Sunday, September 8, 2013
Hinting opposition forces might have used chemical weapons, Syrian president warns that US-led attack will elicit retaliationSyrian President Bashar Assad on Sunday denied any connection to the use of chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war in his country and threatened that his allies would carry out retaliatory action if his regime is attacked by Western forces.US Secretary of State John Kerry said the August 21 gas attack near Damascus killed over 1,400 people, including hundreds of children and other unarmed civilians. The attack caused an international uproar and prompted US President Barack Obama to seek Congressional approval of a military strike against Assad’s regime.Assad, in a PBS interview slated to be aired on Monday, said there was not enough evidence to make a conclusive judgement about the alleged chemical attack.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
President Asif Ali Zardari stepped down on Sunday, leaving his official residence after a record five years in power overshadowed by worsening security and a weakening economy.Daily Times
Shots were fired at an Observation Post (OP) of BSF in Akhnoor sub-sector of Jammu district by Pakistani snippers on Sunday prompting Indian troops to retaliate. "There was sniping attempt from Pakistan side today. One sniper round came from across on OP in Maljodha Border Out Post (BoP)," a BSF officer said.The jawan deployed at OP narrowly escaped. "There was no loss of life or injury to anyone in the firing," officer said. Troops guarding the borderline in Akhnoor sub-sector of Jammu district retaliated, he said. This is the third incident of snipper firing from Pakistan on Indian posts along IB in Jammu frontier areas during over a period of one month.
Underscoring the continued threat to civilians in Afghanistan, a drone strike in an eastern province killed up to 16 people, Afghan officials said Sunday, while a Taliban assault in another province killed four intelligence officers and wounded more than 120 civilians. The drone strike occurred Saturday afternoon in the Watapur district of Kunar Province, a stronghold for the insurgency ensconced in hard-to-access mountainous terrain. Afghan officials said the drone was targeting four insurgents who were picked up along the road by a truck with civilians riding in it, though reports differed on the number of passengers. Women and children were among the dead, the officials said. “The insurgents often force local drivers to give them rides in their trucks,” said the Kunar police chief, Abdul Habib Saidkhail. Coalition officials confirmed the strike, which they said killed 10 insurgents. Officials said that they had no initial reports of civilian casualties, but that they would investigate. President Karzai condemned the drone strike Sunday, calling the attack on women and children against all international norms. The president did not appear to immediately wade into the debate over drones in the short statement. The Taliban attack occurred Sunday morning in the capital of Wardak Province, Maydan Shahr, where a vehicle packed with explosives detonated outside of the Afghan intelligence headquarters. Five insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles then tried to breach the building, said Gen. Jamil Khan, the deputy police chief of Wardak Province, but they were quickly killed. At least four agents for the National Directorate of Security were killed in the attack, as well as a police officer. The bomb, which rocked the area around the provincial directorate offices, spread shards of shrapnel glass and wood into the surrounding area, wounding a number of civilians, a spokesman for the governor’s office said. Wardak and Kunar have long been hotbeds of the insurgency during the American-led war and now that Afghan forces are mostly in control of security. Parts of Wardak, particularly along the main highway in districts like Sayadabad, have been plagued by violence. Parts of Kunar have grown safer, but on the whole the province remains a magnet for foreign insurgents crossing over from Pakistan. While the conflict in Wardak has essentially been a ground fight, Kunar has far less hospitable terrain, making the use of air power more attractive and raising the risk of civilian casualties. With Kunar’s rugged terrain, a combination of steep mountains covered in dense foliage, positioning troops is exceptionally hard. With the withdrawal of many of its troops from the area, the international coalition is now forced to rely on air power to combat the insurgency. The American drone campaign seeks to kill insurgent leaders, especially in Kunar, one of the few provinces where members of Al Qaeda remain in hiding. “The major challenge for our security forces is the presence of foreign fighters in Kunar because they are well trained and equipped and support the Afghan Taliban,” said Col. Hayatullah Aqtash, the Second Brigade commander. “That’s why the drones usually used to attack them.” In Kunar, civilian casualties have been a sticking point for the coalition forces. In February, an airstrike in Kunar killed as many as 11 civilians, prompting President Hamid Karzai to forbid Afghan forces from turning to NATO or American forces to conduct airstrikes. In April, another airstrike in Kunar was thought to have killed at least 10 children after a foiled attempt to capture a Taliban commander led to a sustained gun battle between special forces troops and insurgents. Conflicting reports about the exact cause of the civilian deaths muddied the blame, but the use of air support was still enough to stoke the ire of the government, which denounced the deaths of innocent Afghans. More broadly, the coalition has drastically reduced the number of civilian casualties stemming from airstrikes, after adopting more rigid rules for such attacks. Still, civilians have borne the brunt of the violence in this decade-long war, and as coalition troops continue their transition away from combat roles, the trend appears to be getting worse. The number of civilians killed or wounded in the first six months of 2013 rose by 23 percent compared with the same period a year before, with most of the deaths attributed to the insurgency, according to a United Nations report.
Police in northwestern Pakistan's Swat district have arrested seven men for attempting to force a 16-year-old girl into marriage to settle a family dispute. Those arrested include the girl’s father, the prospective groom and his father, and four tribal elders who allegedly brokered the deal. If convicted, they face up to 10 years in prison. The case in the village of Shah Dherai was brought to the attention of authorities by the girl's brother after she attempted to commit suicide rather than go through with the marriage. Pakistan's parliament criminalized the dispute-settling tribal tradition, known as "swara," in 2004. But the law is not often enforced because girls rarely complain to authorities about the involvement of their own families in the practice.
As widely anticipated, the government has raised the prices of petroleum products by up to Rs 5.89 per litre with effect from 1st September, 2013. The price of petrol has been increased by Rs 4.64 to Rs 109.14 per litre while the new price of HSD is Rs 112.26 per litre. The price of kerosene, which is generally used as a fuel for stoves in remote areas where LPG is not readily available, sees an increase of Rs 4.71, bringing its price up from Rs 101.28 to Rs 105.99 per litre. The price of LDO, mainly used for industrial purposes, has gone up by Rs 2.31 to Rs 98.43 per litre and that of HOBC, used mainly for luxury cars, has soared by Rs 5.89 to Rs 138.33 per litre. The price of HSD which was proposed to be increased by Rs 3.57 per litre has, however, been raised only by Rs 2.50 per litre, following the directive of the Prime Minister, to facilitate agriculture and transport sectors. Total subsidy on HSD now stands at Rs 3.63 per litre. The government has cited a rising trend in the international prices of oil as the sole reason for raising the domestic prices of POL products though rapid depreciation of the rupee must have also been partly responsible for the substantial rise in oil prices. As is obvious, the government has also passed on the full impact of increase in prices of all petroleum products except HSD to domestic consumers. The increase in oil prices by such a substantial margin, needless to say, would have a negative impact on economy and the lives of ordinary people. Higher oil prices would slow down business and industrial activity and depress growth prospects of economy which could further accentuate unemployment and poverty in the country. Prices of most of the commodities and services would increase almost in direct proportion to the rise in the prices of POL products which is likely to be very painful for ordinary people, especially at a time when inflation is likely to be in double digits and there are hardly any prospects for gainful employment. All of this could create chaos in society and law and order situation could go from bad to worse. It is unfortunate that the government had to raise the prices of petroleum products when floods have caused huge damage to the paddy and cotton crops and the GDP growth rate is likely to be reduced from the present target of 4.4 percent. However, it could be plausibly argued that the government had no choice in the matter and had to bite the bullet as a reduction in the budget deficit was the top most priority of the country at the moment and it had to use every option to raise higher level of revenues. Had the government not raised the prices of POL products, it would have been forced to borrow more from the banking system, leading to accentuation of price pressures and higher depreciation of a battered rupee. Passing the full impact of change in international oil prices and adjusting it with the change in rupee parity for the domestic market could also be a pre-condition of the EFF programme with the IMF. Nonetheless, in our view, it was better for the government to absorb a part of the impact of a rise in international prices in the budget to reduce the burden on ordinary consumers because of its claim to contain current expenditures and a sharp increase in taxes collected by the FBR during July, 2013. In particular, petroleum levy on oil products could be somewhat reduced to yield the targeted revenue when prices are ruling higher. The government needs to know that successive sharp increases in oil prices have made the lives of ordinary people very difficult and burdening them further may be unjust. Also, the price of kerosene oil should have been revised upwards by a lower margin because of its impact on the very poor and downtrodden people who reside in far-flung areas of the country and have no access to cheap gas. In the meantime, let us hope and pray that the crises in Syria and Egypt are over soon and oil prices in the international market revert to their previous levels so that people could expect some relief from surging oil prices next month.
by Imdad Pitafi (MPA Sindh Assambly) President Asif Ali Zardari creates history today by making room for President Mamnoon Hussain of Pakistan Muslim League (N). His name will be written in golden letters in the history of Pakistan. He is the first ever democratically elected president of the country to have successfully completed his five year tenure. Almost all his predecessors were either removed unceremoniously or were forced to leave the presidency under pressure and duress. Kudos to his statesmanship and acumen. This is for the first time in the history of Pakistan that a democratically elected government hosted a grand luncheon to bid farewell to a democratically elected president on successful completion of his five year constitutional tenure. Unlike his predecessors, President Asif Ali Zardari neither broke any democratic tradition nor tried to suspend or put in abeyance any article of the constitution of Pakistan. On the other hand he paved the way for democracy to flourish and march ahead. He showed utmost respect for judiciary as the custodian of democracy by sending home two of his chosen Prime Ministers. Mr. Zardari entered and vacated the presidency in a democratic manner. It was during his tenure that free and impartial general elections were peacefully held in which his party lost to the rival Muslim League (N). He respected peoples’ mandate and handed over power to the winning party in a purely democratic manner without any hitch or hesitation. He foiled all attempts of anti-democratic forces to derail democracy. Mr. Asif Ali Zardari possesses several qualities of a great statesman which are rare. He never loses his cool inspite of sudden and serious provocations. He excels in the art of reconciliation which is his unfailing tool and main weapon. He always demonstrated unusual fortitude and courage against all odds a number of times and successfully captained his team to the victory stand. His democratic government’s achievements are virtually uncountable which include revival of the 1973 constitution, historic constitutional amendments with a remarkable consensus, particularly the 18th amendment, empowerment of Gilgit-Baltistan, consensus approval of the 7th NFC Award, financial and administrative empowerment of the provinces, initiation of Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan Package, financial protection of 75 lac poor families through Benazir Income Support Programme and distribution of 12% share of 80 government institutions among 50 lac workers through BESOS. It is he only who increased Balochistan’s share from 5.1% to 9.1% in the 7th NFC Award. Allocation of 90% quota in all jobs at the Gwadar Port is his another contribution to the welfare of Baluch masses. His major economic reforms include payment of Rs.2 billions as the first installment of Rs.10 billions out of Rs. 120 billion outstanding provincial dues by the federal government, setting up a new record of US $ 17 billion foreign exchange reserves, transfer of 30% shareholding out of the federal government’s 50% shareholding in Saindak Project to Balochistan, leveling of 10,000 acres of land to be irrigated with Mirani Dam, construction of canals and such several other measures. Conclusion of Pak-Iran gas pipeline agreement and agreement with the People’s Republic of China on Gawadar Project also deserves due credit and appreciation. President Zardari took many concrete measures to help improve the economy and ameliorate the lot of common man. It was the Peoples’ government which reinstated thousands of public servants thrown out of jobs during the last 13 years. It was again the Peoples’ government which regularized thousands of employees working on temporary contract basis. Resumption of trade union activities and distribution of shares among as many as 5 lac industrial workers is another remarkable achievement of the Peoples’ government during President Zardari’s tenure. Provision of cheap tractors to the unaffording farmers through the Benazir Tractor Scheme is once again a commendable contribution of Mr. Asif Ali Zardari. His developmental projects also include the Faisalabad-Multan Motorway, besides construction of thousand miles of roads in different areas. A man of steel nerves, President Asif Ali Zardari would always be remembered as the introducer and promoter of the policy of appeasement, tolerance and reconciliation in the intolerance ridden political culture of Pakistan. He proved his mettle as a true benefactor of democracy besides being a loyal trustee of the legacy of Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed both of whom sacrified their precious lives at the altar of democracy.
President Asif Ali Zardari was given a farewell guard of honour by the smartly turned out contingent of the Pakistan’s armed forces at the President House on Sunday. Smiling Zardari reached the ceremony which was attended by several politicians on a horse-cart. The outgoing president shook hands with staff before leaving the President House. He was driven away in a black luxury saloon car from the sprawling residence.