surveyors predict that the upcoming May elections in Pakistan will be of “seismic importance for the future direction of the country and for US-Pakistan relations”. The elections will mark the first time in the country’s history that a civilian government peacefully transfers power to a new civilian government. “Insomuch as the role of the US in Pakistan weighs on the campaign dialogue, the perceived failures of the current regime might translate into the election of political actors that are more hostile or confrontational towards US interests,” the survey warns. “The degree to which the US-conducted operations within Pakistan have weakened the political position of the existing Pakistani government is an open question,” the surveyors argue, “but the concomitant erosion of approval of US and Pakistani leadership on the Pakistani public’s part is impossible not to notice.” Instead, Pakistanis put their trust in the military, despite its “meddlesome history in national governing affairs”, the surveyors add. “What these trends mean for the coming election is unclear, but they suggest that the next few months could be of vital importance for the stability of the Pakistani government and the US-Pakistani relationship.” The survey pointed out that President Barack Obama’s first term was characterised by strained relations between Pakistan and the US. Consequently, more than nine in 10 Pakistanis (92pc) disapprove of US leadership and 4pc approve, the lowest approval rating ever. Pakistanis’ approval of the leadership of their ostensible ally, the United States, has historically been quite low. However, perceptions began to change, albeit modestly, through much of President Obama’s first term. As recently as May 2011, 27pc of Pakistanis approved of US leadership, the apex of support. Noticeably, approval declined after the May 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden, an event that many Pakistanis viewed as a blatant disregard for Pakistani sovereignty. Concurrently, Pakistanis now more than at any other time in the past three years feel threatened by interaction with the West, according to a May 12-June 6, 2012, survey. A majority (55pc) say interaction between Muslim and western societies is “more of a threat”, up significantly from 39pc in 2011. This sharp increase is observed at a time of heightened Pakistani concerns regarding US encroachment on Pakistani sovereignty, including an intensified number of US drone strikes in Pakistan. Nearly half of the Pakistani population (49pc) is between the ages of 15 and 29. The largely anti-western sentiment among these young Pakistanis suggests that, even as this sizable group ages and begins to have a larger role in Pakistani governance, relations between the US and Pakistan may continue to be fraught with challenges.

ANP will continue efforts for peace

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain on Friday said the Awami National Party would continue efforts for return of peace no matter how the banned outfit Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) reacts to the recently held All Parties Conference (APC) declaration. “In fact certain internal and external forces favour continuation of violence and terrorism for meeting their nefarious designs,” the KP minister told Pakistan Today. Leaders of the TTP have reportedly rejected the APC declaration, demanding guarantee of armed forces instead of political forces during negotiations with the government. Due to a lack of media access, the TTP reaction could not be confirmed. Hussain neither confirmed nor rejected reports regarding reaction of the TTP to the APC declaration. To a question, the information minister said that besides pressure of internal and external forces, there existed rifts among ranks of the Taliban. Some of them considered their survival in violence and terrorism and were fuelling tension and violence, he added. Hussain, however, made it clear that the ANP would continue efforts to bring an end to terrorism and violence. He said that after a failure of political means, the ANP would again approach the APC components for future course of action.

Pakistan: In the name of love

Editorial:Daily Times
St Valentine’s Day on February 14, the day marked for the celebration of love, was greeted with mixed emotions in Pakistan, a country in the throes of an ever-increasing environment of intolerance. Valentine’s Day originated in the commemoration of the Roman priest, St Valentine, who in 270 AD, suffered harrowing tortures for his tremendous contribution to the cause of the Christians who were being persecuted by the Roman Empire. The legend underwent different permatutions, but the basic premise of love remained consistent. The day is celebrated in many countries, and the exuberance of the sentiment proudly displayed is marked by the colour red, which has taken on the connotation of passion. This connotation further underlines the importance attached to the day, whose following is huge and not limited to any age, race or gender. Innumerable written messages, known as valentines — which went from handwritten to printed cards to e-cards over time — are given and received worldwide; an estimated (mindboggling) number of one billion such printed/electronic/handmade cards are exchanged in the US alone. The colour red is also the dominant hue for the balloons, candy, stuffed animals, gifts and even outfits worn on Valentine’s Day, thus setting a uniform tone for the day of love globally. In a country like Pakistan, where even the celebration of the most sublime of emotions is being categorised into the ‘good’ and the ‘bad, ‘Islamic’ or ‘western’, the alarming overtones of the radical Islamists and the orthodox communities seem to be gaining an unwanted resonance. Other than PEMRA issuing notices to all TV channels not to promote the ‘un-Islamic’ tradition of Valentine’s Day by showing any related content, there is also condemnation on social websites like twitter and facebook, bringing into ugly focus the growing narrow-mindedness of those who are hell bent on demarcating even the innocuous with a line of what is right and wrong, according to their own warped interpretation of what Islam stands for. How any festival that celebrates love affects anyone’s religious or cultural faith is the question put forth by the sane and tolerant voices of society. The entertainment-starved youth of a country that is witnessing a growing level of intolerance for all discourse that does not meet certain rigid criteria celebrate Valentine’s Day as an occasion where the cards/candy/gifts exchanged are symbols of the importance of their friendships and relationships. The Tanzeem-e-Islami organised an anti-Valentine’s Day campaign in Karachi, with banners touting it as a sign of behayai (shamelessness). This bears testimony to the simmering rigidity masquerading as religious piety in mainstream discourse. It is a matter of great concern to see a government organisation — PEMRA — and the cultural wing of a religious organisation acting as moral vigilantes of a nation that is already smarting under the effects of increasing extremism.

Pakistan: ''A utopian law''

The Sindh Assembly unanimously adopted on Wednesday a law for making education free and compulsory in the province for all children between the five and 16 years of age. And the lawmakers were jubilantly in a self-congratulatory mould. But have they crucially worked out the nitty-gritty envisaged by the law to achieve the cent per cent education of this age group by the year 2015 as prescribed by this legislation? For, laws often fail to deliver if they have too much of unrealism and idealism about them. And that holds good for this piece of legislation, as well. Obviously, for achieving the stated objective in such a short span of time, an enormously expanded physical schooling infrastructure, a very large number of trained teachers and a huge financial outlay would be necessarily needed. But if the lawmakers are banking on the schooling system existing as today in the province to accomplish the feat, what to talk of 2015, the objective would remain unachieved even by the year 15 of the next century. Unarguably, the main burden of achieving this objective is to be borne by the state-run schooling apparatus. But what actually exists of it on the ground in the province is a big shame on a schooling system. Not only it is starkly inadequate; it is malfunctioning woefully, too. If the state-run schooling in urban Sindh could generously be labelled as barely passable, in the interior it is just in rot. Rural schools without even a building are no rarity. They are a common sight. Holding classes under the shades of tree in summer and under the open sky in winter is a norm over there, as is sitting on the bare ground without even a mat. But then even quite very many urban schools have no furniture worth the name. Not even toilets; in cases, no drinking water facility either. Schools with science laboratories are routine all over. And a library in both the urban and rural schools is an unheard-of phenomenon. Worst, the state-run schooling system in the province is virtually a dumping ground of the political appointees. In huge numbers, teachers have been foisted on the system by way of political patronage, not for any qualifications at all to teach. Teacher absenteeism is consequently rampant, with the teachers moonlighting elsewhere as full-time employees, visiting their schools only sporadically to teach and regularly every month to pick up their pay cheques. Numerically, teacher absenteeism in the province, particularly in its countryside, is as phenomenal as are the ghost schools with which it abounds. Politics has indeed dug deep inroads into its state-run schooling system. So much so, instead of expanding the system, the present provincial government shut down hundreds of schools its predecessors had established. Those, it contended, were launched for political considerations, not for their usefulness. But the local populations were sour and angry. They cried that those schools were opened up in response to their deeply-felt needs and demands to educate their children. They protested vehemently. Yet this provincial government didn't listen and dealt the fatal blow to those nearly 1,000 unlucky schools. Expecting that such a dilapidated state-run schooling system would help attain the objective of hundred percent education of school-age children in the next two years could thus only be an idealist's vision, if not an idiot's wild dream. And hoping that the largely unregulated and unmonitored private enterprise in education would share the burden in achieving this otherwise laudable objective could only be a fanciful thought, too. The private enterprise in education has visibly turned into a stark commercial venture in the province as elsewhere in the country. The lawmakers may have fixed quota for enrolment of poor children by private schools and may have even prescribed punishments for violations thereof, their owners are sure to resist it and evade it. Indeed, this stipulation has made only for official corruption, not for any worthwhile help coming forth. The lawmakers have declared it compulsory for the parents, too, to send their children to school. But this is on paper. On the ground, it would be very hard to enforce, given the financial stringencies of disadvantaged poor parents, who make up the bulk of our population, even in Sindh. Punishments won't do. After all, jails are not going to be filled with defaulting parents who won't be able to pay up the lawyer's fees for their own release. Only incentives, monetary or otherwise, would work. But it is unknown if anyone in the provincial administration has thought of it and worked out how much will it cost the provincial treasury until the objective of cent per cent education of the province's school-age children is achieved. In any case, now that the provincial hierarchy has taken the plunge, it must carry it to its logical conclusion. It should set up a task team to work out a comprehensive plan on how to go about this venture so that when the new government comes in it embarks on it forthwith. The objective is very noble, and achieved it must be at any rate.

Chief Minister Hoti unhurt in suicide attack near convoy in Mardan

A suicide attacker attempted to target the convoy of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti near College Chowk here. The suicide bomber detonated himself near the convoy of the chief minister who was travelling to a rally in Mardan. Chief Minister Hoti remained unhurt in the attack, and there was no loss of life reported. “Life and death is in Allah’s hands. Efforts for peace will continue,” Chief Minister Hoti said. According to initial reports the suicide bomber was deterred by the police from approaching the chief minister’s convoy. A large contingent of police arrived at the site of the blast and investigations are underway.