Sunday, November 3, 2013

UK must act to halt mutilation of girls – report

Female genital mutilation must be treated as human rights abuse, say nurses and midwives
Thousands of girls in danger of genital mutilation are being failed by the health and justice systems, a coalition of health professionals has warned in a report that recommends aggressive steps to eradicate the practice in the UK. Female genital mutilation (FGM) should be treated the same as any other kind of child abuse and evidence of it must be reported to the police, according to the report. Janet Fyle, a policy adviser of the Royal College of Midwives and one of the report's authors, said that just as it was inconceivable that a health worker would not report evidence of child abuse to the police, it should be equally important to report evidence of FGM. "If we are applying child protection laws, we cannot pick and choose which crimes against children we pursue," she said. "We are not asking for more money or legislation, we are just asking that child protection laws should work for all children not just some." According to the report more than 66,000 women in England and Wales have undergone FGM and more than 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of it. Despite its regular occurrence, FGM has not resulted in a prosecution in Britain, whereas in France there have been about 100. The report – Tackling Female Genital Mutilation in the UK – will be launched at the House of Commons on Monday by the Royal Colleges of Midwifery, Nursing and Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Unite union and Equality Now. It has been praised by the government. FGM is carried out in Africa and the Middle East by Muslims and non-Muslims. It predates Islam and is not called for in the Qur'an although it mostly occurs in countries that became Islamic. In countries such as Somalia and Egypt more than 90% of women have undergone some kind of FGM but it is also common in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mali and Sierra Leone. Although FGM has been outlawed in the UK since 1985, migrants from countries where FGM is common have continued the practice here or by taking girls to their home countries for it to be performed. Since 2003, Britons can be prosecuted for acts of FGM abroad. The report recommends that FGM must be treated as child abuse and evidence of it should be collected by the NHS and shared with the police and education officials. It also recommends that health workers who detect evidence of FGM should treat it as a crime and inform the police. The former director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, said it was only a matter of time before prosecutions for FGM took place. "Through working together closely with the police, health and social care professionals and the third sector, we are now in a much better place to have a successful prosecution against those who perpetrate this practice," he wrote in the report's foreword. "It is only a matter of time before this happens and this will send a very powerful message that FGM is a crime that will not be tolerated in a modern multicultural society."The report recommends that health workers identify girls at risk and treat them as if they were at risk of child abuse. Girls at risk are defined as girls born to a woman who has undergone FGM or a child who lives closely with someone who has. It also calls for a government-funded awareness strategy, similar to the HIV campaigns, and for health workers to be held accountable for their success or failure in monitoring FGM among patients and sharing information. The report clearly emphasises the importance of an individual's safety over the respect for religious and racial sensibilities, a point welcomed by Shaista Gohir, the chairwoman of the Muslim Women's Network. "We need to be mindful of cultural and religious sensibilities but safeguarding the child from FGM has to be the priority. If a child is at risk it is better to protect them rather than religious and cultural feelings," she said. The report's launch will be hosted by the public health minister, Jane Ellison, who has praised the report but not yet endorsed any of its recommendations. She said: "One of my priorities as public health minister is to work towards eradicating female genital mutilation. Having supported this report during its development, I welcome its publication and the lead that the organisations involved, representing so many healthcare workers, are showing." A spokesman for the Department of Health said ministers had yet to study the report's recommendations. Other suggestions include that medical staff should question all new young female patients to determine the prevalence of FGM in their families and that teachers and schools should highlight the issue with at-risk groups and individuals. Sarian Karim, a 36-year-old community worker from Peckham, south London, who suffered FGM as an 11-year-old in Sierra Leone, welcomed the report. "FGM is a normal thing for us. We don't know it is against the law, but I know that it damages girls and leaves them scarred for life – mentally and physically. "It is very important that everyone knows that FGM is illegal. We suffer from a lot of complications [because of the procedure]. "We want those people who work in schools to have guidelines and be able to inform, prepare and protect children."

Lovers Of Sharia Law: The $120,000 farmhouse where Pakistan Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud died

With marble floors, lush green lawns and a towering minaret, the $120,000 farm where feared Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud died in a US drone strike was no grubby mountain cave. Mehsud spent his days skipping around Pakistan's rugged tribal areas to avoid the attentions of US drones. But his family, including two wives, had the use of an eight-roomed farmhouse set amid lawns and orchards growing apples, oranges, grapes and pomegranates. As well as the single-storey house, the compound in Dandey Darpakhel village, five kilometres (three miles) north of Miranshah, was adorned with a tall minaret -- purely for decorative purposes. Militant sources said the property in the North Waziristan tribal area was bought for Mehsud nearly a year ago for $120,000 -- a huge sum by Pakistani standards -- by close aide Latif Mehsud, who was captured by the US in Afghanistan last month. An AFP journalist visited the property several times when the previous owner, a wealthy landlord, lived there. With the Pakistan army headquarters for restive North Waziristan just a kilometre away, locals thought of Mehsud's compound as the "safest" place in a dangerous area. Its proximity to a major military base recalls the hideout of Osama bin Laden in the town of Abbottabad, on the doorstep of Pakistan's elite military academy. "I saw a convoy of vehicles two or three times in this street but I never thought Hakimullah would have been living here. It was the safest place for us before this strike," local shopkeeper Akhter Khan told AFP. This illusion of safety was shattered on Friday when a US drone fired at least two missiles at Mehsud's vehicle as it stood at the compound gate waiting to enter, killing the Pakistani Taliban chief and four cadres. The area around Dandey Darpakhel is known as a hub for the Haqqani network, a militant faction blamed for some of the most high-profile attacks in Afghanistan in recent years. Many left the area during the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan, coming back after the US-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks. Samiullah Wazir, a shopkeeper in the area, told AFP he would regularly see a convoy of four or five SUVs with blacked-out windows leave the compound early in the morning and return after sunset. "We thought that somebody very important must be living in this house," Wazir said. "One day, I saw a man wearing a white shawl entering the house and I thought he looked like Hakimullah, but I thought 'How can he live here because he could be easily hit by a drone strike?'" But Hakimullah it was and on Friday he returned to his compound for the final time. "We were closing the shop when his vehicle came and was about to enter the house when a missile struck it," Wazir said. "Moments later, an army of Taliban came and they cordoned off the area."

Kuwaiti woman arrested in Saudi Arabia for driving sick father to hospital

A Kuwaiti woman was arrested in Saudi Arabia for driving a car while taking her diabetic father to the hospital. The arrest comes just one week after Saudi women protested the driving ban in the conservative Gulf monarchy. The woman was driving a Chevrolet Epica with her father in the passenger seat when she was pulled over in an area located near the border with Kuwait, Saudi police told Kuwait Times newspaper. She explained that she was taking her sick father to the hospital, but officers were unsympathetic. The woman was detained and is now being held in custody pending an investigation, police said. The media report provided no information on whether her sick father made it to the hospital. There are close ties between Kuwaitis and Saudis in the area, with people from both countries crossing the border on a regular basis. However, Kuwait has surged ahead in terms of female rights. Women in the country are allowed to drive, vote, and run for political office. In Saudi Arabia, attempted reforms from King Abdullah often face resistance from the country’s senior clergy. Saudi woman are not allowed to drive cars, travel abroad, open a bank account, or work without permission from a male relative. Last Saturday, a protest took place against the driving ban, which resulted in 16 female drivers being stopped by police. They were fined 300 riyals (US$80) each and forced along with their male guardians to pledge to obey the kingdom’s laws. Activists said that more than 60 Saudi women got behind the wheel to protest the driving ban.

Saudi Arabia is the nation most responsible for Islamic Salafi-Wahhabi militancy around the world

by Fareed Zakaria
America’s Middle East policies are failing, we are told, and the best evidence is that Saudi Arabia is furious. Dick Cheney, John McCain and Lindsey Graham have all sounded the alarm about Riyadh’s recent rejection of a seat on the U.N. Security Council. But whatever one thinks of the Obama Administration’s handling of the region, surely the last measure of American foreign policy should be how it is received by the House of Saud. If there were a prize for Most Irresponsible Foreign Policy it would surely be awarded to Saudi Arabia. It is the nation most responsible for the rise of Islamic Salafi-Wahhabi radicalism and militancy around the world. (In Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, Saudi Salafi-Wahhabis operate through Deobandi militants). Over the past four decades, the kingdom’s immense oil wealth has been used to underwrite the export of an extreme, intolerant and violent version of Islam preached by its Wahhabi clerics. Go anywhere in the world–from Germany to Indonesia–and you’ll find Islamic Salafi-Wahhabi centers flush with Saudi money, spouting intolerance and hate. In 2007, Stuart Levey, then a top Treasury official, told ABC News, “If I could snap my fingers and cut off the funding from one country, it would be Saudi Arabia.” When confronted with the evidence, Saudi officials often claim these funds flow from private individuals and foundations and the government has no control over them. But many of the foundations were set up by the government or key members of the royal family, and none could operate in defiance of national policy; the country is an absolute monarchy. In a December 2009 cable, leaked by WikiLeaks in 2010, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed that Saudi Arabia remained a “critical financial base” for terrorism and that Riyadh “has taken only limited action” to stop the flow of funds to the Taliban and other such groups. Saudi Arabia was one of only three countries in the world to recognize and support the Taliban-led Deobandi government in Afghanistan until the 9/11 attacks. It is also a major player in Pakistan, now home to most of the world’s deadliest terrorists. The country’s former Law Minister Iqbal Haider told Deutsche Welle, the German news agency, in August 2012, “Whether they are the Taliban or Lashkar-e-Taiba, their ideology is Saudi Salafi Wahhabi (Takfiri Deobandi in Pakistan) without an iota of doubt.” He added that there was no doubt Saudi Arabia was supporting Wahhabi (Takfiri Deobandi) groups throughout his country. Ever since al-Qaeda attacked Riyadh directly in 2003, the Saudis have stamped down on terrorism at home. But they have not ended support for Wahhabi clerics, centers, madrasahs and militants abroad. During the Iraq War, much of the support for Sunni militants came from Saudi sources. That pattern continues in Syria today. Saudi Arabia’s objections to the Obama Administration’s policies toward Syria and Iran are not framed by humanitarian concerns for the people of those countries. They are rooted in a pervasive anti-Shi’ite ideology. Riyadh has long treated all other versions and sects of Islam as heresy and condoned the oppression of those groups. A 2009 report from Human Rights Watch details the ways in which the Saudi government, clerics, religious police and schools systematically discriminate against the local Shi’ite population, including arrests, beatings and, on occasion, the use of live ammunition. (And not just the Shi’ites. In March 2012, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti issued a fatwa declaring that it was “necessary to destroy all the churches in the Arabian Peninsula.”) The regime fears that any kind of empowerment of the Shi’ites anywhere could embolden the 15% of Saudi Arabia’s population that is Shi’ite–and happens to live in the part of the country where most of its oil reserves can be found. That’s why the Saudis sent troops into neighboring Bahrain during the Arab Spring of 2011, to crush the Shi’ite majority’s uprising. Saudi royals have been rattled by the events in their region and beyond. They sense that the discontent that launched the Arab Spring is not absent in their own populace. They fear the rehabilitation of Iran. They also know that the U.S. might very soon find itself entirely independent of Middle Eastern oil. Given these trends, it is possible that Saudi Arabia worries that a seat on the U.N. Security Council might constrain it from having freedom of action. Or that the position could shine a light on some of its more unorthodox activities. Or that it could force Riyadh to vote on issues it would rather ignore. It is also possible that the Saudis acted in a sudden fit of pique. After all, they had spent years lobbying for the seat. Whatever the reason, let’s concede that, yes, Saudi Arabia is angry with the U.S. But are we sure that’s a sign Washington is doing something wrong?
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Pakistan: Govt confused over drones, US ties

Former Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani has said that government is circled by confusion over drone attacks and relations with America.
Talking to media at Karachi Airport on Sunday, Gillani reminded that his government not only blocked NATO supply but not participated in Bonn conference also in reaction over Salala check post attack. “Pakistan Peoples Party had demanded apology from US, while asked the Parliament to review arrangements regarding agreements with US and vacated Shamsi Airbase from US control after Salala check post attack,” he said. Secretary General PPP, Latif Khosa lambasted Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz over Local Bodies elections in Punjab. He said that Sharif Brothers took birth from Marshal Laws that is why PML-N wants escape from LB polls. “Federal government is failing to restore peace despite the fact that all parties has given free hand to government in this regard,” Khosa added.

Bilawal Bhutto condoles Reshma’s death
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Patron-In-Chief, Pakistan Peoples Party has offered heartfelt condolence on the sad demise of Pakistani folk singer Reshma and expressed sympathy with her bereaved family. In a press release, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari paid tributes to late Reshma for making Pakistani folk songs popular across the music world. He said folk music is a vital and inseparable part of our centuries-old culture and traditions and needs to be promoted. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also stressed for more efforts on the part of government and the society to utilize our rich folk culture and music for creating peace and harmony in the country. He prayed to Almighty Allah to rest the departed soul in eternal peace and grant courage and fortitude to her family members.

Legendary Pakistani singer Reshma passes away after long battle with throat cancer

Born in Bikaner in India's Rajasthan state to a Banjara family around 1947, her tribe migrated to Karachi shortly after partition. Legendary Pakistani folk singer Reshma, who mesmerised music lovers in the Indian subcontinent with soulful rendition of songs like 'Dama Dam Mast Kalandar' and 'Lambi Judai' in her trademark rustic voice, passed away in Lahore today after a prolonged battle with throat cancer. Born around 1947 in Bikaner, Rajasthan, in a Banjara family, Reshma was under treatment after being diagnosed with the disease years ago. She is survived by son Umair and daughter Khadija. "She had been in coma for the last month and was diagnosed with throat cancer some years ago," said doctor Rahim of the hospital where she was undergoing treatment. Reshma's tribe had migrated to Karachi shortly after partition and the singer, who remained unaffected by the fame, had once said that "the borders do not matter to me...because, an artiste belongs to all". Remembering her origins to the sandy lands in India, she said: "People in India showered me with a lot of admiration. In Pakistan, people have given me respect. But in India also, they listen to me with lot of love. It does not matter to them that I am a Pakistani singer." Having received no formal education in music, she was only 12 when she was spotted singing at Shahbaz Qalander's shrine by a television and radio producer, who arranged for her to record the iconic song 'Laal Meri' on state-run Pakistan Radio. The song was an instant hit, and Reshma went on to become one of the most popular folk singers of Pakistan, appearing on television in the 1960s, as well as recording songs for both the Pakistani and Indian film industry. "Singers of that level and magnitude are an institution in themselves and her passing away means a complete era has passed away. It is a huge loss," Shahram Azhar, lead singer of Pakistani band Laal, told PTI. Some of her famous numbers include 'Hai O Rabba nahion lagda dil mera' and 'Ankhiyan no rehen de ankhyan de kol kol'. Reshma, who has a massive and loyal fan following, was awarded several national awards including prestigious awards 'Sitara-i-Imtiaz' and 'Legends Of Pakistan' given by the President of Pakistan. She was able to perform live in India much later, during the 1980s when India and Pakistan allowed exchange of artistes. Filmmaker Subhash Ghai used her voice in the film 'Hero', which featured one of her most famous songs 'Lambi Judai'. During her career, she was invited to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a music lover, had come to her aid and gave her Rs 1 million to help pay off a bank loan. He also put her on a secured assistance of Rs 10,000 rupees per month. When she was hospitalised in Doctors Hospital at Lahore on April 6, 2013, the caretaker government led by Najam Sethi decided to pay all her medical expenses. "I have been to many countries -- US, Canada...then I went to India where people gave me a lot of respect. They Indian and Pakistani music industry today mourned the demise of legendary singer Reshma, describing her as a "voice of passion" and "an inspiration to many". Pakistani band Junoon's former guitarist Salman Ahmad tweeted, "A voice of passion not of this earth (RIP) 'Hayo Rabba'". "Tragic. RIP Reshma," Bollywood music composer Vishal Dadlani wrote on Twitter.

Former CIA official defends drones

LUBP Editorial: Death of Hakimullah Mehsud Deobandi

Let Us Build Pakistan
Now that Deobandi Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud is dead and buried, it is time to think what his death symbolizes. Certainly the government is shell-shocked because his death by droning has “murdered” the prospects of peace between the state of Pakistan and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). “Murder of peace” is the expression which Chaudhry Nisar Khan has used in his reaction to Mehsud’s death:
Nisar Khan has also threatened to not only review Pakistan-United Sates relations, he has also threated that his government will take this matter up with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: Predictably, Imran Khan has also been fuming and has threatened that his government in KP will block the NATO supply route at all costs:
Not to be left behind is the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) whose leader in the National Assembly has condemned the Americans for killing Mehsud. He, Khurshid Shah, will soon be sitting with Imran Khan’s PTI to discuss the post-Mehsud killing scenario: ANP’s leader Ghulam Ahmed Bilour too has condemned Mehsud’s death as a brutality by the US drones. The media men too have gone overboard in shedding tears over Mehsud’s death. There are a few honourable example, though:
One should not be faulted if one said that Mehsud’s death has left Pakistan an orphan polity. As if it is not a criminal, murderer, and absconder who had been killed, but the father of the nation, or at least a national hero who could have won a Nobel. But this is Pakistan, then, where an issue must be kept alive to suck in the people’s attention, so no one can speak, even think, about the real issues like poverty, public education, population explosion, lawlessness, and the rise and reach of Takfiri Deobandism. If Pakistan’s ruling elites have raised Cain over Mehsud’s death for some selfish ends, the role of the ‘liberals’ and the ‘civil’ society is no better. On social media, there has not been any sensible discussion of what the killing of Mehsud means—or does not mean. Some sections of the civil society have laughed it off by saying that Mehsud will now be cavorting with seventy-two virgins. And the rest of the fake liberals of Pakistan are outraged that the sovereignty of their motherland has been violated by the Americans—once again. It is these very fake liberals who are claiming with one voice with Pakistan’s ruling elites that just when Pakistan was about to strike a peace deal with the Taliban, the Americans have struck to undermine peace. As if the Utopia was just in reach, but for the Americans. . . . Anyone who thinks that the Taliban had, or have, anything to offer by way of ‘peace’ talks is seriously in need of some statistical-interpretive
We at LUBP do neither celebrate nor condemn the killing of Mehsud. We have never called for elimination of individuals. We strongly disagree with well-wishing but misguided view of some Pakistani opinion-makers that Mehsud’s departure will weaken the Taliban. Our stance over the Mehsud killing is that it will not make any difference to the reign of terror the Taliban have unleashed on the people of Pakistan. Just as we have done in the past, we would like to ask once again: Who are the Taliban? And it is in answering this question that the LUBP editors have a bone to pick with the various views about the identity of the Taliban. The identification of the Taliban popularised by the media, politicians, and pro-army intelligentsia is that they are ones based in Waziristan. Not at all. We believe that this is a cunning and deceptive characterization of the terrorists who have been wreaking havoc in Pakistan. This identification—characterization—hides more than it reveals. By locating the Taliban in Waziristan, the likes of the ISI, PTI, and PML-N want people not to think about the various incarnations of the Taliban which are far more lethal than the Waziristan terrorists. We are talking about the likes of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). If you look at the social scene of Pakistan, you will find out that it is the leaders and hit men of the ASWJ-LeJ who have been carrying out acts of extreme violence against the Shias, Ahmadis, Hindus, and Christians. These terrorists have been given a free hand by the ISL, PTI, and PML-N. They openly present themselves with PTI-PML-N leaders. Some of the ASWJ-LeJ terrorists were even given tickets by the PML-N to run for election in May. Then, in what way has the killing of Mehsud changed the situation? Our argument is that the killing of Mehsud will not change anything for the Shias, Ahmadis, Hindus, and Christians of Pakistan. One terrorist has been eliminated. A new and possibly worse terrorist will take over. The Taliban have already said that they will take revenge. On who? They certainly cannot go to the United States. They will not touch the likes of the PTI and PML-N who have been crying in solidarity with them. Needless to say, it is the likes of the Shias who will be put on the slab, and the likes of Imran Khan and Shahbaz Sharif will justify violence against the Shias by saying, “It’s the result of the killing of Mehsud by an American drone!” The real danger is not a Taliban leader per se. The real danger is the Takfiri ideology which the ISI-Army has nurtured with the Saudi backing (and of course money). The fight of the Pakistani nation is one against the Takfiri mindset. But unfortunately, mesmerized and narcoticized by the media-manufactured Baudrillardean narrative of ‘peace’ with ‘good’ and ‘our’ Taliban, the fake liberals of the fake civil society will continue to yield ground to the Takfiris who will stop only after they have destroyed the very structure and texture of the Pakistan society.
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Addiction ravaging Afghanistan called ‘a tsunami’

The addicts stalk the streets of this border post like hollowed-out skeletons, hair matted by filth and eyes glassy. The villages that hug the roads are veritable zombie towns, where families of men, women, and children hide their addiction within barren mud compounds. “Sometimes I feel it is better to die than live like this,” said Haidar, 30, seated on the floor of his living room beside a small tin of sugarlike powder.
His family, a wife and young children, bore the gaunt faces of addiction as well. In western Herat province, held up as an island of stability and progress in Afghanistan, the forlorn border town of Islam Qala is instead a showcase for an intensifying crisis: Long the global leader in opium production, Afghanistan has now also become one of the world’s most addicted societies.The number of drug users in Afghanistan is estimated to be as high as 1.6 million, or about 5.3 percent of the population, among the highest rates in the world. Nationwide, 1 in 10 urban households has at least one drug user, according to a recent report from the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. In the city of Herat, it is 1 in 5. From 2005 to 2009, the use of opiates doubled, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, putting Afghanistan on par with Russia and Iran, and the number of heroin users jumped more than 140 percent. Most drug experts think the rate of drug use has increased since then. In a country troubled by adversity, from its long-running war to rampant corruption, drug addiction ranks low among national priorities. Government funding for treatment and outreach is less than $4 million a year. There are just under 28,000 formal treatment slots available nationwide, officials say, and such programs rely heavily on roughly $12 million a year in extra international funding for treatment. The focus of the international community and the Afghan government has instead been on reducing opium production. Since the beginning of the war in 2001, the Americans have spent more than $6 billion to curb Afghanistan’s opium industry, including eradication and alternative crop subsidies. The effort has struggled, and in many areas eradication efforts have been unofficially abandoned as too costly in terms of lost public support for government. In the last two years, opium cultivation has increased to the highest level since 2008, as global demand and prices remain robust. The sheer volume of supply has fueled domestic demand, a phenomenon the UN drug czar in Afghanistan refers to as “the Coca-Cola effect,” after the company’s market-saturation tactics. Cementing the status quo is a lack of treatment options, like methadone substitution, or a holistic plan to address the crisis. “This is a tsunami for our country,” said Dr. Ahmad Fawad Osmani, the director of drug demand reduction for the Ministry of Public Health. “The only thing our drug production has brought us is 1 million drug users.” While it has grown far worse in the past few years, the drug crisis in Afghanistan is not new. International health officials caught on early to the problem, which in some measure stemmed from the traditional use of opium for medication. In fact, one of the earliest challenges Afghan security forces had to surmount was a public image as a band of opium-addled thieves. The problem, while more controlled, still exists: Just last month, the nation’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, fired 65 employees after discovering that they were addicted to opium. In rural areas, the problem is expected to be worse. In some villages, the rate of drug use is as high as 30 percent of the population, based on hair, urine, and saliva samples taken by the authors of the urban study. And drugs not traditionally in wide use here, including crystal methamphetamine, are now figuring in the problem as well.

Girls' schools in Afghanistan wonder 'what tomorrow brings'

By Beth Murphy, GlobalPost Contributor
On the outskirts of Kabul, the mountainous land is rocky and dry, haunted by decades of war. Although the people here are fortunate to have avoided the violence that has pervaded other parts of the country during this fighting season—a time that stretches across the spring, summer and early fall—it is still a tense time in villages here. This year marks the last full fighting season before the scheduled drawdown of US troops begins in earnest in 2014. People are not sure what to expect as the Americans prepare to leave, particularly in places that have seen enormous gains in rights for women and girls.Of the 10 million children going to school in the country today, 40 percent are girls—compared to virtually zero girls in classrooms under Taliban rule. As a documentarian I have gotten to know students, teachers and administrators at girls’ schools in Kabul Province, and returning now at such a tense time is a powerful experience. I find myself full of hope for the girls—many of whom are the first generation of educated Afghan women in their communities—delighted when I see how voracious their appetites for learning are; and also aware of how tenuous their futures may be. Twelve years after the US kicked the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan—making it possible for girls to go back to school—there is a difficult question being asked here: Can the hard-won gains be sustained at a time when Taliban power is growing? Since I was last here this spring, there have been six brutal attacks against schoolgirls – assaults ranging from a remote-controlled bomb explosion to mass poisonings through gas attacks and drinking water contamination. One school was burned to the ground.Other challenges face girls’ education. According to the Deputy Minister for Education, rural villages—even those nearest the country’s capital—have trouble finding qualified female teachers. Of the 416 districts in Afghanistan, 166 have no women to teach the girls. There are also social, cultural and family pressures that girls face—especially as they enter high school. Despite the challenges, I also see the incredible progress that has happened here. The girls I meet are smiling and skipping as they arrive each morning, eager to enter the classroom, and in many cases become the first in their families—male or female—to read and write. Their desire for education is palpable. The support from parents—mothers and fathers—to educate their daughters is real. And the learning that is happening? That is the greatest hope for the future of all. In one seventh grade class I visited Saturday, several girls are vying for the number one ranking. On the playground they tease each other about the upcoming exams, and each playfully explains why she will come out on top. At one school, students and teachers start a day of lessons that include Dari, English, religion, science, math, and life skills. The girls smile and wave at me; many stop and hug me as they pass, and some even tell me they love me. In the beginning, students didn’t know what to think of me, an American woman, traveling to a foreign country without her husband, questioning everyone and everything. But they approached me the same way they approach their lessons—eager and open and kind.I’ve particularly felt a special connection with the teens, and with the teachers committed to giving them hope, knowledge, and a small measure of power in a culture so patriarchal that their fates are almost never only in their own control. Each child is a poignant reminder of the possibilities that exist in Afghanistan that could not have been imagined a decade ago. As one student told me, “I have some education now. I know how a woman should live. I have learned what is right and what is wrong.”

Former president Zardari felicitates Hindus on Deewali

Former president Asif Ali Zardari has greeted the Hindus of Pakistan on the occasion of Deewali being celebrated on Sunday and called for strengthening interfaith harmony and protecting minorities' rights. "I wish to extend on my behalf and on behalf of the Pakistan Peoples' Party's heartiest greetings to the Hindu and Scheduled Castes community on the occasion of Deewali," he said in his message. "Deewali is known as the festival of lights and is commemorated by members of some of the world's oldest religions to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. It is a time for celebration, but it is also a time for reflection. Let us rededicate ourselves to continually striving in the path of good and noble. Let us also remember that there are always others less fortunate than us," he said. "We partake in Deewali celebrations also for promoting interfaith harmony as a means to fight religious apartheid and those who seek to impose their ideological agenda on the people," the former President said. "On this occasion, I wish to reiterate that the Hindus, indeed all minorities, of Pakistan are equal citizens of the state and entitled to equal rights. I also wish to reiterate our commitment to respect and uphold the UN Resolution calling for interfaith harmony and the pledges contained in the manifesto of the Party to safeguard the rights of all minorities in accordance with the teachings of the founder of the Nation Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the founder of the Party Quaid-e-Awam Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto."

Pakistan: Terms of the ‘surrender’ to terrorists

Daily Times
BY: Naeem Tahir Only those Taliban and the residents of Waziristan deserve some facilities that convince the nation of being law abiding Leaked out in an English daily are the terms offered to the Taliban for the so-called negotiations. The information does not seem to have been carried by any other newspaper. The dateline was October 12, 2013, from Washington, reported by the editor himself! Since then the information seems to have been hushed up. Here I share with the readers what appeared in that paper as “The Blueprint of a package deal with Taliban”. “Without disclosing the names and contents, I can write the points of the package, which look like a huge big cake with cream all over it, which may cost Islamabad some billions for a few years, but in return, the peace that may come will bring back many more billions elsewhere in the economy, investment, industry, trade and other areas that have fallen on the sidelines because of the law and order situation.
These offers include:
A completely cost-free supply of electricity and gas in all of FATA.
Supply of petrol and food items at highly subsidised and reduced prices.
A total tax-free and duty-free status to FATA for setting up any industry for at least 10 years. This should include an incentive package for Pakistani entrepreneurs to build suitable industries in FATA.
Like many Arab countries, a local partner must be given free 15-20 percent shares in these industries, and in return, he should ensure a secure and workable environment for the industry to run.
Mandatory employment of locals with a minimum wage of Rs 20,000 on at least 50 percent jobs thus created. If locals are not available, outsiders may be given these jobs.
Free education for FATA children within FATA and in universities inside Pakistan, to be paid by the Government of Pakistan.
Free setting up of quality hospitals in these areas where local doctors should run the affairs.
All youth, over the age of 18, boys and girls, should be given an unemployment allowance of at least Rs 15, 000 a month until they find a job, within FATA or in Pakistan or abroad.
Generous no-interest loans be provided to locals for business, transport and economic activities in their areas including duty-free import of buses and vans registered in FATA.
All FATA residents, with valid ID cards, must get 30-50 percent discount in airlines, railways and other government transport systems. These subsidies should be picked up by the government.
At least 2,000 FATA residents should be sent on Hajj and Umra visits every year at no cost.
All FATA agencies should be restructured into smaller units where local leaders should be declared as nazims, mayors, ameers or whatever name they like, and local affairs should be allowed to be handled by them under shariah or local tribal laws, customs and traditions through jirgas and ulema councils.
The militants in these areas, with their arms, should be regularised as law enforcement forces of their respective areas. They should be given proper training and assistance by Pakistan where and when needed.
There are some other concessions and points in the package as well. This package comes to several billion rupees every year but it is a long-term investment in the future of FATA and Pakistan. What the Taliban should give in return is an assurance that violence and fighting will stop everywhere; an environment of peace will be created for all this to be achieved; Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty will be accepted and FATA people will continue to use the Pakistani passport as their travel document.” I have reproduced this ‘offer’ for the benefit of the readers who can form their own opinions. If these offers are true then some very critical questions arise:
Is this a reward: (a) For raising arms against the state? (b) For creating terrorism with the support of the enemies of Pakistan and killing peaceful citizens? And, (c) Are we sending a message to the people of all underdeveloped areas of Pakistan to follow suit and rebel against the state to achieve development targets?
Balochistan is already prepared to follow suit. So may be the Punjabi Taliban!
Offers 1, 2, 9, 10 are completely unacceptable and unfair to the nation, and number 13 is potentially very dangerous. Other offers need rationalisation.
Agreed, Waziristan needs development, but that is needed evenly in all areas of Pakistan. If the offer is made to the Waziristan terrorists, then the hope that there will be ultimate peace to compensate the ‘investment cost’ is far from reality. The example will be followed by other ‘have-nots’, including the Punjabi Taliban, as a successful blackmail tool. Terror will continue. All that the rebels need are guns, which will be supplied by Pakistan’s enemies easily. If this continues then what else is a civil war? What will be the future of Pakistan? Don’t the peaceful citizens and those who subject themselves to the constitution of the country deserve these facilities before the Taliban do? Particularly, healthcare and quality education! The Taliban should in fact pay a price for the reign of terror they unleashed. Only those Taliban and the residents of Waziristan deserve some facilities that convince the nation of being law abiding. Why only the born again ex-terrorists are rewarded? If they do not prove their loyalty beyond doubt, then the state should apply full force and clear the country of its enemies. The COAS should ensure that the reward is only available to those who are peaceful, and who respect and adhere to the constitution of Pakistan. Otherwise, the COAS will risk being remembered as a major player in this ‘surrender’. The Pakistan armed forces cannot and should not let the country set an example for others to organise rebellions and blackmail for concessions.

Shahbaz Sharif: A non-credible approach

Daily Times
Chief Minister (CM) Punjab Shahbaz Sharif is in the UK attending the Pakistan-UK Energy Conference 2013. The opening session of the conference was marked with a stunning disclosure by him that Pakistan would have plunged into darkness had his government not paid off Rs 480 billion circular debt, notwithstanding the fact that already Rs 100 billion of circular debt has accumulated since. If the CM was thinking he could convince international investors at the conference through such claims, he needs to brush up his knowledge on how investors operate. Did he think the heads of different energy companies and the prospective investors in the energy sector attending the conference had come without doing their homework? Being a businessman he should have known how minutely a project is researched even before it is considered worth contemplating. A sound strategy would have been laying the cards on the table and then pushing the case for developing the energy sector through full commitment. The rationale for going around the world with different energy development proposals and finding potential investors lies in the fact that the sector has crumbled under various anomalies. To top it all, the CM was focusing on something that is potentially an erroneous strategy to deal with the energy crisis facing the country. The enigmatic circular debt, mounting once again, will refuse to disappear unless the symptoms that cause it are addressed. The latest World Bank (WB) report on Pakistan’s economy and energy presents a grim picture of the energy sector deeply mired in a crisis, arising from issues such as the high cost of energy due to an increasingly unaffordable energy mix and subsidies, transmission losses, theft, faulty bill collection and debilitated infrastructure. The energy mix issue dates back to 1994, when the country switched to independent private producers and instead of adopting the relatively low cost gas-fired combined cycle technology, went for fuel oil thermal generation. Typical of Pakistan’s policy gaps, those planning the energy sector then failed to anticipate the future trends in oil prices, and paid no attention to developing new indigenous energy production sources. Coupled with the inability of the government to arrest endemic corruption, ultimately the power sector ended up in a shambles. Salvation from these anomalies lies in altering the energy mix to make it more affordable, thereby easing out subsidies, clamping down on theft, pressing the biggest defaulters, the government’s own ministries and departments, to pay their bills promptly, and upgrading infrastructure incrementally, including grid stations and power lines to overcome staggering transmission losses of 27 percent. According to the WB report, energy shortages are causing a loss of 2 percent of GDP. Hardly a ‘luxury’ we can afford.

British women wish they were hot like Nicole Scherzinger
According to a survey of British women, X Factor's Nicole Scherzinger is our new beauty ideal
It hasn't escaped our attention that Nicole Scherzinger is looking particularly shamazing on this year's X-Factor . With her lightened locks and implausibly perfect complexion, the Hawaiian beauty looks closer to 25 than 35. And we're not the only ones to have noticed.In a recent poll of 2,500 UK women, she came out on top as the celebrity they would most like to look like.
Apparently it's not just men who wish their girlfriends were hot like Scherzy - women concur.Unfortunately for the ex-Pussycat Doll, it appears women are only after her looks - and no doubt athletic physique - not her personality. Instead, women surveyed said they'd most like the personality of Charlotte Crosby: a member of MTV's Newcastle-based reality show Geordie Shore, and winner of this year's Celebrity Big Brother, whose most memorable quotes include: "Everyone knows me, I pull me pants down on the odd occasion. I was probably going to have a wee on the floor".While Nicole topped the looks vote for women in their 30s, 85 per cent of respondents aged 18-25 said they'd love to look like Coronation Street actress and 'Sexiest Female' soap star Michelle Keegan. Women in their 40s aspire to 32-year-old Holly Willoughby in the looks department, although we're not sure she'd seem so appealing when paired with the notoriously grumpy nature of ex-Loose Woman Carol McGiffin, who they put in first place for personality.Respondents in their 50s appeared to be a tad more realistic, voting Lorraine Kelly as the woman they'd most like to resemble, paired with the chirpy personality of comedian Sarah Millican. When it came to the tricky question of who they'd like to trade their entire lives with - looks, personality, houses, husbands and all - it appears that all age groups covet fame, fortune (and a whopping diamond ring).18-25 year olds would put themselves in newly-engaged Kim Kardashian's Givenchy shoes in an instant, while those in their 30s would gladly swap lives, wardrobes and, no doubt, husbands with Victoria Beckham. Women in their 40s said they'd most like to swap lives with 31-year-old new mum the Duchess of Cambridge, while 50-something respondents chose entrepreneur and Alan Sugar's right-hand lady Karren Brady.The poll was conducted by , whose founder Christiana Clogg commented: "This poll shows it takes a variety of components to make the ideal woman. The most important thing is to love yourself and what you do above all else". Which is all well and good until someone comes along and asks you to compare yourself with the genetically blessed likes of Scherzinger and co.