Saturday, February 23, 2013

VIDEO: Fallon and the first lady dance

video: First Lady Dances Up a Storm on 'Fallon'

China: Remarks from Abe 'mislead the world'

Japanese leader's China-bashing aims to 'seek support from US'
Beijing on Friday criticized hostile comments regarding China made by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his visit to Washington. Abe, who was due to hold talks with US President Barack Obama that were expected to focus on a closer alliance, told the Washington Post that China has a "deeply ingrained" need to spar with Japan and other Asian neighbors over territory. The remarks, published on Thursday, provoked a strong protest from Beijing. Abe is keen to attract more attention from Washington by criticizing Beijing, observers said. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news conference later on Friday that Japan intends to play up the "China threat", mislead world opinion, purposely create regional tensions and has ulterior motives. Lu Yaodong, director of the department of Japanese diplomacy of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Tokyo has been "shifting blame to China" and has alleged China was the troublemaker for regional security issues. Abe's remarks came in an attempt to attract more attention from Washington, but "in fact it was Japan who played a role in stirring up the situation in Northeast Asia", Lu said. Beijing urged Japan to take a correct view of China and its development and pursue a "positive policy" with China, according to Hong. Abe has repeatedly emphasized that the relationship with China remains one of the most important for Japan, and that Tokyo will push forward strategic and mutually beneficial relations through an overall perspective, Suga said. China-Japan ties were deadlocked after the Japanese government in September illegally "purchased" part of the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Beijing has since beefed up regular patrols in the waters off the islands. Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation and an influential industry figure, started a three-day visit to China on Friday, seeking a breakthrough for strained China-Japan ties, Japan's Kyodo News Agency reported. Jiang Xinfeng, an expert on Japanese studies at the PLA Academy of Military Sciences, said Japan has been seeking dual policies toward China, and in light of its friendly posture Japan has persistently escalated confrontations against China regarding the Diaoyu Islands. "Japan has ramped up reconnaissance of the relevant waters and airspace, and has scrambled F-15 fighter jets to follow the China Marine Surveillance aircraft," Jiang said. Tension further flared after Japan spread accusations on Feb 5 that Chinese warships targeted Japanese vessels using fire-control radar. The Chinese Defense Ministry then refuted the accusation and said the media hype was meant to mislead international public opinion. China carries out normal maritime activities in accordance with domestic and international laws, and "freedom and security of navigation in the East China Sea and South China Sea have never been affected", Hong Lei said on Friday. Jiang, at the PLA Academy of Military Science, said a further deterioration, and even a major breakdown in relations, is not a good thing for Japan and is also not within the expectations of the US. During his meeting with Obama, Abe may stress the importance of boosting US-Japan cooperation to contain China's "provocations" regarding the Diaoyu Islands, Japan's Fuji Television reported. At a news briefing on Thursday, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the upcoming meeting underscored the importance of the US-Japan alliance as "the foundation of US strategy in Asia". Liu Jiangyong, an expert on Japanese studies at Tsinghua University, said Washington should not let Tokyo hijack the US over the Diaoyu Islands. "It is impossible (for Japan) to establish a strategic order in the Asia-Pacific region that is led by Japan," Liu said. Washington has refused to take a position on the territorial row, though it said the islands fall within the scope of a 1960 US-Japan mutual security treaty.

''Zarsanga''-Extreme measures: Pushto folk music queen’s awards up for sale

The Express Tribune
The ‘queen of Pushto folk music’ Zarsanga, has offered her lifetime’s worth of titles and awards up for sale at her home – a tent near Azakhel. Her house in Pabbi tehsil was swept away in the 2010 floods and she has been displaced since. Talking to Express News in her tent, the 68-year-old said, “I have been to the US, France, Russia, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia among 60 more countries, but now I am just living a burdensome life.” Rugs and trinkets collected on her many travels adorn her living space. A number of awards, medallions and certificates lie atop a metal box. Her goat stands close to her. “It’s difficult for me to practice in the tent,” she said, adding that it too had been borrowed from someone else. Born in 1946 in Zafar Mamakhel, a small village in Lakki Marwat district, Zarsanga belongs to a nomadic tribe. She started her career as a folk singer at the age of 20 when she recorded her first song with Radio Pakistan. After that, there was no looking back. The singer was presented the presidential Pride of Performance Award in 1991 by former president Ghulam Ishaq Khan in recognition for her contribution to Pushto music. “I am a nomad, wherever I go is my land; but I love this country (Pakistan), I don’t know why. I have mesmerised hundreds of people with my voice, singing in a language that is unknown to a foreigner, yet its reach is universal,” she said. Zarsanga claims the government had promised to construct a house for her following the floods; however, the promise was never fulfilled. She says she has been forced to sell her titles and awards to buy a house and food for her family. “My six sons are working, but even then, constructing a house seems like an impossible task,” she said, adding that while she is living her life in a tent, she wishes to die beneath her own roof. She severely criticised the provincial government for its claims of working for the wellbeing of artists, and said nearly 90% of Pukhtun artists and singers are living in poverty. The government gave me some money, but it was a nominal amount, she added. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Director Culture Pervaiz Khan, however, refuted the singer’s allegations and said the government has given Rs0.3 million to the singer in the last three years and has also invited her to various events. “We don’t have the budget to build a house for her,” the director added. He claimed the government was helping around 150 artists and singers in K-P, adding that assisting such a large number of singers in the province with low budgets has left everyone in a position to point fingers at the government. “Recently, we paid Rs20,000 to many artists across the province,” Khan said, adding that if possible, the government will help the singer in the future.

PAKISTAN: Sectarian killings -- the nexus between Saudi Arabia and the army of Pakistan is now being openly discussed

The Asian Human Rights Commission strongly protests the murders of members of the Hazaras Shia community. A series of bombings in Hazaras town, Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, claimed many lives, all of them members of the Shia Community. This recent blast on February 17 is the second one. The first one took place on January 10, and killed 90 persons. Then in the short space of just one month and seven days, another blast occurred which cost the lives of 107 persons. In both incidents more than 500 persons were injured. The second bombing took place despite the presence of the army and one of its units, the Frontier Corp (FC) which was assisted by more than three intelligence agencies working under the military command. After the first blast of January 10, the government suspended the assembly of the province and imposed Governor's Rule in a bid to control the sectarian terrorism. However the efforts seem futile as the root of the issue has not been properly addressed. In similar manner acts of bloody terrorism have been ongoing in different parts of the country for more than a decade. They are carried out by well known and identified militant groups, particularly in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province and in many parts of the Khyber Pakhtoon Kha province. The militancy and suicide bombings have become a well established business of the country and have successfully overpowered the state which, for decades now, has been spending huge amounts of money on the military and the intelligence agencies. There are 19 intelligence agencies including seven agencies under the Armed Forces and they are not accountable to any state institution. Despite this huge expenditure not a single day goes by without a suicide blast or a terrorist attack. The powerful army governs the state in a real sense in the name of national security and the so-called ideology of Pakistan, never allowing civilians to enter into what they consider to be national security affairs. This is the reason why the military does not want other institutions to tackle the menace of terrorism. Instead the military treat the terrorists as friends-in-arms, hoping for their assistance in the event of trouble after the withdrawal of the allied forces from Afghanistan. It is evident that retired army officers are providing training to the terrorists. Balochistan province and especially its capital have been virtually under the control of military and its intelligence agencies for the past one and half decades, in every nook and cranny there are security kiosks and check posts of the military and the FC. No person has the liberty to go about his business without producing his or her identity and suffering a search of all their belongings. Even a person who purchases food stuffs from the vendors has to get clarification from the FC personnel who are all around the streets of the capital. The searches extend even to the shoes of the residents. Therefore it is not possible that anything can enter without the permission of the FC, police and other local law enforcement agencies but the bombings continue. There is also very strong network of intelligence agencies in Balochistan, if any guest arrives at any relative's house, even, in the remotest part of the province the intelligence agencies and police enquire about the guest and sometimes detain him for several hours for enquiry. Therefore, it can only be assumed that the terrorists with huge amounts of explosive material are moving about with the tacit approval of the FC and other law enforcement agencies. Since the last two years it is observed that when the Hazaras pilgrims were going in buses to Iran their buses were attacked close the picket points of the FC. This was also witnessed when the Shia pilgrims from Gilgit Baltistan were travelling in buses and were attacked and killed by men in military uniforms. All these incidents were reported and to-date the military has remained silent. Interestingly neither have they contradicted such reports. The failure of the military and intelligence agencies to stop the killings of members of the Shia community in Balochistan province is now being discussed in the media and in government circles. Indeed, media analysts are blaming Saudi Arabia for the killings. This is significant because only a short time ago to make such an allegation was prohibited. It is said that the killings of the Shiites is the result of the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is openly believed that because Pakistan is entering into different trade pacts with Iran and China the United States of America and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia want to block such ventures. Saudi Arabia is providing huge grants to the Pakistan army and many analysts report that the army and its units have a vested interest in turning a blind eye to the sectarian attacks against the Shiites. During the latest carnage against the Shiites on February 17, the terrorists were carrying 1000 kilograms of explosive material in a water tank which passed through many check posts of the FC. The driver informed the FC officials that he was carrying water to Hazaras town and so was not searched. However, considering that this was a most sensitive area due to the bombing on January 10 where 107 persons were killed there is no excuse for the FC not to have checked the contents of the tank. A banned organisation, Lashkare Jhangvi has claimed responsibility for the attack as it has done for the previous attacks on Shiites and particularly on Hazaras. This organisation all its bases in Punjab province and is running hundreds of mosques from where they preach their messages of hate against Shias calling them infidels and liable to be killed. Its leaders are free and openly collecting funds from the streets. Instead of taking action against them the law minister of the Punjab government is notorious for providing protection to the militants of banned organisations and these groups support him in the elections. The courts also have a soft attitude towards such organisations and release them for want of evidence. Even the Chief Justice of Pakistan has released its leader, Malik Ishaq for not having any evidence. This is despite the fact that Malik himself confessed publicly before his release in 2010 that he has killed more than 100 Shia persons and was involved in the attack of Sri Lankan cricket team. After every incident of terrorism Malik goes to Saudi Arabia where he gets VIP treatment and given huge rewards for his 'the service to Islam'. The Asian Human Rights Commission once again urges the government to take strong action against the sectarian violence in the country and rein in the militant groups that virtually control the mosques without any interference. The use of loud speakers from the mosques through which their messages of hate are spread are banned according to the law except for Friday prayers. However, no action is ever taken against this violation of the law. The government must clamp down on any mosque that makes use of loud speakers to incite sectarian violence. The government must prosecute the corps commander of the army stationed in Quetta, the FC commander, the Inspector General of Police and the chief of the ISI in Balochistan on the charge of the killings of hundreds of Shiites. The nexus between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the army of Pakistan must also be investigated so as to ensure exactly who the army command is loyal to. The Asian Human Rights Commission also strongly urges that the FC, the army and the intelligence agencies are withdrawn from Balochistan province and immediately conduct free and fair elections so that the problem can be handled politically rather than militarily.

Saudi Arabia's Twitter activism

Pakistan: '' Say ‘no’ to Australian refuge ''

First Secretary Australian High Commission Sherief Andrawos on Wednesday said the Jim O’Callaghan, assistant secretary of the humanitarian branch of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Australia, had held a meeting with UNHCR officials last week and informed the UNHCR that Australia was willing to accommodate 2,500 families or 7,000 individuals of the Hazara community, keeping in view attacks on them in Quetta. Maya Ameratunga, deputy representative of United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Pakistan has also confirmed the report saying “Yes! we have started work on facilitating members of Shia minority and other people prone to sectarian violence for giving them refuge in Australia. The Australian government wants our assistance in this regard.” The resettlement process would be taken up after the return of UNHCR’s Country Representative Neil Wright to Pakistan from Geneva. “The resettlement process is a complicated issue as we have to identify the most vulnerable and affected families of Hazara Shia community in Balochistan,” Ms Ameratunga said, adding that they would soon give a list of 2,500 families to the Australian government. Indeed, it is a welcome report that gives some consolation to ailing souls of Hazaras in Pakistan. The Pakistanis must be very grateful for the sympathetic assistance the Australian Government is planning to offer to alleviate the sufferings of the 7000 Pakistani individuals. Resourceful Australians can afford to spend some money on ‘compassionate’ ground but the big question mark is if the immigration of the 7000 Hazaras will end the plight, agony and sufferings perpetuated by the extremists, militants, terrorists and on the top of it the drone attacks hitting millions of Pakistani people living in the areas bordering Afghanistan where the USA-led western allies including Australia have unleashed a war on terror in the pursuit of Al-Qaeda chief. He is no more but the spillover of terrorism in Pakistan has virtually brought country on the brink of collapse; terrorists have turned their guns and explosives to the Pakistan government for being the frontline state in the USA-led war on terror. Ferocious revenge of the militants has brought the industrial wheels to a grinding halt; top businessmen have either left the country or planning to desert their homeland along with their businesses and capital. The energy crisis has forced the people to spend hot and humid summer without power and winter without heating facility in chilly nights. In fact the country is pushed back to the Dark Age. Even the worst is scenario in the entire FATA where once well-established families are facing starvation in so-called relief camps yet Pakistan is footing the bill for the war on terror imposed on it. The government and the international donors too have turned their face off, on one pretext or the other. Hundreds of the minors, elderly women of the IDPs, members of once the most respectable families of the areas, have resorted to begging in the streets. Ironically the western allies are unmoved. Under these circumstances, the Australian government’s asylum offer to over 2,500 Hazara families of Balochistan may bring back some hope on the faces of the people in need. Will it put an end to source that brought all these miseries? No way is the answer. Had sufferings of the people been confined to just one Hazara tribe, the offer was more than welcome. Otherwise, the Australian offer is not the solution to the situation. The best advice, one would expect, is to help quell the source of trouble that is behind the unrest and repeated genocides in the country. If at all, the west including Australia wish to alleviate or share the sufferings of the people in Pakistan, the best discourse is to persuade the forces—including foreign militants or alleged Blackwater agents active in the region to serve their own interests -- to stay off and leave Pakistan alone to deal with the disgruntled elements. Too much foreign interference, for one reason or the other, in the internal affairs of Pakistan has made the matter extremely complicated. Pakistan needs realistic diplomatic help to whip off involvement of foreign hands in the country rather than offering minor gains here or there. The Pakistani rulers must also raise themselves to the occasion to rebuild the nation rather accepting such publicity-stunts being offered to them. Pakistan has done it before and can do the same now.

Brain Researchers Uncover Secrets of Memory

Much research on the human brain is focused on understanding how people form memories, store them and retrieve them. Now, a study by scientists at the University of California-Davis and the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston is providing new insight into the process. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports, researchers at the two schools found that separate areas of the brain coordinate much like little radio stations -- to form memories involving time and space.

On blasting Morsi into space

BY: Sara Abou Bakr
Egyptians have done it again.
After ousting a dictator two years ago, now they are sending their first elected civilian president into space. President Mohamed Morsi is now sitting in first place in Axe’s competition to send one civilian to space, an adventurous soul seeking a new frontier. Voting is required and whoever gets the most votes will be sent to space. The 6 April opposition movement got wind of this and an ingenious idea revealed itself; why not send Morsi to space? The idea had two main merits: first, Egyptians will be rid of him. Second, Morsi will get to use his self-proclaimed NASA expertise, boasted of by the Brotherhood during his presidential campaign. A photo of Morsi’s face, sporting his usual expression of extreme wonder, was plastered on a spacesuit and calls for voting spread all over social media networks. And success! Now President Morsi has a very real chance of winning the competition. People are now demanding to know if it is possible to send all members of the Brotherhood Bureau with him. Despite the humour behind this, a closer examination reveals disgruntled people who are so fed up with presidential lies, a weak government and the Brotherhood pulling strings over every state decision that they are willing to blast their “elected” president to “a galaxy far, far away”. The Brotherhood has, for the last seven months, been lecturing Egyptians on the sanctity of elections, accusing anyone who contradicted presidential decrees as well as the opposition of “infringement” on the “legitimacy of an elected president” and “the will of the people” decided by “electoral ballots”. It seems all the lecturing propelled Egyptians to find a new way to get rid of Morsi without “infringing” on the results of ballots, rather without “infringing” on any proceedings on Planet Earth. Morsi’s legitimacy is not in question here. It’s a question of the anger of frustrated Egyptians who two years after a revolution that promised them dignity, freedom and a decent living are poorer than before, seeing their children beaten, stripped and killed on live TV. Human rights organisations are again parading cases of torture and wrongful imprisonment at the hands of the police, with 21 rights groups saying detainees receive worse treatment than during Mubarak’s era. A new protest law suggested by the current government and passed quickly to the Shura Council last week will limit freedom of protesting, which was the core of the 25 January revolution. Amnesty International has criticised the proposed law restricting NGOs to working on projects deemed fit by the state, dubbing it a “new low”. Freedom of the media is another topic of contention with the Morsi administration, with a media figure investigated on almost a weekly basis nowadays. A price hike of between five and 10% can already be seen in Egyptian markets and with the dwindling purchasing power, people are feeling the effects of poverty at almost all socioeconomic levels. Anger, death, bloodshed and poverty have been brewing for the last seven months of Morsi’s turbulent rule; decisions taken then retracted, promises of wealth and new investment only to find the government begging for a $4.8bn loan from the IMF, dictatorial presidential decrees issued, and a constitution passed by Islamists marginalising other parties and minorities. This toxic mix overflowed in Port Said after 42 people died in clashes in January and the commercial hub by the Suez Canal is now on its seventh day of civil disobedience. Residents have stopped factories and transportation, while marches by thousands of protesters flow through the city every day. The commercial losses are thought to total millions of pounds. Though Morsi promised to restore Port Said to its former commercial glory, reinstating it as a free trade zone, the people refused the “bribe” and demanded simply: “Morsi go now”. The calls for civil disobedience are slowly spreading to other cities and governorates; Ismailia, Suez, Domietta , Kafr Al-Sheikh, Alexandria, and now the idea is brewing in Cairo. On Friday night women in Shubra blocked the streets demanding people listen to civil disobedience calls that so far have fallen on deaf ears. Meanwhile Morsi and his Brotherhood are ignoring the telling signs of anger, just as Mubarak did. The Egyptian opposition has yet to figure out that they actually should live up to their name and “oppose” rather than “compromise”. People are gearing up for another wave of the revolution while the seculars and leftists are playing politics with the Brotherhood which will lead them to lose both the streets and any coming elections. The opposition has to adhere to the principal of not negotiating with the current regime, which has committed atrocious crimes over the past seven months, but of course the phrase “principled politicians” is an oxymoron. However, if no politician listens to the street, Egyptians will more than likely blast them all to space. Or just blast them.

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Countdown to $85 Billion in Sequester Budget Cuts

In Paid Family Leave, U.S. Trails Most of the Globe

There I was, on the day my six months of maternity leave had ended, pushing my son’s stroller with one hand, clutching a jumbo box of 174 diapers with the other, doing my best to navigate through piles of slushy snow. It was time for his first day of day care, my time at home over in a blink. Still, I knew I was relatively fortunate. The first eight weeks of my leave were paid, and I had tacked on another three weeks of paid vacation. Plus, my employer permits workers to take up to six months of unpaid leave. A large majority of new parents in this country are not so lucky. It is no secret that when it comes to paid parental leave, the United States is among the least generous in the world, ranking down with the handful of countries that don’t offer any paid leave at all, among them Liberia, Suriname and Papua New Guinea. The American situation hasn’t materially improved since the landmark Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law 20 years ago this month by President Clinton. The law requires larger employers and public agencies to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave — as well as continuation of health benefits — for the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for an opposite-sex spouse, a parent or a child who has fallen ill (or to deal with your own health problem). But about 40 percent of workers fall through the cracks because the law only requires many companies with 50 or more employees to comply. To get the benefit, employees must also have worked for the company for at least a year and logged 1,250 hours within the last 12 months. And lots of people simply cannot afford to take unpaid leave. “This was really intended as a first step,” said Vicki Shabo, director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women and Families, referring to the law, which the group helped write. “People really see this as an individual struggle that they need to be responsible for rather than the societywide, systemic issue it is.” But expanding the policy’s reach has been painfully slow. Some states have taken it upon themselves to bolster the rules and now cover a broader swath of workers or provide some paid leave. And companies that tend to work the hardest to lure employees, including Google, have gone much further to fill in the governmental gaps. (The Bucks personal finance blog will begin to track companies’ parental leave policies. Despite the myriad benefits of paid leaves, the number of employers that offer the time off is dismal. “We know maternity leave is associated with lower infant mortality rates,” said Jody Heymann, dean of the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of the new book “Children’s Chances: How Countries Can Move From Surviving to Thriving.” She added: “This makes sense. As well as receiving more one-on-one care, infants are more likely to be breast-fed, which lowers illness and hospitalization rates for infants and benefits women’s health. Beyond the marked health advantages, paid maternity leave yields economic gains in terms of reduced health care costs, reduced recruitment and retraining and improved long-term earnings for women.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 11 percent of all private industry workers have access to paid family leave (16 percent of state and local government employees have access to some paid family leave; federal workers don’t get any, though all employees may be able to use accrued sick leave). Well-paid people who work in managerial or professional occupations at companies with 100 employees or more are the most likely to have the benefit, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Even the policies at some of the most generous American companies pale in comparison with the 31 countries that provide a year or more of paid maternity leave, typically through government-run insurance programs, experts say. Working Mother compiles a list of the “100 Best Companies” in the United States each year, and parental leave policies are one of several factors baked into those rankings. Even among the standouts, the average time off in 2012 was seven weeks of fully paid maternity leave, while new fathers received an average of three paid weeks, up from two weeks in 2008. Parents adopting children received an average of six weeks. Keep in mind that the list is not exhaustive. Companies must apply to get on and be willing to fill out a 550-item questionnaire. They must also have at least 500 employees and offer some form of paid maternity leave. Google beefed up its paid leave for new mothers in 2007 to five months after company officials realized that women were leaving the company at twice the rate of men. After the change, attrition dropped by half. New fathers receive seven weeks of paid leave, as do adoptive parents and other parents who don’t physically give birth, including same-sex partners. “What one person might get is an accident of where you happen to work or where you happen to be,” Ms. Shabo said. “Instead, what we need are public policies that provide a basic level of protection.” While the United States takes great pride in its family values, it is the only high-income country that does not offer a paid leave program. (Eight countries in all don’t offer the benefit, according to Dr. Heymann’s research.) Most of Europe and Central Asia — or 38 of 53 countries — provide 26 weeks or more of paid leave for mothers, according to Dr. Heymann’s research. “Twenty years ago there were a few other advanced economies that did not yet provide paid leave, and now, the U.S. is entirely isolated,” she said. Some lawmakers in Washington have proposed expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act so that it covers more people, either by reducing the required number of hours an employee must work to become eligible or by including smaller companies with 25 or more employees. Other consumer advocates and members of Congress are more ambitious. They would like to see a paid federal family leave and medical leave insurance program. Ms. Shabo’s organization, together with the Center for American Progress, has been working with lawmakers to draft legislation that would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the arrival of a new child or for a parent’s serious illness or that of a family member. The costs would be split between workers and their employers, who would each contribute two-tenths of 1 percent of workers’ wages to pay for insurance that would replace up to 66 percent of a worker’s usual wages, subject to a cap of about $1,000 a week. A handful of states have already struck out on their own and devised similar programs that might serve as models. California and New Jersey, for instance, have established family leave insurance laws — built on those states’ temporary disability insurance programs — which allow workers to take paid leave to care for a new child (or a sick family member). The costs are borne by employees. Under the California program, created in 2002, workers pay 1 percent of their wages to cover both their state disability insurance and paid family leave insurance, which provides 55 percent of an employee’s weekly salary up to about $1,000 a week. New parents can take up to six weeks of family leave; pregnant women can also take time under the program to recover from childbirth. New Jersey’s program, which began operating in 2009, typically provides two-thirds of the average of a worker’s last eight weeks of pay, to a maximum of $584 a week, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. In New York, new mothers can tap the state’s temporary disability insurance program, which is paid for by contributions from both employers and employees and provides up to a paltry $170 a week. (Employers pay, but can seek up to 100 percent of the contribution from employees.) Rhode Island and Hawaii also have provisions for replacing some income. The patchwork of state laws that are stitched with different company rules can be difficult to navigate, particularly for new parents. “It shouldn’t matter where you live or who you work for,” Ms. Shabo argued. “All that matters is that you should have time to take care of your children without worrying about facing major financial turmoil.” Kenneth Matos, senior director of employment research and practice at the Families and Work Institute, a research group, emphasized the importance of being able to make decisions that work within the context of the entire family. “When only the birth parent can take paid leave, you put people in a situation where they have to follow traditional gender roles, which doesn’t always make sense,” Dr. Matos said. “If the male partner has a more flexible job it doesn’t matter, because she is the one who gets the leave. A lot of people are beginning to talk about how these issues need to be looked at as overall family issues, and the decisions need to be made in the context of all of the people involved.”

President Obama's Weekly Address

U.S: What do possible spending cuts mean for you?

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

It’s just six days away from the across-the-board spending cuts and there’s no deal in sight. Hundreds of thousands of government employees could be furloughed and economists warn the economy could suffer in the long run.

Video: Death penalty called for by opponents of Jamaat-e-Islami as Shahbag protests continue

Afghan refugees return home from Iran

Quetta struggles to cope with continuous violence

Refusing to See the Obvious in Afghanistan
On 4 February, Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari met near London at the invitation of British prime minister David Cameron. The summit was also attended by the two nations’ foreign ministers, top military leaders and intelligence chiefs, and seems to have been successful in a number of areas. The two heads of state vowed to work toward a peace deal for Afghanistan within six months, reaffirmed their aim to conclude a strategic partnership, backed the opening of an Afghan office in Doha to conduct direct negotiations with the Taliban and reaffirmed their hopes of signing an agreement to strengthen ties on economic and security issues later this year. The sudden abundance of apparent goodwill in the Afghan–Pakistani relationship stems from the fear that dramatic instability — and even civil war — could result when foreign troops leave Afghanistan in 2014. Chaos would devastate Afghanistan of course, but it would damage Pakistan too.Yet behind this apparent convergence of interests lie deeper contradictions that will colour any Afghan–Pakistani settlement. Pakistan supported the Afghan Taliban for almost two decades, but now fears that Afghanistan may become a sanctuary for terrorist groups that target the Pakistani state. Islamabad already suspects Kabul of supporting, at least passively, anti-Pakistan groups as a way to compensate for its conventional military inferiority vis-à-vis Pakistan. This fear of terrorism seems to have temporarily superseded traditional Pakistani anxieties about issues such as India’s influence in Afghanistan or the resurgence of Pashtun irredentist claims. But these issues will continue to worry Pakistan. It is particularly concerned about Pashtun separatism, which finds expression in traditional secular forms but is also articulated around Islamist principles. The Taliban on both sides of the Afghan–Pakistani border is supportive of Pashtun tribesmen, and the so-called Durand Line — the putative border between Pakistan and Afghanistan — remains unrecognised by Afghanistan. Kabul has insecurities of its own, too. In the short term, any peace deal will have to involve the Afghan Taliban, which refuses to negotiate with an Afghan government that it views as a puppet of the United States. The Pakistani government has not yet demonstrated its capacity or willingness to bring the Taliban to the bargaining table. This, in turn, feeds President Karzai’s suspicions that Pakistan is deliberately preventing the Taliban from entering into negotiations with his government. The recent release of Afghan Taliban prisoners by Pakistan, supposedly to facilitate the dialogue between the group and the government in Kabul, has done little to assuage these fears. Some of the released prisoners are even suspected to be back in battle in Afghanistan. These mutual suspicions do not augur well for a strategic partnership. By definition, such a partnership should be based on a convergence of strategic interests, but even the most charitable view of the Afghan–Pakistani relationship sees only very limited shared goals. The two countries’ shared economic interests have so far proven insufficient to allow them to overcome their deep-seated mistrust of one another. It is a mistake to believe — as many in Washington and London seem to — that a peace agreement in Afghanistan will be the product of a bilateral settlement between the Afghan and Pakistani governments. The consolidation of the Afghan state and the strengthening of its sovereignty should come first. No sustainable improvement of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan is likely without a stronger Afghan state. With the Afghan presidential election on the horizon in 2014, the objective of any third party, mediator or facilitator should be the creation of a provisional unity government that represents all of the country’s major stakeholders. Reconciliation within Afghanistan will create new opportunities for Afghan–Pakistani partnerships. A stronger Afghan state is the best guarantee against any predominant foreign influence in the country, and would deprive regional actors of the ability to use Afghanistan as a battlefield in a proxy war. It would also enable some Afghan–Pakistani cooperation in security matters, without which any economic cooperation will inevitably remain limited. Time is running short, and the London summit probably reflects nothing more than a Western desire to find an honourable way out of Afghanistan. Not much can be expected from a process that tries to broker a peace deal between an isolated lame-duck government in Kabul and an absentee insurgent group supported by a third party with a history of sabotaging all attempts at reconciliation. Any lasting settlement will have to include regional actors like Pakistan. But the more urgent task is for Afghans themselves to undertake a meaningful dialogue before the election. Such a dialogue would give a sense of the actual strength of each of the country’s political actors, foster coalition building and most importantly help identify minimum common political platforms. As modest as this seems, it would constitute a first and crucial step toward real stability in Afghanistan.

Talk of peace with Pakistan Taliban angers victims

Associated Press
Hazratullah Khan, who lost his right leg below the knee in a car bombing, answers immediately when asked whether the Pakistani government should hold peace talks with Taliban leaders responsible for attacks like the one that maimed him. "Hang them alive," said the 14-year-old, who survived the explosion on his way home from school. "Slice the flesh off their bodies and cut them into pieces. That's what they have been doing to us." Khan, who is from the Khyber tribal region, pondered his future recently at a physical rehabilitation center in Peshawar. "What was my crime that they made me disabled for the rest of my life?" he asked as he touched his severed limb. In recent weeks, the Pakistani government and Taliban forces fighting in northwestern tribal areas have expressed an interest in peace talks to end the years-long conflict. An estimated 30,000 civilians and 4,000 soldiers have died in terrorist attacks in Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001 — many at the hands of the Pakistani Taliban. To many victims of Taliban violence, the idea of negotiating with people responsible for so much human pain is abhorrent. Their voices, however, are rarely heard in Pakistan, a country where people have long been conflicted about whether the Taliban are enemies bent on destroying the state or fellow Muslims who should be welcomed back into the fold after years of fighting. The Associated Press spoke with victims of terrorist attacks in Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi, Quetta and the tribal areas and their families to find out how they felt about negotiating peace with the Taliban. Khan's classmate, Fatimeen Afridi, who was also injured in the same bombing in Khyber, said he would be happy to see negotiations with the militants — but only after those who maimed him were punished. Afridi's left leg was amputated below the knee, shattering his dream of becoming a fast bowler on Pakistan's cricket team. "If I find them, I will throw them in a burning clay oven," he said. The push for peace talks gained momentum in December when the leader of the Pakistani Taliban offered to negotiate. The government responded positively, and even hinted that the militants would not need to lay down their weapons before talks could begin. That would be a reversal of the government's long-held position that any talks be preceded by a ceasefire. So far, there have been few concrete developments, and it's unclear whether Pakistan's powerful military supports negotiations. Skeptics doubt the militants truly want peace and point to past agreements with the Taliban that fell apart after giving militants time to regroup. Others say negotiations are the only option since numerous military operations against the Taliban have failed. The biggest question — especially for many of the Taliban's victims — is whether the Taliban will have to pay any price for the people they are believed to have killed and wounded. The government hasn't said whether it would offer the Taliban amnesty for past offenses. Many of the victims feel forgotten, saying no one has asked their opinion about holding peace talks. They have to fight for what little health care they can obtain, and there's almost no assistance for dealing with psychological trauma caused by the attacks. Dr. Mahboob-ur-Rehman runs a private medical complex in Peshawar, a large facility that houses a prosthetic workshop and a therapy school, where both Khan and Afridi are being treated. Rehman said the Pakistani army has a state-of-the-art facility to treat its soldiers while there is little help for civilians. He estimated that roughly 10,000 civilians have been permanently disabled after losing limbs in Pakistani Taliban attacks. In the southern city of Karachi, 12-year-old Mehzar Fatima was shot in the back when a gunman killed her father, a Shiite Muslim. The sectarian groups often accused of carrying out such attacks are closely aligned with the Pakistani Taliban. The gunshot left her unable to move her legs and feet and she fears she might never use them again. Her mother, Kishwar Fatima, said she's being pressured to leave the hospital where the girl is being treated because there's no government assistance to help pay her bills. Those wounded in the violence feel further victimized because many Pakistanis don't even agree on who is to blame for their suffering. Despite the huge loss of life and property, the views of many Pakistanis are influenced by right-wing, anti-American propaganda that spawns conspiracy theories about the terrorist attacks. Fellow Muslims could never commit acts of violence against their own people, they say, so someone else must be to blame. Some theories suggest U.S. and Indian intelligence agencies support the Taliban and other militant groups to destabilize Pakistan. Some people who support the militants think the Taliban are better than many of Pakistan's corrupt politicians who have failed to deliver good governance. Many Pakistanis also say the militant problems in the tribal areas are a result of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and when the U.S. leaves, the Pakistani Taliban will also stop fighting. Even some of the victims aren't sure who is to blame. The Taliban claimed responsibility for a Feb. 2 suicide attack that killed 23 people in the northwestern city of Lakki Marwat. But Mohammad Shafi, whose 24-year-old son was among nine soldiers killed in the explosion, isn't convinced the attackers were members of the Taliban. He says Muslims would never hurt a fellow Muslim. Instead, Shafi thinks his son — a boxer who never lost a fight before he was shot seven times during the attack on an army post — was killed by Hindu agents that archrival India sent, with U.S. assistance, to destabilize Pakistan. He said Pakistan should sever ties with the U.S. to abolish terrorism. "If my son was killed by infidels, he has been martyred and will go to heaven," he said. Confusion over who is responsible for the deadly violence also has some victims wondering if the Pakistani government makes peace with the Taliban, will it also make peace with other militant groups. Will the government, for instance, hold talks with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a group linked to al-Qaida that is accused of killing more than 175 Shiite Muslims during the past two months in the southwestern city of Quetta? Ghazanfar Ali lost his 24-year-old son in one of these attacks on Jan. 10 in Quetta. Another of his sons survived the same attack after three major surgeries. Ali broke down in tears as he recalled sifting through rubble and identifying his son's body by the ring he had on his finger because his head and face were wounded beyond recognition. "There can't be peace with the Taliban," he said. "They slaughter a son in front of his father and then chant 'God is great!'" __

Bangladesh: Protesters want more than death sentences

Dominated by kill lists and calls for executions, a series of protests and counter-protests keeps growing in Bangladesh. Organizers of the demonstration that sparked the unrest hope to redefine the country’s politics. Organized largely by bloggers and activists, groups of people numbering as high as 100,000 have occupied the Shahbag district of Bengali capital, Dhaka, since early February. The demonstrators gathered to call for the execution of Abdul Quader Mollah, the secretary general of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami. Mollah was sentenced on February 5 to life in prison after being convicted on over 340 counts of a number of crimes, including murder, rape and torture, during Bangladesh's war of independence from Pakistan in 1971. Jamaat opposed Bangladesh's independence and, like Mollah, some of its members are accused of committing war crimes during the conflict that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
#shahbag demands
While protests, which have largely been organized online under the Twitter hashtag #shahbag for the occupied district, initially centered around Mollah, they have grown to call for the complete ban of Jamaat-e-Islami."The Shahbag protest, in fact, is against Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, the root of all evil religious forces," blogger and Shahbag protest organizer Asif Mohiuddin told DW. “The execution of Quader Mollah is only a symbol. If we achieve victory in this battle, we will be one step closer to a secular Bangladesh.” Clashes escalated on Friday resulting in the deaths of at least three people with some 200 more injured as police fired live rounds at Jamaat protesters who threw stones at authorities while demanding the end of war crimes charges leveled at Jamaat members as well as calling for the deaths of bloggers they accused of blasphemy for insulting the Prophet Mohammed and Islam.
Lethal consequences
Tempers have flared on both sides of the Shahbag protests since the death of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was found hacked to death by a machete outside his home near Dhaka last week. The atheist blogger was part of the network of bloggers organizing the Shahbag protests and was accused of writing anti-Islam posts. Police have questioned suspects but not arrested anyone in connection with his murder. Like Haider, Mohiuddin has seen his name turn up on kill lists circulating the country. He was hospitalized after a being stabbed eight times in a January attack. "Newspapers backed by Jamaat-e-Islami have published reports with our photos," he said, referring to himself and the other secular bloggers on the lists, including two other winners of the Deutsche Welle Blog Awards. "Mosques and madrasas now have our pictures and they are looking for us." Mohiuddin said the government told authorities to provide for the safety of the people named on kill lists, but added that neither he nor any threatened bloggers he knows had received any such protection. In an interview with Deutsche Welle on Thursday, Amnesty International researcher Abbas Faiz said neither Shahbag protestors nor accused or convicted war criminals should face the execution. "We believe that the initial stages of (the Shahbag) movement, their go for the death penalty, is not going to lead to the future that this movement itself is looking to bring to the country," she told DW. "The movement should call for justice. All of the victims and the survivors, they deserve justice, and it is the responsibility of the government to bring them to justice. But that justice has to respect certain principles."
Political corruption
Shahbag protesters, Mohiuddin said, are fed up with a lack of political and judicial transparency and a system that has allowed those accused of committing atrocities during the war that ended with Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan holding high political office instead of being put on trial."The whole political and economic system is corrupt," Mohiuddin said. "Starting from government ministers to all political leaders out there." It remains unclear if the Shahbag protests will ultimately lead to substantial change in Bangladesh, but for Mohiuddin the key will be whether Shahbag convinces young people become involved in politics. "People don't have any political ideology and political thinking so criminalization of politics becomes very easy," he said. "We want to change the structure, and to do it we need our youth to participate in politics and grow their political consciousness. This protest is a new liberation war of Bangladesh to get rid of all kinds of fundamentalism."

Bangladesh students rally over war crimes trials
Thousands of students have rallied in Bangladesh’s capital demanding death to Islamic political party leaders who are on trial for alleged war crimes during the country’s 1971 independence war. Eight top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamic party, are being tried on charges of mass killings, rapes and arson during Bangladesh’s nine-month war of separation from Pakistan. Earlier this month, a tribunal convicted party leader Abdul Quader Mollah of mass killings during the war and sentenced him to life in prison, a verdict considered lenient by many Bangladeshis. On Saturday, about 5,000 students shouted “Death to the killers” as they rallied in Dhaka, the capital. The government says it will appeal Mollah’s sentence before the Supreme Court this coming week, asking for the death penalty for the 65-year-old.

State of Indigenous Languages in Pakistan

The Baloch Hal
By Fazal Baloch
Since 2000, February 21st is regularly observed as the International Mother Language Day all over the world. Feb 21st is one of the gory episodes, Pakistan encountered in the post partition period. On this bleak day at Dhaka police opened indiscriminate fire on Bengali students, demonstrating for the implementation of Bengali as the national language in the then Eastern wing of Pakistan. A number of students died in the incident. The day is marked as the Language Movement Day in Bangladesh to honour the sacrifices of the students who laid their life to protect their distinct lingual identity. The seed of discomfort sowed by this massacre latter turned into a giant tree bearing the fruit of an independent statehood for the Bengali masses. Recognizing the sacrifices of Bengali students, in Oct 1999 the UNESCO announced to commemorate this day as the International Mother Language Day. Now the day is aimed at spreading worldwide awareness about various languages, their literature, cultural heritage and above all, to preserve those languages which are steadily slipping to the edge of extinction for certain socio-political and geographical reasons. It is more than six decades since Pakistan has witnessed the deadly Urdu-Bengali riots yet state of affairs remains more or less the same. Centuries old indigenous languages like Balochi, Pashtu, Sindhi, Punjabi and the likes are compartmentalized as regional or sub-national languages. They are continued to be outrightly neglected and denied the due recognition. Life has never been smooth sailing in Pakistan for indigenous languages given the hegemony of a dominant language especially Urdu which is the mother language of less than 10% of the total Pakistani population. Except for Sindhi and Pashtu in few parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwah, children are altogether denied basic education in their relative mother languages. It was only during the reign of Nawab Bugti in the late 80s when Balochi was briefly included in school curriculum. But the process was wound up with the end of Bugti’s rule in the early 90s. Such types of discriminatory policies on the part of the state has developed a sense of alienation and discomfort amongst the native speakers of these indigenous languages. Dominance of major languages over suppressed ones leads to the socio-cultural and linguistic slavery of the oppressed masses. This sort of servitude breeds a myriad of hassles for aboriginal speakers. It dumps them into the abyss of inferiority complex that the language they speak may not brave the challenges of the time. The monopoly of Urdu over Balochi, Pashtu, Sindhi and Punjabi which have a far longer life history than that of Urdu can be seen in this perspective. A section of the Pakistani intelligentsia is driven by the delusion that if the indigenous languages are given the national status they may cause a certain type of anti-state sentiments amongst the speakers of these languages which may not bode well for the unity of the federation. In May, 2011, the National Assembly rejected a private member bill submitted by Marvi Memon, seeking national status for six indigenous languages alongside Urdu including Balochi, Sindhi, Pashtu, Punjabi, Saraiki and Shina. The bill, which stirred the hornet bee, was declared as a move to undermine Pakistan and otherwise to the vision of Mohammad Ali Jinnah who ignoring the linguistic diversity of Pakistan, imposed Urdu as the national language of the newly created state. The mindset which stayed behind the rejection of that bill is the main barrier in the way of promotion of indigenous languages which needs immediate redressing. The actual idea behind the imposition of Urdu as the national language was to create a sense of uniformity amongst various ethno-linguistic entities of Pakistan by tying them with ‘one language one religion’ string. Though it has emerged as the lingua franca across the country, it has not yet managed to take over the place of mother languages in the heart of indigenous people living across the length and breadth of the country. A language is not a mere tool of communication encompassing a set of alphabets, a certain type of phonemes and orthography. Rather it is an integral part of one’s socio-cultural identity. Since time immemorial, it has been an identity symbol and sense of pride for people around the world. Thus the ignorance of a language amounts to the ignorance of a social identity, cultural entity and a sense of pride. It is unfortunate that after the lapse of more than six decades, Pakistan is yet to acknowledge its linguistic and cultural diversity. The official apathy and negligence has posed a serious threat to the survival of a number age-old languages in Pakistan. In 2011 UNESCO identified 28 endangered languages in Pakistan. Of these languages, six are categorized as ‘severely endangered languages’ and these includes Chilisso, Dameli, Damaaki, Gowro, Kalasha and Kalkoti. The disappearance of these languages from the scene will be a colossal culture loss and a serious blow to the linguistic diversity of Pakistan. The government should materialize some result oriented measures to ensure that treasure trove of these languages are passed on to the younger generation which is one of the most effective ways to preserve any language from extinction. It is time the linguistic dictatorship, which has been imposed sine the inception of the country, was lifted and the due national status of all indigenous languages were acknowledged.

Hazaras demand joint parliamentary session over Quetta killings

The Hazara Democratic Party (HDP) has demanded of the federal government to convene joint session of the parliament to discuss the killings of ethnic Shia Hazaras in Quetta. Addressing a press conference on Saturday, HDP Central Chairman Abdul Khaliq Hazara said that Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf should summon the intelligence agencies to brief all political forces on what he called “the genocide of Hazaras in Quetta”. “We have buried more than 1,200 people during last few years,” Hazara told reporters. He claimed that the victims of targeted killings and suicide attacks also included a large women and children. The HDP chairman clarified that his party had never made an appeal for deployment of armed forces in Quetta; rather, it has always demanded a targeted operation in the city. “There must be a quick targeted operation in Quetta,” Hazara said. He said that, despite carrying funerals every day, the HDP has never given up the democratic path. The Hazara nationalist leader lashed out at religious extremists and said his party would not allow them to gain political ground over the killings of Hazaras in Quetta. “Some religious fanatics politicised the burial of innocent Hazaras,” he said. He called upon all democratic forces of the country and civil society to break their silence and stop the killings of innocent Hazaras. AFP adds: Meanwhile, speaking to news agency AFP, the HDP chairman demanded Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) chief Malik Ishaq, who has reportedly been detained by Punjab police under the Maintenance of Public Order law, be put on trial. “We have always been demanding arrest of all those involved in any act of sectarian violence, irrespective of their party affiliation,” said Abdul Khaliq Hazara. “Ishaq must be brought to justice and punished for involvement in violence,” he added.

Pakistan: Dealing with extremist thugs

Daily Times
By: Dr Haider Shah
The carnage in Quetta is the deadly outcome of our glorification of violent extremism as an instrument of internal and external policies As the election days are drawing closer, the national scene is getting murkier and bloodier. Without mincing any words, the ‘prophet of doom’ Mr Rehman Malik has issued a warning of more mayhem. Whether the sudden surge in violent attacks along sectarian lines is a string of unrelated incidents or part of well-planned conspiracy to derail the upcoming elections is anybody’s guess. The water tanker-led explosion is reverberating in the national discourse, rendering our social psyche extremely bruised. Last time the provincial government of Balochistan was sent packing in order to appease the grief-stricken and wailing relatives of the victims of a genocidal bomb attack on the Hazara community. I had then termed the move a Paracetamol tablet to soothe the pain on a very temporary basis. The demon of religious hatred has struck again with deadlier consequences. Now the leaders of the Hazara community have gone a step further, asking the army to take charge and provide them with security. It is a case of not seeing the wood for the trees. The carnage in Quetta is the deadly outcome of our glorification of violent extremism as an instrument of internal and external policies. What we see today has not happened overnight. It is the result of our gradual drift towards religious extremism. When heroin is puffed on for the first time, it brings ecstatic delight. The long-term consequences, however, soon come home to roost. In the wake of unrest and uproar over rising extremist attacks, there are three worrying strands of thinking that need to be addressed. First, the conspiracy theory lovers are again ducking the real problem and are laying the blame at the doorstep of international conspirators. Second, some commentators are treating the Hazara problem as a mere security lapse and are therefore looking for easy, surface level remedial measures. Third, there appears to be a complete lack of will on the part of various organs of the state on the question of developing a strategic response to the existentialist threat posed by extremist outfits. Let us consider these interrelated concerns one by one. The condemnation of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) by Imran Khan after it accepted responsibility for the latest attack on the Shia community in Quetta came to me as a pleasant surprise. One however wishes he finds time to read Saleem Shahzad’s book, which details how extremist groups have developed a well-knit network through al Qaeda strategists. Condemning LeJ while refusing to acknowledge the dangers that the Taliban-led network poses to our internal security can at best be expressed as the state of confusion that characterises certain sections of our political leadership. The pleasant surprise over the naming of the LeJ also proved short-lived, as the very next day the ‘messiah’ of Pakistan was again blaming international players for the Quetta situation without naming any of these players. Let us, for the sake of argument, accept that foreign powers are remote-controlling the extremist incidents. Why is that they are so successful in making us slit each other’s throats while they themselves live in peace and harmony? Why cannot we do the same in their countries and egg them on to have sectarian wars among various Christian groups? Perhaps we are an easy prey because we already have accumulated heaps of the ammunition of hate and animosity all around us. While stocking our houses with inflammable powder, we keep meddling in the affairs of other countries and then expect no reprisals at the same time. In our case it is known to all that merely a matchstick is required to set an Ojhri camp-style violence in motion. Violence is like a demon that resides inside our brains. It gets nourished and grows in size and power when we hate fellow countrymen on the basis of personal faith. Very early on in Pakistan’s history we began a violent hate-ridden campaign against one community on the basis of faith and took great happiness in vilifying it through our constitution and then sanctioning physical attacks on them. Encouraged by that success and glamorisation of violence, now the demon is stronger and attacking another faith community. As we remain silent, the demon will continue growing in size and vigour and in the end devour us all. For considering the remaining two points, I would recall how the government of the East India Company (EIC) in the early 19th century dealt with a troubling source of the law and order problem in the then Indian society. The source of trouble was traced to the wandering groups known as ‘Thugs’ who operated as gangs of professional assassins. Disguised as travellers, these Thugs would befriend other travellers and after gaining confidence would strangle their hapless victims by tossing a handkerchief or noose around their necks. Like their Taliban counterparts, these Thugs also performed the killings for religious devotion, in honour of the Hindu goddess Kali. They worked so discreetly that the British rulers only became aware when some of their own men started disappearing without a trace. In those times, when no modern facilities of intelligence were available, the EIC administrators launched a successful operation with the help of specific Anti-Thuggery and Dacoity Laws and strict enforcement. William Bentinck is credited with eradicating the menace of the Thugs by relentless effort. If the government and its intelligence and law-enforcement agencies are determined, I do not see any reason why we cannot eradicate the thugs of 21st century Pakistan.

Pakistan: Tomorrow never comes

The Frontier Post
Repeated mass killings in terrorist attacks have left the nation in total disarray—non-stop chatter Interior Minister Rehman Malik is no different. On Wednesday, Rehman Malik put up a flimsy defense in the Senate to his failure against the security lapses that gave vent to terrorism particularly in Balochistan and in other provinces, saying that the real ire of terrorist attacks should be chief ministers because law and order was responsibility of provincial governments under the 18th Amendment. If that is the case why is he poking his nose in the provincial affairs? A question many need to ask. Anyhow, he went on to say that ‘instead of criticizing him summon all the four chief ministers and ask them what’s going on why didn’t they act on the intelligence shared by the federation. Perhaps in the heat of the moment he forgot that the province of Balochistan is governed by the governor not by a chief minister hence the responsibility for provision of security to life and property rests on the federal government. ‘Knowledgeable’ Malik, sharing his ‘valuable intelligence’ with the Senate says there exists a nexus among Al-Qaeda, LeJ and Balochistan Liberation Army and Sipah-e-Sahaba and Jaish-e-Muhammad and are also involved in terrorism, and added that he provided a list of 3117 suspected terrorists, of which, 31 operatives of Lahore-based LeJ, had recently been arrested in Karachi. Even worst followed in his rhetoric that the Punjab houses hubs of terrorists and warned of direct intervention if the provincial government failed to eliminate the terrorists. The menace of terror continued throughout the term of the incumbent government, express Interior Minister should also tell the people despite inability of the provincial governments for nearly five years, what he is waiting for why the issue has not dealt forthwith. Perhaps, Malik is waiting for tomorrow that never comes. Like him, the ISI too attempted to absolve itself in a report submitted to the Supreme Court of Pakistan of intelligence debacle that resulted systematic cleansing of Hazaras. The worst part is the two—the ISI and Malik—have pointed the fingers at the Punjab—a relatively safe province to live—of having some linkage with the banned outfits. Secondly, the reports say that explosives were purchased and transported from Lahore to Quetta to carry out Hazaras’ massacres. Indeed, there is no mechanism in place to check dealings of chemicals in the province. Earlier, a call for placing bar on the sale of chemicals and material being used in explosive-making was heard from Afghanistan and now it is coming from within the country. The Punjab Chief Minister, who had managed the province relatively better, must not take the finger pointing easy rather should launch a hot pursuit against the terrorist hubs operating in the province if there is any. Even serious are the reports of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah’s suspected association with the LeJ operative Malik Ishaq and others—a charge that Rana denies. Yet the reports had been in the air for quite some time that he had been active to bring some extremists from South Punjab, willing to surrender militancy, into mainstream politics. Whatever the role he had played in South Punjab does underscore a need for immediate scrutiny at the highest level. Over 44 percent of country’s religious schools, said to be breeding extremism, are working in South Punjab which may have formed the basis for the Interior Minister to belief that out of 1,764 persons associated with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Muhammad, 726 belonged to South Punjab. Again he knows yet he failed to move the authorities concerned to introduce uniform syllabus under a watchful regulatory authority. Agree or not, the fact is the federal and provincial governments, though claim to have been fighting out terrorism, have failed to do enough to stem extremism. Now the internal situation has become extremely critical rather the country is at the crossroads. Much-wanted decisions to save Pakistan should have come much earlier. Alas! Lack of political will to transform the country is hurting today. The incumbent government has, for sure, failed to prioritize the issues confronting the nation hence Rehman Malik seems engaged in fighting a lost case for the rulers since the role of the Interior Ministry sounds of a post office sending and receiving the dispatches, having no say in the Administrative hierarchy at any level. Now term of the government is going to expire in less than a month time thus the government is left with no time to deliver at any front. If they hope for tomorrow it never comes.