Friday, June 14, 2013

Bill Clinton and Chris Christie reach across political lines to bond over disaster relief

Here was a political odd couple, gabbing about Big East basketball and flood insurance, a man who relished being president and a man who relishes all the buzz that he might be the next one. As they sank into plush armchairs on a Chicago stage Friday afternoon, former president Bill Clinton and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie taught a seminar on disaster preparation and recovery. Christie held forth as the savior of the Jersey Shore; Clinton as the past rescuer of Tornado Alley.
For Christie, a Republican running for reelection this year in a blue state, it was a golden opportunity to bask in praise heaped upon him by Clinton, one of the nation’s most popular Democrats. The positive publicity Christie received after last fall’s Hurricane Sandy, Clinton declared, was “entirely well deserved.” Left undiscussed was the circumstance the two men could confront in a few years, when Clinton’s wife, Hillary, may find herself running for president against Christie. But on Friday in Chicago, at least, 2016 seemed awfully far away as both men held “a conversation on leadership” at the close of the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting. In a hotel ballroom that became the nucleus of Clinton World — packed with political supporters of yesteryear, nonprofit directors, corporate chiefs, Democratic governors and mayors — the 42nd president affectionately introduced Christie. “Now we’re gonna have a little fun,” Clinton said, noting that the New Jersey Republican is “a man whose reputation I have virtually ruined more than once.” One of those times was at a Big East tournament basketball game. Clinton recalled being seated near Christie, and he started talking to him. He joked that pictures of them chatting would “wreck” Christie’s reputation in the national GOP. “He’s consorting with a leper!” Clinton quipped. But, he added, Christie “never blinked.” Clinton clearly was in charge — his last name was imprinted nine times on the stage — and he asked the questions. Clinton drilled down into the details of the recovery of New Jersey’s shoreline: How much has the state government worked with insurance companies? What advice does Christie have for mayors and governors of other coastal areas? For federal agencies? Clinton asked, “If you could make federal policy just by fiat . . . ” “How great would that be?” Christie interjected. And so it went. Clinton told Christie, “The enduring image most Americans have of you is standing there in your jacket grieving with your people, working with them and working with the president. And you got both praise and damnation for ignoring the political differences that you had then and still have with the president and all of us who are in the other party to do something which is really important.” Many of Christie’s responses sounded like a tourism pitch. “There is a real romantic attraction to the Jersey Shore,” he said, adding that he was at the shore over Memorial Day weekend to reopen the boardwalks. “I can’t tell ya how many people just came up to me, grabbing at me and saying, ‘Thank you for giving us the Shore back.’ ” When the talk got too Jersey for the audience of global thinkers, Clinton turned to the crowd and offered some perspective. You may live in Nebraska, Clinton said, but your river could flood or your house could get blown away by a tornado. Christie said, “Even if you have no interest in this subject, you’re paying to rebuild the Jersey Shore right now — in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota, you’re paying . . . ” He forgot one important state. “Arkansas, too, of course, Mr. President,” Christie added, to which Clinton quipped, “You’ve paid enough for us to grow crops for so many years for us to send some money back.” As they chit-chatted past their allotted time, a handler notified Clinton that Christie was due to leave for the airport. “Just ignore that, Mr. President,” Christie said. Clinton responded, “Neither one of us control the Chicago airport — yet.”

Heavy Pressure Led to Decision by Obama on Syrian Arms

For two years, President Obama has resisted being drawn deeper into the civil war in Syria. It was a miserable problem, he told aides, and not one he thought he could solve. At most, it could be managed. And besides, he wanted to be remembered for getting out of Middle East wars, not embarking on new ones. So when Mr. Obama agreed this week for the first time to send small arms and ammunition to Syrian rebel forces, he had to be almost dragged into the decision at a time when critics, some advisers and even Bill Clinton were pressing for more action. Coming so late into the conflict, Mr. Obama expressed no confidence it would change the outcome, but privately expressed hope it might buy time to bring about a negotiated settlement. His ambivalence about the decision seemed evident even in the way it was announced. Mr. Obama left it to a deputy national security adviser, Benjamin J. Rhodes, to declare Thursday evening that the president’s “red line” on chemical weapons had been crossed and that support to the opposition would be increased. At the time, Mr. Obama was addressing a gay pride event in the East Room. On Friday, as Mr. Rhodes was again dispatched to defend the move at a briefing, the president was hosting a Father’s Day luncheon in the State Dining Room. Few international problems have bedeviled Mr. Obama as much as Syria and few have so challenged his desire to reduce the American footprint in the world in order to focus energies instead on what he calls “nation building here at home.” As much as he wants to avoid getting entangled in what he regards as another quagmire, he finds himself confronted by a conflict that is spilling over into the region and testing American resolve. “It was a matter of time — the White House may not have wanted intervention but intervention itself was chasing the administration,” said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East-based analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “The White House underestimated the potency of this struggle and its profound implications for the region and its own interests, and then found itself lacking space, strategic clarity and momentum to do anything meaningful.” While an aide said Mr. Obama’s decision was made even before Mr. Clinton’s comments this week endorsing more robust intervention, the president ended up satisfying neither side in the Syrian debate. For those who have pressed the White House to do more, the belated agreement to send small arms after nearly 93,000 deaths seems too little, too late. For those who warn that Syria could become another Iraq or Libya, the latest move comes across as another step down a slippery slope toward a messy outcome. Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former director of policy planning in Mr. Obama’s State Department, said her onetime boss so clearly wanted to be a domestic president and yet could not remain at a distance from the Syria conflict because it could set the Middle East in flames. Already, she noted, it has helped destabilize Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey and flooded refugees into Jordan. “I really worry this is going to be remembered as the United States standing by and watching a Middle East war ignite,” said Ms. Slaughter, who will become president of the New America Foundation in Washington in September. “I fear the president thinks he can stand apart. He’s the one who always says with power comes responsibility. That’s his line.” But White House aides on Friday again ruled out sending United States troops and dismissed calls for a no-fly zone over Syria, calling it “dramatically more difficult and dangerous and costly” than it had been in Libya in 2011, as Mr. Rhodes put it. And there is little domestic constituency for another American adventure abroad. Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, said he was “baffled” by Mr. Obama’s decision to become more deeply involved. “What exactly is our objective?” he asked. “It’s not clear to me that every nondemocratic government in the world has to be removed by force.” The Syria war is a struggle for power, not democracy, he said. “Is that something we should be engaged in?” The president’s decision came just before he was to leave Sunday for a summit meeting in Europe, where Syria may be a dominant issue. The British government, which will host the annual Group of 8 gathering in Northern Ireland, offered support Friday for Mr. Obama’s decision, while the Russian government said it did not find the American intelligence on chemical weapons use persuasive. On the sidelines of the summit meeting, Mr. Obama is scheduled to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who has rebuffed American pressure to abandon President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. The Obama administration sees Russia as the key to forcing peace negotiations even as prospects for a Geneva conference fade. Mr. Obama came around to the idea of arming the rebels, at least modestly, only months after rejecting it. In part, that was because of confirmation by intelligence agencies that Mr. Assad’s forces had used sarin gas against his people. If Mr. Obama did not respond in some fashion, it would have been taken as a question of credibility since he had previously said such a development would change his calculus. But the move also reflects nervousness in the White House about the increased involvement of Iran and its proxy group, Hezbollah, in the fight on Mr. Assad’s behalf. With the Syrian opposition on the defensive, a victory by Mr. Assad would be a victory for Iran as well. By providing limited arms, Mr. Obama hopes to bolster the rebels enough to even the odds and give the Syrian leadership incentive to broker a resolution. “We believe that we can make a difference,” Mr. Rhodes said Friday. The aid will ensure that the rebels are “able to firm up their position” and become more cohesive. “We still believe that there is not a scenario we can foresee where Bashar al-Assad can remain in power in a country that so clearly rejects his rule.” Even as he outlined those goals, though, Mr. Rhodes made clear the limits of Mr. Obama’s willingness to achieve them. The president wants to avoid sending “heavier weapons systems,” Mr. Rhodes said, recognizing that they might fall into the hands of Al Nusra Front, an opposition group affiliated with Al Qaeda. Sending American troops is “off the table,” Mr. Rhodes added, citing the difficulties they faced stopping violence during the Iraq war. And as for a no-fly zone, he said “we don’t at this point believe that the U.S. has a national interest in pursuing a very intense, open-ended military engagement through a no-fly zone in Syria.” Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, has urged the administration for months to arm the opposition yet also opposes a no-fly zone. While he supported Mr. Obama’s latest decision, he said the president had not articulated a long-term strategy, but instead seemed to be responding in a “transactional, ad hoc” basis, buffeted by competing views around him. “As I watch from the outside, I do think that it’s just very difficult for them to come to a place and settle upon it,” Mr. Corker said. “There are a lot of different voices, there’s a lot of agonizing.”

Saudi Arabia arrests dozens in protest over prisoners

Saudi security forces arrested dozens of people this week during protests by families seeking freedom for relatives detained on security charges, activists and witnesses said. Families of security detainees have regularly staged small protests in Riyadh and some other cities over the past two years in defiance of a government ban on demonstrations. They accuse the government of holding their relatives without trial or failing to release them after they were found innocent or had completed their sentence. The authorities have repeatedly denied those charges and earlier this year set up a website where relatives of detainees can track the progress of their cases. They say those being held are suspected Islamist militants. Witnesses said police quickly surrounded around 100 mostly male protesters at a demonstration in the city of Buraidah in the central province of Qassim on Tuesday and made some arrests. Some of those detained were later released, the witnesses said. A day earlier, women and children had staged similar protests in several Saudi cities to demand the release of jailed relatives but were also dispersed by police. "Unlike others who are demanding a regime change, we were demonstrating peacefully for our rights," said one witness who identified himself as Ibrahim, contrasting the protest with Arab Spring demonstrations in other countries. "All we want is for our relatives to be freed or to be given a public and fair trial," he told Reuters. Ibrahim added that he had a brother being held without trial. A spokesman for police in Qassim Province could not be reached for comment. After a protest earlier this year the authorities denied allegations by demonstrators that police had beaten them or torn off women's veils. AL QAEDA Saudi security spokesman Major General Mansour Turki has previously said relatives of detainees are being manipulated by al Qaeda sympathizers trying to stir up trouble for the authorities. Activists on Tuesday posted on YouTube footage apparently taken using mobile telephones showing about 50 male protesters in Saudi national robes, most of them covering their faces with red headdresses, surrounded by baton-wielding security men. The crowd, who also included some veiled women in black garb, began by chanting "There is no god but God and the unjust is an enemy of God" before switching to "peaceful, peaceful" as the security forces surrounded them. The authenticity of the recording could not immediately be verified. Saudi Arabia says it has detained a total of 11,000 people on security grounds during the last decade but that only around 2,700 remain in custody. Saudi human rights activists have said they believe the real numbers are higher and that they include people detained only for demanding political change. The kingdom cracked down on Islamist militants after a series of al Qaeda attacks on government and Western targets from 2003 to 2005. The militants were crushed inside the kingdom but some fled to Yemen where they set up a new wing of al Qaeda that swore to bring down the Saudi ruling family. In April a leading conservative cleric, Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, wrote an open letter to the government calling for reforms and fair treatment of detainees.

Bahraini citizen 'disappears' in UAE prison system

The family of a 33-year-old Bahraini man who was arrested nearly two months ago in the United Arab Emirates have had no word as to his whereabouts, according to a human rights organisation. The Emirates Centre for Human Rights has said that Salah Yafai was arrested at Dubai airport on the 26 April 2013. According to the centre he was being held for his membership in a conservative religious society and for tweets in support of jailed political dissidents in the UAE. Mr Yafai made one call on his mobile phone to a Bahraini member of parliament at the time of his arrest. The MP, Mohammed al-Emadi described him as sounding "frightened and upset". Since then no-one, including his family has heard from him. The UAE government has not confirmed his arrest but a family friend who asked not to be identified told the BBC: "We want to know where he is, we are worried about his safety." Mr Yafai, a fitness trainer and educator is a member of the Bahrain al-Islah society, a conservative religious organisation with links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Last year 94 people, most of them members of the al-Islah society in the UAE were arrested and are on trial charged with plotting to overthrow the United Arab Emirates government. The detainees include two prominent human rights lawyers, as well as judges, teachers, and student leaders. If convicted, the activists, including 13 women, each face up to 15 years in jail, with no right of appeal. A verdict in their case is expected in early July. Legal entity Faisal Fulad of Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society called the arrest of Mr Yafai a "very serious human rights violation". Despite numerous requests for intervention, Mr Faisal said "the Bahrain government is doing nothing". Mr Faisal said that Bahraini state television and newspapers close to the government were making no mention of Mr Yafai's plight. Bahrain's human rights record has been severely criticised in the wake of the crushing of an anti-government protest in 2011. More than 50 people died, hundreds were injured and thousands jailed, almost all of them Shia Muslims, the majority population. The ruling al-Khalifa family is Sunni Muslim. Mr Yafai is a Sunni and the lack of response from the government to his seizure has angered many in the Sunni community in Bahrain. The friend told the BBC: "Sunnis stood with the government against the uprising but there is no gratitude for their support." Mr Fulad called for the Bahrain government to make a public statement about the case and ensure that Mr Yafai has access to a lawyer and to his family. "Al-Islah is a legal entity in Bahrain, Salah Yafai is a citizen of Bahrain, so the government of Bahrain cannot keep silent about this."

The US must show evidence of Syria's use of chemical weapons

BY:Shashank Joshi
In late April, one US intelligence official told the McClatchy news agency that they had "low or moderate confidence" that the Assad regime had used sarin gas on a small scale. Not only did the plethora of US intelligence agencies differ in their assessments, but the White House itself acknowledged that "the chain of custody [of samples] is not clear, so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions". Two months on, the US intelligence community now believes that the Assad regime "has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times over the last year", and that intelligence officials had "high confidence" in this finding. A Damascene conversion, if you will. Naturally, the cynical view is that the White House has simply pressured its intelligence community to produce a new assessment, not on the basis of new evidence, but in response to the shifting military balance within Syria, the greater involvement of Iran and Hezbollah in key battles such as that at Qusair, and pressure from European allies like France and Britain, which collected the original samples from Syria and shared them with the US. For over a year, the Obama administration has desperately sought to avoid the mistakes made by the US in Iraq a decade ago. Although it has facilitated the shipment of some weapons, it has otherwise proceeded with extreme caution. President Obama overruled nearly all of his top national security advisers last summer when he rejected a plan to meaningfully arm the opposition. If the US goal was a pretext for intervention, it had its pick of massacres and red lines over the past two years. It is unlikely that Obama would now take the risk of brazenly manipulating intelligence, or that he could do so without provoking a flurry of leaks from within the intelligence community. There is only one way to clear this up. That is for the White House to release as much evidence as it responsibly can, spell out its claims about where, when, and how chemical weapons were used, and, most importantly, explain what information it received between April and June which led to this change in its position. Intelligence agencies cannot function without protecting their sources. But they could release some samples to neutral scientific bodies for further testing, clarify how they have verified the previously uncertain chain of custody, go into detail on their reasons for concluding that the regime has full control of its chemical weapons, describe any intercept or other intelligence which demonstrates the regime ordering use of chemical weapons, and be open and honest about any remaining disagreements between different intelligence agencies within the US and between allies. Some people's conspiratorial mindset and misreading of American intentions in Syria means that even the strongest evidence would be disregarded. But this is not a reason to opt for opacity and elision. If western powers want to send arms to Syria to counteract Iranian influence as part of a wider strategic war, they should simply say so. Couching this policy shift in terms of chemical weapons could have pernicious long-term consequences. It is clear that the Iraq war did irreparable damage to public confidence in intelligence assessments and policymaking, to the point where it constrained future decision-makers and dealt an enduring moral blow to the global standing of western foreign policies. It is incumbent on this generation of policymakers that they demonstrate the transparency and honesty that was so lacking a decade ago. "Trust us" will no longer cut it.

UN chief opposes arming either side in Syria conflict

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says arming either side in Syria conflict would not be helpful. Ban made the remarks in response to the US decision to provide new weapons to militants fighting against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Moscow unconvinced by US evidence of Syrian chemical weapons use

Russia is not convinced by the evidence which the US provided alleging that the government of Syria’s President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against rebel forces. “The Americans tried to present us with information on the use of chemical weapons by the regime, but frankly we thought that it was not convincing,” said presidential aide Yury Ushakov on Friday. “We wouldn’t like to invoke references to the famous lab tube that [former US] Secretary of State [Colin] Powell showed, but the facts don’t look convincing in our eyes,” he added. Powell brought a model vial, which he said looked like Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s weaponized anthrax, in a bid to convince members of the UN Security Council that they should agree to invade Iraq. The alleged weapons of mass destruction program proved to be non-existent after the US conquered the country in 2003.Ushakov was commenting on the US decision to allow military aid to Syrian rebels after coming to the conclusion that Assad’s government had used its chemical weapons stockpile in the conflict. Ushakov said Moscow sees difficulties with organizing a proper investigation into the alleged cases of chemical weapon attacks in Syrian territory, which would provide more conclusive evidence on the issue. “We have tried on several occasions to organize it, including those occasions when information arrived that rebels were using chemical weapons. Let’s see how the situation develops,” he said. The UN probe into the use of chemical weapons in Syria did not travel to the sites of the alleged attacks because Damascus barred the experts from going there. Syrian officials cited concerns for the safety of the experts and voiced doubts about their impartiality, since neither China nor Russia were allowed to participate. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has warned that additional supplies to Syrian rebels will not contribute to the peace process, but on the contrary will plunge the country into chaos. “There is little doubt that decisions on additional arms and military equipment supplies to illegal militant groups would drive up the level of violent confrontation and violence against innocent civilians. Especially, given that it comes amid calls to go further, to establish a no-fly zone over Syria to help not with just weapons, but heavy weapons,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aleksandr Lukashevich said. The American move undermines the joint US-Russian effort to gather an international conference in Geneva on Syrian reconciliation, Ushakov added, although the exact damage will depend on Washington’s further actions. “Of course, this will not help in the preparation of the international conference, if the Americans actually initiate larger-scale support of the rebels", he said. The next meeting of experts to discuss the event is scheduled for June 25. The conference has been postponed several times as the organizers are struggling to convince all interested parties to take part. The aide added that the news will not affect Russia’s position on delivering S-300 surface-to-air missiles to the Syrian government. Moscow has a years-long standing contract with Damascus to supply the advanced air defense system, but has not fulfilled it yet. Russia’s contract with Syria may have a serious impact on the balance of military power in the region. One of the more radical scenarios of the US providing military aid to the rebels is establishment of non-fly zones in Syria along its border with Jordan. The territory would then be used by rebel forces to rest and regroup out of reach of the Syrian Air Force.

Pakistan can expect worse heatwaves to come, meteorologists warn

Recent extreme temperatures which are commonly followed by floods can largely be attributed to climatic warming
Near-record temperatures in Pakistan have claimed hundreds of lives and devastated crops in the third major heatwave in four years. But as temperatures on Friday dipped to under 38C (100F), signalling the end of nearly four weeks of blistering heat, leading meteorologists warned that the country could expect longer, more intense and more frequent events in future. Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, a vice president of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and former director of Pakistan's Met Office, said the recent extreme summer temperatures which are commonly followed by massive floods could largely be attributed to climatic warming. "If we look at the frequency and the trend of the extreme weather events impacting Pakistan then it is easy to find its link with climate change," he said. Chaudhry, who wrote Pakistan's climate change policy, authored a report in 2013 that showed the number of heatwaves in Pakistan had increased from 1980 to 2009 and that average temperature in the Indus delta were steadily rising. In 2010, the May temperature in Mohenjo-daro, a semi-ruined city in Sindh province, reached 53.5C (128F), the fourth highest temperature ever recorded in the world and the highest ever in Asia. Babar Hussain, who runs the Pakistan Weather Portal, said: "In 2013 the maximum was 51C/52C. The heatwave started on 12 May in Sindh province and gripped the entire country by 15 May. It lasted, with only a minor break, until 10 June. In that time, it reached 51/52C in Larkana, [a city of 2 million people in southern Sindh province] while Lahore, Punjab province's capital of about 15 million population, recorded 47C on 23 May, its hottest temperature since 1954." The effect of the heatwaves on human life has been devastating. Newspapers in Pakistan have reported hundreds of deaths because of the heat since early May, but no official numbers have been released. "With the coming of the monsoon rains this year, we have already begun to see an increase in cases of diarrhoea. This is because of contaminated drinking water," said Isaac Chikwanha, medical co-ordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières in Pakistan. "Heat strokes and dehydration are common among children and adults before the monsoon season when the temperature rises." "The rise in vector-borne diseases including diarrhoea, cholera, gastroenteritis, typhoid and hepatitis is due to environmental factors and the effects of climate change," said Iqbal Memon, president of the Pakistan Paediatric Association. "The Indus River used to flow at full strength prior to the monsoon season and freshwater was abundantly available. Now there is no water in the Indus River. Ponds and riverines in Sindh have become contaminated, but people have no other option but to use that water for drinking and cooking. This lack of freshwater is purely due to environmental reasons," Memon told Dawn newspaper. Farming has been badly affected, with cows giving less milk and not enough water for some crops. "The heat actually helped the cotton crop because it came when it was flowering and it quickly turned into fruit," said Mustafa Talpur of Oxfam in Islamabad. "But it badly hit the sugarcane, rice and chilli crops. The lack of irrigation water has affected the yield, but the exact impact wont be known until the harvest is over." The heatwave may have affected people in cities more than in rural areas, partly because of the "heat island effect" which sees temperatures in urban areas 5-8C higher than in the countryside. Urban conditions were particularly bad because the heatwave led to power cuts which in turn led to violent protests. Many families were unable to pump water or run air conditioners. Officials at one point turned off the air conditioning in government offices. Pakistan is, along with Bangladesh, highly vulnerable to natural disasters, and has experienced massive floods in the last three years, droughts and heatwaves.

Pak police arrest 1 for killing prosecutor
Pakistani police on Friday announced the arrest of a 22 year-old law student, son of a dismissed Army officer, in connection with the killing of a senior prosecutor who was handling sensitive cases including the Benazir Bhutto assassination and the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Abdullah Umar, a student of the International Islamic University of Islamabad and the son of former Pakistan Army Colonel Khalid Abbasi, who faced court martial in 2003 for links with al-Qaeda and was dismissed from service, Dawn reported. The report further said Umar too had links with al-Qaeda. Islamabad Police chief Bin Yamin Khan confirmed the arrest of Umar, and said police had busted a terrorist network that was involved in several attacks in Rawalpindi and the federal capital. Other officials said they had uncovered evidence linking Umar to the assassination of prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali in Islamabad on May 3, 2013. Reports said Umar was paralysed below the waist due to a bullet fired by the prosecutor’s bodyguard that had hit his spine. The interrogation of two suspects, traced with the help of fingerprints found in a taxi used in the murder, led the police to Umar. Some media reports said Umar was also involved in an attack on a mosque in Rawalpindi frequented by army officers and their relatives in December 2009 which killed nearly 40 people. Mr. Ali, who was handling the Benazir Bhutto assassination case and Mumbai attacks case for the Federal Investigation Agency, was gunned down by unidentified armed men near his home in Islamabad. His relatives and colleagues said he had spoken about receiving threats from unidentified persons.

Pakistan: Nawaz Sharif’s “generosity” towards Baluchistan

Written by Lal Khan
There is immense euphoria mainly in the Pakistani media, the political superstructure, “civil society” and the political outfits serving as umbrella organisations for diverse NGO’s on the appointment of Dr. Abdul Maalik as the chief minister of Baluchistan by Nawaz Sharif. What lies behind this euphoria?
There is widespread praise for the newly elected right-wing prime minister the real representative of Pakistan’s ruling capitalist class. From his former Home Minister and presently rival Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain on the right to the ex-lefts who have capitulated to capitalism, laurels are being showered on Sharif for his ‘generosity’. It is indubitable that every sane person wishes an end to the bloodshed and mayhem that has engulfed Baluchistan. The gruesome killings, mutilated and dumped bodies of the Baluch activists, the Hazara genocide, targeted assassinations of ethnic and national minorities and other brutalities traumatise human consciousness. However, to create an illusion that just by changing the political leadership at the top of the administration can resolve this grotesque carnage and bring peace to this tragic land is dangerous and will lead to inevitable disappointments and disillusionment. And to raise expectations that the main representative of the class that has carried out the repression in Baluchistan is the one that is going to salvage its inhabitants is what? State repression in Baluchistan does not take place out of habit or just for the sake of it. Nor are the several proxy wars being waged without a serious cause and the vested interests that sponsor them. This gruesome barbarity has grave material, financial and strategic interests at the core. Baluchistan’s coastline runs up to the Iranian border — ending just before the straits of Hormuz through which pass a good 40 per cent of the world’s oil supply. It is no surprise that a new great game is being played out in the wilderness of this resource rich region. The geo-strategic importance and the abundance of rich mineral resources have in effect become a curse and a tragedy for the poor inhabitants of Baluchistan. The existent state structures and the economic system are designed and destined to exploit the resources and oppress the people of Baluchistan. Within this administrative and economic framework the grievances of these deprived masses cannot even be addressed, let alone solving them. Sharif’s gesture of giving power to one of the factions of the Baluch nationalists is not to abolish the plunder of Baluchistan by the imperialists and the Pakistani elite but a manoeuvre to facilitate and sustain it. The situation in Baluchistan is too critical and complex, and the state and the system are too rotten for any improvement or stability to take place within the confines of the present setup. It is not just the army, the Frontier Constabulary and other paramilitaries, but there are several other so called non-state actors involved in this pandemonium that are sponsored by diverse sections of the state itself. Then there are the opposing imperialist powers intruding for their stakes in the plunder with their own proxies bloodying the conflict. Some of the Arab and Muslim ‘brethren’ regimes in the proximity, with their hegemonic designs, are heavily funding fundamentalist outfits wreaking havoc upon the ordinary people of the region. The largest seminary of the Lashkar Jhangvi/SSP outside Southern Punjab is in Mastung [located in the northwest of Baluchistan province]. The insurgency in Baluchistan has been intermittently surging for over six decades now. The state has been repressing the struggle against national and class oppression ever since. However there have been several pauses in this conflict due to the exhaustion and betrayals of the struggle and the manoeuvres of the elite strategists. After the insurgency of the mid-seventies, Sharif’s mentor Zia ul Haq, the vicious military ruler, after imposing martial law released most of the Baluch nationalist leaders and activists and abolished the Hyderabad conspiracy case to drive a wedge into the resistance against his despotic rule. Yet the national and class oppression continued and state brutalities went on unabated. Perhaps Sharif has taken a leaf from his late boss’s strategy. In the last analysis it is not the good intentions and sincerity of Dr. Maalik that are in question. The real problem is that even with the best of intentions one cannot gain from a system that has become redundant to deliver. The most articulate, genius and brilliant of politicians cannot develop a society with a crippled economic base and a social fabric torn apart by the burgeoning crisis. One cannot revive one’s virility by dying one’s hair black. Even in the 1960’s, when due to the spin-off effects of the capitalist boom in the west the Pakistani economy grew at a rapid pace with growth rates reaching nine per cent, there was little or no industrialisation in Baluchistan. No major infrastructure was developed. The regime in Islamabad failed to deliver the deprived masses of Baluchistan healthcare, education and other basic facilities. Exploitation was so extreme that the gas from the reserves in Baluchistan reached Islamabad long before it was supplied to Quetta. Today Pakistani capitalism is so rotten and the crisis so intense that it simply does not have the financial and economic capacity to alleviate poverty and end the deprivation of the people of Baluchistan. Nor does this comprador bourgeoisie have the strength and capability to put a stop to the pillage of Baluchistan by the imperialist powers. Different factions of the state are actually falling over each other to either directly or indirectly to serve the interests of opposing imperialist powers scavenging the region to extort its riches. There have been several cosmetic attempts by the previous regimes to carry out reform to pacify the masses in Baluchistan. The last one was the “Aagaz a Haqooq a Baluchistan” package. It proved to be mere rhetoric. Even if Dr. Maalik tries his level best and gets his full powers through the 18th Amendment with all the designated funds, he will be only able to implement superficial change economically and more importantly will be impotent to stop the conflagration. This will further exacerbate the contradictions, as the masses will want to see real changes in their daily existence leading to their full emancipation. But the basic question is that there are no funds in the debt-ridden semi-bankrupt state to spend. The reality is that just to finance debt servicing, military and dreaded security expenditures, they have to go with a begging bowl to the IMF, World Bank and other international financial institutions periodically. The minerals, wealth and resources of Baluchistan can only be utilised for the ordinary citizens of Baluchistan when they are collectively in their control. This means that the imperialist assets and their ownership of these resources have to be expropriated. This cannot happen under capitalism. Would Dr. Maalik be prepared to abolish capitalism? Nawaz Sharif’s much touted generosity hides the fact that it is yet another ploy of the Pakistani state and its imperialist bosses to continue the exploitation of Baluchistan to plunder its wealth. The middle class Baluch leader in the last analysis will end up doing their dirty work if he remains within the confines of the system and its state. Individuals from the middle and toiling classes when inducted into state power don’t change the system, but it is the system that converts them into custodians for the rule of capital. Sharif is a shrewd businessman and an astute negotiator. The deal he did in Baluchistan is to the benefit of the capitalist elite not against them. But the system he represents is in terminal decay and will fail to deliver. Sooner rather than later the intensity of the crisis will explode the contradictions simmering in society. As the revolt against this right-wing capitalist regime erupts, the masses in Baluchistan will have a chance to join this movement and avenge the national and class oppression inflicted on them by this system for generations.

In Pakistan And Afghanistan, Childhoods Spent Hard At Work

Millions of children in Pakistan and Afghanistan work at grueling jobs in order to support themselves and their families. On the World Day Against Child Labor, RFE/RL journalists spoke to children who miss school to earn their livings at mechanics' shops in Peshawar and Kabul.

Ahmadi-owned magazine’s office under siege

Express Tribune
The vigilante siege of an office on Turner Road, where a weekly magazine owned by an Ahmadi family is produced, has not been lifted two months after it began, The Express Tribune has learnt. Since the siege began, the circulation and publishing of the weekly, The Lahore, has stopped. The anti-Ahmadi activists have not only stopped the magazine’s administration from entering the office, located on the first floor of Galaxy Law Chambers, but also have not let them take away the printed material and furniture from the office. The men patrol the spot round-the-clock so that nothing can be removed from the premises. Jamaat-i-Ahmadia Pakistan spokesperson Saleemudin said the siege laid by a group of extremists was part of a campaign against Ahmadis. They had also lodged several false FIRs under the blasphemy law against Ahmadis, he said. “They forced the magazine’s owners to leave the place and are now stealing their possessions from the office with the connivance of the police,” he said. Saleemudin said they were trying to victimise the magazine staff for their religious beliefs. He said they were pressuring the police to register an FIR against them. “Instead of providing them security, the police appear to be encouraging the extremists to continue the siege,” he said. Muhammad Yaqoob, a member of the United Khatam-i-Nabuwat told The Express Tribune that they had laid siege to the office to “Get God’s blessings”. He said the magazine carried blasphemous content and should be banned. He said at least eight of their men remained at the office to prevent Ahmadis from entering the office and removing material from it. “We will remove it ourselves with help from the police after we manage to have an FIR registered against them under blasphemy laws,” he said. He said an additional sessions judge had ordered the registration of an FIR, but the police were favouring the Ahmadis by not registering it. He said a contempt of court petition had been moved before the Lahore High Court for the implementation of the court’s orders for the registration of an FIR. According to Yaqoob’s application, he requested the police to register an FIR under Sections 298-C, 295 (B), 295 (C) and Section 11-W of the Anti Terrorism Act against magazine publisher Mian Muhammad Shah Jee, editor Yasir Zervi, Yasir Mansoor Ahmed and two others. He said that he had seen Yasir Zervi and two others circulating copies of the magazine on April 23. He said he too was given a copy of the magazine and had found blasphemous content in it. He requested the police to seize everything in the office and seal it forever. Munawar Ali Shahid, an Ahmadi and a rights activist, told The Express Tribune that Poet Saqib Zervi had started the weekly, The Lahore, in 1951. It was published every Friday, he said. Zervi died in 2001 and his sons Yasir Zervi and Mansoor Zervi took over. He said the magazine had been publishing social, cultural, political, economic and literary material for the last 62 years, but had now fallen prey to anti-Ahmadi elements.

Pakistan: Budget 2013-2014

The much anticipated budget was announced by the new Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar, yesterday in the National Assembly. Contrary to the hopes of people seeking relief, this budget will further burden the poverty-stricken masses through increased taxation and an ambitious revenue generation plan proposed by the government. The budget for the fiscal year 2013-2014 has an outlay of Rs 3.591 trillion, out of which the federal government will be left with net revenue of Rs 1.918 trillion after a transfer of Rs 1.502 trillion to the provinces under the National Finance Commission Award. The fiscal deficit, which was 8.8 percent of GDP in the outgoing financial year, is expected to be brought down to 6.3 percent of GDP, amounting to Rs 1.651 trillion by the end of fiscal 2013-14. A major chunk of this deficit according to the proposed budget will be financed domestically through bank loans and the remainder will be financed through external borrowing. The Federal Board of Revenue has been given a very ambitious target of generating Rs 2.475 trillion in revenues, which is a 22 percent increase from the current year’s expected collection of Rs 2.020 trillion. The levying of additional taxes will, it is hoped, help meet this revenue target. An increase in sales tax (GST) from 16 percent to 17 percent is expected to realize Rs 63.5 billion whereas an additional Rs 18.5 billion would be realized through federal excise duty(FED). The rate of income tax has been increased by 5 percent for those earning Rs 30 million or more per year. Overall, Rs 209 billion is expected to be raised through greater direct and indirect taxation in the coming year. However, business has been accommodated as a decrease of 1 percentin the rate of corporate tax has been proposed. The corporate tax rate currently stands at 35 percent and the government eventually plans to reduce it to 30 percent incrementally. GDP has been targeted to grow 4.8 percent in 2013-2014. As Pakistan is deeply mired in debt, the biggest component of expenditure next year will be devoted to debt servicing, a staggering amount of Rs 1.154 trillion. The next biggest expenditure item as usual is defence with Rs 627 billion, a 10 percent increase on last year’s revised estimates. The new government has allocated Rs 225 billion to combat the energy crisis. This amount will be invested in the energy sector partly through the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) and partly by WAPDA. It is reported that funds have been specifically allocated towards construction of additional dams, already in the pipeline, such as the Diamer-Bhasha and Neelum-Jhelum projects. In addition, the Finance Minister claimed that the circular debt which has been at the centre of Pakistan’s economic woes will be retired within 60 days. The new budget also proposes some austerity measures aimed at slashing the government’s expenditures. Ishaq Dar has vowed that a 30 percent reduction in expenditure will be implemented across the board. The number of ministries will be reduced from 40 to 28. Moreover, the Prime Minister’s Secretariat’s costs will be reduced by 44 percent. Most importantly, the new government took a bold step by freezing the secret funds at the disposal of ministries and departments in an effort to bring in transparency. In an effort to provide some sort of relief to the poor, it was declared that the Benazir Income Support Programme initiated by the previous government will be continued and the monthly stipend increased from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,200. Despite such relatively minor reliefs, it is safe to say that the new government has increased the burden on the already crippled common man who struggles to make ends meet. The increase in indirect taxes, specifically sales tax, will contribute towards inflation. The budget seems to be pro-business and does not provide much relief to a majority of the people. The people who came out in droves and voted for Nawaz Sharif hoping that he would pull out the economy from this quagmire will be disheartened by this budget.

Pakistan: Budget aftershocks jolt common man

The PML-N government appears to be in extra hurry to put the economy on ‘right track’ as it implemented the 1% increase in GST just a day after the announcement of federal budget for 2013-14, even without waiting for the parliament to pass the budgetary proposals to give it a legal status. Prices of petroleum products and the Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) increased on Thursday after implementation of the new GST tariff, sparking a wave of immediate surge in the prices of edibles and daily-use items across the country. The petrol price was hiked by 86 paisas per litre; light diesel oil by 77 paisas and high speed diesel by 90 paisas per following an increase in the GST. The new rates are effective from midnight Thursday. After the increase, new price of petrol has been set at Rs100.63; that of diesel at Rs105.50, light diesel oil at Rs 89.90 and of kerosene oil at Rs 94.59. The government has also increased the prices of compressed natural gas (CNG) by 45 paisas per kilogramme. The new prices of CNG are applicable to Region 1 and Region 2. Transporters in several cities instantly announced an in crease in inter-city fares. The newly elected heavy-mandate government’s first budget has been branded as ‘business-friendly’ by most the business community and industrialists while the common man has termed it from ‘cruel’ to ‘anti-poor’. Common man was seen up in arms over what they say no relief for the poor in the budget. Terming the budget as ‘business-friendly, not people-friendly’, they asked the rationale behind cutting import duty on cars when the poor segment of the society striving to make both ends meet. Upset with zero increase in the salaries of government employees, the clerks have announced to go on strike from Friday (today). Other government employees have already announced to observe strike from June 21. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, no increase has been announced in the salaries of the government employees. However, pension was increased by 10%, besides increasing the minimum pension to at least Rs 5000. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar told the government employees to swallow the bitter pill this year in hope for a ‘good news’ the next year. The opposition parties have also rejected the budget, saying the budget presents no concrete solution to the country’s economic woes. It said that the budget would serve nothing except burdening the poor. However, the Karachi Stock Exchange saw yet another all-time high, as investors piled up cement and telecom stocks in a post-budget buying spree on Thursday. The benchmark 100-Index gained 1.94 percent, or 433.15 points, to close higher at 22,757.72. The market drew strength from certain measures announced in the budget, according to the analysts. The rupee ended steady at 98.50/98.55 against the dollar. Overnight rates in the money market remained flat at 9.40 percent. Trade volumes rose to 471 million shares compared with Wednesday’s tally of 352 million shares. The value of shares traded during the day was Rs12.4 billion. At the end of the day 214 stocks closed higher, 127 declined while 45 remained unchanged.

Why Is Gay Porn So Popular in Pakistan?
By Alex Park
Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center published results of a public survey of gay tolerance in 39 countries worldwide. The numbers are fairly unsurprising: While a high proportion of respondents in Western Europe and North America answered "yes" to the question "Should society accept homosexuality?" few respondents in the Middle East and Africa agreed with them. Among the least tolerant nations surveyed was Pakistan, where only 2 percent of those surveyed said society should accept homosexuality. That statistic might be unsurprising, considering that gay sex is illegal under the Pakistani penal code. But what is surprising is how those views compare to Pakistani search traffic around gay-porn related terms.
As of this writing, Pakistan is by volume the world leader for Google searches of the terms "shemale sex," "teen anal sex," and "man fucking man," according to Google Trends. Pakistan also ranks second in the world (after similarly gay-intolerant Kenya) for volume of searches for the search term "gay sex pics."
In its report, Pew noted that countries exhibiting the highest levels of gay tolerance are largely secular, whereas nations where religion is central to public life—such as Egypt, Nigeria, and Pakistan—tend to reject homosexuality. But in Pakistan, what's even more peculiar is that the highest number of hits for some of these terms, including "shemale sex," come not from Pakistan's cosmopolitan centers, but from Peshawar, a bastion of conservative Islam, lately known in the West as a counterterrorism frontline.Farahnaz Ispahani, an expert in Pakistani minorities at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former member of Pakistan's parliament, says that homosexuality is a taboo subject throughout the country. In major cities such as Lahore and Karachi, gays can develop a network of allies outside their tribe or family, but in conservative Peshawar, gay identity is more complicated. Part of the popularity of gay porn could stem from the fact that even highly observant Muslim males often have physical relationships with men without considering themselves gay, she says.
"The real love they can have that most of us find with a partner, they find with men," Ispahani says. "They mostly see their wives as the mother of their children."
At the same time, she says, persecution of minorities, including gays, has reached an all-time high in Pakistan, and discussing homosexuality openly in public is virtually forbidden. "Religious extremism is at a height today," she says. "Hindus are being forced to convert, Christians are being burned alive—there's very little personal safety for those seen as 'the other.' So what do [gay Pakistanis] do? They turn to pornography because they can't live their lives openly." Shereen El Feki, author of the recent book Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World, says the discrepancy between perceptions around homosexuality and its apparent reality in Pakistan is consistent with her own findings in the Middle East, where, in recent years, the dialogue around sexual identity has been co-opted by fundamentalist clerics. "Islamic conservatives, whether they're actually in power or the governments in power are trying to placate them, they will tend to go to very narrow definitions of Islam," she says. "One of the easiest ways to do this is to come down hard on the role of women, and particularly around sex and homosexuality." Long before the rise of Islamic conservatism, El Feki says, the Middle East and India had a literary tradition which celebrated gay love, but in recent years, that openness has been forgotten. "You find in most civilizations in the Global South a much more open approach to homosexuality—irrespective of its status in religious and theological doctrine—than you find today," she says. "So very often, any attempt to open a dialogue in the Arab region is branded as some 'Western conspiracy' to undermine traditional Arab and Muslim values. The reality is that long before the West was talking openly about homosexuality, Arabs in particular were writing about this very frankly. Our history has come to be rewritten by Islamic conservatives."