Monday, March 25, 2013

Imaandaar - Aur Iss Dil Mein Kya Rakhha Hai Tera Hi Dard

Israel Music: Sarit Hadad - I'm wishing you

Passover 2013: What You Need To Know About This Popular Jewish Holiday

Video of press conference between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Bangladesh celebrates Independence Day

The nation will observe its 43rd Independence and National Day tomorrow (Tuesday), paying homage to the martyrs of the War of Liberation of 1971. On this day in 1971, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman formally declared independence and urged the Bengali nation to liberate the country from the clutches of the Pakistani occupation army. Unarmed Bangladeshis, who had been attacked and massacred by Pakistani soldiers, started an extensive bush war against the occupation forces. After the nine-month war with the supreme sacrifice of three million people and modesty of some two lakh women, the Bengali nation achieved the cherished independence on December 16, 1971. The day will be heralded with a thirty-one gun salute at dawn. Acting President Abdul Hamid Advocate and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will place wreaths at the National Memorial at Savar at sunrise. The national flag will be hoisted atop government and private buildings, while the government and semi-government buildings and other public places will be illuminated on the auspicious occasion. Road islands and dividers have been decorated with flags and colorful festoons welcoming he Independence Day. In the capital city, Dhaka Metropolitan Police took all-out security measures to maintain the law and order for smooth observance of the day. The day is a public holiday. Acting President Abdul Hamid Advocate, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Leader of the Opposition Khaleda Zia issued separate messages, greeting the country’s people on this solemn and joyous occasion. In his message, the acting President underscored the need for concerted efforts from all strata, irrespective of party affiliation to achieve the desired goals of independence and build a happy and prosperous Bangladesh.

Pakistan: Punjab Police admits failure to protect Badami Bagh victims

Daily Times
The Punjab Police has admitted before the Supreme Court on Monday that when the crowd gathered at Badami Bagh stated pelting stones on the police, all the officials and officers fled the area and failed to protect the Christians. Submitting a report in pursuance of the court order during the hearing of suo motu case regarding Badami Bagh incident, CCPO Muhammad Amlesh Khan told the court that policemen had started retreating as the crowd started throwing stones at them. Police entered a godown and closed the doors. SP Multan Khan took refuge on the third floor of the godown, while the SHO and DSP along with the force closed the main gate. On this, the crowd returned to Joseph Colony and set ablaze the quarters of Christians. They also brought belongings from the house to the main road and set them on fire. The report also notes that the officers returned to Joseph Colony when much of the damage had been done. The court has granted another seven days to the CCPO Lahore to thoroughly investigate burning of Joseph Colony houses. The court also directed the Establishment Division secretary to appoint the inspector general of police in Punjab with consultation of chief secretary of the province. Punjab advocate general informed the court that the IGP’s post has been vacant since January 1, 2013. He said that despite repeated requests so far the federal government has not appointed the IGP in the province. The court noted that similar situation was prevailing in Sindh where the IGP post has been lying vacant since March 6, 2013, and ultimately the court had to pass an order to the Establishment Division secretary to appoint the IGP for maintenance of law and order in the province. A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and comprising Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed was hearing the case related to the burning of Christian colony in Badami Bagh, Lahore. The high-ups of police also admitted in the report that the incident is the result of instigators in both the groups – Aman and Ittehad – whose names have been mentioned in the report. The court noted that prima facie the police failed to protect the properties of the residents of Joseph Colony. The chief justice remarked that the CCPO has noted this conduct of police officers in the conclusion of his report. Advocate General Asther Ausaf told the court that 48 persons have been arrested and 67 have yet to be arrested. Directing the SC registrar to send the copy of this order to the Establishment Division and the Punjab chief secretary, so they could make arrangement for the appointment of the Punjab IGP, the court adjourned the hearing until April 1.

Newtown residents upset about NRA robocalls
Some residents of the Connecticut community devastated by December's school shooting said they're outraged over robocalls they've received from the National Rifle Association only three months after a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Newtown residents said the automated calls from the NRA began last week and urge people to tell their state legislators to oppose gun control proposals. Some also said they received postcards from the NRA supporting gun owners' rights. "It's ridiculous and insensitive," Newtown resident Dan O'Donnell told Hartford-area NBC affiliate WVIT-TV, one of several media organizations to report about the robocalls. "I can't believe an organization would be so focused on the rights of gun owners with no consideration for the losses this town suffered." A message seeking comment was left Monday at the NRA's headquarters in Fairfax, Va. Like Congress and other state legislatures, Connecticut's General Assembly has been considering gun control measures in the wake of the school shootings, including banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The NRA strongly opposes many gun control proposals including an assault weapons ban, saying government officials should better enforce existing gun laws and not impede on people's Second Amendment rights. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, has said his organization supports getting the records of those adjudicated mentally incompetent and dangerous into the background check system for gun dealers and beefed up penalties for illegal third-party purchases and gun trafficking. Shortly after the Newtown shooting, LaPierre also called for armed security guards in schools. A 20-year-old gunman killed 26 students and educators and himself at Sandy Hook on Dec. 14, after having shot his mother to death at their Newtown home. Another Newtown resident, Christopher Wenis, told The Huffington Post that he received three of the NRA's robocalls last week. "I've got a 5-year-old son who went to preschool on the Sandy Hook Elementary School campus," Wenis said. "And this was a really hard week for me on a lot of levels. These calls were the very last thing I needed."

China defends deal to build 1000 MW nuclear plant for Pakistan

Tacitly confirming reports of signing of an agreement with Pakistan to build a huge 1000 MW nuclear power plant, China today defended the deal saying that it confirmed to safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and rejected allegations that it has violated Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) norms. "China has noted the relevant report", Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a media briefing in Beijing today. He was replying to a question on reports from Washington that Beijing has secretly entered a deal with Pakistan to construct the plant at Chashma in Punjab province. On allegations that the deal violated the norms set by the 46 member NSG, which regulates the issues relating to nuclear proliferation and commerce, Hong said, "I want to point out that relevant cooperation between China and Pakistan does not violate relevant norms of the NSG". In recent years China and Pakistan have had some cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear cooperation, he said. All this cooperation is for peaceful use and this cooperation is in compliance with our respective international obligations and subject to the safeguards of the IAEA, Hong said. A Washington-based news report had said two days ago that China has secretly signed the deal to construct a new power plant at Chashma. China has so far aided and assisted Pakistan in constructing four power plants at Chashma. Chashma I and II were stated to be 300 MW each and as per the previous plans the III and IV were stated to have 340 MW each. While I and II were already commissioned, three and four were expected to be commissioned in 2016. It is not clear whether the 1000 MW reactor would be a fifth one to be constructed there or the third reactor would be upgraded.

Bloomberg says he told Rupert Murdoch to quit Twitter
Michael Bloomberg may have his own Twitter account, but he doesn’t necessarily think it’s a good idea. At a news conference on Monday afternoon in Brooklyn, the New York City mayor went on an extended riff about the dangers of social media, even confessing at one point that he advised News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch to stop using Twitter. “I’ve told your boss, I think he should stop twittering,” Bloomberg told a reporter for the New York Post, which is owned by Murdoch. Asked later if he was actually referring to Murdoch, Bloomberg smiled and replied, “I don’t know who that would be.” Bloomberg was responding to questions about a series of city employees who have been suspended or forced to resign after the media discovered racist rants they had posted on Twitter. The mayor said he had looked into the idea of putting limits on how city employees use social media—especially on city-owned computers—but admitted there were First Amendment issues about such a crackdown. But then, Bloomberg proceeded to unload on users of sites like Twitter and Facebook, admitting that he’s dumbfounded about how some people don’t seem to realize their posts could come under public scrutiny and come back to haunt them. "No. 1, I don't understand why people don't understand that anything you write, anything you send out, is going to be retweeted, re-Facebooked, re-this, re-that," Bloomberg declared, clearly exasperated. "You should write down, No. 1, only things you believe, and No. 2, then think about how it would look if somebody else sees it. There are just a lot of young kids who are doing things on their Twitter account, their Facebook account that later on is going to come back and bite them. I know you want to share information, and it’s nice to be able to express yourself, but you have to have the maturity to understand (what you’re doing).” Bloomberg said it was difficult to comprehend how some adults don’t understand that “someday, somebody is going to take a look at what they do.” “It’s very addictive. It’s easy. You hit a button, and nobody thinks that the rest of the world is looking at them,” Bloomberg continued. Another problem, Bloomberg added, was Twitter messages could be taken “out of context.” “It’s dangerous,” the mayor declared. “One hundred and 40 odd characters doesn’t give you a chance to explain what you really mean. It’s just a phrase that can be taken out of context. … Anything you say in 140 characters is going to be taken out of context. It’s just not a good forum. You can’t talk about a complex subject or a controversial subject in a sound bite.”

President Obama to new citizens: "In each of you, we see the true spirit of America"
Today, President Obama spoke at a at a naturalization ceremony for active duty service members and civilians at the White House. He welcomed 28 new American citizens to our nation of immigrants and called for reforms to our immigration system that will help harness the talent and ingenuity of all those like them who want to work hard and find a place here in America. President Obama said that in each of the men and women who had earned the right to call this country home, we're reminded of the millions who came before them and our "faith in the idea that anyone, anywhere, can write the next great chapter in this American story. "
We are so proud of everybody here. In each of you, we see the true spirit of America. And we see a bit of ourselves, too, because most of our stories trace back to moments just like this one. To an ancestor who -– just like the men and women here today –- raised their right hand and recited that sacred oath. And the point is that unless you are one of the first Americans, unless you are a Native American, you came from someplace else. That’s why we’ve always defined ourselves as a nation of immigrants. And we’ve always been better off for it. The promise we see in those who come from all over the world is one of our greatest strengths. It’s kept our workforce young. It keeps our businesses on the cutting edge. It’s helped to build the greatest economic engine that the world has ever known.
"Immigration makes us stronger," the President said. "And if we want to keep attracting the best and the brightest that the world has to offer, then we need to do a better job of welcoming them." "After avoiding the problem for years, the time has come to fix it once and for all," he said. "The time has come for a comprehensive, sensible immigration reform" No other country on Earth welcomes as many new arrivals as we do, he said. "And as long as the promise of America endures, as long as we continue to stand tall as a beacon of hope and opportunity, then the world’s hardest workers, the hungriest entrepreneurs, the men and women who are willing to make enormous sacrifices to get a better life -- not just for themselves but for their children and their grandchildren, they're going to keep on coming."

Pakistan sees Afghanistan's Karzai as obstacle to peace with Taliban

Pakistan, seen as critical to efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, is finding it difficult to work with President Hamid Karzai due to mistrust and is reaching out to others to advance the peace process, senior Pakistani Foreign Ministry officials say. Pakistan is uniquely positioned to promote reconciliation in neighboring Afghanistan because of its long history of ties to militant groups fighting to topple Karzai. But Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of backing the Taliban to further its aims, fearful it will try to install a pro-Islamabad government in Kabul, a charge Pakistan denies. "Right now, Karzai is the biggest impediment to the peace process," a top Pakistani Foreign Ministry official told Reuters. "In trying to look like a savior, he is taking Afghanistan straight to hell." Karzai has said he wants peace on his own terms and could also be worried that the United States might cut a quick and risky deal with the Taliban, eager to get the bulk of its forces out of the country by the end of next year. Either way, Pakistani officials say they are discouraged by what they call Karzai's erratic statements and provocations, apparently designed to make him appear more decisive at home in dealing with the unpopular war, now in its 12th year. Failure to reach an agreement between the Afghan government and insurgents would increase the chances of prolonged instability and even a push by the Taliban to seize power. The last time they did it, in 1996, it was with Pakistani help. The stakes are also high for Pakistan, a strategic U.S. ally seen as vital to Washington's global war on militancy. It fears turmoil in Afghanistan could spill over the border and energize homegrown militants seeking to topple the government. "I have absolutely no doubt that there will be complete chaos in Afghanistan if a settlement is not reached by 2014," said the Foreign Ministry official. "Afghanistan will erupt. And when that happens, Pakistan will have to pay." Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been suspicious of each other. A recent period of warmer relations raised hopes they could work together to lure the Taliban to negotiations. Aziz Khan, a former Pakistan ambassador to Afghanistan, said it was not right to pin all the blame on Karzai. "Everyone is hedging their bets at this point: the Pakistanis, the U.S., the Afghan government and the Taliban," he said. "No one has been clear about what they want in Afghanistan." Although Pakistan will maintain contacts with Karzai, it is stepping up engagements with opposition figures, the Taliban, Washington and other parties to promote reconciliation, Foreign Ministry officials said. "There is no other option but reconciliation - with or without Karzai," said the top Foreign Ministry official. "If he continues to be this stubborn, him and his High Peace Council will naturally be sidelined."
A second senior Pakistani Foreign Ministry official cited several examples of how Karzai has blocked peace efforts. At a conference in January, for example, Karzai insisted there would be no more "back door" peace contacts. The official also accused Karzai of delaying the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar that could be used in the reconciliation efforts. He did not say why. Afghan officials say Karzai is fully committed to the peace process, but wants to ensure it is Afghan-driven. Responding to the accusation that Karzai is an obstacle to peace, an Afghan government official said: "We totally reject this. It is a baseless allegation." Analysts say Pakistan has a long-standing fear of an Afghan government close to its old foe, India. Karzai has said "no foreign elements or entities should attempt to own Afghan peace efforts". He also warned: "I am not going to allow other attempts to succeed." So far, Karzai has failed to secure direct talks with the Taliban. He has repeatedly asked for Pakistan's support. Pakistan has helped Taliban representatives to travel to Qatar to make contacts with U.S. officials. At the same time, Pakistan has been building bridges with the Northern Alliance, a constellation of anti-Taliban figures who have traditionally been implacable critics of Islamabad, and close to India. But Kabul wants Pakistan to hand over top Afghan Taliban leaders which could prove useful in the peace process. "All Taliban leadership are sitting in Pakistan. We need full cooperation of Pakistan in order for them to be allowed to travel and be allowed to talk," Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul told a news conference in Sydney. Karzai's remarks during interviews and in meetings with Pakistani officials have led Islamabad to conclude he has become too inflexible. They cite Karzai's recent accusation that the United States was colluding with the Taliban. "What does Karzai have to show for his effort to bring insurgents to the table? We've released prisoners. We've facilitated talks," said another senior Foreign Ministry official. Late last year, Pakistan released more than two dozen Taliban prisoners who could help promote peace. It was the clearest signal ever that Pakistan had put its weight behind the Afghan reconciliation process. Pakistan's army chief has also made reconciling warring Afghan factions a priority, military sources say. After the prisoner releases, Afghan officials said Pakistan shared Kabul's goal of transforming the insurgency into a political movement. Such remarks signaled unprecedented optimism from Kabul.
But despite that, old suspicions that Pakistan uses Afghan insurgents as proxies to counter the influence of India have not been laid to rest. Some Afghan officials believe Pakistan may still be hedging its bets and that even the prisoner releases were just a way to retain influence over the Taliban. "The key fact here is that Pakistan has been investing in this dirty game of trying to control Afghanistan for the last thirty years through terrorist proxies," said a senior Afghan government official. "It is now trying to reap the harvest of its investments by waiting for what they see as the inevitable complete departure of the international community from Afghanistan and keeping their proxy assets, primarily the Taliban, for the post-2014 period." During talks last month at British Prime Minister David Cameron's official country residence, Chequers, Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari agreed to consult on future Afghan Taliban prisoner releases. But Pakistani officials now complain that Karzai does not appreciate the goodwill gestures. Another Pakistani Foreign Ministry official said the government was incensed by an interview Karzai gave to the British press after the Chequers meeting in which he said the peace process was being impeded by "external forces acting in the name of the Taliban", a veiled reference to Islamabad. So exasperated was Pakistan with Karzai that at a meeting this month between Zardari, the army chief and senior officials, one top leader described Karzai as "the joker in the pack", according to an official who attended. "He is trying to act as if he has many cards in his hands," said the first Foreign Ministry official. "But he should realize he is only hurting his country."

Iron Horse Gaining Traction In Afghanistan

More than 200 years after the arrival of steam locomotives changed the world of transport forever, the "iron horse" has finally made it to Afghanistan. Afghanistan is in the early stages of constructing a cross-country rail network intended to spur economic development and boost trade. The idea is to turn Afghanistan into a land bridge linking the energy-rich Middle East and Central Asia with the booming economies of China and South Asia, according to Deputy Public Works Minister Ahmad Shah Wahid. "If we were linked with our neighbors through railway networks it would be a great development for our future prosperity,” he says. “It would improve trade and improve the lives of ordinary people." The first step in this process came in 2001 with the completion of a 75-kilometer railway line connecting the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif to Uzbekistan's rail network. The line was constructed with the help of $160 million from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Uzbekistan's state railway company is conducting a feasibility study on extending the link to the Tajik-Afghan border as part of a northern railway corridor for international cargo. The second step entails connecting Turkmenistan and Tajikistan via a new 400-kilometer track crossing northern Afghanistan, again with funding from the ADB. Construction is set to begin in July, according to an agreement signed among the three states this month, and Turkmen workers will build the Afghan section of the rail line.
‘Revolutionary Development’
Shah Wahid sees great potential in establishing trade outlets for oil and minerals extracted in northern Afghanistan. "This is really a revolutionary development in Afghanistan and the region's transit networks,” he says. “It will also connect Central Asian countries with one another. Even in the short term, this could bring a positive effect to households and will give our traders access to the region." Aside from the two northern projects, future lines connecting western Afghanistan to Iran and southern Afghanistan to Pakistan are also being planned. And talk is already turning toward the possibility of someday joining the Commonwealth of Independent States' rail-oversight body, and of building a link that could connect Afghanistan to Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Georgia. The goal to link Afghan territory by rail is not a new one, and has eluded planners for decades. Afghan historian Habibullah Rafi notes that many 19th and 20th century Afghan rulers resisted efforts to connect to regional rail networks because they feared it would help the advancing British and Russian empires absorb Afghan territory. It took until 1925 for the country to build its first railway line -- a 7-kilometer track linking the center of Kabul and the Darul Aman Palace on the capital's southern outskirts. That effort, part of the reformist King Amanullah Khan's modernization drive, was undone just four years later during a revolt against Amanullah. President Muhammad Daud Khan, who led the country from 1973 to 1978, laid new plans to connect the country by rail. But his efforts, too, failed to materialize, according to Habibullah Rafi. "During the reign of President Daud Khan [in the 1970s] there was a plan to connect Kabul to the western city of Herat through the central regions of Hazarajat,” he says. “But his government was overthrown before it could implement the project." That left King Amanullah's rusting locomotive and carriages, which still stand outside a Kabul museum, as the only testaments to Afghanistan’s previous efforts to enter the railway era.

Kerry, Karzai discuss Afghanistan transition
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a previously unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Monday to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai amid strained relations as the American-led international force continues to prepare to end its combat mission next year. Kerry's stop came on the same day that U.S. forces turned over control of a prison that has caused tension between the two nations, with Americans retaining a say on the handling of certain Taliban inmates. The talks followed controversial comments by Karzai in recent weeks that seemed to accuse U.S. forces of working with the Taliban to kill Afghan civilians, a charge denied by U.S. officials.At a joint news conference after their talks, Karzai said he had been misinterpreted when quoted as alleging collusion between the Americans and the Taliban, but he made clear that violence against villagers must stop for there to be any chance for successful peace talks. Meanwhile, the former commander of the international military force in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. John Allen, said Monday that the war there would continue after foreign troops conclude their combat mission by the end of 2014. "On the first of January, there's still going to be fighting in 2015. There's still going to be fighting in Afghanistan," Allen told a conference at the Brookings Institution. He added that Afghanistan would "join a long and distinguished list of countries that will be struggling in a post-conflict environment where it will have an insurgency in some parts of that country for an extended period of time." Kerry landed in Kabul on Monday afternoon and met with Karzai at the presidential palace before the news conference that lasted almost an hour. The stop extended a multi-nation trip for Kerry, who was in Iraq over the weekend to press that nation's leaders to take steps prohibiting Iranian planes from delivering arms to Syria's besieged government. Last week, Kerry joined President Barack Obama on a trip to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan. Earlier Monday, the United States handed over control of a U.S.-run prison near Bagram Air Base to Afghan authorities. The handover deal was reached Saturday, but came a full year after the initial plan was announced by U.S and Afghan authorities. An initial plan called for the prison and detainees to be handed over within six months, but in September, the United States "paused" the transfer of detainees, which include suspected Taliban militants and insurgents. Other tensions between the countries involve continuing violence, such as a bomb blast in Kabul this month that killed nine people. Karzai said afterward that there are "ongoing daily talks between the Taliban, Americans and foreigners in Europe and in the Gulf states." The comment effectively claimed the United States was trying to foment continued violence inside Afghanistan, and it was quickly denounced by NATO and U.S. officials. Some experts say Karzai's comments were fueled by frustration over the detention facility not being handed over sooner, which he viewed as an attack on his country's sovereignty. During the news conference, Kerry repeatedly referred to Afghanistan's sovereignty in the transition process as the NATO military force turns over leadership of combat operations to Afghanistan's military, which it has trained in recent years. Under an agreement between the Afghan government and NATO, the bulk of U.S. and NATO combat forces are to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. What remains to be decided is how many troops may remain to help train Afghan forces. The trip was Kerry's first visit to Afghanistan as secretary of state, but the former senator's sixth during Obama's presidency.

Violence, vaccine fears keep polio from disappearing

Sixty years after the first successful polio vaccine trial, the disease has been wiped out in much of the world, but violence, conspiracy theories and lack of cash keep it from disappearing. “The world is closer than ever to eradicating polio,” said Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesman for the World Health Organisation’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative. In 2012, there were just 223 infections worldwide, compared to 360,000 in 1988, when the United Nations launched a campaign to eliminate the highly contagious illness that causes paralysis and sometimes death, particularly in young children. All but six of last year’s cases were in three countries: Nigeria (122), Pakistan (58) and Afghanistan (37), according to the WHO. The success seen in India, which has had no new cases in two years, shows that eradicating polio is “technically feasible,” Rosenbauer told AFP. “So now the question is, does the world want to do this? Does it have enough political will to do this?” If the virus is not eliminated, the number of cases could return to a level of 200,000 new infections annually within 10 years, he warned. But efforts to end the disease face mounting risks brought on by violence against vaccine workers in the disease’s last bastions. In Nigeria and Pakistan, some religious figures say the vaccine contains pork, which Muslims are forbidden from consuming, or that it renders people infertile as part of an alleged Western plot to sterilise Muslims. Dozens of health workers have been killed in attacks on vaccination stations in recent months, particularly in remote areas – with at least 10 killed in northern Nigeria and 20 in Pakistan since December. In Pakistan, some believe the CIA used polio vaccines as a cover for a campaign to obtain DNA samples from people in order to root out al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a US raid in 2011. “There is no question that these groups fighting the polio vaccination effort are a challenge to polio eradication,” said Carol Pandak, who heads an anti-polio program at the charitable organization Rotary International. In order to break down hostilities, international polio workers have held meetings with local religious leaders and the governments of the countries concerned. The goal is to communicate on a local level “so they can learn more about the benefits of immunisation and we can hear their concerns,” said Pandak. But money remains a problem. Pandak said the global anti-polio campaign is short 660 million dollars in 2013, or more than half the annual budget of a billion dollars that experts say is necessary. The funds come mainly from G8 countries, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International and other donors. Eradicating polio could lead to success against other illnesses, such as measles, according to Walter Orenstein, chairman of the WHO’s Technical Consultative Group on the Global Eradication of Poliomyelitis. “I think the polio effort has the potential to draw in a lot of expertise to tackle other diseases in the future,” he told AFP. American Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine, testing it on volunteers, including himself and his family, before announcing the first successful trial results in 1953. In 1955, the vaccine was declared safe and effective for release on the world market. “The success of the polio vaccine required a real coordinated effort,” said Orenstein. “The polio virus is an enemy of humankind. By eradicating it, it’s a gift from this generation to all future generations.”

Pakistan:Food exports up 9.22pc in 8 months
The food exports of the country during first eight months of current fiscal year (2012-13) increased by 9.22 percent.The exports of overall food group were recorded at US $ 2.963 billion during July-February (2012-13) against the exports of US$ 2.713 billion during July-February (2011-12).According to data of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), the food exports of the country on month on month basis also increased by 10.71 percent during February 2013 against same period of last year whereas when compared to January 2103, the food exports during February 2013 decreased by 20.23 percent.The food exports increased from US$ 368.456 in February 2012 to $407.905 in February 2013. While the exports in January 2013 were recorded at $511.326 million.The major food items which recorded increase in their exports during the first eight months of current fiscal year include sugar (100pc), meat and meatpreparations (31.3pc), oil seeds, nuts and kernels (25.07pc).

Zardari stands out among leaders

By:Mariana Baabar
“Every day I passed by the hangman’s noose. Prisoners are jailed and hanged. But they are hanged not by the state but after due legal process. It is the law that sends you to the gallows. I was sent to jail by the state. I survived the eight years, plus 28 months (between 1990 and 1993), under the Nawaz Sharif government in jail by following the example of my father-in-law Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who preferred the gallows than acquiesce to a military strongman’s worldview,” said Asif Ali Zardari to The News in December 2004, when he was finally set free by the Musharraf regime. Today, nine years later, Zardari’s democratically elected government, led by his Pakistan People’s Party, has accomplished two historic firsts for Pakistan—it’s the first elected government to complete its five-year term. More importantly for some, it’s also the first one not to have had a single opposition figure imprisoned. “This is his greatest achievement. He raised the bar of tolerance and reconciliation to heights that will be difficult for others to scale”, Senator Farhatullah Babar, spokesman to the President told The News. On Friday, Zardari once again in a shrewd move resigned from the office of Co-chairperson of the PPP, thus stepping out of a potential legal mess. After his marriage to Benazir Bhutto, Zardari spent most his life either in the PM’s house or in jail. It was only after her assassination in December 2007 that he returned to Pakistan from self-exile, won the January 2008 polls and moved to the president’s palace. Today, no one dismisses the chances of another term for the former ‘Mr Ten Per Cent’ and the PPP in the recently announced May 11 general elections. That Zardari has enough political acumen to survive and deliver in a fiendishly hostile domestic milieu, while negotiating the geopolitical minefield of AfPak, is undeniable. Even Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir could never tame the opposition, fight and win court battles, and keep partners under leash and the military establishment at an arm’s length. “One noticeable difference between president Zardari and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto is in their respective thresholds of tolerance. Zardari’s capacity to endure is matched only by his capacity to beat the adversary in his own game. Even as chief executive, Shaheed Bibi at times appeared powerless. Strangely, by redistributing state power, Zardari, himself bereft of constitutional powers, wielded power that eluded many,” says Babar, who was Benazir’s closest aide for decades. Also, it is a different Pakistan now. “Zardari’s policies led, for the first time, to diffusion of state power and emergence of multiple power centers. Today, as never before, state power is diffused between parliament, executive, judiciary and the one institution can claim monopoly over it,” says Babar. The intimidatory pressure of the judiciary and the military on the civilian government over the past years is now a matter of record. But a persevering Zardari has refused to cave in. Zardari has withstood pressure from the Supreme Court on the issue of the opening of graft cases against him by Swiss authorities—which cost his aide Yousuf Raza Gilani his premiership. On the backburner, is the security establishments efforts of creating Memogate. He also showed admirable confidence in democratic rule in the manner he relinquished significant power—58-2 B, that nullified a law shaped over decades by Pakistan’s military rulers-and passed the eighteenth amendment. Babar says that at the national level Zardari robbed the nationalist elements of the thunder of provincial autonomy. Nearly ten years ago, Zardari realised that the establishment thought it wise to keep the cause (fundamentalism) alive for the sake of the cure (the military). “It is not the army but the generals who have persecuted the PPP. There’s a chance of a working relationship as they have run out of choices. Either they work with us and the people or their institution is in danger....” he had said. Those words still have relevance, as the military continues its relations with Punjabi jihadis and distinguishes between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. Meanwhile, the military has been stewing in its own juices—combating militancy in Pakistani cities and insurgency in Balochistan, fighting off attacks on its assets by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Punjabi jihadis, embarrassed by the discovery of Osama bin Laden in its backyard, and flushing out militants who had taken over towns and cities in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa. But perhaps it was Zardari’s vision in foreign policy and charm offence that will be remembered in the long term. He is possibly the only Pakistani president who has not made an official visit to Washington, as he preferred instead to invest his energies in improving bilateral relations in the region. “He choreographed moves which will have far-reaching impact on regional peace and stability. These include trade with India, the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, handing over the Gwadar project to China, within hours of vacation of a stay order and the currency swap agreements.. and other deft moves that may not be mentioned publicly now,” adds Babar. However, even by Pakistani standards, these past years have been among the worst endured by the man on the street. Bad governance, endemic corruption, acute energy shortage, terrorism, radicalization, failure to protect minorities and Shias, and a tottering economy has made life unbearable. The Pakistan military has effectively been at war, and the charge of not touring areas where soldiers were losing their lives daily in battle against the Taliban sheds a poor light on the supreme commander, as he remained bunkered inside the Presidential Palace. Former special correspondent of The News and political analyst, Nusrat Javeed, says Zardari has had to focus so heavily on tactical maneuvers for political survival that it deprived him of a long-term plan. “At the end of the day, the PPP under him has nothing to show. Democracy is not about just surviving five years, but about something to flaunt during elections. He has failed to create a team at this crucial time,” says Javeed. But given a kickstart by Zardari, future governments in Islamabad can expect this—there will be democratic continuity, with the military watching in the shadows, secure in the knowledge that they can continue to tweak foreign and security policies. Also, General Kayani finishes his extended tenure this year, and no political leader is in a mood to give him further extension. In 2013, Islamabad might have a new prime minister, president and army chief. ”The hopes and fears of leaders is a fascinating and instructive study. There are also noticeable shades of differences in their hopes and fears....those who tend to concentrate powers will find it very hard to accept and adjust to the reality of multiple power centers in Pakistan,” says Babar. In hindsight, Zardari was remarkably clear-sighted about the nature of democracy, and his hopes for it in Pakistan. In 2004, he had told The News: “When we introduced the fax system and CNN was allowed to be aired, I remember how angry you were with Benazir. She was hesitant.... You as a journalist knew the impact of technology. Because of this, the establishment will never be able to hide itself again. All that we need as democrats is perseverance and time.”

'Islamists can't sabotage elections' in Pakistan

Deutsche Welle
As Pakistan gears up for parliamentary elections, Zohra Yusuf of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan talks to DW about the threats posed by Taliban militants, and evaluates President Zardari's PPP's time in power.
It is the first time in the history of Pakistan that an elected government has completed its term. How do you analyze the evolution of democracy and democratic institutions in Pakistan?
Zohra Yusuf:
If you see it in terms of the completion of five years by a civilian government, it is a tremendous development. It is historical and a sign of maturity in Pakistani politics. But the government did not deliver much. There were issues of governance, and the Pakistan People's Party's (PPP) government failed on many fronts. Now the Pakistani people have high hopes from forthcoming parliamentary elections. They want things to change in the country. But at the same time there are fears as well, primarily because of the security situation in the country. As we have seen in the past year, there have been many terrorist attacks and high profile leaders have been assassinated. Ordinary people have been targeted on sectarian and ethnic grounds. So while one looks forward to elections, the security situation continues to pose a challenge.
Would you also give credit to the Pakistani judiciary and military for ensuring that democracy is not derailed in the country?
Both the army and the judiciary posed immense challenges to the former PPP government, so I would not give them much credit. They interfered in governance to a great extent. The military, however, has realized that direct intervention will not be acceptable domestically and internationally. Judicial activism was at its peak but the Supreme Court categorically said it would not support any military coup. So, yes, things are evolving in Pakistan. But there are groups like the Taliban which do not want democracy to flourish in Pakistan. They also don't want elections to be held.
Do you think the Islamists are powerful enough to sabotage forthcoming elections?
I don't think they will be able to sabotage elections to an extent that they won't be held at all. But threats from the terrorists will certainly effect the voter turn out, and it is possible that they will try to create panic by targeting some political leaders. But I think it is quite late to derail elections now. Pro-democracy forces in Pakistan argue that the continuation of civilian democracy will weaken extremism in Pakistan but we see that Islamist movement in Pakistan has become stronger over the past five years. You are right. I fear that even when the new government comes into power, it will not come down hard on these extremist groups. Now the political parties are talking about negotiating with the Taliban. Even the Awami National Party (ANP) in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province - which has been the biggest victim of the Taliban attacks - is considering this option.
Are you and your organization in favor of negotiating with the Taliban?
Absolutely not. I don't see what we can negotiate with them about. They are interested in seizing power. They want Shariah law in the country. They have said clearly time and again they don't believe in the constitution of Pakistan nor in democracy. So I don't understand what the basis would be of these talks with the Taliban.
Former military dictator and president of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf has returned to Pakistan from Dubai after five years of self-imposed exile. Do you see a role for him in politics? Shouldn't he be tried in various cases against him that are pending in Pakistani courts?
The cases against him are related to the killings of Baloch nationalist leader Akbar Bugti and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto as well as keeping the judges of the apex court under house arrest. He should definitely be tried. I also think his presence in Pakistan won't make much of a difference in politics. He is quite marginalized. His political party - All Pakistan Muslim League - does not have much of a presence in the country. But he should be allowed to contest elections. With regard to human rights, we know that Islamists regularly target sectarian minorities in the country, but of late we have seen that even common Pakistanis have staged attacks on minorities. The Lahore incident where a mob burnt down Christian-owned houses is an example.
What does this say about today's society?
It is true that Pakistani society has become very religiously intolerant over the years. But the problem is with the laws. As we always say, when you have bad laws, they will be misused. Such is the case with the blasphemy law. The Islamization of Pakistan is an ongoing process, which involves the state as well as the media. It is very easy to stir up people's sentiments and mobilize crowds as happened in the Lahore incident last month. The people who attacked Christians in Lahore probably did not know much about the alleged blasphemy case. They were just told that somebody had insulted the prophet or desecrated the Koran and it was enough to make them violent.
How would you rate the former PPP government's record with respect to human rights?
I should talk about the positives as well. In the past five years, there was practically a moratorium on death penalties. There was one hanging in 2008 after the PPP came into power. Last November, a person who had attacked a soldier was hanged. Otherwise, there were no executions. There has been considerable legislation which supported the rights of women. The government passed laws to setup the National Commission of Human Rights. But little has been done to implement these laws. What also needs to be appreciated is the level of tolerance the government showed towards opposition, towards dissenting voices, criticism against it, as well as the media. But governance was really bad. Human rights violations continued. Non-state actors are violating human rights more than the state.
Zohra Yusuf is chairperson of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

Pakistan's caretaker PM Mir Hazar Khan Khoso sworn in

Retired senior judge Mir Hazar Khan Khoso has been sworn in as Pakistan's caretaker prime minister, ahead of parliamentary elections due in May. The election commission picked the 84-year-old after politicians failed to agree a consensus candidate. He comes from Pakistan's troubled Balochistan province and is seen as the least controversial of the candidates. If polls take place on time without bloodshed, it will be Pakistan's first democratic transfer of power. On Sunday Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf returned to Pakistan, ending four years of self-imposed exile and defying death threats. He intends to to lead his party in the May general election. The former military leader has lived in London and Dubai since stepping down five years ago. He left Pakistan in 2009. He has vowed to return several times in the past, but those previous attempts have been abandoned. Gen Musharraf is likely to face stiff opposition from the man he ousted from office in 1999, Nawaz Sharif, who leads the PML-N party as well as cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and his PTI party. And the incumbent Pakistan People's Party which has President Asif Ali Zardari at its helm is also likely to mount an energetic campaign.

Pakistan: Blasphemy and reactionary pogroms

by Lal Khan
The arson and burning down of 178 houses in the night of 8th and 9th March in Joseph Colony, a Christian neighbourhood near Badami Bagh, in the heart of Lahore is yet another fanatical incident that reflects the malaise afflicting the Pakistani society. A vigilante mob carried out this act of savagery on the pretext of allegedly blasphemous remarks made by a Christian youth in a drunken fracas with a Muslim friend.Attacks on Christians and other religious minorities have become a regular feature in today’s Pakistan. The blasphemy and other draconian laws imposed by the vicious Zia dictatorship are not only used to settle personal scores but in most cases they are used for extortion of property and money. The Lahore arson attack is hardly any different if one goes by media reports. Behind the attack on Joseph Colony, say media reports, are land-grabbing mafias. Religion has become a major enterprise and one of the most profitable businesses. Mosques, madrassas and other religious institutions such as shrines, have mushroomed in the last three decades. Many phony business deals are struck on the spaces allotted to mosque and madrassa networks. The cost of building and running these networks is estimated in billions of rupees across the country. There is in fact a cutthroat competition between various religious sects to control mosques. This is one explanation for the burgeoning of sectarian formations. As the conflicts over control of religio- businesses enterprises become acute, there emerge more splits and sects. Every new sect offers an even more draconian interpretation of the religion, fomenting further antagonism and hatreds. Here is a typical pattern: a mosque, a madrassa or a shrine spring up almost overnight over a prime property location. Next, shops are built on the adjoining areas and are rented out at exorbitant prices. Religious inviolability masks the real sources of the funds used to build these institutions and cover their running costs. There is no auditing or accountability whatsoever. Apart from the drug cartels and other dubious sources, religious enterprises also draw petro-dollars. In the 1960s and the 1970s, the US imperialism sponsored funded and nurtured Islamic fundamentalism through the CIA to crush the left and the workers’ movement that challenged capitalism and imperialist interests. Some religious sects are still being sponsored by western imperialism. But the major patrons now are Iran and Saudi Arabia. Not only the state agencies but also rich individuals from these countries invest in these sectarian outfits for their own vested interests. US imperialism launched the dollar jihad through these fundamentalists in Afghanistan against the left-wing government of the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan in the late 1970’s. These terrorists were trained and funded by the CIA through the Pakistani and Saudi intelligence agencies. The brutal dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq was supported by US imperialism. This despotic regime not only instigated the reactionary insurgency in Afghanistan but also used brute force in the name of religion to impose its tyrannical rule. The Islamisation Zia enforced in the state and society affected large layers of the petit bourgeois. The bureaucratic caste in the state, especially in the middle layers, was indoctrinated with this venomous reaction. This mindset still prevails in sections of the judiciary, police, administration and the army. The decisions of the judiciary, actions of the police and the handling of such cases by the administration are biased and show clear religious prejudices against the religious minorities and different sects of Islam. Although the Islamic parties have been politically weak with a limited social base, their hold on society is aided by their links to the different institutions of the state. These state agencies in exchange use these bigots to perpetuate violence and bloodshed both externally and domestically to further their own agendas. With the intensification of the crisis of the socio-economic system there is a rapid escalation of the bloody mayhem and chaos in society. The reactionary mullahs of the various Islamic sects spew out venomous hatred from their pulpits. The shrill of the loudspeakers from these mosques makes life an agony for the sick and those who need to concentrate on their studies. They whip up their support by inciting this hatred on a sectarian and religious basis. The religious minorities who are generally from the oppressed classes are easy targets for these bigots. In several instances small businessmen and property dealers use these mullahs to issue fatwas and accuse those whom they want to extort. This process is going on at all levels of society. With the intensification of the economic crisis and vast misery that is worsening with the passage of time there is a widespread frustration amongst the masses. The primitive layers of society become fodder for the Islamic fanaticism. They become part of the mobs that carry out these pogroms against the Christians and other oppressed religious minorities, while the liberal and secular intelligentsia and politicians call for tolerance and secularism in society that is suffering and in decay. In a country that was created in the name of religion to talk about a secular state and society is a contradiction in itself. But the real issue is that the Pakistani ruling class has failed to carry out the tasks of the bourgeois, or the national democratic, revolution including the task of separating religion from the state. Due to their historical belatedness and economic submission to imperialism they have failed to develop a modern industrialized society. As the crisis worsens, and there are growing challenges from the working classes to the reactionary elite and its state, this bourgeoisie and their state uses religion and Islamic fundamentalists to undermine the class struggle. These Islamic terrorists in return use this position to accumulate wealth and become part of the elite themselves. Like fascism, fundamentalist terror is the distilled essence of a rotting capitalism. It is a vicious cycle that has made the lives of the masses miserable and agonizing. The rising pogroms and Islamic obscurantism poses the stark and harrowing threat of barbarism, especially with a temporary lull in the class struggle and the inertia of the mass movement. It is not only a danger to the minorities but the existence of civilization itself. This menace of religious neo fascism is intrinsically linked and enmeshed with the prevalent system in its terminal decay. The so called secular liberals and the nationalist bourgeoisie are economically, socially, technologically and financially so much debilitated and rotten that they cannot fight or eradicate this black reaction. Without the revolutionary overthrow of the system this tumor breeds upon the society cannot be salvaged.

Kerry arrives in Afghanistan on unannounced visit

Associated Press
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has flown into Afghanistan on an unannounced visit to see President Hamid Karzai amid concerns the Afghan president may be jeopardizing progress in the war against extremism with anti-American rhetoric. Kerry arrived in the Afghan capital on Monday for a 24-hour visit and was to meet Karzai, civic leaders and others to discuss continued U.S. assistance to the country. His visit coincides with the handover of a major detention center to Afghan officials. It also comes as Karzai has infuriated U.S. officials by accusing Washington of colluding with Taliban insurgents to keep Afghanistan weak even as the Obama administration presses ahead with plans to hand off security responsibility to Afghan forces and end NATO's combat mission by the end of next year.