Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Obama To Test Iran President's Interest In Dialogue

President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani appears to want to open a dialogue with the United States and that he is willing to test whether this is the case. Obama's comment in an interview with Spanish-language network Telemundo was the latest indication the president would like to jump from the crisis over Syria's chemical weapons to a new search for a diplomatic deal to ensure Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon.
Last weekend, Obama revealed he and Rouhani had exchanged letters about the U.S.-Iran standoff. Both leaders will be at the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week, although White House officials say they are no current plans for them to meet. "There is an opportunity here for diplomacy," Obama told Telemundo. "And I hope the Iranians take advantage of it." Obama ran for president in 2008 in part by vowing to open a dialogue with Iran. But there has been no breakthrough and sanctions by Washington and the United Nations to weaken Iran's economy have gradually been increased to try to pressure Tehran to give up a nuclear program that it denies is aimed at building a weapon. "There are indication that Rouhani, the new president, is somebody who is looking to open dialogue with the West and with the United States, in a way that we haven't seen in the past. And so we should test it," Obama said. Since the surprise election in June of Rouhani, a centrist cleric, officials from both countries have made increasing hints that they are open to direct talks to seek an end to the decade-long nuclear dispute.

Bahrain opposition leader arrested, charged with inciting terrorism

A leading opposition figure in Bahrain has been jailed after being charged with "inciting and advocating terrorism," Bahrain's Public Prosecution Office said. Activists in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom, however, insist the charges against Khalil Al Marzooq are politically motivated and accuse the country's leadership of attempting to stifle dissent. Al Marzooq, secretary general of Al-Wefaq, the main Shia opposition party, was arrested Tuesday after being interrogated about a speech he delivered last week. According to BNA, Bahrain's official news agency, he was summoned to a police station, questioned and then referred to the Public Prosecution Office. In a statement, the office accused Al Marzooq of being "affiliated with the terrorist organization" and added that he had been "speaking at many forums, inciting and promoting terrorist acts, advocating principles which incite such acts, supporting violence committed by the terrorist coalition, and legally justifying criminal activities."Taher Al-Mosawi, the head of Al-Wefaq's media center, says that Al Marzooq did not incite violence and that Bahrain opposition parties are suspending participation in national dialogue. Al-Wefaq called the government's actions in regard to Al Marzooq "reckless" and "a clear targeting of political action in Bahrain." The party added in a statement that it believes his detention is, in part, a reaction to a European Parliament resolution passed last week regarding the human rights situation in Bahrain. That resolution called for "the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Bahrain" and urged Bahraini authorities "to immediately end all acts of repression, release all prisoners of conscience, and respect the rights of juveniles." European Parliament member Marietje Schaake told CNN that "the lack of progress in terms of dialogue and reforms towards the rule of law and respect for human rights in Bahrain continue to be of great concern to the European Parliament." Schaake spearheaded the effort to get the resolution passed. "For the sake of the well-being of all people in Bahrain," she said, "and for the future of the country, the crackdown on peaceful demonstrations must end. The blanket ban on assembly in Manama is not helping reconciliation, either." Bahraini opposition activists say that Al Marzooq's arrest is just the latest in a country where many prominent dissidents have been jailed in the past two years and that it only underscores how tense the situation remains in Bahrain. In February 2011, at the height of the Arab Spring, Bahraini citizens, spurred by successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, demanded democratic reforms and other changes in the way the country was run. Anger from the majority Shiite population was directed at the ruling Sunni minority. But Bahrain's uprising failed to gain the traction of other regional revolutions after a crackdown by authorities in the tiny island state, backed by troops from nearby Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Demonstrators say authorities killed dozens of people and arrested, tortured and imprisoned hundreds of others. Opposition leaders have tried to keep the protest movement alive.

Russia prepared to receive Syrian national opposition coalition for talks
It is high time not to talk the Syrian opposition into participating in talks, but make them do it, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after the negotiations with visiting Egyptian counterpart Nabil Fahmy here on Monday. “We use the phrase to talk the opposition into participating in a conference (Geneva-2) all the time,” the minister said. “Probably, it is high time to begin using another verb - make the opposition participate in the conference,” Lavrov noted. Russia is always prepared to receive the Syrian National Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces for talks, Russia's Foreign Minister added. “We are working with the opposition. The heads of almost all opposition groups visited our country, expect for the national coalition, which has an invitation to visit us. We will be prepared to receive the coalition’s leaders, because it is needed to talk to all parties,” the minister noted. “In any conflict a scenario should be the following - no isolation of a concrete party, but its involvement (in talks - Itar-Tass),” Lavrov noted.

Syria’s Assad Pledges to Destroy Chemical Weapons

Syrian President Bashar Assad has pledged to destroy his country’s chemical weapons, in an interview with a US TV channel. Elimination of such weapons would take about a year, Assad told the Fox News channel Wednesday. He once again denied that his regime was to blame for the recent alleged use of chemical weapons near the capital Damascus. Syria will not set forth any conditions for chemical arms destruction, and is ready for a return of UN chemical weapons inspectors, Assad said. On Saturday, after days of intense negotiations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry announced an ambitious plan under which all chemical weapons in Syria would be opened up to international inspectors by November and destroyed by mid-2014. UN inspectors said Monday that they had found “clear and convincing evidence” that chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, were used in an August 21 attack that killed hundreds of people in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. he inspectors had no mandate to determine who had launched the attack, which the US and some of its Western allies have attributed to the Assad regime, but Moscow and Syria have called a provocation by anti-Assad rebels. Lavrov said Tuesday that the UN report presented a day earlier had failed to answer certain questions and reiterated Moscow’s position that the Ghouta attack had been a “provocation” by opposition forces. The unrest in Syria began in March 2011 and later escalated into a civil war. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far, according to UN estimates. Assad also said in the Fox News interview that Syria handed over to Russia data confirming that “terrorists” had used sarin in Syria. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Tuesday after meeting with his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem in Damascus that the Syrian authorities handed over to Russia evidence proving that Syrian opposition forces had allegedly been involved in the use of chemical weapons last month.

'Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra in Syria may have significant amounts of sarin'

The US military have reportedly proved that sarin gas production is going on among some Sunni salafists in Iraq, and via Turkey, can reach Syrian rebels, former Pentagon official Michael Maloof told RT, citing classified sources.
France, the US and UK are saying the UN report clearly points to the Assad government's involvement in the August attack . But how can they be so sure, especially as the document states that improvised rockets may have been used, possibly pointing to rebel involvement?
Michael Maloof:
I have a report from a source who has direct connections with classified information and he basically told me that [the] US military did an assessment based upon 50 indicators and clandestine interviews that the sourcing of sarin originated out of Iraq and into Turkey before some of it was confiscated in May in Turkey. He believes that since that report was disseminated in August in 2013, that there has actually been a more significant amount of sarin production both in Iraq and in Turkey going to the opposition, principally Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra. That was their specific target, to see to what extent Al-Qaeda was actually involved in production, in research and dissemination. He says what was confiscated was bench level or small specimens at the time, but that the production now they believe is much more robust and that the non-proliferation, genie, as he says, is no longer exclusive. So there's quite an increasing concern that this is still ongoing, that production is occurring among some Sunni salafists in Iraq and continues to be transported into Turkey.
Can you tell us more about that classified document you’ve seen, which shows that the US knew that Al-Qaeda linked rebels in Syria had sarin gas?
The document itself was published in August 2013 by the National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC). It’s part of the intelligence community. The fact that some of it was actually captured in May along the border in Turkey and it was actually Al-Qaeda, and since it was disseminated my sources are telling me that production has probably increased significantly and sarin gas is being produced quite widely now. That it's actually ongoing and there's actually a Saudi financier whose name I’m trying to obtain right now. This raises a whole host of questions, and even though Mr Kerry says we know what the origin of the August 21 shot was into the outskirts of Damascus that killed hundreds of people including children, he tells me that they have been scouring Syria for more than a year looking at all the Syrian military activities and that they have no information on any artillery having been fired that day at that time into that location. So this raises all kinds of further questions as to what this information is which Kerry possesses, but refuses to share with the world.
Why is the US not taking any action against the Syrian rebels then? After all, they believe that Al-Qaeda, their sworn enemy has chemical weapons.
Clearly the administration does not want to get more deeply involved in a Middle East conflict. It’s probably a political and policy call on the Obama administration’s part. Again, this is speculation on my part, but I think it would go absolutely against the grain of trying to assist the rebels and I think the administration’s goal really is regime change. You have an opposition and foreign fighters that have now integrated into the opposition being involved in this. This absolutely goes contrary to what their policy direction is and results in tremendous confusion. We’ve had separate reports already that Al-Qaeda elements are rather significant in numbers and have permeated into the opposition. So the ability to distinguish who gets what and where becomes much more problematic for this administration. I think that the administration is trying to oust Assad, but the fact that you have those foreign fighters there, for them to admit it would absolutely undermine their entire policy approach.
‘US cannot afford another war with questionable results’
The US says they want to see the Geneva peace talks take place - yet they've just offered more support to the opposition. How is that going to bring the peace process closer?
You've got to distinguish the opposition. The opposition has refused to meet as long as the Assad government is going to be represented at Geneva 2. But I think with Russian President Putin’s direction and leadership in all this, I think the United States is compelled to have that meeting and to try and resolve this. It certainly isn’t going to please the opposition but the United States has basically boxed itself into a corner on this policy approach, because the next question is what happens in response to any bombing or regime change. Regime change would clearly be done through military action and by force, so what the repercussions of that will be is something the administration doesn’t want to confront, and I think it’s something the opposition feels very disappointed about and it could be very demoralizing for them as a consequence. The United States cannot afford to get involved in another military conflict with questionable results, and certainly in terms of time, where it’s all going to lead to. So I think it would be in the interests of the United States and Russia to get Geneva 2 underway and get something resolved. I think the leadership of Mr. Putin and certainly Foreign Minister Lavrov have come up with a solution and I think that that’s something that has to be pursued. Whether you get the opposition to come along is highly questionable, but I think at this stage the big boys are calling the shots on this, not the opposition. You must keep in mind that the opposition itself is very fragmented. You have over a thousand elements in there that don’t talk to one another, it’s not a unified effort, and this actually consolidates Assad’s position, particularly with the help of Iran and Russia at this point.

Pashto Urdu mix song afshan zaibi 2013

Rahim Shah Mix Pashto and Urdu Stage Song

Author Provides Glimpse Into Afghanistan's Secret Subcultures, Hidden Worlds

Underground converts to Christianity, shadowy male cross-dressers, and gay bloggers are not usually associated with Afghanistan. And yet they are part of the real but often unseen world Afghans live in.
That unknown side of Afghanistan is the topic of a new book,
"Afghan Rumor Bazaar: Secret Sub-Cultures, Hidden Worlds, and the Everyday Life of the Absurd," by Nushin Arbabzadah, an Afghan-born writer currently living in the United States. Arbabzadah, a lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), was frustrated by the Western media's often one-dimensional coverage of Afghanistan. Her book attempts to go beyond bombs and burqas to provide readers with new perspectives on a country many mistakenly assume to know. "I'm much more interested in nonconformist people," she says. "I'm not interested in the established facts about Afghanistan and the kind of people who are usually used to represent Afghanistan. I focused on unusual people on the margins of society and those who don't conform to mainstream standards of Afghanistan." Among her subjects is Afghanistan's underground gay community. "Afghanistan is a strictly heterosexual, family-based society where sex outside the legal bounds of marriage is a crime punishable by imprisonment," writes Arbabzadah in her book. "But behind the clean-cut surface of respectability, there's a foggy underworld of chaotic sexuality." Arbabzadah says the "perpetual danger" of being a gay Afghan has not stopped gay activists and bloggers from talking about their sexuality, albeit in the safety of online forums and social-networking sites. In Afghanistan, homosexuality is a criminal offense punishable by death. Gays also risk being disowned by family or, worse still, being the victim of a so-called "honor killing."
Honesty's High Cost
One of the first Afghans to openly reveal his homosexuality was Hamid Zaher, who fled Afghanistan and his family in 2001 and eventually settled in Canada in 2008. Just a year later, he wrote his candid memoirs in Dari, "Beyond Horror, It's Your Enemy Who Is Dock-Tailed." Dock-tailed is an Arabic expression for a man without a son. In his book, which was published in English last year, he reveals the fearful and solitary existence of being gay and of his first love -- a man he met at a park while he was living in Pakistan. But Zaher's honesty has come at a price. His family, which pleaded for him not to publish his memoirs, has disowned him and Zaher is no longer in touch with them. "Because Afghan society is a very conformist society requiring everyone to be the same, people who don't conform to these values tend to live secret lives," says Arbabzadah. "The gay community is an example. There are obviously gay Afghans who don't want to be married and establish families the way they're required from the mainstream points of view. So, these people have to carve themselves niches." Another Afghan practice largely obscure to outsiders is bacha posh -- literally "dressed like a boy" in Dari. It is the old tradition of disguising young girls as boys. Some families without a son -- a sign of prestige and respectability in Afghanistan -- pretend a daughter is a son, even after the child's real sex is revealed. These girls have their hair cropped and are given male names. They assume all the responsibilities and freedoms that come with being a male. The practice continues until the child reaches puberty, when she must swiftly revert back to her real gender. "It may seem strange, if not downright unbelievable, that in a society obsessed with maintaining strict gender roles, one form of transvestism has become widespread and even acceptable," writes Arbabzadah, who was born in Afghanistan but left during the Soviet occupation in 1988. The practice, however, is coming under growing scrutiny from Afghan rights groups. As Arbabzadah notes, the tradition is not only a "manifestation of misogyny but also a violation of the girls' rights to be themselves."
Battling Against The Odds
Afghanistan's community of transgender men is also covered in her book. Several years ago, a video of a police officer arresting a cross-dresser went viral in Afghanistan, encapsulating the bafflement of many Afghans toward the practice. "When the footage was shown on TV you could see the bewilderment in the police officers," says Arbabzadah. "When the video was aired, the caption was 'a man dressed as a woman, but why?' Women are oppressed in Afghanistan so nobody understands why anyone would want to be one. You could just see that people didn't understand, even though in every neighborhood there are these individuals." Arbabzadah, a former BBC journalist, also writes about often overlooked religious communities in Afghanistan. Among them is the increasingly open and vocal community of Christian converts. Christian missionaries opened a church in Kabul in 1970. Although the church was demolished several years later, the missionaries inspired a handful of converts. From then on, Afghan churches have sprung up in places as far apart as Scandinavia and California, suggesting the number of converts has surged. Today, the marginalized Christian community in Afghanistan has its own online TV channel. The bravest members of the community, Arbabzadah notes, venture out publicly and offer conversion testimonies in Dari and Pashto, the main languages in the country. Christianity, Arbabzadah notes, is particularly evident in the north, where Christian concepts have found their way into school materials. As an example, Arbabzadah refers to students in computer classes who are encouraged to create folders named after Christian theological concepts such as the Trinity, or Christian saints and prophets. In such a deeply Islamic and conservative country like Afghanistan, the marginalized face huge obstacles and hardships. But Arbabzadah suggests that things are looking up as a small but growing number of people accept nonconformist groups and individuals. "In every neighborhood there are these individuals," she says. Everybody knows them, so once I brought this up there were many stories. People said, 'Yes we had someone in our neighborhood like that.' What is good is that there is a growing, if still only small, part of society that is a lot more open-minded than mainstream Afghan society. So, little by little, there is acceptance of people like this."

Bangladesh: SC verdict on Quader Mollah

THE Supreme Court yesterday handed down death sentence to Abdul Quader Mollah, Assistant Secretary General of Jamaat-e-Islami, for his crimes against humanity in 1971. It is worthwhile to note that with this verdict, the SC has overturned the life term that the trial court, ICT-2 awarded him on February 5, 2012. The highest court’s judicial decision provides a reason to feel satisfied for the fact that this is the first of the war crimes trial cases where the legal process has run its full course. Trying war criminals was the demand of the nation, and through the SC judgement it has been duly met. We would like, on this occasion, to congratulate Sheikh Hasina and her government for having instituted the trial against war criminals in the first place. It may be recalled that in the face of public protest against the earlier punishment of life term awarded to Mollah, the government was prompted to have the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act-1973 amended to ensure that the state could appeal against the judgement to the higher court. At this point, one finds the main opposition BNP’s stance on the war crimes trial ambivalent and confounding. That is so because they are yet to clarify what they actually mean by their argument of maintaining international standard in the conduct of the trial. We hope that all other war crimes-related cases pending with the court will also see speedy culmination in keeping with highest standard of justice.

Afghanistan: Elections 2014: What’s on the voters’ minds?

by Masood Momin
Afghanistan will elect a new president and provincial councils on April 5, 2014. With less than a week to go until candidates start registering, Afghanistan Today presents a snapshot survey conducted among a cross-section of people around the country to see which issues are dominating the discourse. - See more at:
"I do not intend to participate in the upcoming presidential elections,” says Ahmad Shah, a 32-year-old grocer from Paktya Province. “The elections will be fraudulent, not transparent, allowing an individual to come to power who puts their personal interests before national interests. By contrast, Hakim Alipour, a professor at Ibn-e-Sina Institute of Higher Education in Mazar-e Sharif, believes the act of voting is a fundamental right to be exercised by all. “I want a say in the events that are shaping this country by participating,” he said, while urging the government to credibly commit itself to holding legitimate and transparent elections. Security and more security Gholam Jabar is a resident of Wamah District in Nuristan Province who would love to cast his ballot on April 5 but does not expect to have the opportunity. “Here we have Taliban and no security,” he said, adding that few people expect the elections to take place in this region. “And we have more Pakistani Taliban than their Afghan counterparts,” he added, calling upon the government to first clear out the area so people like him can fulfill their civic duty. Kabir Ahmad is a civil society activist in the Kohistan District of Kapisa Province. He believes that poor security in that area will mean the majority of families will not allow their wives and daughters to participate in the elections.As for local allegiances, he believes that “If the Taliban had a candidate in the upcoming elections, nobody would go to vote. And if anyone goes to vote, they would not vote for the Taliban.” (The Taliban have not nominated any candidates, but Karzai's government has extended the invitation to run.) Marzia Hosseini is the manager of a private loan-giving institution in Mazar-e Sharif. “I do not think I will vote since my participation in the last elections made no difference in the past years. Instead, the security situation deteriorated further,” she said. Family affair Others point to traditional methods of decision-making undermining the spirit of free elections. “In our district, people vote collectively, not individually,” said Abdul Bary, a 25-year-old student from Badakhshan’s Miami District. Others point to traditional methods of decision-making undermining the spirit of free elections. “In our district, people vote collectively, not individually,” said Abdul Bary, a 25-year-old student from Badakhshan’s remote Maaymi District. “The decision about who to vote for is made by families, not individual members of the family,” he added. He also criticized the choice of election date, since many parts of the province will still be locked with snow. Shareefullah Khan, 45, is a school teacher in the Gul Tapa area of Kunduz City. In the last presidential elections he voted for Hamid Karzai but now regrets his choice. “I believe President Karzai formed a government based on a compromise, without considering what is good for Afghanistan,” said Khan, who is still undecided whether he will vote in April. Enough empty promises Mohammad Reshad Ghoroob sells phone cards and changes money in Kabul’s Qala-e-Fatullah District. His vote will not only go to the candidate who promises a firm stance on security, but one who is as focused on the economy, he said. Sona is another resident of the capital who works as a nurse in a private hospital. She is determined to take part in the elections and will vote for her “favourite candidate”. And this will be the one who “has good programmes to eliminate violence against women.” Mohammad Asef, 42, owns a grocery store in Kandahar Province. He still believes in the value of general elections and that a legitimate and productive government can be created as a result. But seeing is believing: “I will vote for the person with good and effective strategies to fight corruption, strengthen the rule of law and enhance meritocracy … I do not believe in empty promises.”
- See more at:

Pakistan: A judge and police join hands to deny justice to a Christian woman in Toba Tek Singh
Iqra Saddiq, a Christian girl in a village No. 330, GB Siowal, Toba Tek Singh was illegally arrested by four policemen, one of them named as Javed and a private man , Arif Gujjar on 28th of July 2013. She remained in the illegal custody of Police Station City, Toba Tek Singh until 5th of August that it came to the notice of General Secretary of Pakistan Christian Congress, Punjab on 5th of August and the Chief Organizer Pakistan Christian Congress Punjab, Mr. Akram Waqar Gill, who immediately went to the said police station. Upon our anger and protest against this severe illegality and illegitimate action by police, the police falsely involved the young girl in a robbery case and send to her Judicial lock up to avoid protest by Pakistan Christian Congress and the people of the village. Sadaf Saddique Khokhar, the secretary general of Pakistan Christian Congress, Punjab and attorney for Iqra Saddique was following this case of persecution and seduction of a young girl. It was clearly brought in the information and knowledge of the court that the girl has been tortured and seduced by policemen whereby her medical exam was necessary to be held. In spite of the orders by the court the Police did not hold the medical exam for Iqra to prove that she was tortured and seduced sexually. Mr. Sadaf Saddique applied again, the second time, calling upon the courts to make it sure that the orders of the court be followed and the medical exam done! In spite of asking and inquiring the police about the why of not following the orders of the court, the Judge, Mr. Asif Iqbal joins his hands with the police and tore and destroyed an important piece of evidence from the file of Iqra Saddique presented by Mr. Sadaf Saddique, attorney at law. This is severe persecution by this judge in a persecution of Iqra. We demand that justice be served to Iqra and that Mr. Asif Iqbal, the judge be held responsible for this criminal misconduct. Mr. Sadaf Saddique has already filed a case against the Judge to Member Inspection Team whereby inquiry shall be conducted against his for this professional and criminal misconduct. We demand the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take action. If this mishandling of judges is not taken serious, then the people will stop trusting Judiciary for their problems. Justice should be served!

Al-Qaeda suspect arrested from Punjab University hostel

Punjab University Vice Chancellor Dr Mujahid Khan has revealed that there are armed and illegal occupants residing in the hostels of the varsity. Dr Mujahid Khan said that the illegal occupants also have an extortion list and was heavily armed. “One room was raided in the hostel and only one arrest was made. Cellular phones, list of Islami Jamiat Talba members, jihadi literature, NATO jacket, clothes and plastic gloves were also recovered,” he said. Earlier, three suspects believed to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda were arrested from the Punjab University and Township area. According to sources, raids were conducted by intelligence agencies in the residential colony and a suspect was taken into custody. Agencies had received information that the suspect identified as Shehzad was a bomb making expert working for Al-Qaeda. A retired doctor was also arrested from Township while his son was detained a few days earlier. Law enforcement agencies claim that the father and son were involved in fund raising and logistic support for the Taliban.
Police is likely to launch a clean up operation at the University of Punjab hostel after an arrest of an Al Qaeda member from its hostel. The university administration has compiled a list of persons living in the hostel illegally, the sources said. However, students expressed concern over the action by the PU administration saying some students could be victimised due to their links with a particular student organisation.
- See more at:

Pakistan: National Nutrition Survey: ‘Women and children suffer from acute malnutrition’

The Express Tribune
After a two-year delay, the Planning Commission of Pakistan launched the National Nutrition Survey (NNS) 2011, at a ceremony on Tuesday. The findings of the NNS-2011, launched in collaboration with the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, reveal that 58.1 per cent of households are food insecure and only three per cent of children receive a diet that meets the minimum standards of dietary diversity. Just three countries account for half of malnourished women and children globally and Pakistan is one of them, stated the report. “Major factors leading to chronic malnutrition in the country are poverty, high illiteracy rates among mothers and food insecurity.” However, the findings of the NNS 2011 indicate a slight improvement since 2001 in terms of core maternal and childhood nutrition indicators which have profound effect on children’s immunity, growth and mental development.
The NNS-2011 shows that there has been a slight improvement in the rates of malnutrition in children under-five determined over the past decade, after assessing their anthropometry (measurement of the human individual) status, but the current statistics are nevertheless alarming. According to the study, the stunting rate among children under the age of five years has increased from 41.6 per cent in 2001 to 43.7 per cent in 2011, the wasting percentage has increased from 14.3 per cent in 2001 to 15.1 per cent in 2011. There has been no change in the percentage of underweight children since 2001, which is 31.5 per cent.
Massive micronutrient deficiencies were found in women. Some 51 per cent of pregnant women were anaemic, 46 per cent suffered from vitamin A deficiency, 47.6 per cent from zinc deficiency and 68.9 per cent from vitamin D deficiency. The incidence of malnutrition was only slightly lower among non-pregnant women — 50.4 per cent of whom were anaemic, 41.3 per cent had vitamin A deficiency, and 66.8 per cent had vitamin D deficiency. The data revealed that around 53.9per cent of the elderly population did not have normal weight, they were either under or overweight. Among them 15.8 per cent were thin, 24.2 per cent overweight and 13.9 per cent were obese. NNS 2011 data reveals that 40.5 per cent mothers breastfed their children within one hour of birth, while 77.3 per cent mothers continued breastfeeding children up to 12-15 months. The data indicates that 63.5 per cent of mothers predominantly breastfed children till the first six months. In Islamabad, exclusive breastfeeding among educated families hovered around 37 per cent, which is very low. Meanwhile, talking to The Express Tribune, an official working in the nutrition department, requesting anonymity said, “The government’s non-serious attitude had delayed the launch of this very important document.” International donors have also voiced concerns over the delay, he added. “After the devolution of the Ministry of Health under the 18th Amendment, the nutrition department became fully functional again only in mid-2013 when it came under the Ministry of National Health Services.” Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, while addressing the launching ceremony of the NNS-2011 said that these startling findings are compelling to impose nutrition emergency in the country. He also said that soon a national task force will be constituted to address malnutrition issues in the country. Nutrition Wing Director General Dr Baseer Achakzai said international donors were waiting for the official launch of the NNS-2011 to initiate a dialogue with the government to develop nutrition programmes keeping in view the country’s acute malnutrition status.

Delaying tactics?: Iran-Pakistan pipeline project

THE planned import of gas through a multi-billion-dollar pipeline from Iran has become a major foreign policy challenge for Islamabad. Slow progress on the project also reflects a disconnect between the country’s business interests and its foreign policy objectives. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif underscored this predicament when he admitted some time ago that the US had warned Pakistan of sanctions if it went ahead with the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. Indeed, it was Washington’s pressure that pulled India away from the project. In return, New Delhi secured a civil nuclear cooperation deal with the Americans. Islamabad, on the other hand, has dragged its feet on the project — which is to start delivery of 750mmcfd Iranian gas from the end of next year — at the expense of its growing present and future energy requirements. Even a Foreign Office view that the completion of the project would not invite international sanctions has been unable to push the government into starting the construction of the 781km pipeline on its side. Now Islamabad has asked Tehran to reduce the interest rate on $500m, one-third of the total cost of laying the pipeline on Pakistan’s side. While the government is fully within its rights to ask for reduction in the borrowing cost, or renegotiating the price of gas, such demands should not appear as delaying tactics while Pakistan waits for a nod from Washington. If this is not what Islamabad is entangled in right now why hasn’t any headway been made more than six months after the presidents of Pakistan and Iran inaugurated the construction phase of the pipeline on the Pakistani side? Why hasn’t a sovereign guarantee for Iranian financing been extended to achieve the financial close of the project? A plausible explanation could be that both countries were busy organising their respective elections. Still the fact that no progress has been made weeks after the political transition in Islamabad and Tehran is a subject of negative speculation. The Americans must also realise the importance of Iranian gas for this country and stop trying to wean Islamabad away from the project. By dropping its opposition to the pipeline project, Washington will also be sending positive signals to the new Iranian leader who has already expres-sed willingness to talk on Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme. But more importantly, it is for the Pakistan government to understand what is best for its people.

Pakistan: Mysteriously mum National Assembly

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has delivered another bold decision on Tuesday in which it stayed withdrawal of army from Malakand, calling upon the government to consult military leadership to this effect. After killing high profile army officer in Upper Dir, the TTP has said that they are still at war with the government troops and would continue their atrocious attacks on army personnel and civilians. In their preconditions for talks, Taliban are demanding army pull-out and in turn Pakistan military says that it will not let the rebels to dictate terms. Amidst the TPP’s continued brutal acts, the government’s resolve to initiate peace talks with the Taliban, having all their combat capabilities intact, is hardly understandable. Even astonishing is the posture adopted by the Members of the National Assembly. The House offered fateha for the departed soul of the general and his colleagues but thereafter, the law-makers kept mysterious mum over the sad incident that has created a fair amount of the skepticism about much trumpeted consensus amongst civil and military leadership on the peace talks. Though the army chief has not opposed the negotiations either yet the two seem not to be on the page. The law-makers should have strongly condemned the latest act of terrorism. The subdued response from the law-makers as if the government has made up its mind to announce unilateral ceasefire to join all powerful rebels on the negotiating table. Will it be acceptable for military offering sacrifices in the war on terror and will the military leadership join the table with enemy they have been fighting for a long time? Only time will tell the future course of action the military. The tune and the choice of the words that the TPP has used in the latest public statement it looks as if the TPP is in no mood to give any let-up to the government. Reading the situation carefully, the government must take stock of the situation judiciously so that it could put up the best defense of the country rather than madly following the Americans pursuit of the peace process in Afghanistan. Make no mistake, the international forces operative in the region are offering continued backing to the TPP to sustain its strength in a region where the writ of the government is just minimum. Any concession to rebels at this point in time may offer an advantage to the international forces working to create a buffer zone between Pakistan and Afghanistan because it may provide them chance to clamp complete control over the region. Strangely enough, the PTI chief, who always opposed the drone attacks that are supposed to be directed at those who had killed thousands of civilians and military personnel, left the House without saying a word on the sad incident. He may have some respect for the TPP but he must not forget that without Amy efforts it will be difficult to keep the frontiers of the country intact. Thus no width should be offered to the TTP and other anti-state forces working in the region. Every peace effort must aim at upholding the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan. Undermining the utility of the Pakistan army in the tribal areas under the rule of rebels’ guns can be a fatal mistake.