Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pakistan fighter pilot wins battle of sexes, now she's ready for war

With an olive green head scarf poking out from her helmet, Ayesha Farooq flashes a cheeky grin when asked if it is lonely being the only war-ready female fighter pilot in Pakistan. Farooq, hailing from Bahawalpur, is one of 19 women who have become pilots in the Pakistan Air Force over the last decade – there are five other female fighter pilots, but they have yet to take the final tests to qualify for combat. “I don’t feel any different. We do the same activities, the same precision bombing,” the soft-spoken 26-year-old said of her male colleagues at Mushaf base in Sargodha, where neatly piled missiles sit.
A growing number of women have joined Pakistan’s defence forces in recent years as attitudes towards women change. “Because of terrorism and our geographical location it’s very important that we stay on our toes,” said Farooq, referring to Taliban militancy and a sharp rise in sectarian violence. Deteriorating security in neighbouring Afghanistan, where US-led troops are preparing to leave by the end of next year, and an uneasy relationship with arch rival India to the east add to the mix.Farooq, whose slim frame offers a study in contrast with her burly male colleagues, was at loggerheads with her widowed and uneducated mother seven years ago when she said she wanted to join the air force. “In our society most girls don’t even think about doing such things as flying an aircraft,” she said. Family pressure against the traditionally male domain of the armed forces dissuaded other women from taking the next step to become combat ready, air force officials said. They fly slower aircraft instead, ferrying troops and equipment around the country. “Less of a taboo” Centuries-old rule in the tribal belt area along the border with Afghanistan, where rape, mutilation and the killing of women are ordered to mete out justice, underlines Pakistan’s failures in protecting women’s rights. But women are becoming more aware of those rights and signing up with the air force is about as empowering as it gets. “More and more ladies are joining now,” said Nasim Abbas, Wing Commander of Squadron 20, made up of 25 pilots, including Farooq, who fly Chinese-made F-7PG fighter jets. “It’s seen as less of a taboo. There’s been a shift in the nation’s, the society’s, way of thinking,” Abbas told Reuters on the base in Sargodha. There are now about 4,000 women in Pakistan’s armed forces, largely confined to desk jobs and medical work. But over the last decade, women have became sky marshals, defending Pakistan’s commercial liners against insurgent attacks, and a select few are serving in the elite anti-terrorist force. Like most female soldiers in the world, Pakistani women are still banned from ground combat. Pakistan now has 316 women in the air force compared to around 100 five years ago, Abbas said. “In Pakistan, it’s very important to defend our front lines because of terrorism and it’s very important for everyone to be part of it,” said avionics engineer Anam Hassan, 24, as she set out for work on an F-16 fighter aircraft, her thick black hair tucked under a baseball cap. “It just took a while for the air force to accept this.”

Girl raised in brothel wins scholarship

CNN's Mallika Kapur reports on young woman raised in a brothel who is going to college.

breaking news: ''''Turkish protesters reject Erdogan ultimatum to leave Istanbul park''''

Anti-government protesters in the Turkish city of Istanbul have rejected an ultimatum issued by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to evacuate a park next to the landmark Taksim Square.

TURKEY: Referendum cannot go against court decision, top judge says on Gezi Park

The head of the Council of State has said a referendum planned by the government to decide on the fate of Istanbul’s Gezi Park cannot go against a standing court order for the suspension of the project. “I do not take this as a referendum,” Hüseyin Karakullukçu told reporters today. “This is more like a vote to reveal the demands of the public. This cannot obviate the judiciary’s decision. The judiciary’s decision is essential in a state of law.” An Istanbul administrative court had ruled May 31 for the suspension of the Artillery Barracks (Topçu Kışlası) project planned to be built on the site of Gezi Park, which has been the focus of protests for more than two weeks. On June 12, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan raised the possibility of bringing the issue of the demolition of Gezi Park to a referendum at a meeting on the ongoing protests with an 11-member delegation. “The prime minister said that since we want to know what the people think, we can bring the option of a referendum to the concerned bodies,” the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) spokesperson Hüseyin Çelik said at a press conference following the meeting. “With a decision from the AKP’s Central Executive Committee, the necessary step could be undertaken,” he added.

US, Pakistan Face Challenges to Keep Relations Steady

U.S.-Pakistan relations have seen many ups-and-downs in recent years. With a new government in place in Pakistan, both countries will face challenges to keep relations steady. There are challenges, especially the use of drone strikes in Pakistan, which could become a major bone of contention. Pakistan’s new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said in his first speech to Parliament that he would end U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. Later, the new government summoned a top U.S. diplomat to protest a recent U.S. drone strike. This signals that stopping the drone strikes is going to be one of the top priorities of Nawaz Sharif’s government. How will this be viewed in Washington? Woodrow Wilson Center scholar Bill Milam was the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan in 1999 when Sharif’s government was toppled in a military coup. "I think that Prime Minister Sharif would be ill advised to make it a big issue when there are so many others on his plate, including the economy," he stated. "Including his relations with the military, and I could name a number of others." While the United States considers using drones an effective tactic to take out dangerous al-Qaida and Taliban operatives allegedly enjoying safe havens in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, Pakistan said these strikes are a violation of its sovereignty. Some analysts said Pakistan’s concerns are not misplaced but that it will have to work with the United States to solve this issue. "I think, if anything, to give Nawaz Sharif the benefit of the doubt, would be that he might come out very loudly opposing the strikes but at the same time having a conversation with the U.S. government about how to handle this," said Daniel Markey, of the Council on Foreign Relations. "It’s not a simple problem." He also thinks that the two countries should now focus more on ways to help Pakistan’s fragile economy. "The United States could in fact do better on the trade front with Pakistan. It could provide favorable access to Pakistani goods, particularly textiles, into U.S. markets. This is something that would really benefit Pakistan," noted Markey. In recent years, relations between Pakistan and the United States suffered from a serious trust defict. The operation to kill Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan without letting Pakistani authorities know highlighted this lack of trust. Ambassador Milam said both sides should work to rebuild that trust. "All we can do on both sides is to be open and honest and transparent as possible. We can work together, and that’s important because Pakistan is important to us in national security terms," Milam said. With 2014 looming, Washington will need Islamabad's help to safely exit Afghanistan, while Pakistan will need U.S. help to overcome economic and energy challenges. This kind of mutual cooperation will require some creative thinking in the two capitals so that future relations are better than their recent past relationship.

Educator’s jailing reveals Turkey at crossroads
If you want to understand why tens of thousands of young urban Turks have been demonstrating against their government, you need look no further than the tragic plight of Kemal Guruz. Guruz, one of Turkey’s most distinguished academic reformers and the onetime head of Turkey’s Higher Education Council (known as YOK), has been held without charges in a maximum-security prison for nearly a year. An indictment against him was finally issued a couple of weeks ago, but the details have not been made public nor revealed to him or his family. The case is supposedly related to a long-running investigation launched by the “moderate” Islamic government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan into events that led to the resignation of a more hard-line Islamist government in 1997.Guruz, an outspoken advocate of Turkey’s secular traditions, says he had no links whatsoever to the 1997 events — which Erdogan’s followers regard as a “soft” coup — and no credible evidence to the contrary has been presented. Rather, Turkish human-rights activists believe Guruz’s arrest is part of a systematic effort by Erdogan’s AKP party to intimidate academics, journalists, and others who oppose its efforts to Islamicize society. The dragnet arrests that ensnared Guruz reflect the same arrogance of power that was on display when the government responded brutally to peaceful environmental protests against the destruction of Istanbul’s Gezi Park. That arrogance transformed a small demonstration into nationwide protests by middle-class, (mostly) secular youth against government intimidation of those with different views. Erdogan has racked up solid domestic achievements — notably, economic growth that has expanded the middle class. But the crackdown in Gezi Park triggered an explosion of pent-up outrage over the AKP’s crony capitalism and coercive measures, such as banning alcohol in public places after 10 p.m. and intimidating the press. Turkish media have been so cowed that the leading TV channels failed to cover the massive demonstrations. When social media tried to pick up the slack, Erdogan denounced Twitter as “the worst menace to society,” and 34 cyberactivists were arrested. Reporters Without Borders has ranked Turkey 154th out of 179 countries on its press freedom index, just below Russia. Indeed, there is a strong whiff of Putinism in Erdogan’s disdain for civil society, and his hopes to change Turkey’s constitution to enable himself to become president and solidify power. The prime minister appears to think that, after winning 50 percent of the votes in 2011, he needn’t listen to anyone who didn’t choose him. But his backers included many liberals who will not vote for him again. So anyone (see: President Obama) who views Erdogan’s Turkey as the model that Arab states should follow should reconsider. Indeed, long before the Gezi Park protests, the AKP’s democracy deficit was laid bare by the arrests of Guruz and many others like him. Guruz believes the government’s real grievances against him revolve around steps he took as head of YOK that were legal, but anathema to Islamist officials: enforcing constitutional policy on banning girls in head scarves from university campuses, and helping design a new university admissions policy (without any military input) that was disliked by officials from Muslim schools. This stellar educator, highly respected in the West, faces a possible life sentence in solitary confinement. His trial may be held soon; a judge could dismiss the paper-thin case, but the government may not want to lose face. As thousands of young people continue to demonstrate against the government, the outcome of Guruz’s case will symbolize the direction this Turkish government intends to take. There are two options: On the one hand, Erdogan takes a hard line, dismissing the demonstrators as terrorists. He still says Gezi Park will be razed and a mosque built nearby. On the other hand, President Abdullah Gul, also an AKP leader, insists all Turkish views (secular or religious) should be freely expressed and considered by the government. If Gul’s outlook prevails, the demonstrations will likely cool and the politicized charges against Guruz should be dropped soon. If Guruz is convicted, it will signal to Turkey’s citizens and allies that its democracy faces very rough times.

A Potential Casualty of Turkey’s Crackdown: European Union Membership

After three years of stalled talks on Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, the planned relaunching of negotiations at the end of June was meant to herald a new beginning in their often fraught relationship. Now, influential ministers from Germany and France and European analysts are warning that the bloody crackdown in Taksim Square threatens to undermine frayed relations while reinforcing doubts that Turkey has the democratic credentials to join the club. The violent mayhem Tuesday night as rioters clashed with the police in Taksim Square marked an apex in the worst crisis to buffet Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey since he came to power 10 years ago. The clampdown on the protesters has undermined Turkish attempts to cultivate an international image as a predominantly Muslim country that cleaves to secular European ideals and can serve as a model for the region. The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, called the images from the square disturbing on Wednesday and said the Turkish government’s reaction to the crisis was sending the wrong signal at home and abroad. “We expect Prime Minister Erdogan to de-escalate the situation, in the spirit of European values, and to seek a constructive exchange and peaceful dialogue,” he said in a statement. The French E.U. affairs minister, Thierry Repentin, has been even more emphatic. He told the French Senate last Thursday that police repression in Turkey had gone too far and warned that the country’s behavior threatened to jeopardize plans to restart the accession talks, which both France and Germany — long skeptics about Turkey’s admission to the Union — have lately been supporting. “No democracy can be built on the repression of people who try to express themselves in the street,” Mr. Repentin said. “The right to protest, to oppose the government, must be respected.” In Paris on Wednesday, Turkey’s chief E.U. negotiator, Egemen Bagis, said there were “sincere” protesters in Taksim Square who had a democratic right to protest. But he insisted that terrorists and unspecified foreign forces were the real impetus behind the anti-government actions and that Turkey had a right to defend itself from violence and provocation. “Those who resort to violence will be dealt with like they are in all democratic societies,” he said, arguing that allowing the situation in Taksim Square to persist would be analogous to allowing Al Qaeda to post banners or posters on the Statue of Liberty or in Times Square in New York. The demonstrations began over a plan to replace the last green space in the center of the city, Gezi Park in Taksim Square, with a mall designed like an Ottoman-era barracks. But when the police intervened to clear the park, the move emboldened protesters to air more general grievances against what they see as Mr. Erdogan’s authoritarianism. Mr. Bagis said police behavior in dealing with the protesters was being investigated. He also stressed that the events in Taksim Square served as a reminder to Europe that opening its arms to Turkey — rather than blocking it — would help the country to ensure that E.U. norms, including individual human rights, were respected. “I think this should be seen as an opportunity,” he said. Asked to explain why Mr. Erdogan has been an ardent supporter of democracy movements in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, yet resorted to a tough stance with at least rhetorical echoes of dictators like the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, Mr. Bagis said that such analogies were baseless and any attempt to label Mr. Erdogan authoritarian was “slander.” The protests, he stressed, were not a Turkish Spring, and Mr. Erdogan, unlike Mr. Assad, is a popular leader who had been democratically elected three times. If elections were held today, he added, the prime minister would easily win 60 percent of the vote. “After the first night of demonstrations, people in the Western media said the Turkish Spring had started,” he said. “I highly condemn that approach. Comparing what is happening in Turkey to the Arab Spring is out of sight, out of logic. Turkey is a democracy. There is a campaign to tarnish a democratically elected government.” Analysts noted that a growing rift between Turkey and Europe would only accelerate a shift by Ankara toward the Middle East that gained force as the euro crisis made the European Union increasingly unattractive to many Turks and as the leadership sought new regional clout in the wake of the Arab Spring. Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, said the protests in Istanbul had laid bare the extent to which a distracted European Union had lost leverage to influence Mr. Erdogan’s behavior. “The E.U. has lost so much leverage in Turkey,” he said. “The only way forward is to use carrots — not sticks. “If the E.U. had been a more visible and engaged player, the Erdogan government’s actions would have been different.” Mr. Bagis, for his part, warned that those who sought to destabilize Turkey and undermine its economic progress would be disappointed. In due course, he said, Mr. Erdogan would expose those who had been plotting against Turkey. “I have bad news for them,” Mr. Bagis said. “They will not be able to stop us.”

Death toll rises to 5 in Turkey protests
A lawyer says a protester injured during clashes with Turkish riot police has died, raising the death toll to five from the two-week standoff between police and activists that has challenged Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government. The protests centered on Istanbul's Taksim Square looked set to continue Thursday despite a referendum offer over a contested development plan presented a day earlier by Erdogan's party. Family lawyer Sema Aksoy said 26-year-old Ether Sarisuluk — who had been on a life support for days — was pronounced dead Thursday. He was believed to have been hit in the head by a tear gas canister during protests in Ankara on June 1. A human rights group says thousands of people were treated for injuries in protests that began May 31.

Afghanistan: Trading a childhood to support the family

More than half of Afghanistan's population is under the age of 15. Many of the war-torn country's children are forced to work to support their families. Without proper education, they are trapped in a vicious circle. It's scorching hot in the carpenter's workshop. Dust and wood shavings fill the air whirled up by the powerful saw being used by 14-year-old Sattar. The young Afghan has covered his nose and mouth with a piece of cloth. Sweat runs down his forehead and his reddened eyes hint at the type of job he's been carrying out. Sattar has been working four years in a carpentry located in the Afghan capital Kabul. For some time, he struggled to work and to attend school at the same time, before finally dropping out after the sixth grade. "I must sustain my family," he says. "The situation back home is very grim. If we weren't so poor, I certainly wouldn't have dropped out." With a salary of about a 100 Afghani a day (1,81 US dollars) he has to support his family of ten. His father is old and no longer able to support the family.
Over a million child workers
Afghanistan's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs estimates that there are currently about 1.2 million children and adolescents under the age of 18 working in the country. However, the government has no precise statistical data, says ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Eftekhari. According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), around 17 percent of the nation's girls and 9 percent its boys between the ages of 5 and14 perform some sort of labor or service. Kathrin Wieland, managing director of the child rights organization "Save the children" in Germany, says that the figures also include children aged between four and six. The expert emphasizes nonetheless that the numbers are just estimates, since only about six percent of the children born in Afghanistan actually have a birth certificate. "Besides, most of the labor is performed secretly, particularly when it comes to girls," she explains, adding that the figures are thus "conservative." Most of the boys in Afghanistan work either as street vendors or garbage collectors. But they can also be found in the fields growing poppy or raising livestock. Girls are primarily employed as tapestry weavers or domestic workers. But many minors also toil in brick factories (main picture) where they are exposed to potential dangers such as burns and muscular disorders. According to experts, high lead levels of lead in the clay can cause blindness. "About half of Afghanistan's brick factory workers are under the age of 14," says Wieland. She adds that child-trafficking and prostitution are also rampant in this war-torn country, where extremist militants use the children as suicide bombers.
Poverty drives the vicious circle
War has been raging in the Central Asian nation for more than three decades now. The main driving factor behind child labor in Afghanistan is poverty. This is worsened, however, by the fact that many children are orphans or grow up without a father due to the ongoing conflict. According to Wieland, the widespread child labor will take a toll on the country's future. "Since children don't go to school, they are not able to break out of this vicious circle," she says, adding that many children keep on working until they are physically worn out. "This means they will probably never be able to get a proper job as adults and wind up as beggars." The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has been accusing the government of not doing everything it can to protect children. AIHRC's director for Central Afghanistan Shamsullah Ahmadzai told DW that Kabul had signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. He criticized, however, that the aid schemes only lasted for a maximum of one year - after that, the children simply go back to work. "The government is responsible for keeping the children safe. Unfortunately, it also needs to prioritize the fight against the rebels," said Ahmadzai, referring to the government's struggle against the Taliban.
Focusing on sustainability
The Afghan Labor Ministry told DW it has already worked out a strategy to tackle the issue. In the meantime, "Save the Children" has been setting up so-called bridge schools designed to offer children both education and warm meals after work. The program organizers claim to have supported more than 32,000 children already. Sattar, too, wants to take part in the scheme. "I would have a much better life if I were in a situation where I could learn more," he says. The 14-year-old calls on the Afghan government to implement the existing laws and offer children the opportunity to attend school. Experts believe that only long-term and sustainable measures can help reduce child labor - only then will children like Sattar have the chance to learn a proper trade.

Pakistan: Ahmadis face discrimination even in death

by Shahzad Raza
A signboard dangling outside the house of the gravedigger reads: “It’s prohibited to bury Mirzais here.” ‘Mirzai’ and ‘Qadiyani’ are derogatory terms used against the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan. While taking a photo of the sign, one is greeted with suspicious stares. For decades, Ahmadis have faced persecution at the hands of religious extremists and right wing forces. The state jumped into the fray in 1974, when the then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto introduced a constitutional amendment declaring them non-Muslim to ward off pressure from right-wing forces. Before the May 11 general elections, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) labeled Pakistan as a country where religious freedom has been extremely limited. The subjugation of Ahmadis started soon after Independence in 1947. Led by Jamaat-i-Islami, right-wing groups spearheaded anti-Ahmadi campaigns. The first such violent movement erupted in Punjab, in 1953, leading to the imposition of martial law in the province. Then, military dictator Ziaul Haq furthered the agenda by passing an ordinance making it unlawful for Ahmadis to identify themselves as Muslims. They were also barred from calling their worship places mosques. In 2010, in Lahore, 86 Ahmadi worshippers were brutally murdered by the Punjabi Taliban. Over the years, speaking out on ‘sensitive’ issues such as religious discrimination has become increasingly dangerous – highlighted by the murder of the then Punjab Governor, Salmaan Taseer. While the community faces violence and discrimination on a daily basis, few people remember that the sole Noble laureate from Pakistan, Dr Abdul Salam, belonged to the Ahmadiyya community.

U.S. Lawmakers Urge Vigilance Against Pakistan's Lashkar-e Taiba
U.S. lawmakers in the House Committee on Homeland Security have urged greater vigilance against the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e Taiba (LeT) and its potential to carry out attacks within the United States. Congressman Peter King (New York-Republican), head of the committee's counterterrorism and intelligence section, said at a June 12 hearing that LeT was "operationally active in this country," raising the threat of a strike. "LeT practices good communications security and is proficient at surveillance skills, making it a difficult target for our intelligence-collection efforts, which should be immediately increased on this target," King said. The group is blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed more than 100 people, including six Americans. It is thought to receive support from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency. "When our special operatives raided Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, they reportedly recovered correspondence between the late Al-Qaeda leader and the LeT leader Hafez Saeed," King added. "Certainly, working with other members on the intelligence committee, I believe that as much [as possible] should be done to declassify as many of the documents [as possible that were] recovered in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, which could well amplify the relationship [between Al-Qaeda and] LeT. That is an ongoing process. I think it should be done sooner rather than later." Committee member Representative Brian Higgins (New York-Democrat) added, "Given that there have been Americans that have cooperated with Lashkar-e Taiba [and] the group's connection with Al-Qaeda, I agree that a threat from that group [should] be examined and evaluated." Stephen Tankel, an LeT specialist at American University, testified that while there is no evidence the group has ever planned a U.S. attack, it could do so if the ISI's control weakens. "There's no evidence that [LeT] has ever attempted an attack against the U.S. homeland and the question is, what's stopping it? LeT's restraint, I would argue, has more to do with strategic calculation than ideological inclination," Tankel said. "Ideologically, it would be more than prepared to attack the U.S., but it does not want to risk its position in Pakistan and, as one of its members admitted to me, it remains tamed by the ISI."

Omission of Benazir’s name sparks protest

In an apparent bias and legal deviation, new Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, in his budget speech on Wednesday, deleted the name of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto from the title of an income support programme for millions of poor, provoking the first protest in the new National Assembly by the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). But the minister’s assurance that what he repeatedly described as the Income Support Programme – instead of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) launched by the previous PPP-led coalition government to give Rs1,000 monthly to a poor family – would be continued and expanded could not satisfy the protesters, who briefly interrupted his speech to insist that the programme be described by actual name, as given in an act of parliament. Shagufta Jumani, a PPP lawmaker from Sindh, was the first to interrupt the finance minister, saying “it is Benazir Income Support Programme” and she and Mir Munawar Ali Talpur, another party member from the same province – stood up in their seats to agitate their point while similar protest was heard also from several other PPP benches although party stalwarts like Khursheed Ahmed Shah, the new opposition leader, and former speaker Fehmida Mirza, sat quietly on their front benches. “It is the same programme,” retorted the finance minister in perhaps his only remark outside the nearly two hours’ prepared speech, which otherwise passed off smoothly, with repeated cheers by desk-thumping from the ruling PML-N. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appeared undisturbed by this contrast from unusual cordiality seen over the past few days between him and the PPP leadership during a smooth transition from one elected government to another, as he went through the budget speech at his desk, often marking some points with a ball-point pen, as the finance minister read it out. This was far cry from a noisy PML-N protest at the presentation of the PPP government’s last budget last year when the protesters virtually besieged then finance minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, with one of them, Tehmina Daultana, hurling glass bangles at him as an insult while another, Ahsan Iqbal, the new minister for planning and development, unsuccessfully tried to deliver a loaf to him to highlight the high cost of food. In another apparent dig at the PPP, the finance minister cited what he called a “historic decision” by the new prime minister in announcing the renaming of one part of the People’s Works Programme, or PWP-I – under which equal amount are sanctioned for all parliamentarians for public works schemes recommended by them – as Tameer-i-Watan Programme while abolishing its second part, PWP-II, which he said had no structure and depended on a prime minister’s discretion. Though there was no immediate protest at this, the move to rename the BISP, which can be done only by amending the existing act of parliament, is likely to produce some fireworks during the debate on the budget for fiscal 2013-14 beginning on Saturday. The PML-N won simple majority in the 342-seat National Assembly in the May 11 elections, and its allies can easily get an amendment bill passed by the lower house, but such a passage seems unlikely in the 104-seat Senate, where the PPP and its allies in the previous government had a two-thirds majority. Mr Dar claimed credit for designing what he called an “income support fund” as finance minister in the days of the PPP government before his party left the coalition, and, apparently referring to naming it Benazir Income Support Programme, said its “purity” was compromised and it was politicised. The PPP says the programme was given that name to honour the memory of Ms Bhutto, who was killed in a gun and suicide bomb attack on Dec 27, 2007, after she had addressed a campaign rally at Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh park. Mr Dar said the prime minister had decided that the “Income Support Programme would continue and would also be expanded” by raising its size to Rs75bn compared to Rs40bn spent last year (though the BISP website put its 2012-13 allocation at Rs70bn to help 5.5 million families) and the monthly grant to Rs1,200.

Punjab police brutality ‘state terrorism’

Senior Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Senator Raza Rabbani on Wednesday lodged a protest in the Senate over the police action against people protesting over power shortage in Faisalabad and termed it a “state terrorism.” “Yesterday saw the worst show of state terrorism when people were protesting over shortage of electricity in Faisalabad,” said Rabbani while speaking on a point of order soon after Finance Minister Ishaq Dar presented budgetary proposals for the fiscal year 2013-14 in the house for debate. The PPP senator regretted that the Punjab police had “brutally tortured” the protesters after “scaling walls of the houses”. He said the electronic media showed footage of police personnel using axes to break the doors to enter houses. He said a number of women and children were reportedly injured in the police action. Rabbani said staging protest demonstrations was a democratic right of people and there was no justification for such action against citizens who had been forced to take to the streets to protest against long hours of load-shedding. He urged the Leader of House Raja Zafarul Haq, who belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), to take up the matter with his party and the Punjab government.

Pakistan: Government employees to strike against no increment in salaries

The Express Tribune
With no increment in the wages of government employees, clerical staff has announced a strike starting tomorrow (Friday), reported Express News. Clerks will take to the roads starting tomorrow and have said that the strike will continue till their demands are met. Compared to the increment in commodity prices, the current salaries of government employees do not add up to an affordable level. It is the first time that the democratic government did not increase the salaries of government employees. The government informed them that the current economic situation of the country does not allow an increment in salaries, however government employees have projected that they are not in the situation to live comfortably within the given salary rate. Grade 1 to 16 officers did not see an increment in their heath or housing allowances either. The increase in pension is also not seen as a favourable decision as employees argued that the previous Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) led government increased salaries and allowances generously. In the first three years of their tenure, they increased salaries by 135% and by 50% in the last two years.

Pakistan: No female minister in KP as cabinet takes oath

Twelve ministers of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government took oath at the Governor’s House here on Thursday, whereas no female minister was sworn in. Governor Engineer Shaukatullah administered the oath to the new cabinet. The decision to appoint additional ministers in the provincial government was taken after a meeting, which concluded at midnight on Wednesday. Israrullah Gandapur has been assigned the portfolio of Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Shaukat Yousufzai has Health and Information. Yousuf Ayub has been allotted the portfolio of Communication and Works whereas Shahram Khan Taraki has been handed over Agriculture. Moreover, Inayatullah Khan has been assigned the portfolio of local governance, Bakht Baidar has been given Manpower and Industry, Ibrar Hussan Kamoli has been given Forest and Habibur Rehman has Zakat and USHR. The Public Health portfolio has been assigned to Shah Farman and Ali Amin Gandapur has Revenue. Atif Khan has elementary education and Mehmood Khan has been allotted Higher Education. Jamaat-i-Islami's (JI) Sirajul Haq and Qaumi Watan Party's (QWP) Sikandar Sherpao earlier took oath as senior ministers. Haq has been assigned the portfolio of Finance whereas Sherpao has Energy.

Pakistan: Load shedding protests

EDITORIAL : Daily Times
The first raging protests against the massive load shedding plaguing the country were seen in Faisalabad on Tuesday when residents, unable to hold in their anger any longer, ransacked a grid station and the offices of the Faisalabad Electric Supply Company (FESCO). They blocked roads and traffic for more than 10 hours and threw stones at the police deployed to keep the protests in check. However, the police did a lot more than keep the angry citizens in check. With brute force, the police beat back protesters and, when they ran away, the police scaled the walls, broke down doors and entered their homes forcefully, beating and dragging women and children outside brutally, arresting more than 10 people in the process. This is abuse in every sense of the word from breaking and entering to violent treatment of citizens. Faisalabad has remained a hotbed of protests against the debilitating power outages. This is because the city is home to the country’s textile industry, a part of our business sector that has been all but shutdown due to the power cuts. This has left many without jobs and, hence, with enough time to boil over with rage and frustration. Add to this the police brutality that was witnessed and it makes for an explosive combination. People are now angrier and the government has plenty to answer for. The Shahbaz Sharif government has been in power for less than a week and already protests have begun. This just goes to show that the people will not sit back now and listen to the usual rhetoric on the energy situation. The Sharif government has hardly had any time to chalk out any conclusive policies to curtail the power crisis but the people are impatient; they do not want to wait because they want immediate results. It is a well-known fact that the Punjab police is notorious for being a brutal force practicing unrestrained violence. The kind of barbarity that allows unlawful entry into people’s homes is not something Shahbaz Sharif brothers should overlook. He would do well to look at the swelling protests in Turkey that have made global headlines all because of the excessive use of force by the police against protestors. It would be better for the Punjab government to address the public’s woes and not increase them through brutal crowd control tactics by the police.

Pakistan:‘Budget not beneficial for masses’

Daily Times
The Federal Budget 2013-14 announced by the Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar with an outlay of Rs 3.5 trillion on the floor of the National Assembly on Wednesday does not appear to be beneficial for the masses. The budget has failed to present immediate solutions to burning problems faced by masses as majority of pledges and commitment made by the minister relates to prolonged solutions. Making upward revision in sales tax ratio would have a negative impact on all kitchen items and it would only add to the financial miseries of the helpless consumers of the country. Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) Adviser Communication Khurrum Saigal in his comments over the salient features of the new budget claimed that it has failed to offer fast-track solution to the burning issues specially ending the scourge of load shedding in the country, which has assumed critical dimension over the period of time. Major part of the speech of the finance minister is related to promises and pledges, which would start assuming solid shape after a long gap of two to three years and until then the general public of the country would have to remain patient.

No money in Pakistan budget for Iranian gas pipeline U.S. opposed
Pakistan’s newly elected government Wednesday unveiled its first budget, which gave the go-ahead for buying two new nuclear power plants from China but made no allocation for a long-proposed natural gas pipeline from Iran that had sparked complaints from the United States. In not budgeting for the Iranian pipeline, agreed to by his predecessor in February, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tactfully sidestepped a potential diplomatic clash with the United States, which had warned that the pipeline, if it were ever built, could lead to sanctions on Pakistan. The deal also was criticized as a trap for the new administration by Sharif’s brother and de facto deputy, Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab province. The $35.5 billion budget, which was presented to Parliament by the new minister for finance, Ishaq Dar, suggested that the new government would follow through on Sharif’s plan to resolve the country’s power shortages that Dar said had cut the country’s economic growth by 2 percent in the outgoing fiscal year, which ends June 30. Dar’s budget would switch Pakistan’s power generation plants from expensive imported fuel oil and gas to much cheaper coal sourced partly from undeveloped reserves in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province. The rest probably would come from huge mines in India, Pakistan’s traditional foe, with which it has fought two wars since both gained independence from Britain in 1947. The South Asian neighbors opened talks Tuesday about the planned import of Indian electricity via cross-border cables near the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. The budget also sets aside about $430 million for new nuclear power plants from China, a project that the United States and India have both objected to at meetings of the Nuclear Supplier Group, one of the international groups that attempts to prevent nuclear proliferation. But Pakistan insists that the plants are unconnected to the country’s nuclear weapons program and are regularly inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Pakistan possesses between 80 and 120 nuclear weapons, according to estimates by Western analysts. A Cabinet minister, speaking to McClatchy on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the project with a reporter, said the Iranian gas pipeline hadn’t been altogether dropped, largely because that would invoke a penalty payment to Iran. Instead, he said, Pakistan’s new government would procrastinate by trying to haggle lower prices from Tehran, based on the comparison with coal. Analysts also said Sharif could forgo the Iranian pipeline because of the prime minister’s good relations with Saudi Arabia. Sharif spent six years in exile in the Persian Gulf kingdom as part of a deal for his release from jail in Pakistan negotiated by the Saudi royal family, after he was overthrown in a military coup staged by Gen. Pervez Musharraf in October 1999. Pakistani news outlets have reported that Sharif’s administration has since last month quietly been holding talks with the Saudis for a steady supply of crude oil and refined products on a deferred-payment basis, a step that would considerably ease pressure on the country’s treasury, which registered a record 8.5 percent fiscal deficit in the waning fiscal year. Analysts said the new energy proposals are consistent with Sharif’s plan to stay focused on solving problems at home. They expect him to continue to adopt policies different from those favored by the Pakistani military, which has pursued an ambitious strategy of involvement in Afghanistan. "Sharif is a man who views matters in very simple terms," said Habib Akram, executive editor of Dunya, a popular cable news channel based in Lahore. "He is completely focused on fixing Pakistan’s internal problems, and believes developments in Afghanistan are somebody else’s indigenous problem that doesn’t concern Pakistan as long as the violence there doesn’t spill over its borders," Akram said. Read more here:

Barricades and chants in response Turkish PM’s 24-hour deadline

Turkish protesters remain defiant after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan declared that the disturbances must end within 24 hours. Overnight riot police used tear gas and water cannons to break up activists in Ankara as they built barricades. “I have given orders to the interior minister,” Erdogan said Wednesday. “This will be over in 24 hours.” He added that the protests were hurting Turkey’s image and economy. Meanwhile, Turkey’s Ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Huseyin Celik has said a referendum might be held to decide whether to build replicas of Ottoman-era barracks in Gezi Park or leave it as it is.
Erdogan’s deadline is unlikely to be observed by the protesters, reports RT’s Irina Galushko from Istanbul. Following PM’s statements, activists at Taksim Square were chanting and singing in defiance of his order to leave. The city was relatively quiet overnight, but the capital Ankara saw its fifth night of rioting in a row. There police again used tear gas and water cannons to break up some 2,500 protesters, as they were trying to erect barricades on a road leading to government offices.Earlier on Wednesday the Turkish Prime Minister spoke to a group of 11 people as part of the government’s attempt to listen to the demands of the demonstrators. The participants included artists, academics and students, as well as the Interior Minister, Environment and Urban Minister, Tourism and Culture Minister and the vice chair of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
As the PM spoke, another group of protesters prepared to assemble on Taksim Square, just a day after thousands of like-minded people were driven back in a night of violence, complete with tear gas and water cannon. The police had invaded the square twice on Tuesday. In the 12 days of anti-government anger, three protesters and one policeman have lost their lives, prompting Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation to open an investigation into excessive use of force by the police. The number of injured stands above 5,000. Elements within the protest camp appeared not to waiver in the face of Erdogan’s warnings, with the Taksim Solidarity Group – an umbrella unit representing the protestors – urging the crowds to return to the square at 7PM. The group reiterated its earlier demands, which included for the government to cancel plans for destroying Gezi Park, just meters away from Taksim Square; for police chiefs in cities with a particularly high rate of violence against protesters to be sacked; and for the release of those that have been detained over the 12 days. The group of 11 people who spoke to Teyyip Erdogan included celebrity activists too – among them a noted actress and a singer. But the Taksim Solidarity Group has said the celebrity connection was useless as long as police violence continued.The country’s President, Abdullah Gul, who has been known for being more lenient than the prime minister in the midst of the protesting, has tried to unite the bickering sides, urging them to open a dialog free of violence, and for the more extreme elements in the protest to stop their anti-social behavior. He told reporters: “I am hopeful that we will surmount this through democratic maturity… If they have objections, we need to hear them, enter into a dialog. It is our duty to lend them an ear… Those who employ violence are something different and we have to distinguish them.” The government’s actions during the protest have aroused criticism from European leaders – among them German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who spoke of the Taksim chaos seen in the pictures as “disturbing”. He said that “We expect Prime Minister Erdogan to de-escalate the situation, in the spirit of European values, and to seek a constructive exchange and peaceful dialogue.” High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union, Catherine Ashton, also opposed the way in which the situation was handled, encouraging an investigation into police action and criticizing the government’s social media blockade. Lady Ashton told reporters that “Democratically elected governments – even the most successful of them, which have enjoyed three election victories and have half the population’s support – still need to take account of the needs and expectations of those who don’t feel represented… And peaceful demonstrations are a legitimate way for such groups to express their views.”RT spoke to a blogger and protester who bore witness to the events of the last 12 days. Arzu Geybulla is very skeptical of any compromises or sudden changes expected over the next day, given the Turkish PM's prior promises of bringing the violence to an end. "If it [the government] doesn’t back down, I think it will all turn more violent than before. One of the compromises that came out of today’s meeting was that they’re going to hold a referendum over the future of Gezi park – which sounds very unrealistic and completely bizarre in the context of everything that’ been happening. The problem with the prime minster and his ruling party is that they don’t back down – they should’ve backed down the first few days and they could’ve resolved this conflict, and they haven’t. I’m really afraid that no compromises are going to be on the table anytime soon.” In light of this, Geybulla added that the outcome of events in the next 24 hours will depend solely on police action.

Is Istanbul safe for tourists?

Weather, airfare and upcoming local events are criteria that typically factor into travel decisions. This week, however, far greater concerns are on the minds of potential visitors to Istanbul. Ongoing local protests, government retaliation and related unrest in the city have many wondering if they should pull the plug on upcoming trips or make any new plans at all. What began as a small, peaceful protest against a planned shopping mall in the city's Gezi Park quickly turned into what some protesters now call a "war zone," with police using brute force to quell demonstrations. A worldwide audience has watched as police fired water cannons and tear gas at defiant protesters in Taksim Square.Tourism
crucial to Istanbul
According to the 2012 MasterCard Global Destinations Cities Index, Istanbul is among the fastest growing tourism markets in the world, receiving 11.6 million international visitors and earning $10.6 billion in travel revenue in 2012. The Turkish Statistics Institute reports the country's total tourism revenue for 2012 was $29.4 billion. According to an April report by TradeArabia, Turkey expects to receive 33 million international visitors in 2013. Hünkar Akipek, a young professional who has taken part in the protests, tells CNN that protestors are aware of the possibility that recent events will harm Istanbul's reputation abroad. "Sure we are worried," says Akipek. "I got so many emails, calls from my Turkish and non-Turkish friends abroad. "I am careful to answer their question of 'What is going on there?' to not make any harm to Istanbul's reputation. This is where we live and where we want to go on living and raise our children. We do not want to damage our home." "Istanbul, a city that has always been known as Turkey's cultural heart, is turning into a war zone," says Royce Yakuppur, a local who has been to Gezi Park several times in recent days. "Although the feeling of solidarity (among locals) should be applauded as a virtue, it is not enough to overcome the fears of tourists." Unsurprisingly, local travel agencies report that some travelers have recently canceled trips to Istanbul or are having second thoughts about coming in the next few weeks. Yet "many" are still going ahead with their plans. No statistics on cancellations are available.Traveler's tales from a week of unrest By and large, for visitors and locals alike, Istanbul feels safe.
Travelers across the city tell CNN that while they've had to modify some plans, they've felt neither threatened nor endangered. Colombian tourist Juanita Pardo arrived in Istanbul on June 10. She says she didn't change her travel plans after learning of the protests, despite being warned by family members to avoid the area around Taksim Square. "There was a lot of traffic, a lot of police, and (some) roads were closed so we chose to walk and couldn't go everywhere we wanted to," she says of touring the city in the midst of the protests. "We had to cancel some plans, like having dinner at Mikla, which is located in Taksim, where we didn't want to go. "We couldn't see Istiklal Street, which we had heard a lot about." Kevin Patnode, a 23-year-old New Yorker who has been spent the past four summers in Istanbul as a coordinator for an English language program, arrived in Istanbul on June 4. "The protests made me want to come even more," Patnode tells CNN.
"Besides Taksim Square, the surrounding areas are untouched by the current situation," he says. "I even visited Gezi Park three times and never felt unsafe. Even though I speak no Turkish, I never felt out of place or that I was unsafe. "The only change that has occurred has been my social life. Istanbul is a party city and Turks know how to have a good time. "But after the protests, a lot of people find it inappropriate to be out and going to the bars and clubs surrounding Taksim. It is certainly not frowned upon for foreigners to go out and enjoy themselves, and I've been encouraged to go out and continue to enjoy Istanbul -- however I cannot expect my Turkish friends to come along and join me." Most of Istanbul's top attractions, such as the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace, are located in Sultanahmet, far from Taksim Square. Referred to as the "new Berlin" by some, Istanbul boasts a growing art scene, with contemporary galleries and museums, such as Salt Galata, Arter and the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art leading the field. Contemporary Turkish cuisine also draws tourists to Istanbul. The city's historic peninsula, funky cafes and bohemian neighborhoods feel as exciting -- and welcoming -- as always. "Istanbul is as appealing as ever," insists one local. "Much like a beautiful woman, but with smudged mascara."