Thursday, March 20, 2014

Obama touts policies for working families, and economic opportunity for women

Obama touts policies for working families, and economic opportunity for women

Sanction tit-for-tat: Moscow strikes back against US officials

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has published a reciprocal sanctions list of US citizens, consisting of 10 names, including: House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, Senator J. McCain; and advisers to President Obama D. Pfeiffer and C. Atkinson.
These officials, along with another five named by the Foreign Ministry, are banned from entering the country.
The move comes in response to US sanctions imposed against Russian officials after the March-16 referendum in Crimea, which Washington considered “illegitimate.”
“In response to sanctions imposed by the US Administration on 17 March against a number of Russian officials and deputies of the Federal Assembly as a “punishment” for support of the referendum in Crimea, the Russian foreign Ministry announces the introduction of reciprocal sanctions against a similar number of US officials and lawmakers,” reads the statement published on the Foreign Ministry’s website. The Ministry reiterates that Russia has “repeatedly” stressed using sanctions is a “double-edged thing” and it will have a “boomerang” effect against the US itself.
“Treating our country in such way, as Washington could have already ascertained, is inappropriate and counterproductive,” the statement said.

Obama expands sanctions on Russians over Crimea annexation

President Barack Obama imposes further sanctions against prominent Russians and clears the way for possible sanctions on key sectors of the Russian economy in response to Moscow's seizure of the Crimea region from Ukraine.

Bilawal Bhutto declares Racial Discrimination Intolerable in Pakistan
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Patron-In-Chief, Pakistan Peoples Party has said any kind of racial discrimination in Pakistan won’t be tolerated as we are pursuing the struggle for a Pakistan where all are equal as per vision of the founding fathers of the country and Pakistan Peoples Party.
In his message on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination being observed on Friday, March 21 under the aegis of the United Nations, PPP Patron-in-Chief responded to the call of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and pledged that PPP will continue to strongly condemn messages and ideas based on racism, racial superiority or hatred as well as those that incite racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
It may be recalled that The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action adopted at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance on 8 September 2001, underlined the key role that political leaders and political parties can and ought to play in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari pointed out that PPP had itself been a target of racial discrimination sometimes in its history but it always stood for unity and harmony. “It is the continuity of democracy, which can ensure elimination of all forms of discrimination including the racial bias,” he said adding PPP and its leadership is following the foot-steps of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to make Pakistan free from every kind of social evils, including racial discrimination.

Protesters blast Bahraini King visit to Pakistan

Thousands of angry Pakistani protesters have strongly criticized an ongoing visit by Bahraini King Hamad Al Khalifa to their country.
The protest was organized by the Majlis Wahdat ul-Muslimeen, which is the country’s largest Islamic organization.
The demonstrators chanted slogans against the Al Khalifa regime, and urged Islamabad to remember the Bahraini King’s role in the killing of many Shia Muslims during the uprising there.
The protesters also called on the government not to expand its ties with the Persian Gulf monarchy.
Manama has been recruiting former soldiers and policemen from Pakistan at a steady rate to strengthen the government's forces.
Pakistani and Saudi forces have played a major rule in suppressing anti-government protests in Bahrain since the beginning of unrest in the Persian Gulf country.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has repeatedly said that the Pakistani recruits have behaved with a heavy hand toward demonstrators.
Since mid-February 2011, thousands of pro-democracy protesters have held numerous demonstrations in the streets of Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa royal family to relinquish power. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invaded the country to assist the Bahraini government in its crackdown on peaceful protesters.
According to local sources, scores of people have been killed and hundreds arrested.

Video :Michelle Obama arrives in China on hotly anticipated trip

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama arrives in Beijing on her week-long maiden visit to China, along with her mother and two daughters

Happy Nowruz!!!!!!!!!!!!

President Obama's Nowruz Message to the Iranian People

Iran-Pakistan: ''In the pipeline''

The PPP government signed a binding contract with Iran and the PML-N vowed that they would hold to the contractual obligations and see the pipeline finished by the stipulated deadline of the 1st of January, 2015. A failure to complete it within this time- frame would have resulted in a daily penalty of $1 million, but Iran realised that the expectation would only be met with failure and waived the amount. Nine months remain, and the government is doing nothing but shifting its feet and making convoluted statements that can be likened to those of an elementary school student who has not done her homework.
Iran has not given up hope though. Time and again, the country has relaxed its policies against us, even when it is not bound to do so. They have proposed to extend the timeframe by three more years, provided that Pakistan displays its commitment to the project by actually starting construction work. To make this more appealing, they have even started handing out business visas to potential exporters. Our government has responded by saying that this will be discussed when Nawaz visits Iran. When exactly that meeting will take place is still not determined.
An expansion of regional trade was one of the many promises that the PML-N made before coming into power. However, the country is not ‘regional’ enough for Nawaz Sharif, it seems. For him, geographical proximity is not a concern, and his friends in the Middle East have somehow taken precedence over our neighbours and the promises made. Yes, $1.5 billion was ‘gifted’ to us, but is such an enormous policy shift justifiable? The IP pipeline is one of the cheapest methods to import gas, and yet, gravely enough, the project has taken a backseat.

'Not much hope' for Afghan women's rights

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi
Women’s rights in Afghanistan are under threat, especially as foreign troops prepare to leave. Expert Humaira Rasuli demands the improvement of the situation be a precondition for future aid to Kabul.
NATO troops are set to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year. One of the main reasons given for the US-led invasion in 2001 was the protection of Afghan women's rights. How have these rights developed so far? Since the fall of the Taliban regime, Afghan women's rights have expanded significantly. Under the constitution, gender equality is protected and women are free to seek education and work. Today we have women serving in different positions in the government, ranging from ministers to police officers. There are also many women running their own businesses and millions of girls are back in school.
Moreover, rape has been criminalized for the first time under the Elimination of Violence against Women Decree (EVAW). There are a lot of achievements that we are proud of, but unfortunately these gains are not sustainable and they are still contested every day. What are the main issues faced by Afghan women today?
There is no clear idea of what will happen to women's rights after 2014, as it is still unclear who will form the next government and whether the national security forces will be able to protect the country. Everyday women become more and more scared and concerned because not only are the troops withdrawing, but also the funds are diminishing, leading to a lack of jobs.
The situation is very complicated and we are not only concerned over a possible return of the Taliban and the growth of conservatism in society. We are also worried about the lack of rule of law, good governance and economic opportunities in the country. We are not that hopeful of continuing our achievements. How do you feel about these developments?
Nobody can predict what will happen. It depends on the new government and on the responsibility of the international community. Germany is expected to reduce its troops, but it will also expand its civil development support, which is something we welcome.
Our achievements have only been possible with the support from international community. We now want it to intervene and pressurize the Afghan government to ensure Kabul's commitment to international law and conventions. If the international community sets conditions and continues to explicitly defend the equal rights of women, it will be like a dream coming true for Afghan civil society. Germany's new development strategy for Afghanistan contains conditions for financial help. However, no separate condition was set for women's rights. The issue is only mentioned as a factor of good governance, but is this enough? We were expecting gender equality and women's rights to be cross-cutting issues in the strategy and a separate thematic area. It is a part of good governance and therefore highlights democratization and the improvement of women's rights. However, we expected more.
Another concern is that most of the international donors are planning to spend 80 percent of their funds through the Afghan government. This is worrisome, because the Afghan national priority program is not covering all of the issues the civil society is working on, especially women's rights.
2014 is set to be a crucial year for the Afghan people, as the presidential elections are set to be held on April 5. What do you expect from the new government? It will not be an easy year, but we are optimistic. Many think that the presidential elections will be a fundamental step towards the future, but we have so far not seen any specific strategies by the candidates. There is not much trust, that a new president will bring change.
We as a civil society organization do not focus on who will run the government, but our priority is human rights, which have to be respected in the legal framework and also in the society. Regarding the withdrawal of the troops, we hope that the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States will be signed soon, because it gives us reassurance that the international community will extend their support.

Pakistan's Shia Genocide: Shia notable shot martyred by Yazidi terrorists in Khairpur
A Shia notable embraced martyrdom due to firing of Yazidi nasbi takfiri terrorists of banned Sipah-e-Sahaba in Khairpur.
Shiite News Correspondent reported here that notorious Yazidi takfiri terrorists of ASWJ, renamed version of banned Sipah-e-Sahaba, opened fire upon Mir Manzoor Talpur at Asgharia Chowk Panj Hatti area of Khairpur. He embraced martyrdom on the spot.
It is relevant to add here that scores of Shia supporters and members of Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen were injured in Yazidi terrorist attack on same spot when they were writing slogans for Labbaik Ya Rasoolullah (PBUH) Conference.
Khairpur was a princely state of Shia Muslims and Shia dynasty of “Mirs” ruled this state. Now, it is part of Pakistan under an agreement by Mirs and Khairpur’s official name is Khairpur Mirs.
Shia parties and leaders have condemned the targeted murder of Mir Maznoor Talpur and demanded stern action to eliminate the terrorists.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Talked About Attack On Hindu Temple.
Chairman of Pakistan People’s Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has assured the minorities of Pakistan that nobody will be allowed to spoil them and the PPP will guard every citizen of the country. The PPP head, in a statement issued from Bilawal House said that his party had been struggling for an equal Pakistan where any kind of mistreatment and prejudice would have no space.”

CHRE Expressed Concerns Over The Attacks And Panic Against Hindu Community In Sindh

Centre for Human Rights Education (CHRE), a human rights NGO working for religious tolerance and social harmony in Pakistan has condemned the attack on the temple and properties of the Hindu Community on in Larkana, Sindh.
In a statement issued by Mr. Samson Salamat, CHRE’s Director expressed deep apprehension s over the attacks and shared unity with the Hindu Community. He also participated in the ceremony of Holi in Lahore to unit with the Hindu Community Pakistan.
On the occasion he said that there have been attacks on the religious minorities’ very oftenlly across the Pakistan, but the government has not make any efforts for safeguard of the religious minorities of the country. If the government has taken some strict action against the extreme incidents and extremists responsible of these attacks on the minorities in the past, the Larkana incident would have never happened.
Mr. Samson Salamat demanded that the latest happening against the Hindu Community should be treated as a wake-up call by the Federal and the provincial governments. He emphasized that an unbiased investigation should be conducted to reveal that why this situation was created brought to justice
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US report criticises Pakistan’s abuse of blasphemy laws

Pakistan’s record of abuse of its dubious blasphemy law has been criticised by a report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. The country currently has 14 individuals known to be on death row while 19 others are serving life sentences on charges of committing blasphemy.
Take for example the case of Aasia Bibi, accused of insulting the prophet Muhammad. The 45-year old Christian and mother of five says she was “falsely accused to settle an old score”. In jail since June 19, 2009, she has yet to have her appeal heard. Sameena Imtiaz, founder of Islamabad-based Peace Education Development Foundation (PEAD) says the commission’s findings are another “reminder of the religious intolerance that has permeated the society at large”. The hearing on March 17, before the Lahore High Court was “cancelled by order” yet again, informed her lawyer Mohammad Yasin Badar, who does not know the reason. “I got a text message from the court,” he said but surmises: “This is a very sensitive case.”
But while Bibi may be only Pakistani woman to have been sentenced to death for blasphemy, she is not alone. In November 2013, a 72-year old homeopath doctor Masood Ahmed, a British national of the minority Ahmadi sect, which has been declared non-Muslim by the constitution, was jailed for discussing Islam — a criminal offence punishable with death under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). His conversation was filmed using a mobile phone in which he is seen reciting verses from the Quran. He has been released on bail. Then there is a mentally ill, 69-year-old British citizen, Mohammad Asghar, convicted in January this year, for sending letters proclaiming he was Prophet Mohammad. He remains in prison today.
The original blasphemy law, drawn up by the British and amended in 1986 by then-dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, puts in place a mandatory death sentence under section 295-C. Imtiaz says since the amendment more than a 1,000 cases have been registered against Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus and even Muslims.
The National Commission for Justice and Peace has also been keeping a close watch on the numbers. According to them, from 1987 to 2013, as many as 1,281 people have been charged, of which 616 are Muslims, 474 Ahmadis, 171 Christians and 20 Hindus.
Pakistan has never executed anyone under the offence but the between 1990 to 2012, several of the accused have been killed in associated vigilante violence outside the courts or in prisons.
According to a report by the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies, since 1990, extra judicial murders of 52 accused have taken place.
In its State of Human Rights in 2012 report, the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan states: “Abuse of the blasphemy law continues to take a heavy toll in terms of human lives and harassment of citizens.”
“The sheer number of cases registered in the past 25 years suggests the law has been widely abused,” concedes Imtiaz, adding that investigations have revealed that often the reasons for the abuse stem from personal enmity, property disputes, religious hatred.
“Decades have passed but none of the governments that followed, found the courage to repeal the discriminatory laws that have contributed significantly to intolerance, violence, bigotry, hate and injustice in the country,” says Bushra Gohar, a senior member of the Awami National Party. A legislator in the last assembly, she had submitted a bill in the assembly for the repeal of the blasphemy clauses inserted by Zia ul Haq, but it was never tabled in the assembly.
And for that reason, says Imtiaz there was an urgent need for debate to include “all segments of society on the pros and cons of the law and how it is abetting religious intolerance”.
In the meantime, she said, “an effective counter law that prohibits the abuse of the law for settling personal gains and inciting hatred” should be implemented. “The current law is not only vague but is rarely put to use due to fear of persecution and pressures,” she points out.
There have been half-hearted attempts to initiate a debate but after two high profile assassinations — of Punjab governor, Salman Taseer and minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti — took place, for speaking on Bibi’s behalf and opposing the blasphemy laws, all efforts have been stalled.
“Political expediency, compromise and appeasement of a handful of religious extremists have prevented each subsequent government to initiate a meaningful debate, or even initiate pertinent legislation in the parliament to repeal or amend the discriminatory laws that continue to play havoc with the lives of women, minorities and the poor,” Gohar said.
Citing the recent torching of a temple in Larkana, in Sindh over blasphemy allegations, she says: “It shows how easy it is to incite mob violence and as in numerous similar cases in the past the root cause will not be addressed.”
According to the former legislator, strong political will is seriously lacking to review and amend or repeal the blasphemy law. “We cannot hope for justice for the victims and their families if we cannot even have an open debate on the discriminatory laws in the parliament and if the parliament, the courts and the government are threatened, coerced and silenced by a bunch of religious extremists.”
The annual report prepared by the Commission on International Religious Freedom looks at the state of religious freedom around the world.

Pakistan :$ 1.5 billion Saudi gift: No strings attached?

Pakistani cooperation with the Gulf and other Arab countries has always been a matter of more give than take. As the most powerful and efficient army in the Muslim world, Pakistan usually gives military or diplomatic support to Arab causes. In return it gets cheaper fuel, investment, trade opportunities, or sometimes handouts. There have been some shameful incidents during this relationship, e.g. when in 1970, then Brigadier Ziaul Haq, while posted in Jordan at the head of an armoured brigade, crushed Palestinian refugees in Jordan to preserve King Hussein’s rule. In more recent days Pakistani troops participated in suppressing uprisings in Saudi Arabia, notably the occupation of the Ka’aba in Mecca by armed insurgents in 1994. Pakistani mercenaries were used by Bahrain to quash pro-democracy protests as recently as 2010. Their brutality was noted and criticised by pro-democracy activists. Then too, Saudi Arabia has financed the very militants Pakistan is currently fighting, and has pledged to spread its Wahabi ideology throughout the region. Given this past, there is necessarily wariness when we discuss deepening ties with the Arab countries, and what the price may be of handouts like the recent $ 1.5 billion deposit into the Pakistan Development Fund by Saudi Arabia. The opposition does not believe the government’s claim that the money was a gift, and insists there must be a strategic motive, like support and weapons for Saudi-funded rebels in Syria. Pakistan’s recent shift in policy on Syria, calling for a transitional democratic council to take power, has worried the opposition that Pakistan will again be drawn into internal Arab conflicts of a sectarian hue that will rebound bleakly on this country.
The visit by the King of Bahrain, the first such official visit in 40 years, is conspicuous by its timing in this regard, coming as it does on the heels of the joint Pak-Saudi communiqué on Syria. The visit finalised a number of bilateral cooperation and trade deals and promises were made of increasing investment in several key sectors such as infrastructure, oil refining, mining and banking. Pakistan and the Gulf States have a natural trade relationship. Pakistan’s agricultural resources and proximity make it the ideal partner to export food and other products to the region, while Pakistan needs oil and investment. Large numbers of Pakistani workers in the Gulf send home billions of dollars in remittances, a significant contribution to our foreign exchange reserves. However, trade and investment is where the relationship should begin and end. Our Arab and Muslim neighbourhood is heading full steam into a wider sectarian conflict, and Pakistan should stay away from that fray. Instead, our foreign policy must be independent of pressure from Arab ‘friends’ and focus solely on what is of benefit to us.

Pakistan: Government should take opposition in confidence on foreign policy: Khurshid Shah
Opposition leader Khurshid Shah said today that they would demand the government during upcoming meeting of National Assembly to take opposition into confidence on government-Taliban peace talks and foreign policy.
While talking to journalists outside the parliament house, Khurshid Shah said that Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has finalized its strategy for the next meeting of National Assembly and would ask the government to clarify their stance on foreign policy especially Syria, adding they will not object if the government calls for in camera briefings while clarifying their stance.
Opposition leader said that questions have risen with the co-existence of bomb blasts amid ongoing peace talks between the government and Taliban. “Pakistan People’s Party has clear stance that peace must be prevailed in the country whether it be through dialogue or any other means.” Khurshid Shah said, “We welcome dollars but the masses must also be benefited with the aid as well.” He added that Chaudhry Nisar should clarify his statement regarding F-8 district court incident.

Pakistan's Film Actor Muhammad Ali’s 8th death anniversary

The 8th death anniversary of renowned film actor Muhammad Ali was observed on Wednesday.
Mohammad Ali was born in Rampur British India on November 10, 1938. His family migrated to Hyderabad and then to Multan soon after the partition.
Muhammad Ali joined Radio Pakistan Hyderabad station as a broadcaster in 1956. After a while he moved to Bahawalpur station and finally to Radio Pakistan Karachi.
His film career started with Chiragh Jalta Raha as villain in 1962. His first film as hero was Shararat in 1963.
Mohammad Ali starred in 277 films including 248 Urdu 17 Punjabi and eight Pashto films. He had a guest appearance in 28 films and also featured in a documentary.
He also appeared in PTV dramas toward the end of his career.
He was awarded Pride of Performance in 1984 in recognition of his life long services to the entertainment industry of Pakistan. He is the only actor who was awarded a Tamgha e Imtiaz.
Muhammad Ali was also awarded Noshad Award of India.
He died of heart attack on March 19 2006 in Lahore.

Explosion and gun battle rocks Jalalabad city in eastern Afghanistan

A group of suicide bombers attacked a police headquarter in the first district of Jalalabad city in eastern Nangarhar province.
The incident took place early Thursday morning and several explosions have been reported so far, while the insurgents are still exchanging fire with the Afghan security forces.
Nangarhar police chief has said that at least five militants have been killed during the clashes with the Afghan security forces.
Unconfirmed reports suggest at least one person has been killed and 17 others have been injured following the clashes. In the meantime officials in provincial hospital have said at least 4 police officers have been killed and nearly 20 others have been injured during the clashes.
Taliban militants group in Afghanistan claimed responsibility behind the incident.