Saturday, April 13, 2013

Protests held in Bahrain ahead of Formula One

Thousands of Bahrainis have demonstrated near the capital, Manama, urging democratic reforms, part of a series of protests planned by the political opposition ahead of next week's Formula One Grand Prix. Under the banner "Democracy is our right," the crowds marched in the Shia area of Aali south of the capital, waving Bahraini flags and chanting anti-monarchy slogans on Friday. Police stayed away from Friday's demonstration as protesters denounced king Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa and Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, his uncle. "You have no legitimacy," they chanted. Bahrain's mainly-Shia opposition bloc, Al-Wefaq, organised the protest as part of demonstrations due to take place from April 12-22 to coincide with the April 19-22 Grand Prix. Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the Al-Wefaq who was at the protest, said the action was intended to support "demands for democratic transition". "We do not want to hold up the race, but we are trying to benefit from the increased media presence," he said. Salman called on his supporters to attend a demonstration planned for April 19, as the event kicks off on the Sakhir circuit south of the capital. A second opposition group, the February 14 Movement, organised another protest on Thursday night in the village of Khamis that was broken up by police. Thursday night's demonstration came as a report by Human Rights Watch said that police have been rounding up pro-democracy activists in bid to head off protests.
'Your race is a crime'
"Your race is a crime," the protesters chanted, referring to motor racing bosses who have insisted on keeping the Bahrain Grand Prix on the Formula One calendar, witnesses said. "Down with Hamad," they shouted in reference to the king, who heads a Sunni minority regime in the Shia-majority island state. "The people want the fall of the regime," the demonstrators chanted, echoing the rallying cry of the Arab Spring revolts in 2011. Clashes erupted when anti-riot police intervened to disperse the crowd and demonstrators responded with Molotov cocktails, witnesses said. Bahrain, where the US Navy's Fifth Fleet is based, was rocked by month-long pro-democracy protests led by the kingdom's Shia majority in early 2011 that were crushed with the help of Saudi-led GCC troops. Human rights groups say a total of 80 people have been killed since February 2011. Last year's Formula One event went ahead against an ugly backdrop as police responded to protesters who were throwing petrol bombs by using tear gas, sound bombs and birdshot. Meanwhile, former world champion Damon Hill has called on International Motoring Federation (FIA) president Jean Todt to take an ethical stance on the controversial event. "I think Jean's approach is say nothing because otherwise you are being political," said Hill, who won the world title in 1996. "I think that is a mistake because actually he is being political because he's being used, or the sport is perceived as being used, by its engagement in the economy and the reputation of the country."

U.S. says agrees with China on peaceful North Korea solution

The United States said on Saturday that China had agreed to help rid North Korea of its nuclear capability by peaceful means, but Beijing made no specific commitment in public to pressure its long-time ally to change its ways. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met China's top leaders in a bid to persuade them to push reclusive North Korea, whose main diplomatic supporter is Beijing, to scale back its belligerence and, eventually, return to nuclear talks. Visiting Beijing for the first time as secretary of state, Kerry has made no secret of his desire to see China take a more active stance towards North Korea, which in recent weeks has threatened nuclear war against the United States and South Korea. Kerry and China's top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, said both countries supported the goal of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. "We are able, the United States and China, to underscore our joint commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner," Kerry told reporters, sitting next to Yang at a state guesthouse in western Beijing. But North Korea has repeatedly said it will not abandon nuclear weapons which it described on Friday as its "treasured" guarantor of security. Yang said China's stance on maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula was clear and consistent, repeating phrasing used by the Foreign Ministry since the crisis began. "We maintain that the issue should be handled and resolved peacefully through dialogue and consultation. To properly address the Korea nuclear issue serves the common interests of all parties. It is also the shared responsibility of all parties," he said, speaking through an interpreter. "China will work with other relevant parties, including the United States, to play a constructive role in promoting the six-party talks and balanced implementation of the goals set out in the September 19 joint statement of 2005." The United States and its allies believe the North violated the 2005 aid-for-denuclearization deal by conducting a nuclear test in 2006 and pursuing a uranium enrichment program that would give it a second path to a nuclear weapon in addition to its plutonium-based program. Six-party aid-for-disarmament talks, involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and host China, collapsed in 2008 when the North walked away from the deal. Kerry declined to comment on what specifically China may do to push for a peaceful solution on North Korea, saying only that they had discussed all possibilities. At a news conference in Seoul on Friday and in a U.S.-South Korean joint statement issued on Saturday, Kerry signaled the U.S. preference for diplomacy, but stressed North Korea must take "meaningful" steps on denuclearization. "We don't want to get into a threat for threat or ... some kind of confrontational language here. There's been enough of that," Kerry said in Beijing. If North Korea got rid of its nuclear capabilities, then the United States would have no reason to maintain recently deployed defensive capabilities - such as a missile defense system sent to Guam - he said. "Now, obviously, if the threat disappears, i.e. North Korea denuclearizes, the same imperative does not exist at that point in time for us to have to have that kind of robust, forward leaning posture of defense." The Pentagon has in recent weeks responded to the North Korean threats by announcing plans to position two Aegis guided-missile destroyers in the western Pacific and a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system to Guam.
As the North's main trading partner, financial backer and the closest thing it has to a diplomatic ally, China had a unique ability to use its leverage against the impoverished, isolated state, Kerry said in Seoul before leaving for Beijing. China, which sided with North Korea in the 1950-53 civil war against the U.S.-backed South, has always been reluctant to apply pressure on Pyongyang, fearing instability if the North were to implode and send floods of refugees into China. It has also looked askance at U.S. military drills in South Korea. China's Xinhua news agency said in a commentary that Washington had itself been "fanning the flames" on the Korean peninsula with its shows of force. "It keeps sending more fighters, bombers and missile-defense ships to the waters of East Asia and carrying out massive military drills with Asian allies in a dramatic display of preemptive power," it said. Chinese state television quoted Premier Li Keqiang as telling Kerry that rising tensions on the Korean peninsula were in nobody's interests, in apparent reference to both Washington and Pyongyang to dial down the war of words. "All sides must bear responsibility for maintaining regional peace and stability and be responsible for the consequences," the television report paraphrased Li as saying. "Disturbances and provocation on the peninsula and regionally will harm the interests of all sides, which is like lifting a rock only to drop it on one's feet." Still, U.S. officials believe China's rhetoric on North Korea has begun to shift, pointing to a recent speech by China's Xi in which - without referring explicitly to Pyongyang - he said no country "should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gain". Kerry's Asia trip, which includes a stop in Tokyo on Sunday before flying home on Monday, takes place after weeks of shrill North Korean threats of war since the imposition of new U.N. sanctions in response to its third nuclear test in February. North Korean television made no mention of Kerry's visit and devoted most of its reports to preparations for celebrations on Monday marking the birth date of state founder Kim Il-Sung. But Rodong Sinmun, the ruling Workers' Party's newspaper, issued a fresh denunciation of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, saying: "If the enemies dare provoke (North Korea) while going reckless, it will immediately blow them up with an annihilating strike with the use of powerful nuclear means." South Korea's Yonhap news agency, quoting a government source, said North Korea had not moved any of its mobile missile launchers for the past two days after media reports that as many as five missiles had been moved into place on the country's east coast. It said this suggested no launches were imminent.

The Ghosts of Afghanistan’s Past

By WILLIAM DALRYMPLE ON March 10, Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, shocked Western leaders by declaring that recent attacks proved that the Taliban “are at the service of America.” The implication was clear: terrorists were colluding with the United States to sow chaos before America’s planned withdrawal in 2014. American and European leaders, mindful of the blood and treasure they’ve expended to defend Mr. Karzai’s government, were baffled and offended. But to students of Afghan history, Mr. Karzai’s motivation for publicly spurning foreign powers was quite obvious. A Taliban news release on March 18, which received little notice in the Western press, declared: “Everyone knows how Karzai was brought to Kabul and how he was seated on the defenseless throne of Shah Shuja,” referring to the exiled Afghan ruler restored to the throne by the British in 1839. “So it is not astonishing that the American soldiers are making fun of him and slapping him on the face because it is the philosophy of invaders that they scorn their stooge at the end ... and in this way punish him for his slavery!” The Taliban inadvertently put their finger on a key factor in understanding Mr. Karzai’s psychology. After all, as an elder of the Popalzai tribe, Mr. Karzai is the direct tribal descendant of Shah Shuja ul-Mulk, Britain’s handpicked ruler during the first Western attempt at regime change in Afghanistan in the mid-19th century. And although few in the West are aware of it, as the United States prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, history is repeating itself. We may have forgotten the details of the colonial history that did so much to mold Afghans’ hatred of foreign rule, but the Afghans have not. Today, Shah Shuja is widely reviled in Afghanistan as a puppet of the West. The man who defeated the British in 1842, Wazir Akbar Khan, and his father, Dost Mohammed, are widely regarded as national heroes. Mr. Karzai has lived with that knowledge all his life, making him a difficult ally — always keen to stress the differences between himself and his backers, making him appear to be continually biting the hand that feeds him. In 2001, top Taliban officials asked their young fighters, “Do you want to be remembered as a son of Shah Shuja or as a son of Dost Mohammed?” As he rose to power, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar deliberately modeled himself on Dost Mohammed, and, as he did, removed the Holy Cloak of the Prophet Muhammad from its shrine in Kandahar and wrapped himself in it to declare jihad, a deliberate historical re-enactment, the resonance of which all Afghans immediately understood. The parallels between the current war and that of the 1840s are striking. The same tribal rivalries exist and the same battles are being fought in the same places under the guise of new flags, new ideologies and new political puppeteers. The same cities are being garrisoned by foreign troops speaking the same languages, and they are being attacked from the same hills and high passes. Not only was Shah Shuja from the same Popalzai sub-tribe as Mr. Karzai, his principal opponents were Ghilzais, who today make up the bulk of the Taliban’s foot soldiers. Mullah Omar is a Ghilzai, as was Mohammad Shah Khan, the resistance fighter who supervised the slaughter of the British Army in 1841. The same moral issues that are chewed over in editorial columns today were discussed in the correspondence of British officials during the First Afghan War. Should foreign troops try to “promote the interests of humanity” and champion social reform by banning traditions like the stoning of adulterous women? Should they try to reform blasphemy laws and introduce Western political ideas? Or should they just concentrate on ruling the country without rocking the boat? As the great British spymaster Sir Claude Wade warned on the eve of the 1839 invasion, “There is nothing more to be dreaded or guarded against, I think, than the overweening confidence with which we are too often accustomed to regard the excellence of our own institutions, and the anxiety that we display to introduce them in new and untried soils.” In this early critique of democracy promotion, he concluded, “Such interference will always lead to acrimonious disputes, if not to a violent reaction.” Just as Britain’s inability to cope with the Afghan uprising of 1841-2 stemmed from leadership failures and the breakdown of ties between the British envoy and Shah Shuja, the strained and uneasy relationship of NATO leaders with Mr. Karzai has been a crucial factor in America’s failures in the latest imbroglio. Afghanistan is so poor that the occupation can’t be financed through natural resource wealth or taxation. Today, America is spending more than a $100 billion a year in Afghanistan: it costs more to keep Marine battalions in two districts of Helmand than America is providing to the entire nation of Egypt in military and development assistance. And then, as now, the decision to withdraw troops has turned on factors with little relevance to Afghanistan, namely the state of the occupier’s troubled economy and the vagaries of politics back home. History never repeats itself exactly, and there are some important differences between what is taking place in Afghanistan today and what took place during the 1840s. There is no unifying figure at the center of the resistance, recognized by all Afghans as a symbol of legitimacy and justice: Mullah Omar is no Dost Mohammed or Wazir Akbar Khan, and the tribes have not united behind a single leader as they did in the 1840s. Moreover, the goals of the conservative, defensive tribal uprising that brought colonial rule to an end were very different from those of today’s Taliban, who wish to reimpose an imported Wahhabi ideology on Afghanistan’s diverse religious cultures. And most important, Mr. Karzai has tried to establish a broad-based, democratic government, which, for all its many flaws and prodigious corruption, is still much more representative and popular than the regime of Shah Shuja ever was. Mr. Karzai is keen to learn the lessons of his forebears’ failures. When my book came out in India in January, he got hold of a copy and read it. “Our so-called current allies behave to us just as the British did to Shah Shuja,” he told me. “They have squandered the opportunity given to them by the Afghan people.” Mr. Karzai believes that Shah Shuja didn’t stress his independence enough, and he made clear that in his own last year in office he is going to act in such a way that he will never be remembered as anyone’s puppet.
William Dalrymple is the author, most recently, of “Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42.”

American Think-tank Report Suggests a “Permanent U.N. Observation Mission” in Balochistan

The Baloch Hal
A report on Balochistan published and issued on Thursday by a leading American think-tank has recommended the formation of a permanent United Nations observation mission in Balochistan “to monitor the human rights situation” in the province. The report Balochistan: The State Versus the Nation has been written by Dr. Frederic Grare, Director and Senior Associate of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Dr. Grare, a French scholar, had previously written the widely quoted Pakistan: the Resurgence of Baluch nationalism.The report says the setting up of a permanent U.N. observation mission would create greater transparency, promote accountability, and build confidence should the security establishment decide to change its policies in the province. On their part, the Baloch nationalists, the report has suggested, “should participate in provincial elections in May. Only their participation in Balochistan’s administration can confer sufficient legitimacy on the provincial government. A legitimate and credible Baloch government can reestablish local control over the province, help reduce violence, and advocate for Balochistan on the federal level.” The report has asked the Pakistani security establishment should “show greater respect for human rights in Balochistan by disbanding death squads, stopping extrajudicial executions, and ending forced disappearances. Serious negotiations and political solutions are impossible as long as these violations persist.”

US May Unwittingly Fund Terrorism in Afghanistan: Report

The U.S. government may accidentally be funneling millions of dollars to the very terrorists and insurgents it's fighting in Afghanistan through sloppy contracting regulations, according to a new government report. The report, called "Contracting With the Enemy" and published Thursday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), examined the system designed to make sure that the U.S. reconstruction is not providing business for any individuals or groups associated with terrorist or insurgent organizations. SIGAR said that due to "several weaknesses" in the long and complicated process, "millions of contracting dollars could be diverted to forces seeking to harm U.S. military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan and derail the multi-billion dollar reconstruction effort."The report centered on what's known as Section 841, part of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that describes how the U.S. government is supposed to identify individuals or companies with suspected ties to insurgents, confirm that information, pass it along to the head of the contracting activity, then to the primary contractor and finally to the targeted subcontractors whose business deals would then be voided or restricted based on guidance from higher up. SIGAR said Section 841 was part of a "variety of efforts" undertaken by the government to keep American contracting money out of terrorists' hands in the wake of incidents like the $2.16 billion Host Nation Trucking contract. In that instance, SIGAR said, the U.S. government paid several companies to ship more than 70 percent of food and materiel to American troops in Afghanistan, only to realize that some of those funds were "widely believed to have been funneled to insurgents."Section 841 is still full of holes, SIGAR said, from the military not telling the head of contracting activity about potentially shady actors to the head of the contracting activity not telling their prime contractors. The SIGAR report also notes that Section 841 only applies to contracts worth more than $100,000, even though it said approximately 80 percent of contracts awarded in Afghanistan are worth less than that. SIGAR made seven recommendations to rectify the reporting loopholes, most to "improve visibility over active contracts" and one to ditch the $100,000 threshold on Section 841. The SIGAR report said the military in general agreed with those recommendations but plans to issue a formal response to the new report later.

Blast in Peshawar market kills eight

At least eight people were killed when an explosion ripped through a passenger coach in a busy marketplace on the outskirts of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. According to initial reports by the police, the blast hit a passenger coach parked in the crowded Matni Bazar area. Hospital officials confirmed that at least eight bodies have been brought to the Lady Reading Hospital. The nature of the blast could not be ascertained at the time of filing this report.

ECP directs withdrawal of Sharif brothers’ ‘extraordinary’ security

The Express Tribune
Election authorities have asked the interim Punjab government to withdraw the ‘extraordinary’ security provided to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz chief and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, and provide them instead with the level of security they were entitled to as former prime minister and chief minister respectively. According to sources in the Election Commission of Pakistan, a letter in this regard was being sent to the provincial government following complaints that the PML-N leadership enjoyed an unprecedented protocol and had around 760 security personnel from various law enforcement agencies deputed for their security. “Some political parties had objected to the official protocol and security being provided to them (the Sharif brothers). They are entitled to (a certain level of) security as former prime minister and chief minister, like many other leaders of this country,” an ECP official told The Express Tribune. Security agencies, in their intelligence reports, had cautioned that many key political leaders in the country may be targeted by terrorists in an attempt to sabotage the elections.

ATC summons Musharraf on April 23 in Benazir murder case

During Saturday’s proceedings of the Benazir Bhutto murder case, the Rawalpindi Anti Terrorism Court judge summoned all accused, including former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, for its upcoming hearing. The case was heard by ATC judge Chaudhry Habibur Rehman. Although, Musharraf has already been summoned in the case twice, he still failed to appear for today’s hearing after which the judge issued summons for him and the other accused. The hearing of the case was subsequently adjourned to April 23. The ATC had indicted Musharraf in the case in February 2011, and in August the same year he was declared a proclaimed offender and his property was attached because of his absence. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a gun-and-bomb attack outside Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh on December 27, 2007. She was killed after addressing an election campaign rally in the city.

Everyone fights for a chair

A two-member bench of Supreme Court of Pakistan has removed the Chairman of Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Ghulam Muhammad as his appointment is not found in accordance with the SECP Act 1997. A day earlier, SECP came out with a wishy-washy press release defending the Chairman instead of categorically naming the brokers as well as the media-house pressurising SECP to back off from investigating wrongdoings - which is the prime responsibility of the apex regulator. Both SECP and SBP are empowered by law with intrusive powers to insulate the savings of citizens against manipulation. Therefore, nobody and we mean nobody should be able to prevent a regulator from doing its job. If regulatory bodies who perform a quasi-judicial function succumb to this kind of pressure, then the next causality will be the courts. Societies can survive dictatorship but not injustice. Government has three main functions namely (i) Policymaking; (ii) Regulatory function to monitor the markets; and (iii) providing essential services which the private sector cannot. Since Pakistan has a dearth of capital, the government has also invested in capital intensive businesses and since 1971 has also taken over other business (where private sector can do a better job). Ministries being the repository of policymaking - present laws to the Parliament for implementation of these policies. Regulatory bodies make regulations under these laws and maintain an arms length relationship with both the government as well as with regulated stakeholders to create an even playing field. Regulators can only exercise this role effectively if they are provided with full financial and operational autonomy. PSE's are governed through their Board of Directors with ownership representation of line ministries. Rules to do so are framed by the Government under the laws promulgated by the Parliament. Pakistan needs to have a proper search committee to pre-select head and members of Regulatory Bodies, Chairman and Chief Executives as well as outside directors on PSE's Board of Directors. This committee needs to interview and short-list candidates to the Government. So far we seem to make appointments on fancy and whim of the president or prime minister or a minister. They may choose the best person for the job but this could be subjected to objections; increasingly highlighted in media as well as challenged in courts. Merely saying that this is done as per past practice. Prime Minister can appoint heads of Regulatory Bodies as well as Chairman and Chief Executives in PSE's is no more enough. Even civil servants need to go through a transparent process based upon their qualification and experience in a competing fashion to obtain better results. The Executive branch of the government does feel overwhelmed at the intrusive role being played by the courts. The courts can and do differ time to time as they interpret the constitution, laws, regulations and rules. The final word is of the Supreme Court. Accusing the highest court of some kind of discrimination may sound valid to some. However, there is very little option but to accept the verdict for sake of harmony in the society. Trichotomy of powers are provided in the constitution. What they are - only the Supreme Court can interpret. It does not matter if someone feels peeved or hurt. One just has to lump it and accept it gracefully and pray to Allah for mercy. If a proper laid down process is not usually followed - blaming the courts or an overactive media will no more suffice. We need to conceptualize the selection process with clarity from a panel otherwise the game of musical chairs which we are now witnessing would continue. We know some people feel that the courts are biased and are only doing all this to PPP appointees and the game of musical chairs would end if a PML (N)-led government is in place. We hope this is not true and courts will maintain their posture but with a sense of balance.

Peshawar: Blast near Budh Bair police station

A blast occurred near Budh Bair police station in Peshawar Saturday morning and several persons have been injured, FP News desk reported. According to police, a blast targeted the police station in Budh Bair area of Peshawar that has injured many people. Police and rescue teams are on their way to while further details are yet to be ascertained.