Monday, April 29, 2013

Lawyers, public chant "hang him" as Bangladesh building owner led to court

Bangladeshi lawyers and protesters chanted "hang him, hang him" on Monday as the owner of a factory building that collapsed last week killing nearly 400 people was led into court dressed in a helmet and bullet-proof jacket, witnesses said. The drama came as rescue officials said they were unlikely to find more survivors in the rubble of the building that collapsed on Wednesday, burying hundreds of garment workers in the country's worst industrial accident. Heavy cranes were being used to lift huge concrete blocks from the wreckage of Rana Plaza, where 385 people are now confirmed to have been killed. The building housed factories making clothes for Western brands. Eight people have been arrested - four factory bosses, two engineers, building owner Mohammed Sohel Rana and his father, Abdul Khalek. Police are looking for a fifth factory boss, David Mayor, who they said was a Spanish citizen. Rana, a local leader of the ruling Awami League's youth front, was shown on television being brought to Dhaka in handcuffs after he was seized in the border town of Benapole by the elite Rapid Action Battalion following a four-day manhunt. Rana was arrested by police commandos on Sunday, apparently trying to flee to India. "Put the killer on the gallows, he is not worth of any mercy or lenient penalty," one onlooker outside the court shouted. The court ordered that Rana be held for 15 days "on remand" for interrogation. Khalek, who officials said was named in documents as a legal owner of the building, was arrested in Dhaka on Monday. Those being held face charges of faulty construction and causing unlawful death. Bangladesh does carry out the death penalty for murder and for most serious categories of manslaughter. Hundreds of the mostly female workers who are thought to have been inside the building when it caved in remain unaccounted for. A fire overnight further hampered the last desperate efforts to find survivors. "We are giving the highest priority to saving people, but there is little hope of finding anyone alive," army spokesman Shahinul Islam told reporters at the site. About 2,500 people have been rescued from the wrecked building in the commercial suburb of Savar, about 30 km (20 miles) from the capital, Dhaka. Late on Sunday, sparks from rescuers' cutting equipment started a fire in the debris as they raced to save a woman who may have been the last survivor in the rubble. Her body was recovered on Monday afternoon. "We could not save her, even though we heard her voice this morning," a tearful rescue worker told reporters at the scene. Officials said the eight-storey complex had been built on swampy ground without the correct permits, and more than 3,000 workers - most of them young women - entered the building on Wednesday morning despite warnings that it was structurally unsafe. A bank and shops in the same building closed after a jolt was felt and cracks were noticed on some pillars on Tuesday. The collapse was the third major industrial incident in five months in Bangladesh, the second-largest exporter of garments in the world behind China. In November, a fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory in a suburb of Dhaka killed 112 people. Such incidents have raised serious questions about worker safety and low wages in the poor South Asian country, which relies on garments for 80 percent of its exports. The industry employs about 3.6 million people, most of them women, some of whom earn as little as $38 a month. In a development that may raise questions about the authorities' handling of the rescue operation, a spokesman at the British High Commission on Monday confirmed that an offer of technical assistance from Britain had been declined. Anger over the disaster has sparked days of protests and clashes, and paramilitary troops were deployed in the industrial hub of Gazipur as garment workers took to the streets again on Monday, smashing cars and setting fire to an ambulance. The unrest forced authorities to shut down many factories, which had reopened on Monday after two days of closures. Police fired teargas to disperse protesters. The main opposition has called for a national strike on May 2 in protest over the incident. Emdadul Islam, chief engineer of the state-run Capital Development Authority, said last week that Rana had not received the proper construction consent for the building, and had illegally added three stories to the original five.

Sarabjit’s release sought on humanitarian grounds
India has sought the release of the alleged spy Sarabjit Singh, now in deep coma after being assaulted in a Lahore jail by co-inmates, on humanitarian grounds. It has also asked Pakistan to consider the option of transferring him to India for further treatment if it was medically feasible. Terming the current state of affairs a mismatch between Indian expectations and Pakistani delivery, Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid said the issue was too tragic and important for “us as a nation” and human beings for frivolous criticism, especially by the media and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Asked whether he would travel to Pakistan just as the Italian Minister did in the case of the nation’s marines, Mr. Khurshid, while ruling out this option considering the current relations between India and Pakistan, said the government did not need recommendations from the media. “We continue to do our best. Right now it is important that he gets the best possible medical attention. If his medical condition permits, we could fly him out and give him the best possible treatment. Mr. Khurshid is here to hold a review meeting of all bilateral issues with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. No plans to shift Anita Joshua writes from Islamabad: Hours before New Delhi formally appealed to Pakistan to transfer Sarabjit to India for treatment, Islamabad said there were no plans to shift him and that he was getting the “best possible care’’ in Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital. quoted an unnamed hospital source as stating that Sarabjit was “brain dead.” Members of his family — who reached Lahore on Sunday — have been allowed to meet him whenever they want. For the first time, some television channels showed grainy footage of what they claimed was Sarabjit on life-support in the hospital. Also, according to report, the brutal attack on Sarabjit inside Kot Lakhpat Jail was planned. He was attacked with bricks and iron rods that the inmates pulled out from under-construction sewerage lines. The clarification on the possibility of shifting Sarabjit came in the wake of television reports suggesting that he could be moved to a hospital overseas. Both the federal administration and the provincial government ruled out the possibility.

Why do U.S. senior officials visit China in succession?

On April 24, U.S. deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns began his two-day visit to China. Burns is the fourth U.S. senior official Chinese top leaders met in recent one month. Analyst said a series of visits by U.S. senior officials to China aim to find out the direction for the future development of Sino-U.S. relationships after the leadership transitions in the world's two largest economies amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Former U.S. senior officials also visit Beijing one after another
After the conclusion of China's "two sessions", the country's most important annual political convention, U.S. senior officials paid a series of visits to Beijing, during which, high-level officials of both sides held talks on important issues including economy, foreign diplomacy and military. On March 19, the new U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, also U.S. president special representative, visited China. Between April 13 and 14, John Kerry paid his first visit to Beijing as the new U.S. Secretary of State. During his visit, the two countries singed and issued the joint statement on climate change. On April 21, Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff embarked on his first visit to China after taking office. It is learned that U.S. National Security Advisor to the President Tom Donilon will visit China in May. China and the U.S. will hold the fifth round of strategic and economic dialogue in Washington D.C. in July. Besides the incumbent U.S. officials, former U.S. senior officials including former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Financial Minister Henry Paulson, also paid visit to China recently. They both met with Chinese leaders.
China, U.S. "test the waters"
On April 24, several experts interpreted U.S .officials' visits to China at the symposium on Asia-Pacific strategic change and a new type of Sino-U.S. ties. When interviewed by reporters of Beijing News, former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said during visits, China and the United States not only talked about Korean Peninsula, but also currency devaluation and H7N9 bird flu. Wan Fan, professor with the Institute of International Relations Studies under China Foreign Affairs University, thinks the primary task of the U.S. officials' visits is "pathfinding". With new leaderships at the helm in both countries, they need to better understand the policy of each other so that they can set the directions for the future. In addition, the two sides have common concerns about regional hot issues and global issues including the DPRK nuclear issue, the Diaoyu Islands related issue, the financial reform, the energy issue and the Mideast issue.

Karzai: US gives funds to national security team

Associated Press
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Monday that his national security team has been receiving payments from the U.S. government for the past 10 years. Karzai confirmed the payments when he was asked about a story published in The New York Times saying the CIA had given the Afghan National Security Council tens of millions of dollars in monthly payments delivered in suitcases, backpacks and plastic shopping bags. During a news conference in Helsinki, Finland, where he was on an official visit, Karzai said the welcome monthly payments were not a "big amount" but were a "small amount," although he did not disclose the sums. He said they were used to give assistance to the wounded and sick, to pay rent for housing and for other "operational" purposes. He said the aid has been "very useful, and we are grateful for it." The newspaper quotes Khalil Roman, who served as Mr. Karzai's deputy chief of staff from 2002 until 2005, as calling the vast CIA payments "ghost money" that "came in secret, and it left in secret." It also quotes unidentified American officials as saying that "the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington's exit strategy from Afghanistan." In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment on the report, referring questions to the CIA, which also declined comment. In 2010, Iran acknowledged that it had been sending funds to neighboring Afghanistan for years, but said the money was intended to aid reconstruction, not to buy influence in Karzai's office. The Afghan president confirmed he was receiving millions of dollars in cash from Iran and that Washington was giving him "bags of money," too, because his office lacked funds. At the time, President Barack Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, denied that the U.S. government was in "the big bags of cash business," but former U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley had said earlier that some of the American aid to Afghanistan was in cash. U.S. officials also asserted then that the money flowing from Tehran was proof that Iran was playing a double game in Afghanistan — wooing the government while helping Taliban insurgents fighting U.S. and NATO forces. Iran denied that.

Pakistan: 'Moderates being pushed away from ballot exercise'

Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP) in a joint press conference announced that they will participate in the upcoming general elections despite repeated terrorist attacks on their election campaigns. The three parties held a joint press conference in Karachi today (Monday) after a meeting on Sunday to chalk out a strategy to compete with an ongoing wave of poll-related terrorist attacks against them. PPP leader Taj Haider, ANP leader Bashir Jan and MQM leader Haider Abbas Rizvi represented their respective parties in the joint press conference. During the press conference PPP leader Taj Haider condemned terror attacks on political parties, adding that no investigations were being carried out against the terrorist groups carrying out these attacks. Haider further said that the terrorist organizations were militant wings belonging to right-wing parties and terrorist groups had confirmed that some political parties were their sponsors, adding that it was these parties that were continuing their election campaigns without any problems. Questioning why the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and caretaker government were not doing anything to control the situation, Haider also said that the caretaker Interior Minister had already said he supported the PML-N, adding that the ECP had cleared 55 terrorist for contesting the upcoming general elections. Meanwhile ANP leader Bashir Jan said that the Election Commission has failed to implement its own regulations. Jan further said that ANP will participate in the election and will not boycott them. MQM leader Haider Abbas Rizvi said secular parties were being targeted by terrorists, adding that it seems like terrorists have been given a free hand to target PPP, MQM and ANP. Rizvi also said that the establishment was supporting right wing parties, adding that they will not bow down before religious extremists. Rizvi added that PPP, MQM and ANP had sacrificed a lot and wanted to promote a moderate system in Pakistan. They said hurdles were being created for moderate and secular political forces with an aim to keep them away from the upcoming polls.

Punjab's Thief Minister Shabaz Scam : Auditor Gen of Pak reveals Rs30bn payments to 'few floor mills' in 1 yr. Shocking scam !

PPP, ANP and MQM say elections at all costs

Elections will be held on time, reiterated the representatives from the three main parties – the Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) on Monday, Express News reported. ANP leader Bashir Khan, PPP leader Taj Haider and MQM leader Haider Abbas Rizvi addressed a press conference to condemn the recent attacks on their party members and offices ahead of the general elections. “In the current situation all parties with liberal, secular and modern agenda are the target of extremists,” Rizvi said while emphasizing that Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are the most effected provinces in the recent wave of terrorism. “We will not surrender to these religious extremist and neither do we want to get in a fight,” Rizvi clarified. “But we want to tell the world that we have the right to defend ourselves and we will do so.” All three parties agreed that there is a clear difference between the political activities of the rightist parties and progressive parties. Interim government and ECP “We do not expect the interim government to finish terrorism from Pakistan, but it is their responsibility to conduct peaceful elections,” Rizvi explained while answering a question regarding the responsibility of caretaker set up. The ECP has failed to implement the rules it made,” Khan expressed reservations regarding the poll body. “It [ECP] banned wall chalking but some parties continue to do so and we see no action against them.” “Look at the scrutiny process,” the ANP leader exclaimed. “Parties which have links with banned organizations were allowed to contest elections without nay hindrances while some had to face a lot of music.” “We demand the interim government to conduct free and fair elections,” Khan further said. “Every party should have equal opportunities to get in touch with the people ahead of the elections.” “It seems that they [terrorists] have been given permission to attack whoever they please,” Rizvi expressed. “It’s apparent that neither the interim government and nor the ECP are taking any steps to curb the attacks.” “ECP, the interim government and terrorist are on one page to either postpone elections or get their choice of people in power,” Khan alleged and cemented Rizvi’s belief that the institutions have shown incompetency in the matter. Role of the west “It is apparent that there is a local and international conspiracy to divide the country with progressive parties on one side and religious extremist on the other. “Why aren’t they [west] condemning the recent attacks?” Haider questioned supporting Rizvi’s stance regarding the involvement of west in the recent attacks on political parties. “Decisions made in a hurry by international establishment lead to events like ‘nine-eleven’ and ‘seven-seven’ and we can now see them leaning towards the right,” Rizvi warned the external factors. “Media should decide on whose side are they? [our side or the rightist parties],” Haider concluded.

RMG sector in Bangladesh: Between a rock and a hard place

There is that old adage, don’t kill the golden goose. The garment sector in Bangladesh has been giving for many years now. Along with the remittances of overseas workers, the earnings by the RMG sector, Bangladesh has significant foreign exchange reserves of almost $14b. But it has come at a cost. Bangladeshi’s have received bad news on both fronts: Nov 2012: Tazreen Factory Fire kills 110, Jan 2013: Bahrain labour camp fire kills 10 Bangladeshis, Feb 2013: 19 Bangladeshi workers die in road crash in UAE, April 2013: 32 Bangladeshi workers injured in Greece demanding unpaid wages, and now the death of 300 people along with many more missing. Are these just hiccups along the way and we should not disturb the goose that gives, or are these to be taken as warning signs that the goose needs substantial makeover? One thing is for sure: impressive economic growth, averaging well over 6%, has been fuelled by the export oriented RMG sector and the remittances of expatriate workers. Consider the following observations by the Bangladesh Planning Commission: “The dynamism in manufacturing sector will benefit from greater outward orientation. Bangladesh has seen this from the highly positive experience of the Ready Made Garments (RMG) sector. . To increase the export potential as well as to diversify the export base, the Sixth Plan will seek to further reduce trade barriers within the context of the World Trade Organization (WTO) framework.” The same document goes on to comment: “Employment abroad and associated remittances have played a major development role in Bangladesh. This element of the employment strategy will be strengthened. In addition to the current strategy to export low skilled manpower, the effort would focus on the ability to export well trained skilled and semi-skilled manpower to existing as well as new destinations.” Bangladesh has made great strides: in many of the components measuring the Human Development Index, Bangladesh has pulled ahead of neighbouring SAARC countries, and many have forecast that with better governance and public policy, Bangladesh can move into the ranks of middle income countries by 2050. Poverty headcounts have fallen, from almost half the population to about a third of the population. But a third of the population means Bangladesh continues to be a country where a large number of people still live in poverty. The Planning Commission notes: “Notwithstanding this past progress, the Government recognizes that Bangladesh is still a low income country with substantial poverty, inequality and deprivation. An estimated 47 million people are living below the poverty line with a significant proportion living in households which are female headed, in remote areas, and consisting of socially excluded and other vulnerable people. Most of the labour force is engaged in informal low productivity and low income jobs.”What is clear in this planning document is what Bangladesh plans to rely on for continued economic growth. Despite gains, we still have a 47 million strong army of very poor people who will be willing to take all the risks that culminate in injury and death, both at home and abroad, to improve their lot. Our economic policies explicitly rely on continued availability of this work force to fuel our economic growth. Simply put, our current competitive advantage is not high productivity skills, but rather cheap labour, and our progress, at least in the immediate future, will depend on making this cheap labour available to the global economy: export goods made by cheap labour at home and export cheap manpower abroad. Prof. Anu Muhammad has written about value chain in the RMG sector, and according to him, “for every garment that is sold at $100 in the western market, the governments of those countries get $25, the foreign buyer makes $50 and, of the rest, a little more than $24 goes to the owners, raw material suppliers, etc, while the workers get less than one dollar.” That’s less than 1% of the total value added created. Yet that 1%, however meagre, has been of tremendous assistance to many poor households in Bangladesh. The RMG sector in Bangladesh got it started when manufacturers in countries like South Korea, hampered by export quotas and higher wages, shifted production to low wage countries like Bangladesh. And Bangladesh continues to benefit from rising labour cost in countries like China. In March 2012, McKinsey released a report stating that 86% of purchasing officers in Europe and North America expect to reduce sourcing from China, and 89% expect to increase sourcing from Bangladesh. According to the report, exports from Bangladesh are expected to double by 2015 and triple by 2020. As the sector grows, pressure will grow to increase labor wages. The RMG is a low margin business, and unless there are significant productivity improvements, Bangladesh will have to rely on cheap labour to remain competitive. So, the story of low wage is likely to continue going forward, and yet, for many of the millions of people living still in poverty, the RMG sector, even with its low wages, may be the only hope to improve their lives and livelihood. We are shocked when events like fire and building collapses kill and injure many. We point fingers, and ask why we cannot provide a safer work conditions, if not better wages. Compliance has been an ongoing problem in the RMG sector. Mckinsey reports that on corporate social responsibility (CSR), Bangladeshi exporters have a poor record. Of the 5000 or so manufacturing facilities in the country, 50-100 factories have achieved high degree of compliance. That is 1% of all manufacturing facilities. Compliance takes money, and in a low margin business, where cost competitiveness is the only leverage Bangladeshi manufacturers have, the impact of compliance on cost is a real issue. Despite repeated safety events and calls to alter course, very few seem interested in paying for the cost of safer working conditions.Some blame the government and the owners. Says Laia Blanch of War on Want, “It is dreadful that … governments continue to allow garment workers to die or suffer terrible, disabling injuries in unsafe factories making clothes for western nations’ shoppers. How many more lives must be lost or crushed before ministers and companies act to stop these scandalous human tragedies?” Others point the finger at buyers. Sam Maher Sam of Labour Behind the Label, is quoted in the Guardian: “It’s unbelievable that brands still refuse to sign a binding agreement with unions and labour groups to stop these unsafe working conditions from existing. Tragedy after tragedy shows that corporate-controlled monitoring has failed to protect workers’ lives.” The Workers Rights Commission has been campaigning for a binding legal contract between buyers and workers representatives in Bangladesh that would require Bangladeshi manufacturers to improve fire safety standards with buyers making a commitment not to buy from manufacturers who violate safety standards. The agreement would have gone into effect if five large buyers signed on. Only two did. The programme has not been implemented. Charles Kernaghen, director of International Global Labor and Human Rights is quoted in CNN stating: “These are the lowest wages in the world, and the factories with the worst health and safety conditions. Yet the big companies love the cheap wages, the long hours, because they are all about the costs.” The NY Times quotes one expert from University of California, Berkeley, that the prices paid by Western buyers “are so low that they are at the root of why these factories are cutting corners on fire safety and building safety.” Bloomberg reports that at a meeting in Dhaka in April 2011, attended by many of the largest US retailers, including Walmart, to discuss a memorandum that would require the retailers to pay for improvements, the buyers refused. Walmart representatives are quoted to have said that modifications needed to improve fire and safety standards are costly, and with 4500 such factories, the cost would be prohibitive for the buyers. So that’s the trap: the golden goose is caught between a rock and a hard place. Garment manufacturing in Bangladesh is a low value, high volume business. Low margins and the need to remain cost competitive keeps owners from making safety improvements. Prof. Ross of Clark University states that, “factory owners are in a bind. They are forced to be ruthless and brutal, and they are.” Successive governments have failed to bring about change in the manufacturer’s attitude, convinced by the argument that buyers could simply move business elsewhere if costs rise. In many ways, governments are complicit in pushing the problem aside. Following the Tazreen fire, the government’s investigators concluded that the fire was a result of sabotage, exactly the same conclusion reached by the BGMEA. Sabotage by whom and why we never heard about, but sabotage rules out negligence and absolves the owners of responsibility. Convenient! Publicly available estimates suggest that upgrading safety standards would cost about $3 billion. If spread over 5 years, the upgrades would cost about 10 cents per piece of garment exported out of Bangladesh. $600 million per year committed to prevent major disasters does not seem like a large number. But think about it, if it saves 300 lives, that’s a cost of $2 million per life of a worker whose skills have an economic value of maybe $1000 in wages per year. It is much cheaper to mourn and pay workers families $2000 each in compensation. Incentives are indeed very skewed. How much do we really care? Yes, when it happens en masse, we express our grief and shock, declare a day of mourning, keep our national flag half-mast, and observe a moment of silence. But in our country things like these are daily occurrences: two burned alive when vehicle set on fire during hartal, five killed by police shooting, three killed by having their arteries slit, seven killed by mob, two killed in crossfire, missing without trace, and the list goes on. Take each category and add up reported deaths in daily newspapers, and it won’t be long before the number 300 is reached. A number like 300 dead all at once shocks us and makes it a lot more difficult to digest than the stream of one’s and two’s that die needlessly every day. In the last 6 months we have seen 400 workers die in factory fire and building collapse. If that same figure is stretched over a year, that is about one death a day in an industry that employs over 3.5 million workers. Looked from the latter perspective and from the cost benefit angle, a hiccup and not an unmitigated disaster! A rather sad commentary on the very poor in our midst, who have lost lives and livelihood.

Bangladesh: How cheap is cheap? Collapse of a garment Factory

THAT many of the RMG producers have been cutting corners to manufacture ‘cheap’ and ‘competitive’ goods have been exposed from time to time in the last several years. It has shown through the several RMG factory disasters costing many lives. The latest man made disaster and death of nearly four hundred people in Savar, exposes the callous disregard for human lives on the part of some petty entrepreneurs strutted by party and political patronisation and motivated by unmitigated greed to make a quick buck. We note, and we hope the government as well as the RMG owners and their association the BGMEA do too, the fact that the consumers are at last starting to acknowledge that in buying so called cheap stuff they are in fact becoming a party to deaths in garment factory disasters that are taking place in Bangladesh. We too feel that the retailers of our RMG products in the USA and Europe cannot shirk their part of responsibility in the deaths due primarily to lack of appropriate working conditions and lax safety arrangements. For example, a year and a half before the Tazreen factory fire, the Wal-Mart shareholders had rejected by 50-1 vote a proposal that required the suppliers to report annually on the safety measures of their factories on the grounds that it would ultimately lead to consumers paying higher cost for the product. And some of the buyers have held their retailers squarely responsible for the deaths in Savar. It is unfortunate that the Bangladeshi RMG manufacturers have convoluted the idea of ‘competitive’ and ‘cheap’. And while the producers have been trying to be so, it is the workers that have been bearing the brunt of this in terms of poor wages and through their lives. The retailers have taken the manufacturers for a ride while the manufactures have done the same to the workers. We would hope that the RMG factory owners would understand that producing competitive goods does not mean sacrificing the interest and the safety of the workers. It is time to stop cutting corners and to come out of the hold of a captive market and demand appropriate prices for our products.

Move Sarabjit Singh to India for treatment, family demands

The Times of India
Family members of death-row Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh on Sunday crossed over to Pakistan through Attari border and demanded that he be transferred to India for treatment, even as tweets by Pakistani journalists, which were later removed, sparked rumours that he had died. Late on Sunday night, Indian officials said Sarabjit's condition remained critical. Sarabjit was admitted to Jinnah Hospital with serious head injuries on Friday after he was hit with bricks and blunt objects by two fellow inmates in the Kot Lakhpat jail. Doctors said he continued to be in deep coma . Sarabjit has been kept in a separate ICU under tight security. His family was allowed a glimpse of him through the ICU window. Pakistan on Sunday night also granted Indian diplomats consular access to Sarabjit for the second time. Sarabjit's treatment a challenge: Pakistani doctor A Pakistani doctor attending on Sarabjit Singh said, "With the level of his deep unconsciousness, Sarabjit's treatment has turned out to be a major challenge to the medical board." Sarabjit suffered a critical bone fracture in the jail after which he was taken to the Jinnah Hospital's surgical emergency on Friday evening, the doctor said. After examination by neurosurgeons and physicians on Sunday, the medical board was of the view that there was no need of surgical intervention at this stage. Sarabjit's family members-wife Sukhpreet Kaur, sister Dalbir Kaur and daughters Poonam and Swapandeep Kaur-had a glimpse of him in the ICU on Sunday afternoon. They were not allowed to enter , according to hospital officials. The family members were received in Lahore by Sarabjit's lawyer Awais Sheikh, where medical superintendent Sheikh Ijaz briefed them about his condition. Pakistan on Sunday night granted consular access to Indian diplomats to Sarabjit for the second time. Two Indian officials had been camping outside the hospital since Saturday morning for access. Pakistan officials said as per the protocol, consular access is allowed for convicts only once but as a goodwill gesture Pakistan has decided to allow access for the second time. The first access was given early Saturday morning. Pakistan gave gratis visa to family members of Sarabjit. India is seeking permission from Pakistan to allow members of the India-Pakistan Judicial Committee to see Sarabjit in the hospital. The panel, which is currently inspecting prisoners in Rawalpindi, has Justice (Rtd) A S Gill and M A Khan as Indian members. In a preliminary probe report submitted to the government, jail authorities said security lapse was the main cause of attack. Prison sources said one of the attackers told officials that he attacked because Sarabjit was a murderer of innocent Pakistanis. Dalbir told TOI , "Two months back, Sarabjit sent me a letter saying that he felt threatened from three persons, in jail," she said. Pakistani officials, however, claimed that Sarabjit had never complained to jail authorities about threats to his life. Earlier at the Attari border, Dalbir had told TOI, "We are carrying 'amrit' (holy water) from Golden Temple in Amritsar. This 'amrit' has powers which will rejuvenate my brother who is battling for life. Pray for Sarabjit so that he gains consciousness." Sukhpreet said, "My husband will be hale and hearty again. See how many people have come for us, their prayers are also with us."

UN-backed Afghan vaccination drive to reach 8 million children

During a United Nations-backed global campaign to vaccinate children this week, Afghan Government officials are aiming to administer anti-measles and anti-polio vaccines along with additional doses of Vitamin A to about eight million children below five across the country. Globally, the World Vaccination Week is marked between 24 and 30 April with the theme ‘Stop Measles Now’ this year. In Afghanistan, a national anti-polio vaccination campaign was launched on 21 April with thousands of health workers and volunteers fanning out across the country’s 34 provinces in the first three days to administer anti-polio drops to children below five, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), which supports government efforts to eradicate polio and measles. The anti-polio campaign is significantly important in Afghanistan because, as the WHO said, 160,000 to 180,000 Afghan children below five missed their routine vaccination, including for measles, in 2012. One of the priorities of WHO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Afghanistan is to eradicate polio – a challenge given that many Afghans see vaccination as a taboo, leaving the country as one of only three countries in the world, along with Pakistan and Nigeria, where polio is endemic. Afghan Minister for Public Health, Dr. Suraya Dalil, said last week that two new cases of polio have been reported in Afghanistan this year – one each in eastern Nangarhar and Kunar provinces. The number was 36 last year. Dr. Dalil said that during the three-day campaign – focused on anti-polio vaccination – aimed to vaccinate around eight million children under five, which constitute about 90 per cent of Afghan children of that age group. Besides anti-polio drops, the children are also given Vitamin A capsules, which are necessary for children’s normal health and growth. “Around 57,000 health workers and volunteers are taking part in the national drive throughout the country,” said Ms. Dalil, adding that the three-day anti-polio campaign would cost about US$3 million. According to WHO, the global Vaccination Week is focusing on measles elimination in Eastern Mediterranean Region because all the countries of the region have set 2015 as the target for measles elimination. The Week highlights the importance of protecting individuals from vaccine-preventable diseases and celebrates the achievements of immunization programmes in promoting health communities. In Afghanistan, the immunization coverage has ways to reach the goal of at least 80 per cent coverage in every district and 90 per cent nationally. “It is for more people and their communities to be protected from vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Dr. Ahmed F. Shadoul, the Representative of World Health Organization (WHO) in Afghanistan. “We all must work together to convince people that immunization saves lives of their lovely children, mobilize action to increase vaccination coverage and reinforce support for achieving national, regional and global immunization goals.” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his message on the World Malaria Day, urged the global health community, including political leaders in endemic countries, to maintain their commitment to provide universal access to malaria interventions and end needless suffering from this preventable and treatable disease. Since 2000, malaria mortality rates have fallen by more than 25 per cent globally. However, 50 of the 99 countries with ongoing transmission are now on track to meet the 2015 World Health Assembly target of reducing incidence rates by more than 75 per cent. Malaria still kills an estimated 660,000 people worldwide, mainly children under five years of age in sub-Saharan Africa. Every year, more than 200 million cases occur; most of these cases are never tested or registered. According to a WHO report published in 2011, Afghanistan is the third country in Eastern Mediterranean Region with endemic malaria. Despite 19 per cent decrease in the number of malaria cases as compared to the last year and 98 per cent decrease in the cases since 2002, still 391,365 cases of malaria were reported during last year.

Deadly Pakistan suicide bombing kills Afghan official

dr/msh (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)
A suicide bomber in the northwest Pakistan has killed several people, including an Afghan official, authorities have said. It is the latest in a string of deadly attacks ahead of next month's parliamentary elections. The attacker was riding a motorcycle Monday when he detonated his explosives near a passing police van in the city of Peshawar, police chief Liaqat Ali Khan told the Associated Press news agency. At least eight people were killed in the blast and 45 others were wounded. Many of the casualties were from a nearby bus, which bore the brunt of the explosion. Among the dead were two Afghan consulate staffers, who were killed when their vehicle was hit by the bast, consular official Alia Mododi said. One of the victims was identified as Hilal Ahmad Waqad, son of Aghanistan's High Peace Council member Qazi Amin Waqad. He was working with the Afghan trade commissioner's office in Peshawar. No group has claimed responsibility for the incident, but a wave of bombings in recent days have been carried out by the Pakistani Taliban. The militant group has been ramping up its violence ahead of the May 11 elections. Pakistani Taliban attacks on a political rally and two campaign offices in the north of the country Sunday left 11 people dead. Attacks on politicians and party workers by the group have killed around 60 people since the beginning of April. The Pakistani Taliban has said it would target liberal and secular parties in the country, saying the upcoming elections are being held under a "secular democratic system … in a country which came into being under the banner of Islamic doctrine." These threats and attacks have made it difficult for the parties to campaign, which could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election if some mainstream parties can't properly participate.

Loss of U.S. air power a worry in Afghanistan
The Pentagon is accelerating the deployment of mortars and artillery to Afghanistan's fledgling army in an effort to help compensate for the loss of American air power, which has proved devastating against the Taliban over the years. The loss of American firepower after 2014 will be a key challenge for the Afghan force and highlights stark choices the White House is confronting as it shapes a follow-on force. Afghan commanders are worried about its impact on operations. "They certainly haven't missed the fact that the finest air force on the planet is going home," said Marine Gen. John Allen, who stepped down as top coalition commander in February and has retired. But Allen said mortars, artillery and helicopter gunships will give Afghan forces quick access to their own firepower. The Pentagon has said it will leave advisers and a counterterrorism force in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends. Air power would be available for remaining U.S. counterterrorism forces. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been critical of air attacks, accusing the coalition of mistakenly killing civilians. The White House has also been pushing to limit the size of the post-2014 force in Afghanistan, which restricts the amount of support Americans can supply, analysts say. "There is enormous political pressure to get the numbers down," said Fred Kagan, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute who has advised top commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq. Kagan said Karzai's criticism might also have played a role in the American decision. The Pentagon has said the decision is based on a strategy to transition security responsibility to Afghan forces as American and coalition forces withdraw. Afghanistan's own air force is not expected to be fully operational until 2016 at the earliest, the Pentagon said. Even when it is, it won't have near the capabilities of the U.S. military, which leads the world in delivering powerful munitions accurately. The Afghans' main close air support plane, a turboprop Super Tucano, won't be fielded until mid-2014, Air Force Maj. Gen. H.D. Polumbo, the top coalition air commander, told reporters recently. In the meantime, Allen said the coalition is taking a number of steps that will give Afghanistan's military a firepower advantage over the Taliban, including providing the additional mortars and arming their Mi-17 helicopters with rockets and gatling guns. The additional firepower, which will be integrated into small units, will give Afghan troops the ability to respond quickly. "The issue is having the right kind of combined arms capability," Allen said, referring to the tactics of coordinating firepower with the movement of troops on the ground. Air power helped collapse the Taliban regime after the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in response to the September 2001 attacks. Since then, American airstrikes have helped give Afghan and coalition forces a critical advantage over the Taliban. Taliban militants are unable to mass forces without risking a devastating attack, forcing militants to fight in small groups and resort to roadside bombs and terrorist strikes on civilian targets. "U.S firepower is very intimidating to the Taliban," said David Barno, a retired three-star general who commanded coalition forces in Afghanistan and is now a senior adviser at the Center for a New American Security. "Throughout this campaign, coalition air power has provided a critical asymmetric advantage," Polumbo said. Some analysts worry the removal of air power will take a key advantage away from Afghan forces. "It's incredibly important that Afghan security forces have access to this capability and that the Taliban know they have access to this capability," Kagan said. "The Afghan security forces are happy to fight," he added. "They want to know they are going to win the fight at the end of the day. The nice thing about air support is it lets you end the discussion with the enemy." Allen said by integrating mortars and artillery into Afghanistan's army, the coalition is providing a capability more in keeping with the Afghans style of fighting. Afghan soldiers are particularly adept at mortars, a simple weapon system employed inside infantry units. Small mortars, such as the 60mm, can be packed on mules or carried in pieces by soldiers. Already, as Afghan forces increasingly take the lead in operations, the coalition is backing off the frequency of air support. Because of the concern over civilian or friendly casualties, regulations do not allow an Afghan unit to call for airstrikes unless a coalition air control team is accompanying the unit. Increasingly, Afghan forces are going out on their own and so lack the ability to call for coalition airstrikes. Marine Maj. Gen. Charles "Mark" Gurganus, who recently returned to the United States after commanding coalition forces in southwest Afghanistan, said the coalition can currently provide the Afghans with air support if joint planning is conducted before an operation so a coalition team can be embedded with the Afghans. "The trouble is if they go out and get into trouble we don't know where they are," Gurganus said. "We don't fire any weapons systems because one of their commanders gets in a little bit of a fight and runs out and says, 'I need fire support right now.' "

Millions in CIA "ghost money" paid to Afghan president's office: New York Times

Tens of millions of U.S. dollars in cash were delivered by the CIA in suitcases, backpacks and plastic shopping bags to the office of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai for more than a decade, according to the New York Times, citing current and former advisers to the Afghan leader. The so-called "ghost money" was meant to buy influence for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) but instead fuelled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington's exit strategy from Afghanistan, the newspaper quoted U.S. officials as saying. "The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan", one American official said, "was the United States." The CIA declined to comment on the report and the U.S. State Department did not immediately comment. The New York Times did not publish any comment from Karzai or his office. "We called it ‘ghost money'," Khalil Roman, who served as Karzai's chief of staff from 2002 until 2005, told the New York Times. "It came in secret and it left in secret." For more than a decade the cash was dropped off every month or so at the Afghan president's office, the newspaper said. Handing out cash has been standard procedure for the CIA in Afghanistan since the start of the war. The cash payments to the president's office do not appear to be subject to oversight and restrictions placed on official American aid to the country or the CIA's formal assistance programs, like financing Afghan intelligence agencies, and do not appear to violate U.S. laws, said the New York Times. There was no evidence that Karzai personally received any of the money, Afghan officials told the newspaper. The cash was handled by his National Security Council, it added. U.S. and Afghan officials familiar with the payments were quoted as saying that the main goal in providing the cash was to maintain access to Karzai and his inner circle and to guarantee the CIA's influence at the presidential palace, which wields tremendous power in Afghanistan's highly centralized government. Much of the money went to warlords and politicians, many with ties to the drug trade and in some cases the Taliban, the New York Times said. U.S. and Afghan officials were quoted as saying the CIA supported the same patronage networks that U.S. diplomats and law enforcement agents struggled to dismantle, leaving the government in the grip of organized crime. In 2010, Karzai said his office received cash in bags from Iran, but that it was a transparent form of aid that helped cover expenses at the presidential palace. He said at the time that the United States made similar payments. The latest New York Times report said much of the Iranian cash, like the CIA money, went to pay warlords and politicians. For most of Karzai's 11-year reign, there has been little interest in anti-corruption in the army or police. The country's two most powerful institutions receive billions of dollars from donors annually but struggle just to recruit and maintain a force bled by high rates of desertion.

Suicide bomber kills eight in Pakistan: police

A suicide bomber killed at least eight people and wounded 45 others when he rammed his motorcycle into a bus in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar on Monday, police said. Violence has spiked in the nuclear-armed country ahead of national elections on May 11 with at least 56 people killed in attacks targeting politicians and political parties since April 11, according to an AFP tally. Monday's suicide bombing targeted a senior official in the city administration, Sahibzada Anees, who passed by shortly before the blast in the Jehangir Abad neighbourhood."At least eight people were killed and 45 others were wounded in the suicide bombing," police official Mohammad Faisal told AFP. Hospital officials confirmed the updated death toll. "The commissioner, who passed just a minute before from the road, was the target of the bombing, but he escaped unhurt as the bomber missed the target and struck his motorcycle into a passenger bus," Faisal said. Body parts of the suicide bomber were also found at the blast site, he added. Bomb disposal officials said the explosives weighed up to six kilograms (13 pounds)

Sarabjit Singh: '' A tragic incident ''

EDITORIAL : Daily Times
An Indian citizen convicted of being a spy, Sarabjit Singh, on death row in Pakistan for the last 22 years for conducting a series of bomb blasts in 1990 in Lahore and Multan killing 14 people, has been brutally injured by fellow inmates with bricks and iron pipes at Kot Lakhpat Jail on April 27. He has received multiple injuries on his head, stomach, jaws and other parts of the body. Doctors at Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital have stated Singh’s condition is critical and he has been put on a ventilator. Singh was attacked when he was strolling outside his cell along with other inmates after lunch. Singh’s family has arrived in Pakistan on a special visa issued by the Pakistan government. Led by his sister Dalbir Kaur, the family wants to be with Sarabjit in this critical time. Singh’s fate has been caught between India and Pakistan’s problematic relationship that hardly saw smooth and steady sailing all these years. His mercy petition remains pending. The incident has drawn protests throughout India, terming it a conspiracy to kill Sarabjit. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the attack as a “very sad incident”. The Indian Minister of State for Home Affairs R P N Singh has said that his country wants Islamabad to explain how such an incident took place. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has also condemned the attack as a “dastardly act”. High profile prisoners on death row such as Sarabjit Singh are kept isolated in special barracks in jails. Their security demands special vigilance and caution. Complete segregation is maintained to allow little chance for the prisoners to mingle. That Sarabjit Singh was not only attacked by other inmates with bricks and rods but the attackers enjoyed complete freedom to afflict serious injuries raises serious questions about the security provided to Sarabjit and the environment in which such prisoners are held. India and Pakistan both have a bad history of treatment of prisoners from across their border. There have been cases of prisoners dying in jails in both the countries, but the deaths made little impact because of the status of the prisoners, most of them being fishermen. Now the Sarabjit incident should focus minds in Pakistan (and India) on the need to improve the living and security conditions of inmates from each other’s countries. The attack on Sarabjit could have serious implications for Pakistan-India relations. Forces that oppose better bilateral relations have been disrupting the peace process through one means or another. For a consummate response to the incident, a thorough investigation into the attack should be carried out by the government, followed by punishment to the culprits. An FIR has been registered against the two offenders, and a petition has also been moved in the Supreme Court requesting an inquiry by the FIA and a medical check up of Sarabjit by a team of Pakistani and Indian doctors. Speculations are rife about the incident. The lawyer of Sarabjit Singh has revealed his client had been receiving death threats since the hanging of Afzal Guru in India in February. According to the jail authorities, a brawl between Sarabjit and other inmates erupted after the exchange of some hot words. The question however remains how could the attackers get hold of the blunt weapons they wielded? Whether complicity or an accident, the incident is a stark reminder of things that we have been ignoring since long now. One, human rights have been conspicuous by their absence in both the countries, leaving little room for prison inmates in particular to be considered worthy of attention and care. Two, security has been a consistent issue with Pakistani jails. The Bannu jailbreak is one example of a serious security lapse. Three, it is Pakistan’s responsibility to provide safety and protection to people inside its jails irrespective of their origins and finally, Pakistan and India’s relations have been deprived of continuity of dialogue that could frustrate elements bent on destroying peace between the two. Ultimately it is now Pakistan’s responsibility to gather the spilt beans and keep bilateral relations from deteriorating by getting to the bottom of the case.

Terrorist Taliban activist arrested outside Multan Press Club

According to details, two members of banned Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were busy in pasting group’s pamphlets in the Multan Press Club, carrying directives for the people to stay away from the upcoming elections. The Press Club management informed police who caught one alleged TTP activist while the other managed to escape from the scene. The arrested youth is identified as Usman Ghani and stated to be a student of Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan. Police have shifted him to some undisclosed location for further investigation.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari condemns terrorist attacks
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Patron-in-Chief, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has strongly condemned the series of terrorist attacks in various parts of the country, which killed and injured several innocent people. In a statement here on Sunday, he demanded of the government to take concrete steps to stem growing incidents of terrorism in the country just ahead of the general elections. The PPP Patron-in-Chief said that the PPP has no words strong enough to condemn the heinous crimes against innocent people. He said that the PPP is profoundly grieved and shocked over the killing of innocent people in the attacks. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari urged the people to reject the anti-democratic forces, who were trying to deprive the liberal and democratic forces of their constitutional and legal rights. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also prayed for eternal peace to those killed and speedy recovery to those injured.

PPP‚ MQM‚ ANP to announce joint strategy against terrorists’ target

Radio Pakistan
PPP‚ MQM and ANP will announce joint strategy today against the terrorists targeting their election candidates and offices. The leaders of the 3 parties will address a news conference in Karachi today on this count. Earlier‚ the 3 parties at a meeting in Karachi last night (Sunday‚ April 28) agreed on the strategy regarding the terror attacks. MQM leader Dr. Farooq Sattar‚ ANP leader Sahi Syed and PPP leader Qaim Ali Shah attended the meeting.

Blast in Peshawar kills 4, injures 30

A blast targeting a police van on University road near Azam Tower in Peshawar killed four and injured 30, while more injuries and casualties are feared, reported Express News on Monday. The road, where the police van was targeted, is one of the busiest roads in Peshawar. Nearby shops, cars were damaged and passengers were affected by the blast. The injured are being shifted to the Khyber Teaching hospital where an emergency has been declared. An emergency has been declared at two other hospitals in the city. Police officials say a motorbike was used in the blast.