Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Opinion: What Asian schools can teach the rest of the world

By Andreas Schleicher
In a global economy, the benchmark for educational success is no longer improvement by national standards alone, but the best performing school systems internationally. Results from the latest PISA assessment, the world's metric for evaluating learning outcomes at school, show amazing changes in the composition of the global talent pool.
Shanghai, already the top-performing education system in 2009, has extended its lead in students' math performance over the next highest performer, Singapore, to the equivalent of a full school year. And that was at a time when Singapore, too, saw rapid progress.
Other East Asian systems, including Chinese Taipei and Japan, also saw improved student learning outcomes. PISA -- the Programme for International Student Assessment -- was conducted in 2012, a year when many of the 65 participating countries were grappling with the aftermath of an economic crisis that has brought home the urgency of equipping more people with better skills to collaborate, compete and connect in ways that drive economies forward. Some contend that Shanghai's success in PISA just reflects rote learning and immense drilling for tests. But the most impressive performance of Shanghai's students is actually not on the tasks that ask them to simply reproduce what they have learned, but on tasks where they need to extrapolate from what they know and apply their knowledge creatively in novel situations.
Data on other Chinese provinces and cities is not yet published by PISA because not enough regions take part in the tests to be considered representative. However, China as a whole is expected to be included in the 2015 assessment.
Google knows everything
Consider this: Only 2% of American students can conceptualize, generalize and use advanced math in creative ways, which is what the highest performance level in PISA requires.
In Shanghai it is over 30%. Shanghai has understood that the world economy will pay an ever-rising premium on excellence, and that today's economy no longer rewards people simply for what they know -- Google already knows everything-- but for what they can do with what they know. Others have explained Shanghai's high performance with the exclusion of disadvantaged internal immigrants from the comparisons. But immigrants have always been part of Shanghai's PISA tests and most East Asian school systems excel precisely because they are capable to leverage the academic potential of disadvantaged students much better than many Western nations do, and because they are able to break the downward spiral between disadvantage, lower performance and lower levels of student engagement. They have devised powerful strategies to attract the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms and to get the strongest principals into the toughest schools.
While the American dream of social mobility is becoming a distant memory for the next generation of American students, it is just emerging as a new reality in East Asia.
Obviously, one can't copy and paste school systems wholesale. But PISA has revealed a surprising number of features which the world's most successful school systems share and from which others can learn. For a start, leaders in the East Asian education systems have convinced their citizens to make choices that value education, their future, more than consumption today. But placing a high value on education is just part of their equation.
Hard work vs. talent
Another part is the belief in the possibilities for all children to achieve. In Japan, for example, students not only believe they are in control of their ability to succeed, but they are prepared to do what it takes to do so: 84% of students said they won't put off difficult problems, in the U.S. only half did so. The fact that students in most Asian countries consistently believe that achievement is mainly a product of hard work, rather than inherited intelligence, suggests that education and its social context can make a difference in instilling values that foster success in education.
In the past different students were taught in similar ways. Shanghai embraces diversity with differentiated instructional practices, its teachers have high expectations for every student and realize that ordinary students have extraordinary talents. They also share clear and ambitious standards across the board. Everyone knows what is required to get a given qualification.
Teachers matter
And nowhere does the quality of a school system exceed the quality of its teachers. The East Asian school systems all pay great attention to how they select and train their staff. And when deciding where to invest, they prioritize the quality of teachers over the size of classes. Not least, they provide intelligent pathways for teachers to grow in their careers. High performers have also moved on from bureaucratic control and accountability to professional forms of work organization. They support their teachers to make innovations in pedagogy, to improve their own performance and that of their colleagues, and to pursue professional development that leads to stronger educational practice. The goal of the past was standardization and compliance, top performers enable teachers to be inventive. In the past, the policy focus was on the provision of education, in top school systems it's on outcomes, shifting from looking upwards in the bureaucracy towards looking outwards to the next teacher, the next school, about creating networks of innovation. You can see that nowhere better than in Finland and Japan. The most impressive outcome of world class school systems is perhaps that they deliver high quality across the entire school system so that every student benefits from excellent learning. And they align policies and practices effectively across all aspects of the system, they make them coherent over sustained periods of time, and they see that they are consistently implemented. You can see that nowhere better than in Singapore
Room for improvement
And yet, there are areas where Shanghai, too, has room for improvement. Intrinsic motivation is often low, for example, only 36% of students in Shanghai say they like to solve complex problems. Just 75% say that school has taught them things which could be useful in a job, compared with an OECD average of 87%. There are also indications that Shanghai's schools can improve the social climate for learning: Just two-thirds of Shanghai's 15-year-olds feel they belong at school. On average across OECD countries it is over 80%, and in some countries over 90%. Not least, just 77% of students in Shanghai say that other students like them, compared with an average of 90%. The challenges are tough and the status quo has many protectors. But global comparisons like PISA remind us of what is possible in education. And they help us to set meaningful targets in terms of measurable goals achieved by the world's educational leaders.
The world has become indifferent to tradition and past reputations, unforgiving of frailty and ignorant of custom or practice. Success will go to those individuals, institutions and countries which are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change. And the task for governments is to ensure that their citizens and education systems rise to this challenge.

Hezbollah blames Iranian embassy blasts on Saudi Arabia

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has blamed Saudi Arabia for a twin suicide attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut that killed 25 people.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an al-Qaeda affiliate that claimed responsibility for the attacks last month, "has an emir and he is Saudi, and I am convinced that it is linked to the Saudi intelligence services, which direct groups like this one in several parts of the world," Sheikh Nasrallah told Lebanese broadcaster OTV on Tuesday.
While Hezbollah and its regional backer Iran support Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, Saudi Arabia backs rebel fighters seeking his ouster.
The November 19 bomb attacks on the Iranian embassy came amid major regime offensives on several key fronts in Syria's brutal war, among them Damascus province and Aleppo.A day after the attacks, Saudi Arabia condemned the "cowardly and terrorist" bombings. In his remarks to OTV, Sheikh Nasrallah said the blasts that hit the embassy, which is located in Hezbollah's southern Beirut bastion, were "linked to Saudi Arabia's rage against Iran over its failure" in Syria. Saudi Arabia is "making Iran pay the price for the consequences of the failure of its plans in the region", he said. While Riyadh's regional rival Tehran has "tried for years to open the doors [for talks] with Saudi Arabia, the one that closed all the doors and windows ... was Saudi Arabia"..
"The problem with Saudi Arabia since the beginning is that it has dealt with Iran as an enemy," Sheikh Nasrallah said. "Saudi Arabia seeks to impose itself as the leader of the Arab and Muslim world, and refuses any friend or companion. It wants all the governments of the Arab and Muslim world to follow [its] orders."
He also said Iran's nuclear deal with the Western so-called P5+1 powers had "delayed war for the long run", even as it remains a "temporary" accord. Under an interim deal signed on November 24 with the United States, France, Britain, China and Germany, Iran agreed to limit uranium enrichment in exchange for minor relief from UN and Western sanctions. The Saudi government reacted cautiously to the deal, saying it could mark the first step towards a comprehensive solution for Iran's nuclear program, "if there are good intentions".
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/hezbollah-blames-iranian-embassy-blasts-on-saudi-arabia-20131204-hv4ay.html#ixzz2mTR1yy1S

Bahrain court denies parole for activist

A Bahraini court has rejected a request by a human rights advocate that he be freed after serving three-quarters of a prison term for taking part in unlicensed protests.
Lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi said rights campaigner Nabeel Rajab, sentenced last year to two years in prison for cases related to organising and participating in protests, had a legal right to early release after spending a year and half in jail. "But the court rejected the request to release him without giving any reasons," Jishi told the Reuters news agency by telephone from the capital Manama after the ruling.
The government's Information Affairs Authority confirmed the court had deemed Rajab "not eligible" for early release.
"Rajab has continuously called upon the citizens to defy the laws of public gathering which resulted in violence," the IAA said in a statement emailed to Reuters on Tuesday.
It said many security personnel had been wounded by people throwing petrol bombs and steel rods as a result.
"Rajab's speeches included encouraging youths to confront the authorities," the IAA said. "Incitement of any sort is a violation of the constitution and laws of Bahrain that are in line with international standards."
Rajab shot to prominence in 2011 when he campaigned against a crackdown on protesters. Rights groups Amnesty International and the US-based Human Rights First have called for him to be freed. "It's depressing but no big surprise that Nabeel Rajab was not released," said Brian Dooley, of Human Rights First. "Recent weeks have seen an increased targeting of human rights defenders by the authorities and freeing him would have gone against that trend."

Biden won't make headway in China if he repeats 'erroneous' remarks

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden should not expect to make much progress in defusing tensions over the East China Sea if he plans to repeat "erroneous and one-sided remarks" on the issue when he visits China, a top state-run paper said on Wednesday. Beijing's decision to declare an air defense identification zone in an area that includes disputed islands has triggered protests from the United States, Japan and South Korea and dominated Biden's talks in Tokyo on Tuesday. The United States has made clear it will stand by treaty obligations that require it to defend the Japanese-controlled islands, but it is also reluctant to get dragged into any military clash between rivals Japan and China.
Biden is scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Vice President Li Yuanchao in Beijing on Wednesday before flying to Seoul later in the week. But he "should not expect any substantial headway if he comes simply to repeat his government's previous erroneous and one-sided remarks", the official English-language China Daily, often used by China to get its message across to the outside world, said in a strongly worded editorial. "If the U.S. is truly committed to lowering tensions in the region, it must first stop acquiescing to Tokyo's dangerous brinkmanship. It must stop emboldening belligerent Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to constantly push the envelope of Japan's encroachments and provocations." All aircraft have to report flight plans to Chinese authorities, maintain radio contact and reply promptly to identification inquiries under the zone's rules. U.S., Japanese and South Korean military aircraft have breached the zone without informing Beijing since it was announced on November 23. Japanese and South Korean commercial carriers have also been told by their governments to ignore the rules. China has repeatedly said the zone was designed to reduce the risk of misunderstandings, and stressed that since it was set up there had been no issues with freedom of flight for civilian airlines. The Defense Ministry on Tuesday slammed what it said were "distortions" and "mud throwing" over the zone and the country's intentions. "It is not aimed at any specific country or target, and it certainly does not constitute a threat towards any country or region," ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said in a statement.
Still, the move has added to regional nervousness about China's strategic intentions as Beijing presses its territorial claims in the South China Sea and ramps up an ambitious military modernization program.
In Tokyo, Biden called on Japan and China to find ways to reduce tensions, repeating Washington was "deeply concerned" by the announcement of the zone.
However, influential Chinese tabloid the Global Times, published by the Communist Party's official People's Daily, noted that Biden had not come down heavily on Japan's side, saying he failed to "sate Japan's appetite" for strong words. White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Tuesday that China's decision was a provocative attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea and urged Beijing not to implement the zone. He urged China to work with Japan and South Korea "to establish confidence-building measures, including emergency communications channels, to address the dangers its recent announcement has created and to lower tensions". The China Daily said it was obvious Washington had taken Tokyo's side in the dispute.
"Biden needs to be reminded that Japan holds the key to peacefully solving the East China Sea dispute, because it is the Abe administration's recalcitrant denial of the existence of a dispute that has prevented Beijing and Tokyo from conducting meaningful communication and crisis control," it said.
China wants Japan first to acknowledge that a formal dispute over sovereignty exists, experts say, a step that Tokyo has rejected for fear it would undermine its claim over the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.
"Again, our timely visitor needs to be told: It is Japan that has unilaterally changed the status quo... China is just responding to Japanese provocations."

Obama takes on healthcare critics and says: there's no going back

Barack Obama went on the offensive over his ailing healthcare reforms on Wednesday, challenging Republicans to suggest alternatives and insisting there was no going back to the previous system that left 43 million Americans uninsured.
As the White House sought to use recent improvements to its broken website to turn the public debate around, Obama spoke in front of a group of patients who had already benefited from other reforms under the Affordable Care Act.
"My main message toda
y is: we're not going back," said the president. "That seems to be the only alternative that Obamacare's opponents have."
“If you don't like the law, then you have got to tell us specifically what you would do differently. You can't just say the system was working when 43 million went without health insurance.”
Earlier, House speaker John Boehner appeared flustered at a press conference on Capitol Hill when pressed by reporters about whether Republicans would propose their own reform legislation instead of merely calling for the repeal of Obamacare. Ignoring a question from NBC News about what his favoured “patient-centric” approach would look like, Boehner turned to Fox News for a change of subject, only to be asked again whether there would be a bill. “We'll see,” he replied. But Obama appeared to acknowledge at his own press event that the problems with the healthcare.gov website had caused enormous damage to the cause of health reform and distracted attention from the underlying benefits of his legislation.
“No one should have to worry about going broke just because someone in their family gets sick; we thought we were better than that,” he said. “That's what's gotten lost over the last couple of months as we focused, rightly, on fixing the website.”
Even with improvements to the consumer-facing front end of the website, the White House is far from out of the woods – hinting on Monday at a massive clean-up operation to make sure people who thought they had signed up are actually referred to insurers. The Washington Post estimates as many as a one third of those who signed up since October 1 have been hit by these back end problems.
The White House insists it has now fixed the problems with so-called 834 forms, which are meant to provide financial details to insurers so they can complete the policy transaction. But for the first two months of the website's existence, these payment processing glitches received lower priority from technicians who were focused on fixing the publicly visible parts of the website instead. As a result, many of those who managed to enrol previously are now being contacted by officials and asked to check directly with insurers to make sure they have the cover they hoped for.
Insurers have also complained about the quality of information they receive about new customers signing up through healthcare.gov, although it is not clear if these complaints predate the 834 software upgrades that the White House insists were introduced at the weekend to address the problem. Nevertheless, the White House appears confident enough now in the performance of the online insurance exchanges to redouble its political support for the programme in the days leading up to a December 23rd deadline for those seeking cover in 2014.
“We are not repealing it as long as I am president,” said Obama to loud applause from the young insurance recipients gathered around him in the White House executive office building.


Ghazal: Hungama Hai Kyun Barpa thori si jo pee li hai : Ghulam Ali

شہید بی بی عوام کے دلوں پر راج کرتی ہیں، آمروں کی باقیات یہ رشتہ کبھی نہیں توڑ سکتے۔ ترجمان بلاول ہاؤس

کراچی 3 دسمبر 2013: بلاو ل ہاؤس کے ترجمان اعجاز درانی نے اسلام آباد میں بےنظیر انکم سپورٹ پروگرام کے مرکزی دفتر کے سائن بورڈ سے شہید محترمہ بے نظیر بھٹو کی تصویر کو کپڑا لگا کر چھپانے کی شدید الفاظ میں مذمت کی ہے اور انہوں نے اس شرمناک عمل کو پاکستان کے کروڑوں عوام، پیپلز پارٹی کے لاتعداد کارکنوں اور خصوصا ان لاکھوں گھرانوں کی دل آزاری قرار دیا ہے جنہیں BISPکے تحت ان کے اپنوں گھروں میں مالی امداد فراہم کی جارہی تھی۔ BISP کے سائن بورڈ سے شہید محترمہ بے نظیر بھٹو کی تصویر کو چھپانے کے بعد ملک بھر کے عوام خصوصا سوشل میڈیا میں غم و غصے کی شدید لہر دوڑ گئی ہے۔ جس کی وجہ پوری پاکستانی قوم کی جگ ہنسائی ہورہی ہے۔ اعجاز درانی نے کہا کہ حکومت فوری طور پر پاکستانی قوم کے سامنے وضاحت پیش کرے کہ اس شرمناک عمل میں حکومت کا کونسا وزیر یا متعلقہ محکمے کو کونسا معتصب افسر شامل ہے۔ جس کے بعد حکومت فوری طور پر ان وفاق دشمن عناصر کے خلاف سخت کاروائی کرے۔ بصورت دیگر پاکستان پیپلز پارٹی کے کارکنان اس شرمناک حرکت پر سراپا احتجاج ہوجانے پر مجبور ہوجائینگے۔ اعجاز درانی نے یاد دہانی کروائی کہ پانچ سال قبل بھی جنرل ضیاء کی باقیات نے شہید بے نظیر بھٹو کی یادگار شہادت پر ان کی تصاویر کو نذر آتش کر کے بھٹو خاندان سے اپنی دیرینہ نفرت کا اظہار کیا تھا۔ ترجمان نے مزید کہا کہ شہید محترمہ بے نظیر بھٹو ملک کے غریب، مظلوم اور محکوم عوام کے دلوں پر راج کرتی ہیں۔ ڈکٹیٹر ضیاء اور اس کی باقیات نے اپنے مختلف ادوار اور ڈکٹیٹر مشرف نے بھی اپنے اقتدار کے دوران ایسی شرمناک حرکات کے ذریعے عوام کے دلوں سے شہید محترمہ بے نظیر بھٹو کو دور کرنے کی سازشیں کی لیکن وہ ہمیشہ شرمناک ناکامیوں سے دوچار ہوئے۔ انہوں نے کہا کہ نواز حکومت اور ان کے حواریوں کی جانب سے BISP کے نام یا لوگو (Logo) میں کسی بھی قسم کی تبدیلی کے خلاف سخت احتجاج کیا جائے گا۔ ترجمان نے وزیر اعظم نواز شریف سے معاملے کی فوری تحقیقات اور ملوث افراد کے خلاف کاروائی کا مطالبہ کیا۔

One million new visits to Obamacare website Monday: White House

President Barack Obama's chief of staff said on Tuesday that more than 1 million new visitors had checked out the HealthCare.gov website on Monday, the first day after a major overhaul of the troubled site used to shop for health insurance required under new reforms.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said the website's new queuing system, used in times of high traffic, worked "pretty well," with 13,000 visitors choosing to receive an email to return later on Monday when there was less traffic, and half of that group accepting that invitation.
"No matter what, we're going to see this thing through," said McDonough, who spoke to a forum organized by Georgetown University and law firm Arent Fox.
When it launched on October 1, the website was supposed to make it easy to buy health insurance in 36 states. Other states run their own marketplaces. Consumers needing health insurance by January 1 have until Dec 23 to sign up, while all uninsured Americans are required to have plans by March 31. But the federal website was a flop, frustrating users with errors and slow speeds.
"That's on us. That's on me," McDonough said, echoing apologies that Obama has made for the disaster that has damaged the president's credibility and popularity.
After weeks of around-the-clock fixes, and as the December 23 looms, the government said on the weekend that the website should work well for most Americans.
The White House has signaled that it plans to outline more aggressively the benefits of the healthcare reforms. Obama will kick off the campaign on Tuesday in a speech at 2:30 p.m.
Some of those benefits include ensuring that 129 million Americans with pre-existing medical conditions, including 17 million children, cannot be denied health insurance or charged more for it, McDonough said. McDonough said work will continue to fix the site and that the strong traffic shows there is demand for affordable health insurance.
"I will say that I've worked on many complicated issues - Middle East peace, Iran, and budget deals. And I can tell everybody in this room that reforming the healthcare system is the single most complicated issue I've faced," McDonough said.

Militancy devastates Pakistani agriculture

Life for Sanaullah Shah was never as hard as it has been for the past few years.
"I have 100 acres of fertile land that can grow all sorts of crops, but the wave of militancy has turned our field to barren land," the 52-year-old South Waziristan resident told Central Asia Online. Like other farmers in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), he used to earn a decent income yearly, but the militancy that took off in 2007 has slowly but regularly sapped his livelihood.
Shah is apparently not alone.
"I know at least 50 land-owning families who have become so poor that they don't have enough food for their own use," he said. "About five years ago, the farmers were well off."
Impact on economy, citizens
Agriculture accounted for 25.9% of Pakistan's GDP in 1999-2000, but its share dwindled to 21.3% in 2009-2010, according to the 2012 Economic Survey of Pakistan. Neglect of irrigation systems has forced FATA farmers to growing farming cereal crops, it said. Before the militancy surged in 2007, 65% of the FATA population worked in agriculture, the survey said. Today, after all the disruptions, only 40% do.
"[Besides other aspects of agriculture], the orchards in North and South Waziristan that produced high-quality plums, pine kernels, apricots, pears, peaches and pomegranates have been badly affected by the endless wave of militancy," Muhammad Shakoor, a field assistant at the FATA Agriculture and Livestock Department, said. Militants habitually cut power lines in the tribal areas, he said, adding that such sabotage has brought farming in Kurram, Khyber, Bajaur and Orakzai agencies to a standstill. "In 2000, about 35% of households lived below the poverty line in FATA, which reached 66% in 2011," Shakoor said. "We used to grow wheat, vegetables and fruits for the other parts of the country, but now everything is in shambles," Khyber Agency resident Muhammad Gul said. "Now we don't have enough food for own personal use, let alone for commerce." Likewise, farmers in Waziristan, who are respected for breeding sheep and producing high-quality wheat and maize, have been on the receiving end of the violence. Fear of the Taliban has discouraged agricultural consultants from venturing out even to peaceful areas of FATA, South Waziristan resident Saleh Muhammad said. Kurram Agency farmers suffered, as did their counterparts elsewhere in FATA. "We earned Rs. 5m (US $46,000) [yearly in 2005] from a variety of apples known for their flavour and sweetness," Parachinar-based farmer Shaiq Hussain said. "Our income dropped to a meagre Rs. 500,000 (US $4,600) [in 2011]." "Farmers faced problems in transporting their goods to markets due to closure of roads," he said. "Last year, the people [of Kurram] lost more than Rs. 250m (US $2.3m)."
FATA taking steps
To help farmers recover from those challenges, authorities in FATA have launched numerous programmes to strengthen agriculture. "We are preparing the farmers to increase their output by employing modern techniques," an official of the FATA Department of Agriculture Extension, said. The programme focuses on land reclamation, training farmers in off-season vegetable and mushroom cultivation and establishing farm service centres to boost their yield, he said.
"We are establishing tea plantations in Orakzai, Kurram, Bajaur and South Waziristan agencies where 50,000 plants would be cultivated every year," he said.
Results in the tea plantations indicate a bright future for that crop, he said.
FATA vs. Malakand
Farmers in Malakand Division, in adjoining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, who suffered from the militancy between 2007 and 2009, are also back in business. A 2012 survey by the National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC) showed that nearly 48% of Pakistan's total fruit is produced in KP – with Swat District being a major contributor with 25%, which decreased to 10% when the Taliban ruled Malakand Division from 2007 to 2009, Murad Shah, secretary of the Malakand Farmers' Association, said. An estimated 55% to 70% of the fruit grown in Malakand went to waste during the era of Taliban shelling and bombings and the curfews and road blockades that authorities had to impose, he added. However, the restoration of security after a 2009 military operation in Malakand has meant a resumption of fruit and vegetable exports after the 2007-2009 Taliban reign of terror forced a halt. Swat, Buner, Lower Dir and Shangla districts are producing bumper crops of oranges, apple, grapes, peaches, persimmon and other fruits again, Malakand Farmers' Association Secretary Murad Shah said.
Swat alone grows 18% of the country's tomatoes.
"In the past two years, we earned about Rs 3.5m (US $32,000) [total] just from maize," Dir farmer Shinwar Shah said. "We are getting help from the government's experts on regular basis."

Pakistan: Jamaat-e-Islami has links with Taliban, Al-Qaeda

MQM chief Altaf Hussain has alleged that the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) has connections with Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Addressing the MQM General Body workers meeting via telephone from London, Altaf Hussain said JI and the members of its student wing Islami Jamiat Tulaba (IJT) were being killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan. "The JI and IJT have close links with outlawed organasations and the federal government should announce a ban against them." In reference to JI Ameer Munawar Hasan, Altaf said: “General Niazi was killed by Hakeemullah Mehsud but when Hakeemullah was killed he was called a martyr.” The MQM chief further said the JI was involved in conspiracies to destroy Pakistan. Altaf Hussain also called for cases to be lodged against the JI. Altaf Hussain asked the government, army and agencies to stop victimisation of Muhajirs. “The army will not be able to control the situation if the Quaid and his workers lose patience.” He added that IJT activists involved in acts of violence in Punjab University were released a day after being arrested, while MQM workers were being targeted and arrested. "If there are cases against IJT members, they are not arrested by any institution, and even if arrested, they are released ."

Removal of SMBB’s portrait from BISP logo disgusting and unpardonable, Bilawal House

A spokesman of Bilawal House has strongly condemned the defacing the logo of Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) to remove portrait of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto from the signboard in its Islamabad Headquarters and demanded immediate action against the officials involved in disgusting and unpardonable act. Picture of defaced logo was making rounds at the Social Media provoking strong resentment and outrage among the public as well as the Jiyalas all over the country, which may prompt into country-wide protests in case an urgent action was not taken. The spokesman said Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto remains in every heart of poor, downtrodden and toiling masses across the country and such coward and outrageous acts won’t be tolerated anymore. He said any attempt by Nawaz Sharif government and its henchmen to rename or re-design the logo of BISP will be strongly resisted and protested in every nook and corner and asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to order an inquiry into it, if he is not involved directly or indirectly in the conspiracy.

Afghanistan:Presidential hopefuls asked to explain position on rights

An influential human rights organisation on Tuesday said asked the nearly a dozen Afghanistan presidential candidates for the April vote to explain to voters their positions on major human rights issues. In a statement, the Human Rights Watch (WHR) said it distributed a questionnaire a day earlier to the 11 candidates posing 20 questions on the country’s most pressing human rights issues, saying responses received by January 2 will be posted on the watchdog’s website. “Afghanistan’s next president will inherit immense human rights problems requiring leadership and commitment,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at WRW. “Afghan voters should demand that presidential candidates make explicit their plans to promote and strengthen human rights.” Afghans will vote for a new president on April 5 in the landmark elections seen as a foundation to the nation’s future building. President Hamid Karzai, who has been in office since 2004, is barred from running for a third term due to Afghanistan’s presidential term limits. The HRW said the 11 presidential and vice-presidential candidates included several individuals what it said “implicated” in serious human rights abuses. The New York-based organisation’s questionnaire seeks responses on these issues: Security force accountability, women’s rights, transitional justice, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, torture and other ill-treatment by security forces, children’s rights and Afghan refugee children abroad. The watchdog said the Taliban’s government from 1998 to 2001 had been notorious for its violations of human rights and the Karzai government had failed to deliver on a large number of key rights issues. “The upcoming presidential election is crucial in determining whether Afghanistan will have a future as a rights-respecting country, or whether abuses and impunity will continue,” Adams said. “When Afghans go to the polls on April 6, they will want know where the candidates stand on these critical concerns.”

Afghanistan's HIV Rate Up 38 Percent in 2013

Officials of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) on Sunday announced that cases of the deadly HIV virus in Afghanistan were up by 38 percent from last year. December 1 is the international day for building awareness of HIV/AIDS and fighting it. Najia Tareq, the Deputy Minister of Public Health, said new and more robust efforts were being taken in Afghanistan every year to address the spread of the disease. "The international day for fighting HIV is the best opportunity to raise people's awareness about HIV/AIDS and renew commitments to those who are fighting against HIV," Tareq said. According to the United Nations, around 5,000 people are thought to live with HIV in Afghanistan, but only 30 percent of them have been tested. "The Ministry of Haj and Islamic Affairs is committed to making the people more aware of HIV through the Mosques, Takya Khana and other religious places," Advisor to the Ministry of Haj and Islamic Affairs Mohammad Sharif Robati said. Meanwhile the United Nation International Children Fund (UNICEF) has said it will continue its efforts to curtail the spread of HIV in Afghanistan, especially amongst mothers, through 2015. "Reducing the transmission of HIV from mothers to children through 2015 is a real target and we believe that we will reach this target," UNICEF Health and Nutrition head in Afghanistan Dr. Nasreen Khan said. "In developed countries, the transmission of HIV from mother to children is entirely prevented by giving voluntary counseling, access to anti-virus medicines, safe child birth and breastfeeding." Ghulam Mujtaba Fayez, the Director of the HIV/AIDS treatment center in Kabul, told TOLOnews that five to seven people visit the center for testing daily. Based to official reports, more than 300,000 Afghans have been tested for HIV/AIDS this year.

Pakistan's Shia Genocide: Yazidi terrorists shot martyred a Shia Muslim in Karachi

Notorious Yazidi takfiri nasbi terrorists shot martyred a Shia Muslim near Singer Chowrangi in Karachi on Tuesday. Shiite News Correspondent reported here that notorious terrorists of outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba targeted Syed Zakir Shah in Korangi area near Signer Chowrangi. He embraced martyrdom and his body was taken to hospital for postmortem. Shia parties and leaders have condemned the targeted murder of Zakir Shah. They said that genocide of Shia Muslims continued unabated across Pakistan but government has been appeasing the terrorists instead of eliminating them. They demanded immediate action against the terrorists

Pakistan's Citizen & Police Centre: A hoax played too many times

Nobody in Pakistan, not even the citizens of Islamabad will find solace in the news that Islamabad Police has inaugurated a Citizen and Police Centre. Nobody is raising hopes high that after the setting of the centre the police will stop mistreating the poor citizens or favouring the more affluent party in incidents of crimes committed and FIRs filed.
The hoax has been played too many times to fool anybody.
Every major city, district, tehsil and even towns had in the country, some even have now, such committees and centres at one or another time and in spite of that the police arrested the innocent, beat them to pulp and forced them into confessing to crimes that they had not committed. If the arrested men and women were poor and could not bribe the concerned cops or knew nobody influential to back them up, they were, and are, tortured no matter how good the members of a toothless committee to coordinate efforts with police were. The presence of such committees and centres not withstanding; gambling dens, drug trade went on openly, and goes on even now, drug peddlers sell the poison even near police stations. Robberies, thefts, murders, rapes, abductions, batha mafias and the victim businessmen have existed side by side along with such committees and centres. If anything, these bodies are just public relation ploys by the department that wants to thwart any effort of the government in the direction of creating bodies of civilians who can supervise the police department and make sure that the officials stick strictly to the law when dealing with crimes and criminals, as well as the innocent. From the citizens point of view these committees and centres, even if citizens are included in these, are toothless and cannot put the powerful and corrupt law enforcing agencies on the right path. As far as Islamabad goes, the suggestions and proposals below are for the consideration of the country's Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, as he is responsible for the law and order of the capital. We also, nonetheless, request the home ministers of the provinces that if they want to improve the performance of police in their respective provinces, they should also consider our suggestions. 1) We should also take into account that the internal system of discipline has completely failed in all the provincial and capital police departments. 2) The police departments were organised by our British rulers not to serve the people but to intimidate them and force the masses into submission to the government run by the English. We are still clinging to the ancient police system in the impossible hope that the individuals who are part of police will find it in their heart to serve and not torture their fellow citizens. 3) The departments comprise mostly corrupt individuals from top to bottom. 4) Our police is not properly trained. 5) The selection process is so corrupt that even criminals with long charge sheets find employment in the police departments. 6) Police stations don't get government funds for their activities in connection to their field operations and even for purchasing stationery. 7) Police don't have swift and sturdy vehicles to purse criminals; 8) Cops don't have modern equipment and laboratories. 9) Police don't have modern weapons to fight the well-armed criminals. 10) Police salaries are very low compared to the lucrative chances they get to enhance their incomes by just allowing crimes to happen. But when all is said and done, the most important missing link is that there is a total lack of local citizens' supervision over the law enforcing agencies, who can in a flash arrest a Pakistani, even an innocent one, and strip him or her of all his or her fundamental rights and diginity and keep him under custody. No police official high or low is punished for wilfully arresting a free citizen on trumped up or totally false charges.
There should be committees at tehsil and district level of respected citizens comprising retired or working principals of education institutions; president of local bars or their nominees, retired judges, journalists and known social workers. These committees should have the power to inspect police stations, ask for progress in investigation of cases and hold inquiries on applications against police by members of the ordinary public. In case, these committees find any cop or high official guilty; the punishment should be automatic and according to the guilt. These committees should have the right to make suggestions and these should be acted upon. Their recommendation should have teeth and the police official should know that the committees' views can result in their demotions, stoppage of salary, stoppage of annual increment, suspension from job and even dishonourable discharge.
Unless, such citizens committees are formed all over the country, there may be a hundreds such citizens and police centres in the country as the one recently inaugurated in Islamabad but the lawlessness inside the the police stations and outside the police stations will continue.

Pakistani Journalist Threatened For Reporting the Issues Of Minorities

Imperilled for the sake of minorities’ rights, a journalist faces threats as he writes for persecuted Christians in Pakistan.
It’s been more than once that Rana Tanveer has been threatened. Rana Tanveer is a Lahore-based reporter at a reputed English newspaper. As he reports, he received a one-page letter, in the Urdu language, terming him an apostate and accusing him of writing in favour of Ahmadis and Christians.
“It warned me to stop writing ‘against’ Religion and seek ‘forgiveness’ from God,” he said. It further warned him that if he did not desist, he would be killed — since that is the punishment of a person declared an apostate. “I can’t work like this; no reporter can, if he cannot roam about freely,” said Tanveer.
At first, he did not take the letter seriously, but a week later he received another letter after he says, he felt he was being followed on a motorbike. “It’s a scary experience. I made a few turns just to be sure that this was not a figment of my imagination, but the man on the motorbike persisted. I knew then that this was no joke and I had to do something. ”While on the other hand his seniors at work have advised him to file a complaint with the police, which he has without naming anyone “due to security reasons”.
“My editor told me to keep a low profile and not to report on minority issues for a while, and if I had to, it would go without by-line,” said the journalist. One of his colleagues said, “As a journalist, perhaps the biggest satisfaction in this otherwise perilous and often under-paid profession is one’s by-line; it also lends credibility. However, the right to information is threatened when media persons threatened.”
Rana Tanveer often times confronts a surfeit of minority rights abuses scattered around his city nevertheless he asserts that few journalists tend to engage in these issues. “Mine seems to be a lone battle. I am often scorned by my colleagues for reporting ‘chooras’ (derogatory term used for Christians, also among the poorest sections of society and consigned to menial janitorial jobs) and ‘Qadianis’. Nevertheless it’s not lack of sympathy to these rights issue by itself that keeps journalists from reporting on them. A senior journalist and communication expert, says,”It is also quite dangerous to write about “the victimisation of Ahmadis, Christians or Hindus”. Nevertheless, he added: “Journalists have to write what is right. Threats and killings are hazards of this job living in an increasingly intolerant society.”
- See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/a-journalist-threatened-for-reporting-the-issues-of-minorities/#sthash.F5B6vcjA.dpuf

Pakistan: Bail denied to Ahmadi doctor caught reading the Holy Qur'an

Ahmadiyya Times
A bail application was denied today for the 72 years old Ahmadi doctor who has been languishing in a Pakistani jail since Monday, November 25th. Dr Masood Ahmad, a British national, was arrested in Old Anarkali area of Lahore on blasphemy allegations for having read the translation of a verse from the Qur'an, the Muslim Holy Book. The Defendant was later charged with the Ahmadi-specific portion of the Blasphemy Law - section 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code - when an enraged mob showed up at the police station demanding charging Dr Masood for ‘posing as a Muslim.' The mullahs presented a secretly recorded video as an evidence of the ‘crime’ showing Dr Masood referring to a Quranic verse while reading aloud its Urdu translation. The local police accepted the video tape into evidence and later raided the defendant's clinic for additional 'objectionable materials.' According to a Twitter post by the Ahmadiyya spokesperson in Pakistan, Mr Saleem-ud Din, 'the magistrate hearing the bail application dismissed it while there was a heavy presence of mullahs at the court premises.' According to the laws of Pakistan it is a criminal act for an Ahmadi to read the Holy Qur'ān or act in a manner that may project the Ahmadī as 'posing as a Muslim.'

Interview: Sherry Rehman, Former ambassador to the US (November 2011-May 2013)

By Rehana Hakim
Is there any truth to the commonly held perception that Pakistan has a love-hate relationship with the US?
Relationships with superpowers are anything but static. The love-hate binary is an intellectually lazy construct, because the relationship cannot be characterised as one profiled to doom or disengagement. Pakistan is neither a lost love nor a hidden wife and all such metaphors should be thrown out the window. Bilateral relations between two states cannot and should not be reduced to sound bytes like this. States have interests, not irreversible enmities or love-fests.
What have been the major irritants in this relationship?
Some of the enduring irritants are related to unrealistic expectations from both sides. The problems are also often embedded in the public narratives that have evolved over the years. Pakistan, for instance, would be better served if we stopped looking for grand strategic bargains, which I think is a shift our civilian governments have made, but this has not filtered down to the public level. America would also do the bilateral relationship a favour if it looked at its Afghanistan challenge squarely in the eye, and acknowledged the complex issue of Afghan security and stability, which should not be made a responsibility or burden for Islamabad alone as the US exits Afghanistan. On a specific level, of course, drone attacks constitute a major challenge for Pakistan’s civilian governments, as they find these politically unsustainable, while the US cannot erase the memory of finding OBL in Abbotabad, and so on. These issues fuel the infamous “trust deficit” which is always referenced in current discourse.
What were the challenges you faced in your tenure and how did you manoeuvre your way through the minefield: Osama bin Laden, Shakil Afridi, Afia Siddiqi, drones and Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan?
The bilateral relationship was facing its worst low when I was yanked out of parliament and sent in to deal with the crisis. After the multiple setbacks of 2011, the Raymond Davis and OBL episodes, the martyrdom of our soldiers at Salala literally spun the relationship into an extraordinary tailspin. It was a huge diplomatic as well as personal challenge, because it entailed stepping straight into the eye of a strategic storm between the two countries, right after the Memogate and Salala crises. My first job was to steady the potential decline, and to get both sides to start understanding what the other needed. The hardest part was the first six months, when I had to shuttle back and forth between Washington and Islamabad to explain how we could best unlock the latest and toughest knot. In Islamabad this was the first time that any major foreign policy decision, not rhetoric, actually went to parliament, which is crucial for actions rooted in public consent. Washington was not used to waiting for Pakistan’s democracy to speak, and it took months of working days that blurred into nights in the winter months to explain why Islamabad was taking its time for the resumption of opening our highways to the NATO pullout from Afghanistan, and to advocate empathy to key Congressional leaders. And that the need for an apology for Salala was not my own hobby horse, but was required by the system, across the policy board, including parliament, to open the doors to the resumption of full ties. Representing Pakistan’s interests, and explaining its multi-dimensional texture, was my only agenda, and I am grateful I had good American interlocutors in the State Department, White House and Pentagon, who did appreciate how we felt after months of constant meetings, but conveying that across the board, especially to Congress was a real daily challenge, even for them. OBL’s presence on Pakistan’s soil is not something that Americans will likely forget, even though the Obama Administration learnt to put it aside in the interests of working through joint challenges. We often had to face tough words from Congress and the Senate over it, as well as on Shakeel Afridi, who was seen as the hero who led to OBL’s capture by many of his champions in Congress. The drone issue was actually the toughest to navigate, because every time it was raised publicly in the US, or some international NGO would question the covert warfare drones allowed America to wage, we would see a strategically placed article in the mainstream DC press, which would allege, without any semblance of proof, that Pakistani governments, even after Musharraf’s regime, were somehow engaged in a “wink and nod policy,” whereas the reality was very different. The reality was that it was the first issue I was asked to raise as ambassador in my high-level meetings, and it was the first item on our agenda back home in the highest-level internal causcuses we would hold whenever I was called back to Islamabad for consultations during the post-Salala crisis phase. As the ambassador, my job was to be the first line of defence for Pakistan in the United States, so it was not for me to parse the efficacy of drones as an instrument that destroys terrorist targets. But it certainly was my job to insist that strikes need to go down and be completely stopped, especially given that the Americans would admit first privately and then publicly, that the core of Al Qaeda, which constituted their High Value Target list, has been degraded, dismantled and destroyed in our part of the world with Pakistan’s help.
It is generally believed that:
a) The Republicans are more supportive of Pakistan than the Democrats.
b) All US governments are more comfortable working with military governments in Pakistan (Generals Ayub, Zia and Musharraf).
Do you agree?
Things have changed in the US. However, I will not deny that historically all administrations have found it easier to work with military governments in Pakistan, because it gives them one window to deal with, and also because a great deal of the issues they prioritised have been security-centric. Today, though, Pakistan’s transition to democracy, with one government gracefully exiting for another after general elections and a full term, is also being appreciated in the US, across the board.
In the context of the war on terror in Pakistan, the US has continued to ask Pakistan to do more and more. Is there any understanding or realisation of what Pakistan itself has suffered in the war or terror?
There was very little understanding of that when I got there, and it’s a hard dynamic to shift, particularly when Pakistan was routinely in the crosshairs of alleged terror plots and headlines. Among other things, which included constant Congressional meetings, engaging key members of the American media, and public speaking, I started sending a weekly “Pakistan Casualty Count” to Congress, and key players, which did immediately register a point. It jolted quite a few offices out of the old narrative, but we still have a long way to go. The “do more” mantra will continue, albeit with more courtesy, as long as we too remain victims of our own terrorists. But in DC, it was important to stay away from the ‘victim narrative’ in reminding mainstream America that Pakistan has lost more than 50,000 of its own in this war on terror and is still under fire, because the point almost always registered with interlocutors and general audiences. Most of the time, they are fed a daily diet of one side of the picture, that is the nature of the international media.
Also, if one really wants to make a difference, this cannot be a one-wo/man job. One has to utilise the resources of senior officials in the embassy, empower them for outreach, give them a consistent message to carry, and let Brand Pakistan get some air. Our DCM, for instance, would team up with officials and go out on the Hill to brief staffers and media, and meet business leaders; this made a big difference. We did the same with the huge Pak-US community, reaching out via newsletters and phone conferences every month.
This government, as also previous ones, have talked of trade not aid from the US. Given the situation in Pakistan, do you think this is a realistic demand?
It certainly is. There is no appetite for an FTA ( Free Trade Agreement) in Congress, even if the administration pushes it, but there is certainly room for tariff changes for our exports to access their markets. And if we improve our security situation, there is a robust line of big US investors in the pipeline, ready to come in. The search for sustained common ground like economic interests may seem like an unambitious or unglamorous goal, but believe me, it is the one that does the best service to Pakistan, and addresses our need to redefine our international role as a responsible and peace-mongering, democratic, global player.
In his book Shooting for a Century, Stephen Cohen maintains that the US policy apparatus for South Asia, has been severely deficient and dysfunctional. Do you agree? Also that the US policy of dehyphenation in the context of India and Pakistan has worked in India’s favour. Should Pakistan be feeling insecure about the US’s growing links with India?
Pakistan should certainly be looking to building peace constituencies with India and Afghanistan through very challenging times, and civilian governments do recognise that a pivot to the region should be their first priority. The US’s strategic embrace of India has to do with its own management of Pacific power plays, in the context of the whole China-Asia rising phenomenon, not as some rejection of Pakistan, which is unfortunately seen as a function of Afghan stability in a broad matrix. But we have to understand that Indian diasporas bring some of the world’s biggest wealth-based business opportunities to the US-India equation, and Indian investment in the knowledge economy has yielded serious dividends in the American search for markets as well as equity. The Indian military’s expanding defence hardware shopping list, as the largest importer of arms in the world now, has also ensured a steep leverage gradient with the powerful mil-bus complex in the US. So while some of us talk about the inequity of the US-India nuclear deal there are very few takers for this conversation in American strategic circles.
In your view, does the US administration see Pakistan as a help or hindrance on the road to peace in Afghanistan?
The US undoubtedly sees Pakistan as a front-runner in the Afghan peace process. Pakistan, under its last civilian government, has tried very hard to shed the notion of aiming for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is for the Afghans to run, and for them to govern. This should be the strategic priority across the board in Pakistan’s corridors of power. Importantly, this is also the view of the majority of 180 million people of Pakistan. So we need to continue with that vision, but the problem, of course, still won’t go away. Who will secure, finance, stabilise and pacify Afghanistan? Pakistan certainly cannot carry that burden, nor should it seek to.
For the last five years, all offices in Islamabad have moved to assure Kabul of their neutrality. The idea was to transmit the sense that Pakistan does not want to play favourites, and yes, no one is invested in promoting the Taliban or any other power in Kabul. This has to be a long-drawn out Afghan decision.
We told the Afghans and Americans we will support their political reconciliation if that is what they want, we will support their 1.5 million refugees again until 2015, and we will support their elections, and assist development. But we should repeatedly emphasise that we can’t be the guarantors of a peaceful endgame as US/NATO forces transit out of Afghanistan, leaving in many places a security vacuum that has already begun to roil our eastern border and tribal areas.
The Americans will be leaving Afghanistan next year. Do you fear, as most Pakistanis do, that Pakistan will suffer the same fate, or worse, that it did post-1989, following the end of the Cold War?
The 2014 timeline poses challenges for the whole region, but Pakistan’s stakes in Afghan stability are vital. The long porous border that we share with Afghanistan makes Westphalian notions of security very difficult for us, as the border often becomes a revolving door for non-state actors that have developed the skills and acquired resources to stalemate, if not defeat the world’s largest international coalition of forces in Afghanistan. So yes, the short answer is, I would be worried, very worried about the escalated nature of the fallout on Pakistan if a security transition in Afghanistan is full of holes. Which it already is, and we see the playout already.
Does Pakistan have any friends on Capitol Hill?
Yes, we do, although after the OBL incident, they are few and far between. We had also not been leveraging our best assets in the Pak-US equation, which is the Pakistani-American community. I noticed that a sustained outreach campaign to this group ensured that they rallied very quickly to our call. They can’t change the game, that only happens when core realities shift on the ground, but they do form an invaluable bridge to the political heavyweights on the Hill, on the Beltway, and in the administration.
Which areas do Pakistan and the US need to particularly work in to develop a measure of trust?
Pakistan’s relationship with the US will change for a stabler, more normal trajectory, if we leverage that friendship in ways that are broad-based and focused on long-term futures. Our short and medium-term goals are too loaded with outliers and events not within either’s control, so we should seek to move beyond a security-based relationship. I think that is a stated mutual goal we should build very seriously on. Trust will also flow when there is less to take from each other, and more to build on together.
Ostensibly Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif failed to secure any concessions, any promises from the US President on his trip to the US: drones, Kashmir, Afia Siddiqi. Both agreed to disagree. Would that be a correct assessment?
One, this is the nature of the current relationship. At least it is mature enough to sustain disagreement. Two, why should any head of government only meet with his/her counterpart to obtain concessions? Three, we need to resolve outstanding bilateral issues with respect and grace, and that will happen faster when we set our own house in order. Four, we need to stop imagining that Americans like subtext. American culture prefers and respects plain talk. You don’t expect, you don’t ask, you don’t get.
If the Pakistan government makes any headway in its talks with the Taliban, do you see the Americans halting the drone attacks?
The drone attacks will likely continue as long as the US intel apparatus continues to identify High and Medium Value Targets in FATA through their own sources, satellite surveillance and otherwise. Or they decide the political costs are not worth the strikes any more. It will be an internally-driven decision, whenever it comes. We should hope for better outcomes, state our case as best as we can, and as I keep saying, get our own counter-terrorism plan in order, whatever that may be.
Was there ever a golden period in Pak-US relations?
We were all children then, but the image of Jackie Kennedy sweeping through the streets, pelted by rose petals and “I Love America” flags on a visit to Pakistan appears to resonate as a high period in the relationship. But I doubt very much that there was ever a “golden period”. It certainly functioned at a different level of innocence, if you like, with the Americans building signature projects like the Tarbela dam, and Pakistani students flocking to American Centers for study-aids and scholarships.
I told them in public lectures, that while I grew up in a Pakistan where US universities actively encouraged Pakistani students to apply for scholarship, and I went to Smith College on one, today’s young Pakistanis are unable to see the US from any other lens than the one they see refracted on television every time there is a drone attack. They see drones, unfortunately, as the projection of American power, not the Fulbright scholarships America invests in, with Pakistan now as their largest country programme. This promotes a dangerous cognitive disconnect between the two people, because the American side does not see drones unloading missiles at all, (it’s been for long, a largely covert programme in the US), while the Pakistani people see its ally raining missiles on 70 television screens. The future of foreign policy lies in societies, not just states, pressing for change and engagement, or its obverse.
This interview was originally published in the November 2013 issue of Newsline as part of the cover story on US-Pak relations.

Misleading figures: Shahbaz Sharif's Punjab omits dengue deaths from datasheet

After 2011, the country was once again in the grip of a dengue fever outbreak this year, which exposed the poor preparations and management of health departments to address patients.
In order to hide their incompetence, most health departments provided misleading statistics about the total number of positive cases reported in their respective districts. For the year 2013, the Punjab government has not mentioned even a single death in its annual datasheet, which created a false impression that the situation was under control, misleading higher-ups and stakeholders. The data sheet shows that so far, 1,132 positive cases of dengue fever have been reported in Punjab, but there were no fatalities. Of these, 457 cases were reported from Rawalpindi district.
“Most health officials are close to doctors at public hospitals and they usually ask them not to report dengue fever cases as it would affect their performance,” said an official at the Holy Family Hospital (HFH) who wished not to be named. A major reason behind the dengue outbreak in Rawalpindi district is underreporting of cases, he added. “The health department usually highlights its efficiency by releasing news to the media about the occasional arrests of shopkeepers for providing favourable breeding sites to dengue mosquitoes, but health officials don’t arrest municipal officials responsible for keeping the city clean [when they fail to do so],” said the official. They usually wait for winter as they believe that a drop in the mercury will end dengue mosquito breeding, he stated.
Health officials from the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) claim they collected around 130 tons of garbage from rural areas in a bid to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds. However, while visiting some of the suburbs of the capital, one could see heaps of garbage lying everywhere. The best example is Bhara Kahu, where there are heaps of garbage near the Rural Health Centre on Simly Dam Road and the bed of Korang River.
Talking to The Express Tribune, ICT Dengue Control Surveillance Cell In-charge Dr Najeeb Durrani said all-out efforts had been made to control the spread of dengue fever in the capital and this is reflected in improvements in garbage collection in rural areas such as Bhara Kahu and Tarlai. According to him, 128 positive cases of dengue fever have been reported in the capital this year — 49 from rural areas and 79 from urban areas.
Dr Muhammad Saleem Rana, a vector control expert and former associate professor at Health Services Academy (HSA) said, “There is a need for a third-party evaluation on the continuation of disease surveillance, and the time it takes to treat a case once it is reported.” The third party should also check to what extent these activities meet international standards, he added. “New research on the serotypes of dengue virus and the mosquito should be conducted to control the disease.”

Pakistan: Attack on Express: Journalists give govt 72-hour ultimatum to arrest culprits

The Express Tribune
In response to yesterday’s attack on the offices of the Express Media Group in Karachi, journalists boycotted the Punjab Assembly, Express News reported on Tuesday.
Giving the government an ultimatum, they demanded that those responsible for the attack should be arrested within the next 72 hours. They added that if they were not caught in the given period of time, journalists would hold country-wide rallies. On Monday, at least four armed assailants riding motorbikes threw two home-made bombs and had indiscriminate fired at the entrance to the building. A security guard, Faizan Ali, was injured as a result. The journalists’ community strongly condemned the attack, terming it an act of terror. The press gallery leader said “we condemn this attack and we will show people that the media is not a soft target.” The leader of the press club, Arshad Ansari, said that ‘condemn’ is not a strong enough word. Addressing political leaders, he asked where the people responsible for the earlier attack on the Express Media Group are, adding that “in the country’s history, this is the first grenade attack on the press.” “We will not leave this place until the responsible parties are not brought forward,” Ansari stated. Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) leader said that if the men who attacked the Express Media Group offices are not brought to justice within the next 72 hours, country-wide protests and rallies will be held. The earlier attack on the same building on August 16 had left two staff members injured.
Condemning the attack
Alliance for Access strongly condemned the attack on the Express Media Group office in Karachi. Alliance for Access is a nationwide coalition of civil society organizations, corporations, media houses, telecommunication companies, academics, and student groups to promote open access in Pakistan,
“We are appalled and disappointed by the lack of security provided to the Express group office in Karachi, despite being under constant threat,” a press release by the coalition stated. According to the Committee for Protection of Journalists, over 24 journalists were targeted & killed for their work in Pakistan. Pakistan is on the 8th spot in the CPJ’s 2013 Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered regularly and killers go free.
Leaders and politicians of all major parties and members of the journalist community unanimously condemned the attack. Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Pervaiz Rashid had said in a statement that those involved in this heinous crime would be punished. Exclusively speaking to Express News, chief of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Altaf Hussain had denounced the attack. He had said that it was targeted because its newspapers and channel conduct impartial reporting, unlike other media groups. Senator Haji Muhammad Adeel of the Awami National Party had also slammed the incident and urged the government to make security arrangements for the working journalists.

Pakistan: State unconcerned: Kidnapping on the rise

WHILE it is a relief that cardiologist Dr Abdul Munaf Tareen has been freed by his kidnappers after a torturous two-and-a-half-month captivity, certain aspects of his case are cause for concern. Reports that a heavy ransom was paid for his freedom and that the Balochistan government had practically no role to play in his release point to the apathy that afflicts all provincial governments when it comes to cases of kidnapping for ransom. The menace is largely unchallenged by the security apparatus. And we continue to ignore it at our own peril.
Balochistan is not the only province affected. In Sindh, particularly in Karachi, kidnapping for ransom is something of an industry. Neither is Punjab immune as some high-profile abductions, involving victims belonging to powerful political and military families, have taken place in the province. Children have been particularly targeted in some parts of Punjab, while the abduction of young students has also risen in Peshawar — kidnapping overall remains rife in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Across the country, victims range from industrialists and professionals to randomly chosen people. As for the perpetrators, organised criminal gangs are involved in the racket, while religious and sectarian militants are also in on the game, using kidnapping as a major funding source for their terrorist activities. Often criminal groups ‘sell’ a victim of kidnapping to others of their ilk. In fact, the numbers, which have been consistently high over the past few years, may not tell the whole story as many families avoid going to the police for fear of endangering the victim’s life. But what is even more disturbing are reports that elements within the law enforcement agencies may be involved; such claims are given credence when those kidnapped are transported hundreds of kilometres across provincial lines with law enforcement agencies looking the other way.
What is required is a national effort to tackle kidnapping for ransom. Provincial police forces tend to be territorial, having nothing to do with a case once the victim has crossed provincial boundaries. Such an approach will not do. There needs to be an integrated approach where all provincial police forces combine data and efforts to recover victims and bust gangs. Furthermore, there must be zero tolerance within LEAs for those who may be involved in such criminality. The detection and conviction rates of criminal gangs need improvement. The Citizens-Police Liaison Committee in Karachi did commendable work in the past in this regard; its efforts should be replicated nationwide.

Balochistan: Talons of crime

The breakdown of law and order in Balochistan has created what seems to be a perpetual state of chaos in the province. On the one hand it is not hard to understand the action of doctors in Quetta, who have stayed away from Out Patient Departments in hospitals across the city since Dr Munaf Tareen, a prominent cardiologist, was abducted on September 17. On the other hand, we must also sympathise with the people affected by the doctors’ strike and left without the care they are entitled to. Dr Munaf has now been recovered from Lasbela, reportedly after the payment of a sizeable sum in ransom. He had suffered bullet wounds when he was taken away and will require treatment in Karachi. The Pakistan Medical Association chapter in Quetta has made it clear it will not be calling off its strike even now that Dr Munaf is back. Its office-bearers have stressed that the strike was always intended to highlight the threat faced by all doctors, and not for Dr Munaf alone. Others before him have been abducted and recovered only after ransom payments. The story of Dr Munaf and his colleagues highlights the dismal state of law and order in our country. Many key professionals, notably doctors and teachers, have already left Balochistan because of the threats they face. Others will undoubtedly follow, and this can only hurt people who themselves can do nothing to improve the situation. It seems the authorities too are helpless; in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa too doctors have been protesting abduction and extortion. The state must decide how it can help people escape from the talons of cruelty and crime and restore something resembling order in our society.

Pakistani Woman alleges sexual assault during PTI's anti-Drone demo

A Pakistani woman has alleged that she was sexually assaulted during an anti-drone march here a week ago.
The protest on 23 November was organised by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) to coincide with the start of anti-drones sit-ins and the blockade of the Nato supplies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The huge anti-drones protest started from 10 Downing Street and marched till the US Embassy in London. Nearly a thousand Pakistanis including a large number of women had attended the demonstration which called for an immediate end to the drone campaign against Pakistan and asked the US to stop providing any secret assistance to America’s secret war on Pakistan through the use of unmanned drones.
Both the accuser and the accused, who is in his late 20s, are volunteers in the party. The woman, who is in her 30s and cannot be named for legal reasons, has complained that she was sexually assaulted during the march. Sources within the PTI have said that the allegation is baseless and the activist who has been named in the police complaint is a “decent worker” who was leading the sloganeering on the day of the protest. The police had been told that the accused allegedly touched the woman during the march on the footpath.
The police arrived at the house of the accused on Sunday to arrest him but he was not present at that time. He handed himself in for questioning at the Charing Cross Police station in Central London on Monday afternoon where he was being interviewed at the time of filing of this report. He was being supported by the entire elected body of the PTI who have said that the accused is of “good character”.
The woman confirmed that she had approached the police and registered a complaint. When asked if there are any witnesses to the alleged sexual assault, she said that “such people don’t do nasty stuff in the presence of witnesses. They pick their targets and the timing carefully”.She confirmed that some people in the party are “against my activism in the party”.She added: “I have recently become very active in the party affairs and that has not been liked by some people within the party. Some people want to create bad impression about me and want to demoralise me. I will fight back and will work for the vision of the party to promote it.
Touching without consent is a criminal offence in this country and must be investigated.”She said that the matter has also been reported to the party and hopes that the party will scrutinise the matter.

Afghan president suggests poll delay to avoid snow, organizers say

By Jessica Donati and Hamid Shalizi
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has suggested delaying April elections to avoid heavy snow, organizers said, an idea that will rattle the United States and critics who fear he may be trying to drag out his second and final term. Karzai is barred by the constitution from running for a third term and has so far refrained from backing any of the candidates, although he is widely expected to support his elder brother Qayum, seen as one of the front runners. But Karzai has also refused to sign a pact that would keep thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after next year when most international troops pull out. He has said the agreement shouldn't be signed until after the election, which some say illustrates his reluctance to step out of the limelight. "Regarding the weather, there have been concerns," the chairman of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), Yousof Nooristani, told the upper house of parliament on Sunday. "Even the president has suggested we could make changes to this (the election date) because he received complaints from the people. I told him we couldn't because the date is set, based on the constitution and electoral law." The proposal was raised after government officials said snow blocking roads in their provinces could prevent voters from reaching polling stations. While electoral law states the date cannot be changed, one member of the commission, appointed by Karzai's administration to organize the vote, said it could be delayed if the weather threatened to exclude groups of voters. "That is possible, but one thing is clear. We are trying not to say this... it is premature," the commissioner told Reuters, asking to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to give statements to the press. Critics at home and diplomats however have long feared that Karzai could use bad weather or poor security as a tool for pushing back the vote set to mark the first democratic transfer of power since the Taliban fell in 2001. But the commission's spokesman said that neither the organizers nor the president had authority to change the date. "Some members of the upper house asked the chairman if the time could change because of the climate issue in the north of the country," IEC spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor said. "No one can have the authority to change the date and time, because it is quite clear in the constitution."
Karzai's suggestion will nevertheless come as a disappointment to Washington, engaged in the standoff over the signing of the security agreement. Organizers already say poor security, a shortage of monitors and funding holes are undermining their ability to safeguard the process from the widespread fraud that marred the last poll in 2009. Another deeply flawed election would undermine the attempts of Washington and its allies to foster democracy ahead of the withdrawal of foreign troops. Western nations, who have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on a conflict that has failed to end the Taliban insurgency, have pledged about a third less cash to the United Nations fund that will cover most of the election's costs compared with 2009, official U.N. figures show. Corruption among election staff is rife, according to both U.N. and Afghan sources, and even those that want to remain independent fear their lives may be in danger if they try to stop fraud. Many key roles in the IEC remain vacant just five months before the poll. There is also a severe shortage of female staff, which threatens to exclude most women from voting and makes polling stations for women harder to monitor. Karzai's refusal to sign the pact with the United States is seen as a high-risk gamble that Washington will give in to his demands. If the pact is not signed, Western aid running to billions of dollars will be in jeopardy and confidence in the fragile economy could collapse amid fears the country will slip back into ethnic fighting or civil war. The logic for setting the election date in early April was to minimize the risk of attacks by the Taliban insurgency. Because of heavy snow, fighting in Afghanistan tends to subside during the winter months.