Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Obama challenges Russia to agree to deeper nuclear weapon cuts

U.S. President Barack Obama used a speech in Berlin on Wednesday to call on Russia to revive the push for a world without nuclear arms by agreeing to target further reductions of up to one third of deployed nuclear weapons.
Speaking in Berlin where John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan gave rousing Cold War speeches, Obama urged Russia to help build on the "New START" treaty that requires both countries to cut stockpiles of deployed nuclear weapons to 1,550 each by 2018. "After a comprehensive review I have determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one third," he said. "I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures," Obama said at the Brandenburg Gate, which once stood alongside the Berlin Wall that divided the communist east and the capitalist west. Obama's vision of a "world without nuclear weapons" set out in a speech in Prague in 2009, three months into his presidency, earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. But his mixed results so far have fuelled criticism that the prize may have been premature. Experts said reducing the nuclear arsenal makes strategic and economic sense. But Mark Fitzpatrick at the International Institute for Strategic Studies said Obama faces major obstacles "including a recalcitrant Russia and a reluctant Senate". President Vladimir Putin, speaking in St. Petersburg minutes before Obama's speech, made no direct comment but voiced concern about U.S. missile defenses and high-precision weapons. Moscow sees nuclear deterrents as the safeguard of national security. It is worried about the West's superior conventional weapons and NATO plans for a missile defense system in Europe. "High-precision conventional weapons systems are being actively developed ... States possessing such weapons strongly increase their offensive potential," said Putin. The chief of the Russian military's general staff appears reluctant to negotiate a new nuclear deal and Russian foreign policy expert Fyodor Lukyanov described Obama's desire to "go to zero globally" as totally unacceptable in Russia. REPUBLICANS OPPOSED Obama will also target reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and host a summit in 2016 on securing nuclear materials and preventing nuclear terrorism. He hosted such a meeting in 2010, a second was held in Seoul in 2012 and Obama will attend a third in The Hague next year. He met the Russian president this week at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, where they signed a new agreement on securing nuclear material left over from the Cold War, replacing the 1992 Nunn-Lugar agreement that expired on Monday. That was "the kind of constructive, cooperative relationship that moves us out of a Cold War mindset", Obama said afterwards. Early initiatives of Obama's presidency led to the New START treaty plus measures to bolster the Non-Proliferation Treaty and a new effort to secure nuclear materials worldwide, but that push has flagged in the face of political realities. But Obama said the United States and Russia were on track to cut deployed nuclear warheads "to their lowest levels since the 1950s" and said a framework was being forged to counter what he called Iran and North Korea's "nuclear weaponisation". Iran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons. He also wants to see negotiations on a treaty to end the production of fissile materials for weapons. Experts and advocacy groups described Obama's initiative as "long overdue" and the reduction targets as modest. "The one-third cuts outlined by the President are but 200-300 warheads fewer than the United States was prepared to agree to during the New START negotiations four years ago," said Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association in Washington. "The U.S. could have gone much lower and maintained deterrence," said Jon Wolfsthal, a former special advisor to the vice president on nuclear security and non proliferation. He saw little chance of success in the face of political opposition. "Our experience has been that nuclear arsenals - other than ours - are on the rise," said Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate's Armed Services Committee, pointing to Iran and North Korea. "A country whose conventional military strength has been weakened due to budget cuts ought not to consider further nuclear force reductions while turmoil in the world is growing."

Pakistan: Punjab govt allocates millions for Hafiz Saeed's banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa
Pakistan's Punjab province government has allocated over Rs 61 million in its budget for fiscal 2013-14 for the largest centre of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the parent body of banned terror group LeT that carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Besides a grant-in-aid of over Rs 61 million for the JuD's centre known as 'Markaz-e-Taiba', the provincial government has allocated Rs 350 million for setting up a "Knowledge Park" at the centre and other development initiatives. Details of the allocations were presented in budget documents tabled in the Punjab assembly on Monday by the PML-N government led by chief minister Shahbaz Sharif. One document stated: "Grant-in-aid to chief administrator Muridkey Markaz (is) Rs 61.35 million". The JuD's centre is located at Muridkay on the outskirts of Lahore. In his budget speech in the assembly, finance minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman announced that the provincial government "intends to establish a Knowledge Park in Muridkey". He said the government had allocated Rs 350 million for the park and several other initiatives in Punjab. Shortly after the UN Security Council designated the JuD a front for the LeT in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, the Punjab government took over the centre in Muridkey. At that time too, Punjab was ruled by the PML-N. Since then, the government has allocated money in its annual budget for the administration of the centre in Muridkey. In 2009-10, the government provided more than Rs 82 million for the administration of JuD facilities. In fiscal 2010-11, chief minister Sharif, using his discretionary powers, allocated two separate grants for JuD facilities. The government granted Rs 79.77 million for six organisations at Markaz-e-Taiba and a special grant-in-aid of Rs 3 million for the JuD's Al-Dawa School System in several districts of Punjab. Officials have said in the past that the allocations were needed to continue "welfare services" provided by the JuD's schools, dispensaries and hospitals across the province of 90 million. In the past, the Punjab government defended its decision of allocating money to the JuD by saying the grants had been awarded for the administrator of the Markaz-e-Toiba. There is no formal ban on the JuD and its chief, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, lives freely in Lahore despite a 10-million dollar bounty offered for him by the US.

Pakistan: Establishment must be subservient to civilian govt

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) senior leader Senator Raza Rabbani has said that there is a need to put the establishment and forces under civilian government's control to resolve Balochistan issue. Mian Raza Rabbani was on a visit to Quetta to express solidarity with the victims of women's university and Bolan Medical Complex bomb explosions. The PPP leader called on Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch. Addressing a press conference following the meeting, Rabbani said that the establishment must be subservient to the civilian government in order to resolve Balochistan issue. Commenting on the statements of Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan regarding the establishment and civil forces, Rabbani said that Nisar should move beyond the statements. On the occasion, Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch commended the role of Raza Rabbani on 18th amendment.

Russia Shares Kabul's Concerns Over US-Taliban Talks

Moscow supports Kabul’s position that peace efforts in the war-torn country should be led by the government of Afghanistan, instead of the United States, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday. The Afghan government earlier on Wednesday suspended security talks with Washington over a dispute regarding the opening of a Taliban representative office in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday. The office is expected to host direct talks between the Islamist insurgents and US officials. “In respect to the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar on June 18, we affirm that the Russian Federation is consistently supporting the efforts of the Afghan government aimed at the success of the national reconciliation process and the creation of conditions for long-term stabilization in the country and the region, including through the dialogue between the High Peace Council and representatives of the armed opposition,” the ministry said in a statement. Moscow reiterated that a peace dialogue in Afghanistan could have a positive outcome only if the process were led by the government in Kabul and on condition that the Taliban severed ties with al-Qaida, ended the violence and accepted Afghanistan’s constitution, including its protections of women and minorities. The High Peace Council is the government body in charge of leading peace efforts with the Taliban. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who opposes bilateral US-Taliban talks, said Wednesday that the High Peace Council would "neither attend nor participate in the talks" until the process was "completely" in the hands of Afghans. Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama said during a visit to Germany on Wednesday that he always expected "friction" at Afghan peace talks, but expressed hope that “the process will proceed” despite the challenges. "Ultimately we're going to need to see Afghans talking to Afghans about how they can move forward and end the cycle of violence so they can start actually building their country," Obama said. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) formally handed over responsibility for security in Afghanistan to the Afghan police and army on Tuesday. Despite more than a decade of war waged by Kabul and the ISAF against the Taliban insurgency, attacks by Islamist militants are still frequent in Afghanistan, showing that the insurgents are strong enough to try to return to power in Afghanistan once NATO troops leave the country in 2014.

Welcome to the Turkish Republic of Police State

Turkey has become a country where the ruling party representing half of the country’s electorate is exercising the state’s police (and military if needed) force in the most brutal way on the other half of electorate, who launched a massive uprising against the government’s growing authoritarian inclinations. How we have managed to arrive at this point surely requires a substantial analysis. I leave this task social and political scientists but my reading of this behavior is as follows: At the core of this behavior lies the “us and them” policy/rhetoric of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose purpose is to discriminate against those who do not share the conservative lifestyle of a pious Muslim and create a sort of “neighborhood pressure” on them. But this oppression is not limited to the scope of the secular-conservative debate in Turkey as the trend of this behavior is to expand its influence on different segments of the society through intimidation. The other half of this equation (i.e. them) includes social democrats, some nationalist groups, Alevis, communists, socialists, academics of dissident universities, trade unionists, artists, social media activists, “twitterers” in English, sympathizers of the Gezi Park demonstrators, alcohol-cigarette consumers, those who are against having three kids, defenders of the right to abortion. Intellectuals and journalists are also in this camp but they do not necessarily have to be in either camp as their full obedience or self-censorship is must to keep their job. Another piece of rhetoric he frequently uses is “majority vs. minority” and the dominance of one group over the other. For Erdoğan, “us” is the majority against them (the minority) and has the right to say the last word on almost all issues concerning society. In the end, he believes “us” will transcend the ongoing social conflict and will bring about a better world for all living in this country. While favoring those who belong to “us” by granting special privileges, his understanding is inclined to silence the oppositional groups from different segments of society by restricting the freedom of speech and right to assembly. Mass detentions of critical voices, calling government opponents “traitors,” describing peaceful demonstrators as marauders and illegitimate are only some ways to silence the opposition under this rule. In the meantime, taking measures to increase the degree of state intervention in personal, social and political matters has also been much more visible in Turkey. Increasing the powers of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and decorating it with the unquestionable authority of providing detailed information about every individual was the latest attempt of the government, which caused resemblance to Syria’s intelligence unit, known as al-Muhabarat. This growing “statist” approach has found itself in the latest remarks of EU Minister Egemen Bağış, who said “From now on, the state will unfortunately have to consider everyone who remains there [Taksim Square] a supporter or member of a terror organization.” Apart from Erdoğan’s harshest descriptions of the demonstrators, Bağış’s was one of the most serious calls from “us” to “them.” One other point worth examining is the importance Erdoğan and his senior male attaches on the “charismatic leadership” of the prime minister. It was bizarre to hear Erdoğan self-promoting before nearly 1 million of his supporters in his Istanbul rally on June 16 when he said, “You can never find a prime minister like this in the world.” One of his advisers found out that the target of protests was in fact to tarnish the image of Erdoğan as plotters were getting disturbed by his strong image. Political science has various definitions to describe the abovementioned elements of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) political behavior but I am leaving this to the interpretation of readers. Instead, I would better express my concerns that this trend unfortunately does not promise more democracy, freedom and tolerance will flourish in this country. Even worse, this trend will cause isolation of Turkey from the democratic world and let it sail into uncharted waters. This growing nationalist-conservative language/policy that has a divisive effect on political and social life of Turkey will not only nix hopes for a new pro-freedom Constitution but will also have destructive shocks on the ongoing Kurdish peace process and on Turkey’s European Union relations. One last thing to do, then, would be changing the country’s official name as introduced in the headline of this column.

Afghans must talk to each other for peace, Obama says

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Wednesday Afghans must talk to each other to resolve the conflict in their country even though huge mistrust exists between the government and its Taliban foes. Obama was speaking in Berlin a day after the United States said it would begin talks with the Taliban on Thursday to try to seek a negotiated peace to 12 years of war - a move that has deeply upset President Hamid Karzai's U.S.-backed government. "We do think that ultimately we're going to need to see Afghans talking to Afghans about how they can move forward and end the cycle of violence there so they can start actually building their country," Obama said at a joint news conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. As a sign of displeasure with the move, Karzai has suspended talks with the United States on a troop agreement. But Obama said he welcomed Karzai's announcement that Afghan forces would soon take responsibility for security from the U.S.-led NATO peacekeeping force. Obama arrived in Germany from a two-day summit with Group of Eight leaders in Northern Ireland and later on Wednesday will unveil plans for a sharp reduction in nuclear warheads in a speech at the Brandenburg Gate. At the news conference, he also addressed the issue of a U.S. spying program dubbed Prism, saying he was confident his government had struck a balance intelligence gathering and civil liberties. The Prism program applied to specific leads on terrorism and weapons proliferation, he said. "I came into office committed to protecting the American people but also committed to our values and our ideals and one of our highest ideals is civil liberties and privacy." Revelation of the program has upset Germans wary of government surveillance after the trauma of the Nazi Gestapo and East German Stasi secret police. Chancellor Merkel told Obama that government monitoring of Internet communications needed to remain within proper limits. "I made clear that although we do see the need for gathering information, the topic of proportionality is always an important one and the free democratic order is based on people feeling safe," Merkel said at the news conference. On Syria, Obama said reports that the United States was ready to go to war in the country were exaggerated. He reiterated his view that President Bashar al-Assad's government had used chemical weapons and could not regain legitimacy. "Some of the stories that have been out there publicly have gotten a little overcranked in terms of the idea that somehow the United States is preparing to go all in and participate in another war. What we want to do is end a war," said Obama, whose government is considering arming rebels fighting against Assad. For her part, Merkel said Germany would not deliver weapons to the rebels, even though a European Union arms embargo on Syria has lapsed. Obama, on his first visit to the German capital as president, will make his Brandenburg Gate speech 50 years after John F. Kennedy declared "Ich bin ein Berliner" in a defiant Cold War address. A senior U.S. administration official said Obama would signal his desire to cut deployed atomic weapons by up to one third below the level achieved in the last "New START" treaty with Russia. "The U.S. intent is to seek negotiated cuts with Russia so that we can continue to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures," the official said. The Democrat leader has forged a pragmatic - if not warm - relationship with conservative Chancellor Merkel, one of his closest European allies. Obama's trip gives her a boost just months before a German election.

Pakistan's refugee population 1.6 million: UNHCR report

The Express Tribune
Pakistan hosts the largest number of refugees today, 1.6 million to be exact, according to a report published by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The ‘total population of concern’ added up to almost 2.5 million at the end of 2012. Refugees, according to the UNHCR definition, include individuals granted complementary forms of protection; or, those enjoying temporary protection. The refugee population also includes people in a refugee-like situation.
Pakistan hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide. Afghan refugees who have settled on Pakistani territory live on a hand-to-mouth earning basis. Children born here hope to go back someday. The largest share of Pakistan’s refugees comes from Afghanistan. The figure saw a drop as the US-led invasion into Afghanistan began but return rates have stabilized since then. The Pakistan government has issued warnings for the refugees, June 30 being the last date for them to return. Come July 1, the refugees risk arrest and deportation. The UNHCR has been assisting the return of these refugees through cash donations going up to $157 but many are not ready to leave just as yet. According to the report on Displaced Persons in the 21st Century, Pakistan hosted the largest number of refugees in relation to its economic capacity with 552 refugees per $1 GDP (PPP) per capita last year. The number of asylum claims lodged in Pakistan came up to 4000, while Kenya (the second biggest refugee base in the world) saw some 20,000 claims.

Afghanistan suspends talks after US-Taliban move

Afghanistan has suspended talks under way in Kabul on a bilateral security agreement with the US. A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said the decision was taken in protest over inconsistencies in proposed US direct talks with the Taliban. The row centres on the name given to the Taliban office, which opened in Qatar on Tuesday, the spokesman said. US-Afghan talks are to determine the nature of US military presence after foreign troops withdraw in 2014. "There is a contradiction between what the US government says and what it does regarding Afghanistan peace talks," President Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi said. "The president suspended the talks with the US this morning," said Mr Faizi. "The president is not happy with the name of the office. We oppose the title the 'Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan' because such a thing doesn't exist". "The US was aware of the president's stance." The move comes a day after the US announced it would open direct peace talks with the Taliban. President Karzai had said his government would also send delegates to Qatar to talk to the Taliban.

Balochistan cauldron

All these years of our national independence the enemy was never too far, but it was firmly checked and held back over there. No more; it is too close now and is virtually knocking at the door. If a part of it is working to break our will and destroy our ethos to be a free people, its other part is striking at the very roots of our independent existence. By burning down the Quaid's Residency at Ziarat the separatist Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) has conveyed its message loud and clear that it has nothing to do with Pakistan. By killing medical college students in Quetta the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi has messaged that it would spare no blood to impose its own brand of Islam. Of course all this time both the BLA and LJ were busy wrecking havoc wherever they could, but the simultaneity of the attack on the monument that has come to symbolise our independence and the massacre of girl students aptly reflects the enormity of threat the enemy poses. What more can come our way to forewarn us of the gravity of the threat the country and people are confronting! If the governments in place following the May 11 general election have the required capacity and desired capability to stand up to this multi-headed monster the people of Pakistan would like to know. It was brave of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to reach Quetta and visit the burnt-down Quaid's Residency. That he would offer 'dialogue' to those who want dialogue and a 'war' to those who want a war, is talk that must walk now because too much time has already been lost in making political statements and passing parliamentary resolutions. Not that the BLA and LJ are new arrivals and that more time is needed to know their mind. They have been enacting their bloody agenda on the streets of Pakistan for too long. Unfortunately, however, the governments of the day had miserably failed to offer the matching responses; all that was done was merely fire-fighting scandalously lacking institutional approach. It's damn frustrating that a comprehensive strategy to counter a threat of the magnitude Pakistan faces is not yet in place. Going by Chaudhry Nisar Ali's words the government would hopefully do it now. Not that the curse of terrorism is confined to Balochistan or Karachi; if some other parts are relatively spared it is not a matter of great comfort. Only yesterday, the Rawalpindi police intercepted a vehicle loaded with enough of arsenal to destroy half the city. That said, and notwithstanding that Ziarat Residency destruction and Quetta massacre are 'welcome greetings' sent to the new provincial government, one would like to believe that in the wake of May 11 general election there is the possibility to revamp and reinvigorate resolve to effectively engage and defeat the enemy. In place of a federal party-headed provincial government, like the one led by Nawab Aslam Raisani, Balochistan is now being governed by a coalition headed by a recognised nationalist Dr Abdul Malik Baloch. And its governor too represents a nationalist party Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP). Together, they are better placed to initiate contacts with fellow nationalists on the other side of the divide. But the success of Dr Malik's government is hostage to his administration and no chain can be stronger than its weakest link. Over the last few years the bureaucracy is thoroughly politicised, essentially not that the officers would like to be foot soldiers of their political masters, but because the otherwise is impossible. Therefore it would be in the fitness of things that the chief minister should assure blanket implementation of the apex court's order to ensure survival of honest civil servants. Last but not least, all the forces combating terrorism have to move in tandem. Even when losses of life and limb on the part of the security forces are heavy these are disproportionate to losses they inflicted on the enemy, more often the cause being intelligence failure. Therefore, not only are the intelligence agencies expected to be better trained, they are required to be equipped with latest technology, matching the enemy's. Likewise, extra efforts are in order to rid of grey areas in anti-terrorist operations, like the saga of missing persons, body-bags and midnight knocks on your door. On the face of it, there should be no problem in seeking lawful detention of a suspect. And if a detainee is required to be prosecuted then it should be followed up with full preparation within the ambit of law. All in all, fighting and defeating terrorists, be they religious fanatics, foreign-funded hired guns or disillusioned separatists, is an achievable task. Of course, it would require sincere efforts, total commitment and precious sacrifices - like the ones made by the DC Quetta, security personnel and staff nurses. And the heart goes out for the near ones and dear ones of the university students for their unremitting pain.

Peshawar: Contaminated instruments at LRH may have claimed 500 lives annually

The Express Tribune
With the province still reeling under the blow of a health scam involving substandard interferon vaccines, another deadly scandal has come to light at the Lady Reading Hospital’s (LRH) nephrology department – one that may have claimed 500 lives annually since 2005. An inquiry report, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, states a total of 34 patients tested positive for hepatitis C virus (HCV)/hepatitis B virus (HBV) from June 1, 2012 till December 31, 2012. These patients were said to be HCV negative upon their admission to the hospital, indicating they contracted the virus through contaminated or reused artificial kidneys used for their dialysis. The inquiry team only collected data for the six-month period, claiming it was not possible to vet the full record – from 2005 onwards. “Annual turnover of 34 HCV/HBV cases is detected in the dialysis unit of LRH. This clearly shows it is a killing field rather than a curative unit of LRH – the largest and most prestigious hospital of the province,” read the text of the inquiry, which was conducted by director administration of the health department Dr Muhammad Zaman Afridi and section officer (Budget 1) Muhammad Zakir. The report adds some HCV/HBV patients received dialysis through machines not meant for HCV patients. This indicated all the machines were contaminated, with hapless patients not aware of the deadly dose.
Catching the culprits
According to the report, at least some ill-fated patients died due to the criminal negligence of the nephrology department’s head Professor Dr Akhtar Ali and dialysis technician at the LRH unit, Nasrullah. The first page of the report states technician and storekeeper Nasrullah has been coming to the unit between 5 and 6am every day since the last 14 years. He illegally reuses discarded artificial kidneys and blood tubes while performing dialysis on patients till the arrival of doctors at about 9am. Nasrullah then comes for his second shift from 3pm till 7pm. The report estimates the offence – spread over nearly a decade and a half – may have resulted in the deaths of 500 patients each year. The report states Nasrullah pocketed the money he received from patients as fees while the receipts were never deposited so no hospital record exists. “The grievous matter was brought to the notice of the nephrology unit’s head, but no action was taken, which indicates he is fully involved in the unlawful practice,” it reads. The dossier shows staff members at the dialysis unit also bore witness. During investigation and interviews with the employees, many swore Nasrullah was indeed reusing artificial kidneys. Money matters Till April 20, 2013, the main pharmacy at LRH issued 33,472 BHD and AHD solutions to the dialysis unit – each containing four and 10 litres, respectively. The stock was meant for 61,075 patients. Against the same, 45,480 dialyses were performed, while the remaining stock of solutions was used with reused artificial kidneys. The Rs1,500 fee charged from patients was then misappropriated with receipts not deposited to the hospital account. In its conclusion, the report states the government suffered a loss of Rs21.855 million which could further increase if the main store’s data on earlier stocks was available. “The inquiry team is fully convinced organised crimes were committed in the dialysis unit of LRH for a few worldly gains. All the malpractices were committed by two individuals, Professor Dr Akhtar Ali and dialysis technician Nasrullah,” reads the text of the report.
The team has given strong recommendations to the government, saying strict punishment may be handed to the two accused under the Efficiency and Disciplinary Rules, 2011. “Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) may be requested to put a lifetime ban on the practice of Dr Akhtar Ali. A major punishment of dismissal from service may be awarded to Nasrullah and the medical faculty of K-P may be requested to put a lifetime ban on his private practice.” It also recommends Rs21.855 million may be recovered from Dr Akhtar Ali and Nasrullah, while the former may be transferred and not posted to any position where financial matters are involved. The dialysis unit may be closed and quarantined till the contaminated dialysis machines are disinfected, it added.
Biased inquiry?
The Provincial Doctors Association (PDA), K-P has rejected the report, saying those who conducted the inquiry know nothing about the medical field. “There are technical faults in the report, and is biased to defame the medical fraternity and hospital,” PDA Chairman Dr Shah Sawar told reporters on Tuesday. He demanded the health department conduct a second inquiry into the alleged scandal and include technical people so that the matter can be properly highlighted. If any person is involved, they should be given punishment, he added.

Case closed: Cases against Zardari cannot be reopened

The PML-N government opened on Tuesday a letter received from the Swiss government which declared President Asif Ali Zardari a ‘clean’ man in a $60 million money-laundering case closed by a Swiss court after lapse of a specific period. In February this year, the Swiss government told the PPP-led government about the letter and conveyed its contents, but it was officially opened on Tuesday by Law Minister Zahid Hamid. Mr Hamid told a TV channel that he had read the letter and would soon make it public. The minister did not say anything about the PML-N government’s future line of action on the case, which is being tried by local courts also, and said: “Pakistan’s embassy in Switzerland has been asked to send some relevant documents about the case.” But the outgoing PPP government believed that there was no case pending against Mr Zardari in any court in the country. Now all eyes are on the PML-N to see what strategy it will chalk out about the case because it had been demanding that the ‘plundered’ wealth must be brought back to the country. President Zardari and Benazir Bhutto were accused of purchasing Surrey Palace through ‘illegal’ money. During proceedings of the case, the Swiss authorities liquidated the property because Mr Zardari and Ms Bhutto did not own it and the money obtained through its sale was deposited in a Swiss bank, which was believed to have been drawn by the owners of the palace. Former law minister Farooq H. Naek, on a directive of the Supreme Court, had written a letter to the Swiss government in December last year for reopening the case and the Swiss authorities replied on Feb 9. Sources in the law ministry said that according to the letter, the case was timed-barred and after expiry of a specific period it could not be reopened by the Swiss court. Mr Naek told Dawn that: “There is no case pending against the president in the country.” He said three cases were being heard against Mr Zardari in the country in which he was not the main accused, but was declared one of the beneficiaries. “Ilyas Siddqui and Benazir Bhutto were the main accused. Mr Siddiqui was acquitted and after the death of Ms Bhutto the cases became infructuous,” he said. The former law minister said when the main accused had been acquitted how the beneficiary could be tried. But an official of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), who did not want to be named, said he believed that the cases could be reopened after Mr Zardari left the office of the president. Interestingly, the PPP government and lawyers of Mr Zardari never pleaded before the Supreme Court that there were no cases pending against the president. Instead, they always referred to Article 248 of the constitution to claim immunity. In reply to a question about 12 boxes containing the record of Swiss cases lying with the NAB, the official said the record was still under the NAB’s custody and it could be used if cases against Mr Zardari were reopened after the expiry of his tenure as president. A disgruntled PPP leader said that the cases could be reopened in local courts because by writing the letter to Swiss authorities the former law minister had admitted that Mr Zardari was the main accused. “The mistake committed by Mr Naek may create problems for Mr Zardari in future,” he said.

Suicide attack in Mardan

At least twenty eight people, including an MPA Imran Mohmand who was elected as an independent and later joined Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI), were killed and 57 other injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a funeral in Sher Ghar area near Mardan. Imran Mohmand went to attend the funeral of Haji Abdullah, a local patrol pump owner shot dead the previous day by unknown gunmen. He is the second PTI lawmaker to be killed this month in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the party leads a coalition provincial government. On 2nd June, Fareed Khan MPA elect was killed in a deadly attack in Hangu district of KPK. Under the circumstances there was no room for laxity, but 148 check posts were reportedly removed in KPK. One would not know if it was done on the orders of the KPK government or it was police's initiative. If the check posts were removed on the instruction of PTI-led government, the question is what its leaders were trying to prove. Do they think that terrorists would not strike because of Imran Khan's consistent stance for holding talks with the Tehreek-i-Taliban and renouncing the use of force against the militants? According to media reports, security check-posts were dismantled in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after improvement of security situation in the restive province. Authorities say police are ready to take full control of the scenic Swat valley after the military withdrawal. It is pertinent to point out that KPK's ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had announced during its election campaign to remove check posts causing difficulties to the masses. Hundreds of security posts were earlier set up in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to establish writ of the state and curb militancy. In Pakistan, one of the reasons for the increase in militancy is that some political and religious parties had been pressurizing the PPP-led government to enter into dialogue with the militants involved in or behind the acts of terrorism and suicide bombings. In the NWFP, Awami National Party (ANP) had won election in 2008 with thumping majority in the province and particularly in Dir and Swat. It means the party had the backing of the people, but ANP leadership did not keep contact with their power base, and thus Taliban intruded into their constituency. The ANP government had agreement with the TTP, but Fazlullah and Sufi Muhammad used that agreement to consolidate their position. In 2009, once again an agreement was reached between the government and Fazlullah and Sufi Muhammad; but they declared that they did not accept democracy, the Constitution and judicial system of Pakistan. PML-N, PTI and JI always insisted on holding talks with the militants without delineating the parameters of the talks, and with whom to hold the talks. As the PTI formed coalition government with JI in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, it is to be seen how they will deal with the challenge to their writ in KP. The problem is that the TTP had offered to hold talks with the government, but later withdrew their offer after TTP's second-in-command Wali-ur-Rehman was killed in a drone attack. Since Pakistan has been vociferously demanding of America to stop drone strikes, the TTP was not justified to in withdrawing the talks' offer. In fact, the TTP never gave any practical gesture by renouncing violence, which proved that it was not serious in holding talks for peace in the restive province. It is, indeed, the responsibility of the government to protect the lives and properties of the people which is clearly stated in the Constitution of Pakistan. For this purpose, there is need for putting in place a counter-terrorism strategy. Anyhow, instead of taking the terrorists head on, a debate in the National Assembly and the Senate is raging as to how to bring the security apparatus and intelligence agencies under civilian and parliamentary control. In the National Assembly, Chief of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and MNA Mehmood Khan Achakzai said time had come to take the establishment head on. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan admitted in the Senate that terrorist attacks on Ziarat Residency and Bolan Medical Complex in Quetta were result of "serious security lapse" and "lack of coordination" between security and law enforcement agencies. It has to be mentioned that more than five thousands military personnel including high ranking officers have been martyred; they should be appreciated and not be pushed against the wall.