Wednesday, May 22, 2013

China, Pakistan to be good partners, brothers forever

China and Pakistan will always be good partners and brothers that are reliable and sincere to each other, visiting Premier Li Keqiang said Wednesday. The two neighboring countries "are all-weather friends," Li said during a meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari shortly after he landed here before noon. The bilateral friendship boasts a solid foundation and enjoys great prospects, said Li, noting that he fully felt the Pakistani people's deep friendship toward the Chinese people from the warm and grand welcome he received upon his arrival. Good-neighborliness between China and Pakistan is a blessing not only for the two countries but also for Asia and the world at large, and the bilateral friendship is worth cherishing and carrying on from generation to generation, he added. Li said the inclusion of Pakistan in his first overseas trip as premier is aimed at working with Pakistan to open a new chapter in their bilateral ties, chart a new course for practical cooperation and thus lift their traditional friendship to a new height. China, he added, is committed to advancing the bilateral strategic cooperative partnership, and willing to be reliable partners and sincere brothers with Pakistan forever. Noting that Zardari has paid nine visits to China during his presidency, Li said China highly appreciates his great contribution to the development of bilateral ties. Zardari, for his part, said the itinerary of Li's first foreign trip as premier testifies to the great importance the Chinese government and people as well as Li himself attach to the bilateral relationship. Maintaining the friendship with China is a consensus among all Pakistani political parties, he said, adding that his country is willing to work with China to further deepen their strategic cooperative partnership. Interim Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso and Nawaz Sharif, who is expected to become prime minister for the third time, attended the meeting. After the meeting, Zardari held a grand ceremony to confer on the Chinese premier the Nishan-e-Pakistan, the highest award given by the Pakistani government. The award, Li said, not only represents a personal honor, but also embodies the special friendly feelings the Pakistani people have toward the Chinese people. The Chinese premier also attended a grand welcoming luncheon hosted by Zardari, which gathered more than 400 people from Pakistan's government, parliament, political parties and armed forces. Li flew in from India. Six fighter jets of the Pakistani air force escorted Li's plane after it entered the country's airspace. Li's four-nation trip will also take him to Switzerland and Germany.

A Founder of the Revolution Is Barred From Office, Shocking Iranians

The decision on Tuesday to bar the presidential candidacy of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a founding father of the revolution and a former president, shocked Iranians, particularly among the 70 percent of the population that is under 35 and grew up when he served in many leading positions. “They say a revolution eats its children,” said Mehdi, 27, a teacher. “But in the case of Rafsanjani the revolution has eaten its father.” The exclusion of Mr. Rafsanjani and another thorn in the conservatives’ side, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, could foreshadow even greater repercussions, analysts and commentators said. Since its founding in 1979, the Islamic republic has been characterized by opposing power centers competing constantly and often publicly, a back-and-forth that gave ordinary citizens and private business owners the ability to navigate between the groups. Barring further surprises, the winner of the June election will now be drawn from a slate of conservative candidates in Iran’s ruling camp, a loose alliance of Shiite Muslim clerics and Revolutionary Guard commanders. That would put the last major state institution under their control — the first time since the 1979 revolution that all state institutions were under the firm control of one faction. Analysts have long speculated — and some conservative clerics have confirmed — that the ruling faction is determined to abolish the office of president, which has served as a locus of opposition under the populist incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and before him the reformist Mohammad Khatami, who pushed for more personal freedoms. While by no means certain, it is now a greater possibility. At the very least, the anti-climactic election campaign seems likely to further reinforce the alienation of the urban classes, which make up a large portion of the electorate and mostly gave up on politics after the suppression of the 2009 uprising following Mr. Ahmadinejad’s re-election, widely dismissed as fraudulent. A major boycott of the vote could further undercut the government’s already diminished legitimacy. The remaining candidates reflect the different shades of gray that now make up Iran’s establishment, a coalition of conservative clerics and Revolutionary Guard commanders known as the traditionalists. Of the eight who were selected — out of the 700 hopefuls who signed up — only one, Hassan Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator, has even slightly different stances from the traditionalists. Three of the qualified candidates have direct links to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a close adviser and a relative by marriage; Ali Akbar Velayati, his foreign policy adviser; and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili. A fourth, Tehran’s mayor, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, has long presented himself as a technocrat but last week boasted publicly of having beaten protesting students as a police commander. All of them say they are ready to fix the economy by using a “revolutionary mind-set” and to solve the nuclear dispute with the Western powers by convincing them that Iran’s position is just. If history is borne out, one of the candidates, possibly Mr. Rowhani, who is close to Mr. Rafsanjani, will try to tap into votes that would have gone to the two disqualified candidates. Indeed, Mr. Rowhani has already said that if elected he would start direct talks with the United States, a popular theme among dissatisfied urban voters. For many, though, the elections are shaping up as a shoo-in for someone close to Ayatollah Khamenei. “Why are they even bothering to organize these elections?” asked a retired army officer, who like others interviewed for this article spoke anonymously out of fear of reprisals. “It seems everything has already been decided.” It remains possible that one or both of the disqualified candidates will be reinstated. While they are not allowed to appeal, Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, the secretary of the Guardian Council, a panel loyal to Ayatollah Khamenei that made the decision, told state news media on Tuesday that Ayatollah Khamenei could reinstate them by decree. He did that in the 2005 elections with a reformist candidate, Mostafa Moin, who came in fifth. There was no immediate reaction from Mr. Rafsanjani. One of his daughters, Faezeh Hashemi, who was released from prison in March after spending six months there for ”anti-regime propaganda,” did not return calls seeking comment. Mr. Mashaei said he would fight the decision. “I consider my disqualification as unjust, and will follow it up through the supreme leader,” he told the Fars news agency. Just a week ago, a pro-Rafsanjani columnist, Sadegh Zibakalam, predicted that the thousands of government managers, university professors and others in the middle class who once supported the former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, would rapidly fall in line behind Mr. Rafsanjani. “The feeling of happiness, fervor and enthusiasm that Rafsanjani’s registration created will in the coming days gradually turn into a serious determination throughout the country to turn up at the ballot boxes on 14 June.” Instead, Mr. Rafsanjani’s disqualification appeared to mark the end of their aspiration to bring change through the ballot box rather than through street protests. For Mr. Rafsanjani himself, another shot at the presidency at the age of 78 seems not only physically, but politically, impossible. Tuesday’s disqualification also seemed like an official repudiation of his ideas of a liberal economy and more freedoms. The question remains of what President Ahmadinejad will do now that his protégé, Mr. Mashaei, has been sidelined. His legacy has been tainted by his close relationship with Mr. Mashaei, whom traditionalists call a “deviant” for what they view as his liberal ideas on Islam. Many in his faction have charges of corruption being drawn against them, and the Revolutionary Guards have already hinted that they are ready to do whatever it takes, including the arrest of associates of Mr. Ahmadinejad, if they feel the revolution is under threat.

India offers more aid for Afghanistan

India announces more training and reconstruction aid, as Afghan president seeks help ahead of withdrawal of NATO troops.
India has offered to provide more training and reconstruction aid for Afghanistan as most international troops prepare to withdraw next year. President Pranab Mukherjee told visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai that India was proud to help, a statement from Mukherjee's office said on Tuesday. "India is prepared to increase bilateral contribution to institution-building, training and equipment to the extent India can," Mukherjee said. The statement did not say whether it would include military aid. Aimal Faizi, Karzai’s spokesperson, earlier said that Afghanistan would ask for Indian help in the strengthening of its security forces ahead of the withdrawal of international forces. Karzai also held talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later on Tuesday. "I think we should respond positively to Afghan requests for assistance to build the Afghan security forces," former Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan, Vivek Katju, told Al Jazeera from New Delhi. "We already have a process of training the Afghan forces in India that can be stepped up, and if the Afghans require equipment to develop their capabilities... we should also have a positive response."
Strategic partnership
A 2011 strategic partnership agreement between the two countries includes Indian training of Afghan security forces. Small batches of Afghan soldiers are undergoing training at Indian military schools. India has invested more than $2bn in Afghan infrastructure, including highways and hospitals and rural electricity projects. It is also helping the Afghan government rebuild its police forces, judiciary and diplomatic services. New Delhi is hoping to gain some influence in the country after 2014, when Afghan forces are to become responsible for the entire country's security. As NATO troops prepare to withdraw, India fears the possibility of the country falling into the hands of a Taliban-led regime, endangering many of India's interests there. India, Afghanistan and Iran have been discussing how best to utilise the southeastern Iranian port of Chahbahar and develop road and rail links from there to Afghanistan. For India, the shortest and most economical route for sending supplies to Afghanistan would be by road through Pakistan. But Pakistan, India's bitter rival, has denied New Delhi road access to Kabul, making the route through Iran all the more significant. Karzai, who earned his college degree in India, has visited New Delhi more than a half dozen times in the past few years.

Chinese PM Li Keqiang arrives in Islamabad

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Pakistan Wednesday for a two-day visit, Geo News reported. President Asif Ali Zardari and Caretaker Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso were present to receive the Chinese PM. Li, on his first overseas tour as premier, will hold talks with President Asif Ali Zardari and caretaker prime minister before meeting Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif on Thursday. He will meet prime minister-elect Nawaz as the long-time allies look to boost trade ties. Trade between China and Pakistan hit a 12-month figure of $12 billion for the first time last year, according to Islamabad, up 18 percent on the previous year, and the two sides are committed to raising this to $15 billion in the next two to three years. Strict security measures have been adopted on the arrival of Chinese Premier. Security matters have been handed over the military, while mobile service suspended in the federal capital.

Pakistan: A rough deal for women

Holding separate meetings in Islamabad and Peshawar on Thursday, the National Commission on the Status of Women and some non-governmental rights groups expressed serious concern over the fact that mainstream religious and political parties colluded in various parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to disenfranchise female voters. In Lower and Upper Dir they signed formal agreements, in blatant violation of the ECP's rules, to keep women from exercising the right to vote. Pamphlets were also distributed in Lower Dir's PK-95 constituency, warning women of dire consequences if they tried to participate in the election. As a result, women voters' turnout in Upper Dir, Mardan, DI Khan, Nowshera, Battagram, Swabi and Malakand areas was dismally low, while in PK-95 no woman could get to any of the polling stations. It has been usual practice for mainstream parties, including the PPP and PML-N, to pursue a two-faced, opportunistic policy, supporting anti-women practices in these areas in the name of local traditions and doing the opposite in the rest of the country. Yet that has not dampened women's enthusiasm to participate in the democratic process as equal citizens. As many as 55 female candidate filed nomination papers for 20 National Assembly and 35 provincial assembly seats in KP - some 20 percent of them contesting on party tickets. Even in a conservative tribal region like Bajaur Agency, a woman entered the race for a general seat. The Election Commission was expected to make special efforts to facilitate female voters as well as candidates and polling staff. It did seem to instill confidence on that score when the Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G Ebrahim announced a while ago that the results will be cancelled in any constituency where the number of women's votes is less than ten percent of registered female voters. Sadly, the ECP has taken no notice of violations in at least eight KP constituencies. It must pay attention to the issue, and order fresh polling in areas where women were not allowed to vote. Pointing to another important aspect of the May 11 mega event, the European Union Election Observer Mission said that only 3.4 percent of the candidates for general seats were women. One important reason is the existence of reserved seats; and the other a wrong assumption that the people are not ready to elect them. It is worthwhile to note that of the six women (considerably smaller number than 16 in 2008 elections) who have won National Assembly seats on PPP and PML-N tickets and eight others who have made it to the Punjab Assembly and one each to Sindh and Balochistan assemblies, all have been elected from socially conservative rural or small town constituencies. What worked for them were the two important factors of family influence and party ticket. The two women who contested NA seats on PPP ticket and one as PTI candidate from Lahore got about the same response as their male party colleagues. PTI's Dr Yasmin Rashid, who challenged the PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif lost but not without giving him a good fight. She bagged 52, 321 votes against his 91,666. The point of it all is that the same electability standards apply to women as men. The voters tend not to discriminate on gender basis. Political parties, too, need to get rid of gender prejudice. They must try and promote genuine female representation both through greater voter participation and merit based distribution of party tickets.

Pakistan: ECP fails to do its duty

The results of whole exercise of May 11 parliamentary polls seems to be landing in a major swamp of uncertainty upon the reported overkill in the turnout, rigging and several other irregularities and no else than the Election Commission of Pakistan is responsible for the great mess it has created. Being the ECP chief, Chief Election Commissioner Fakharuddin G Ibrahim has to accept the responsibility. It is in this background that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf chairperson Imran Khan on Saturday pleaded that the CEC should have taken the nation into confidence on all the matters relating to the rigging of polls through the ballot box or manipulation or both. Khan was justified saying that the continued silence of Mr Ibrahim over allegations in the conduct of the election, amounted to a immoral, if not illegal, attitude and he must explain his position. Needless to say that all state institutions, including the country's armed forces, promptly responded to the ECP call for help before and on the polling day. Yet the people at the helm of affairs failed to deliver; they simply could not rise to the call of the people and political parties and, in fact a whole process of democratic transition. How harmful the failure of holding fair and transparent elections can be cannot be overemphasized; these are not only a medium for transition of one democratic government to another but also tends to undermine the mandate of the people given to different political organization. No doubt the elections have brought forth a lot of elected representatives relatively better than the past. More than 180 million people have pinned their hopes in the coming leadership which faces huge challenges ahead, more particularly the end to religious extremism and militancy and mitigating circumstances surfacing in the wake to unending energy crisis that has already taken a heavy toll of the national life. And above all, the successful democratic transition promises the strengthening of all state institutions that is vital for the future of the country. Evaluating the entire process on the touchstone of democratic practicability, it looks like the ECP has faltered to a degree as to be termed as a conspiracy or at least abetting in this terrible scheme of things. The caretaker administration cannot escape the responsibility either of making a muddle of the electoral exercise. If the two still withhold such an explanation, the people would be justified holding them responsible for the biggest electoral irregularity so far. This is why voices for the removal of the CEC are being raised.

US immigration bill passes Senate panel

A sweeping immigration bill that would offer a chance of citizenship to millions living in the US illegally has taken a stride forward in Congress. A Senate panel voted 13-5 to back the measure, after a plan to allow people to sponsor same-sex partners for permanent legal status was withdrawn. The full Senate will now debate the proposal next month. The bill is widely seen as the biggest overhaul of US immigration policy in more than a quarter of a century.
Republican support
But lawmakers' last attempt at immigration reform was more recent - a bipartisan bill failed in the Senate in 2007. After Tuesday evening's vote, immigration activists who had crowded into the Senate judiciary committee room cheered. In a statement, US President Barack Obama congratulated the panel. He said the bill was "largely consistent with the principles of common sense reform I have proposed and meets the challenge of fixing our broken immigration system". Mr Obama added he was "hopeful" the amendment process would "lead to further improvements". Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not block the measure from coming to the floor for a full debate, but did not say how he planned to vote. Three Republicans joined all 10 Democrats on the committee in voting for the bill. Approval came after committee members agreed to a Republican move to ease visa restrictions on hiring skilled workers from countries such as China and India. The Democratic chairman of the committee, Patrick Leahy, also withdrew an amendment that would have allowed people to sponsor same-sex partners, who are foreigners, for permanent legal status. "I don't want to be the senator who asks people to choose between the love of their life and the love of their country," Sen Leahy said. The bill's supporters had asked him to remove the proposal in order to save the legislation. "I believe in my heart of hearts that what you're doing is the right and just thing," Democrat Senator Richard Durbin said. "But I believe this is the wrong moment, that this is the wrong bill." At the centre of the legislation is a provision that would allow the estimated 11 million people living in the US illegally to obtain "registered provisional immigrant status", six months after the bill's enactment if certain conditions are met. That status is the beginning of a 13-year process that would one day allow immigrants to be eligible to apply for a green card. The bill also includes provisions to strengthen border security along the US-Mexican border, using additional agents and drones. The president of the powerful AFL-CIO union group, Rich Trumka, attacked the last-minute deal allowing an increase in the number visas for hi-tech specialists as "anti-worker". But he said organised labour would continue to support the larger bill. In the other chamber of Congress, the House of Representatives, immigration legislation is due to receive a hearing in the judiciary committee on Wednesday. The latest push for reform follows Mr Obama's announcement last June that the US would allow young undocumented workers who immigrated as children to apply for two-year, renewable visas. Republicans have increasingly embraced the idea of immigration reform after a large majority of Hispanic voters supporters Obama in last year's election.