Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Syria ''Fernanda Bellydance''

Video: A show of support for Assad in Damascus

Hundreds rally in the Syrian capital ahead of the country's Independence Day to show solidarity with embattled President Bashar al-Assad.

Leaky Borders: ''Millions collected on goods coming into Afghanistan isn’t making it to state coffers.''

Coruption at border crossings in Afghanistan is so rampant that it threatens the customs revenue on which the government depends, raising questions about whether the country will be able to fund itself after U.S. troops withdraw. Even though the United States spent $120 million to improve the Afghan customs system over the past three years, a new report by the watchdog overseeing U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan says corruption is still the biggest threat to the import system, and it could grow.
Fees and taxes on goods crossing the Afghan border make up nearly half of all the revenues (44 to 48 percent) that the Afghan government brings in. But the government could be making twice as much if fraud were eliminated, according a report released Tuesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
"Afghanistan remains poorly positioned to develop a self-sustaining economy because of corruption, mismanagement, and continuing instability along its borders," the report said.
The watchdog has long pressed the U.S. government to make cleaning up fraud and abuse in the Afghan government a higher priority in Afghanistan. "Allowing corruption to continue unabated will likely jeopardize every gain we have made over the last 12 years," Inspector General John Sopko said in a speech last month.
The report highlights graft as one of the key problems facing Afghanistan's new leadership, as the country faces a post-war future with a lot less international money flowing into state coffers. Import duties that could contribute more to the state budget are being syphoned off by corrupt officials. One Afghan governor made as much as $4 million a month collecting unauthorized taxes at a major border crossing in 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported. That money could go a long way toward helping the Afghan government stand on its own. Kabul has at times over the past 10 years generated as little as 10 percent of its own budget, while the rest has been made up from outside donors, principally the United States. Those contributions are expected to dwindle as international forces leave the country.
President Hamid Karzai didn't build a track record for rooting out corruption, and it's unclear whether his successor, who is expected to be in place by this summer, will make it a priority, either. Many U.S. officials see the election as an opportunity to redefine Washington's relationship with Kabul, but that could be difficult considering many of the experienced diplomats in Afghanistan are packing it in and heading home.
It's difficult to know exactly how much revenue is lost through goods smuggled into the country without paying official taxes and fees at the border; customs data is so unreliable that it's hard to tell what goods are coming in and out of the country, according to the report's authors. Goods smuggled into the country illegally through one checkpoint alone cost the government about $25 million a year, according to the report.
A mentorship program administered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection made some progress teaching Afghan customs agents how to properly collect fees, the report found. But that didn't stop some agents who followed the U.S. advice from being kidnapped or threatened by smugglers.
U.S. efforts to automate customs payments hit a snag when an Afghan official wanted to allow only one bank to process electronic transactions, creating further opportunity for abuse, the report found. Attempts to streamline the customs system by requiring fewer steps in the process "met with resistance because each step allows for the associated official to demand payment from an importer."
The report said that U.S. programs run by Customs and Border Protection, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development, could be further stymied by the deteriorating security situation after the U.S. leaves. It's already made it harder for auditors to measure the extent of graft and corruption. In the course of collecting information for their report, SIGAR inspectors were unable to visit some customs sites because of bombings or the threat of violence.
In response to the report, USAID acknowledged that reforming the Afghan customs system still faced "major challenges." The agency said it would direct the contractor charged with improving the system, Chemonics Inc., to "put forth its best effort" to combat corruption. After past reports, the State Department and Pentagon have complained that SIGAR's criticism is unwarranted.

Blunders by British generals allowed Taliban to carry out attack on Camp Bastion

Blunders by British commanders were ‘devastatingly exploited’ by the Taliban to carry out an attack on Camp Bastion while Prince Harry was deployed in Afghanistan, a damning report says today.
Complacency by senior officers meant security was inadequate, allowing heavily-armed insurgents to storm the supposedly impregnable UK base in 2012.
The defence select committee was also scathing about the Ministry of Defence, accusing officials of being ‘obstructive and unhelpful’ in the face of the committee’s inquiries to establish what had happened. Two US Marines were killed and 16 troops – eight US and eight British – injured when gunmen swarmed through the perimeter fence to assault the airfield, setting off explosions which destroyed six Harrier jump jets and three vehicles. Prince Harry was stationed at Bastion to fly Apache attack helicopters.
The committee found more than half of the guard towers were regularly unmanned despite at least 20 breaches of the perimeter fence in two years. Troops were exposed to ‘unnecessary risk’ because UK commanders, who were responsible for security, had not put in place sufficient safeguards to ensure a Taliban attack was foiled.
Following a US investigation into the incident, two generals were ordered to quit. Incredibly, no-one from Britain has paid the price for the fiasco. The Mail understands at least four officers involved have been promoted.
In a highly critical conclusion, the cross-party committee said: ‘We are concerned that the perimeter security and force protection measures in place at the time of the attack were inadequate. ‘Insufficient attention was given to the fundamental requirement of defending Camp Bastion from external assault.
'We believe this was complacent. Given that the attack took place in the British sector of the camp, British commanders must bear a degree of responsibility for these systemic failures.’
The attack on Camp Bastion, which sprawls over 20 sq miles of Helmand, southern Afghanistan, took place on September 14, 2012. At 10pm, 15 Taliban fighters wearing stolen US military uniforms crept towards the base which was ringed by a 30ft wire fence. They cut through the wire and destroyed planes, vehicles and equipment. A three-hour gun battle raged involving 50 British troops, some of whom won medals for bravery. As well as the coalition casualties, 14 Taliban were killed. The surviving gunman was captured.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: ‘The MoD is not complacent and always seeks to capture and learn lessons from current operations. UK commanders have identified and acted upon all lessons following the attack on Camp Bastion in 2012.’
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Supply of modern arms to Syrian militants destabilizes situation

If the US administration has authorized the transfer of anti-tank systems to Syrian opposition groups, this runs counter to its statements of commitment to a political settlement in Syria, the Russian Foreign Ministry says
The supply of modern arms to fragmented anti-government groups in Syria to fight armored vehicles seriously destabilizes the situation in the country and does not facilitate a political and diplomatic settlement there, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday, April 16, following media reports on the delivery of American anti-tank systems to Syrian rebels. “A new dangerous turn has occurred in the armed confrontation between the government troops and the armed opposition in Syria. Numerous media reports and videos show that Syrian rebels have obtained American BGM-71 Tow portable anti-tank missiles,” the ministry said.
Agence France-Presse said that the Harakat Hazm opposition group, which some prefer to regard as ‘moderate’, has received more than 200 such systems from ‘Western sources’. It noted that the militants underwent special training on how to use these weapons,” the ministry said.
“If the US administration has authorized the transfer of these anti-tank systems to Syrian opposition groups, this runs counter to its statements of commitment to a political settlement in Syria and deescalation of the conflict. At any rate, such a serious supply ‘from other sources’ (more than 40 countries have these systems) could not have been made without the US consent, considering the relevant export control requirements in American legislation,” the ministry said.
It stressed that “the transfer of sensitive weapons to fragmented anti-government groups seriously destabilises the situation in Syria and does not facilitate a political and diplomatic settlement of the conflict”. “Particularly worrying is the fact that the anti-tank systems will fall into the hands of terrorists who can use them against civilians,” the ministry said and urged “everyone who is supplying the Syrian opposition with weapons to show circumspection in order to prevent an escalation of violence and mass casualties among civilians.”

Dozens of Ukrainian troops surrender APCs, withdraw from Slavyansk

Reports from Slavyansk say that the army troops sent to the eastern Ukrainian city for an “anti-terrorist operation” are leaving en masse. Some troops are openly voicing support for the eastern Ukrainians, while others are speaking out against a war. According to Interfax, citing local self-defense activists, some 300 Ukrainian troops agreed to lay down their weapons and “go home” following negotiations in Slavyansk.
We managed to negotiate with them. About 300 military – only some of those who closed around the city – decided to lay down their arms and go home,” a self-defense activist was quoted as saying.
Video streaming by Ustream Conflicting reports are emerging about whether the activists would or would not allow the troops to keep their weapons and APCs. According to Western media journalists present at the scene, the locals would not allow them to take back the APCs surrendered earlier, but the soldiers were allowed to march away with their rifles. The people cheered the troops as they started leaving Slavyansk.
Meanwhile, the anti-government activists guarding the armored vehicles have said that they did not “seize” them as the media claimed, and that the troops “switched sides” peacefully. “They were not seized by the self-defense forces. In fact, the Ukrainian troops arrived here flying a Russian flag. In this way, they have taken the side of the people,” a Slavyansk activist told Russia-24 TV. Photos from the scene now show women and children climbing onto the APCs and taking photos with the armed men in camouflage with St. George ribbons.
Similar developments were also seen in another Donetsk region city, Kromatorsk, where Ukrainian troops began entering Tuesday after taking a nearby airfield by force, captured a day earlier by armed self-defense activists. As Ukrainian armored vehicles rolled into the city’s center Wednesday, they were surrounded by locals and surrendered. Some of the APCs were filmed flying Russian flags in support of the locals. Kiev eventually confirmed that six APCs were taken away in Kromatorsk but claimed that they were “captured by the extremists.” Earlier, coup-imposed Kiev officials dismissed the news as “fake” and even claimed that by raising Russian flags the troops “infiltrated” the areas “controlled by Russian Army units and separatists.” In the village of Pchyolkino, south of Kromatorsk, locals blocked part of a large convoy of armored vehicles. The people are demanding that the troops turn back their vehicles and leave for Dnepropetrovsk, where they are stationed. Pchyolkino residents negotiated with the blocked troops peacefully and also brought drinks and food to the “exhausted” soldiers, reported from the scene. “They’ve had us running around for about two months now. We’re being sent to one city, then to the next. We cannot even wash, or eat normally or rest,” one of the troops was quoted as saying.
RT’s Ruptly agency also spoke with Ukrainian soldiers in Kramatorsk. According to Ruptly’s Monika Kalinowska, the soldiers blamed the media for giving “fake information” and “creating unnecessary tension.” One of the soldiers told Kalinowska that he found “no aggression” coming from the eastern Ukrainians, except for cases of few “drunks” approaching them with questions.
However, not all the Ukrainian troops were ready to surrender and side with the locals blocking their way. A video by Ustream user Russian_Donetsk_2 shows a Ukrainian soldier threatening civilians who attempted to step in the way of a convoy of APCs near Kramatorsk by holding a grenade. The people surrounding the vehicles can be heard jeering the soldier. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian media has been quoting some of the troops sent to eastern Ukraine as saying they will “never surrender” to pro-Russian activists.

Obama to Reassure Asian Allies

President Barack Obama begins a weeklong trip to Asia next Tuesday, in a bid to reassure allies in the region. Obama will travel to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.
China is not on the itinerary, but with its efforts to control parts of the East and South China Sea, Beijing is on the minds of Obama and the allies he is visiting.
U.S. military cuts are making regional partners nervous about Washington's commitments to defend them.
“I'm confident President Obama will give bold rhetoric, reassuring our allies that we can still run as fast and jump as high, but whether they believe that will be the other issue. Our allies, like our opponents, can read a budget sheet just as easily as the rest of us in Washington can,” said Heritage Foundation analyst Bruce Klingner.
The nations Obama is visiting have ongoing territorial disputes with China.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has just been to China, and has said the U.S. does not view Beijing as an enemy. But the administration sees China - with its growing military - as a potential threat.
Washington's decisions to not attack Syrian forces or provide significant military support to Ukraine have raised questions about whether the U.S. would step in to defend its Asian allies.
“There’s obviously been a lot of talk about, questions, about the power and influence of the United States vis-à-vis actions in Syria and the Ukraine. But we’ll see, this effort is clearly meant to send the message that the United States remains committed and strong in Asia,” said Ely Ratner, an Asia analyst with the Center for a New American Security.
That message is especially important to Japan, the main U.S. ally in the region and where the president will make his first stop. There, Obama will work to speed up negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade agreement.
Trade is also on the agenda at his next stop, South Korea, where he will discuss North Korea, and try to ease relations between Seoul and Tokyo. They are strained by the memory of Japanese atrocities in the first half of the 20th century.
Obama will be the first U.S. president to visit Malaysia since 1966.
The last stop is the Philippines, where the U.S. closed its permanent bases decades ago, but has been in negotiations to rotate troops, airplanes and ships into the country.

Malala portrait up for auction in New York

A portrait of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head by the Taliban, is expected to fetch up to $80,000 for her charity when it is auctioned in New York next month.
By Jonathan Yeo, one of Britain's leading portrait painters, the oil on canvas has been on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London since September.
The picture, which shows the 16-year-old doing her homework and which measures nearly one meter (three feet) by one meter, goes under the hammer at Christie's on May 14.
The auction house estimates the value at $60,000 to $80,000.
"The funds raised will support the work of the Malala Fund, including helping young Syrian refugees in Jordan and girls freed from child labor now attending school in Pakistan," said Malala, who was badly wounded but survived the October 2012 attack.
"I hope that whoever buys the painting knows that their generosity will directly help children in some of the most challenging environments in the world."
Yeo, who donated the painting, met Malala in April 2013 when she was recovering from the severe head injury inflicted by a Taliban gunman as she sat on a school bus in northwest Pakistan.
She was targeted for her outspoken views on education for girls.
Yeo painted Malala in Britain, where she has settled since the attack, and he said it had been a "privilege."
"I hope the painting reflects the slight paradox of someone with enormous power yet vulnerability and youth at the same time," he said.
Malala last year was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

EXCLUSIVE: Confidential U.S. assessments show Afghanistan not ready to govern on own

By Guy Taylor
Confidential U.S. assessments, which the State Department tried to hide from the public, show nearly all Afghan Cabinet ministries are woefully ill-prepared to govern after the U.S. withdraws its troops, often describing the gaps in knowledge, capability and safeguards as “critical” and describing an infrastructure in danger of collapsing if left to its own accord. The State Department USAID reports, obtained by The Washington Times, paint a sobering portrait about the impact of the billions of dollars the U.S. has spent on nation-building over the past decade.
Treated as a whole, the reports suggest that the U.S. spending has yet to create a sustainable civilian government in Afghanistan and, in some cases, has been diverted to corrupt politicians or extremists looking to destabilize the country.
USAID officials told The Times on Tuesday that the risks of corruption and waste associated with trying to develop a government in Afghanistan have long been known and that U.S. taxpayers must be patient before they see further returns on their aid investments.
Americans need to appreciate that the Afghan government ministries hardly existed a dozen years ago, said the officials, who argued that the government has progressed dramatically over the years — giving all the more reason for Washington now to ensure that the gains are not lost and U.S. national security hurt during the years ahead.
Further, USAID spokesman Matt Herrick told The Times that “we strongly reject all claims that we have improperly withheld information.”
“USAID takes very seriously its obligation to share information about its operations with Congress, auditors and the public,” Mr. Herrick said.
But questions remain about precisely why the secret assessments, which were conducted by USAID officials in 2012 and 2013 and are known in foreign aid circles as “Stage II Risk Assessment Reports,” are just coming to light.
The documents focus specifically on seven Afghan government ministries overseeing the nation’s finance, mining, electric utilities, communications, education, health and agriculture.
USAID concluded outright that six of those ministries simply cannot be trusted to manage aid from U.S. taxpayers without a dangerous risk that the money will fall victim to fraud, waste, abuse or outright theft.
Only in one of the seven cases — the Afghan Ministry of Finance in March 2013 — did auditors conclude that the ministry’s systems were “adequate to properly manage and account for” money being channeled in from Washington.
But even with that conclusion, USAID auditors identified 26 risks for fraud and waste at the finance ministry. Three of the risks were deemed to be “high” and the rest were rated “critical,” including the overarching danger of the Finance Ministry simply “not being able to fulfill its mandate and carry out its operation.”
The reports, which also contain specific recommendations for each ministry to root out mismanagement, are being made public against a backdrop of mounting debate in Washington over America’s nation-building project in Afghanistan over the past 12 years. The Times obtained the assessments under a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the chief U.S. watchdog over the State Department’s nation-building efforts.
The State Department provided the documents earlier to private groups and congressional lawmakers, but in redacted, edited and compressed formats, leading to complaints that the department hid essential information about the poor state of Afghanistan’s governing ability. The Times’ copies were mostly free of edits, laying bare the stark assessments USAID gave about each Afghan ministry.
‘Should not be released’
At the center of that debate sits serious questions about the impact — or lack thereof — of the more than $100 billion that Congress says has been channeled toward Afghanistan reconstruction.
Although the amount is far less than the $600 billion estimated to have been spent on U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, it represents the core of America’s attempt to build a government that would not crumble quickly should President Obama come through on his promise to pull all U.S. forces out of the nation by the end of this year.
USAID alone has channeled $20 billion toward the effort, according to SIGAR officials.
SIGAR and USAID have fought bitterly in public in recent weeks over whether the U.S. exerted enough safeguards over its spending and whether the State Department has tried to hide the blemishes inside each Afghan ministry.
The Stage II Risk Assessment Reports, along with a series of other Afghan ministry audits that USAID contracted out to the high-level Washington accounting firms KPMG and Ernst & Young, have sat at the center of the dispute.
SIGAR used the assessments as the basis for its scathing report in January highlighting rampant claims of fraud and abuse across the ministries. But what came next was even more eye-opening: The watchdog group wrote a letter to USAID accusing the agency of seeking at “virtually every turn” to block the information from becoming public.
“When SIGAR first requested copies of the ministry assessments at issue here, USAID stamped them ‘Sensitive But Unclassified’ (SBU), with a legend on the front covers stating that they should not be released ‘outside the Executive Branch,’ i.e., should not be released to Congress or the public,” SIGAR General Counsel John G. Arlington wrote in a March 26 letter to USAID’s legal branch.
The letter triggered speculation inside government circles in Washington that USAID might be guarding the material because of a reference that the ministry assessments had made to terrorism.
A version of the assessment, which was conducted by KPMG, appeared this month on the website of the Project on Government Oversight and highlighted how the Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development had never developed a mechanism “for screening of beneficiaries for their possible links with terrorist organizations before signing contracts or providing funds to the suppliers.”
Lack of accountability
That particular assessment, along with others that USAID contracted KPMG and Ernst & Young to conduct, were not included in the FOIA response that SIGAR provided Tuesday to The Times. In the response, SIGAR provided The Times with more than 100 pages of the assessments that USAID officials conducted to gauge the capabilities of Afghan ministries.
The documents paint a sobering picture. In one, USAID auditors assessed a shocking lack of management over the financial dealings at the ministry overseeing all mining activities in Afghanistan.
“There is no financial management and accounting system in place to record transactions for both operational and development budget,” states the September 2012 assessment of the Afghan Ministry of Mines.
“There is no evidence of reconciliation of monthly payroll records,” auditors wrote. “In fact, staff are receiving bonuses in cash which are not declared on their bank transfer.”
What’s worse, USAID concluded, is that the “same staff is recording and reconciling transactions.”
An examination of Afghanistan’s main power and electricity generating utility, Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat — known as DABS — paints an equally bleak picture. The assessment, dated October 2012, found “significant weaknesses in DABS’ financial management and accounting system.”
“These weaknesses create opportunities for fraud, including off-balance sheet financing,” USAID auditors wrote. “Evidently DABS does not have sufficient financial management capacity to manage donors’ funds, without strong mitigation measures and/or substantial involvement from donors.”
Six of 12 risks that auditors identified for fraud and waste at DABS were assessed as “critical.” Six others, including the risk of DABS’ management “not being committed to sound organizational structure and competence,” were rated as “high.” Documents prove oversight
Each of the assessments contains a section outlining the Obama administration’s 2010 policy to channel “at least 50 percent” of all U.S. government development aid to Afghanistan directly into the budget of the Afghan government. Under the policy, USAID officials wrote, the agency is committed to evaluating the government capability of whatever nation is receiving aid — in this case Afghanistan. The point, the officials wrote, is to “understand the fiduciary risk environment in targeted countries” in order to decide whether a given nation’s agencies can be trusted with U.S. taxpayer money.
“If the assessment reveals clear evidence of vulnerabilities to corruption, and the partner country government fails to respond, the use of partner country systems must not be authorized,” USAID officials wrote. Although the assessments go on to highlight such vulnerabilities across the Afghan ministries, USAID agreed as of August to channel roughly $695 million in “direct assistance” to those ministries.
USAID officials defended their actions Tuesday by pointing out that the agency has disbursed only about $200 million, specifically because of concerns about widespread fraud and corruption. Mr. Herrick said suggestions that USAID has tried to hide the risk of such problems only “distract from the larger story that is often overlooked here — that USAID is protecting U.S. taxpayer money while providing critical development assistance and putting in place strict safeguards and oversight measures.”
“These documents, the Stage II assessments, very clearly demonstrate those oversight measures,” he said.
Another USAID official told The Times that Congress and U.S. government auditors have access to USAID documents in unredacted form either in their offices or at USAID. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, asserted that it “is a common practice to redact information from the general public about vulnerabilities and other information that could be exploited by unscrupulous actors if exposed.” Other officials said the USAID goes to lengths to work with Afghan officials in an attempt to help them develop the capability to effectively manage their ministries on their own, rather than simply throw money at the situation. As a result, one official said, the process takes significant time and care. Ghost employees Officials writing the documents pulled few punches. The one conducted on the Ministry of Mines, for instance, described a landscape ripe for corruption. Operational problems, USAID auditors wrote, have created a “critical” risk of “kickbacks and bribery.”
Similarly strong language was used in a “Conclusion & Results” section of an October 2012 assessment of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, commonly referred to as “MAIL.”
“MAIL’s financial management/accounting system is not adequate to properly manage and account for donors’ funds,” auditors wrote.
“MAIL does not have the financial management capacity to manage proposed activities.”
USAID auditors also pointed to damaging personnel problems within the Ministry of Public Health, whose “payroll database is vulnerable to unauthorized access and modification.”
The ministry “runs the risk of paying A “lack of transparency” within the ministry’s procurement and purchasing system “creates an opportune environment for fraud, waste and abuse,” USAID auditors wrote, adding that ministry was in violation of existing Afghan government procurement laws, operating with “no effective control over public expenditures.” Thirteen of 14 risks USAID identified in the assessment were rated as “critical,” including the risks that the ministry’s officials are diverting “government resources for unintended purposes” and manipulating accounting information to “hide illegal actions.”
While a January 2013 assessment of the Ministry of Education painted a relatively optimistic view of the ministry’s future, auditors cited a “high” risk of government resources being diverted to “unintended purposes.” USAID auditors also found a host of accountability issues associated with the manner in which not just money — but actual cash — flows through the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to the ministry’s employees. “The Ministry permits salary advances in the form of cash to staff, however, there are no internal controls to monitor and track the cash advances and [a] separate ledger to record the cash advances is not maintained,” auditors wrote in a January 2013 assessment.
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American journalists call on Bilawal Bhutto

A delegation of nine American journalists called on Pakistan People’s Party chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at Bilawal House on Tuesday and discussed with him different issues pertaining to the media.
Speaking to the delegation, Bilawal observed, “Freedom of media and the right of freedom of expression have both got interlinked due to the revolution in print, electronic, and social media.
The American journalists – Kellen Henry, Sue McMittin, Sonia Narang, Chelsea Sheasley, Sonia Smith, Sara Sorcher, Beth Willon, Conrad Wilson, and James Wright – are on a visit under Pakistan-US Journalist Exchange programme organised by Hawaii-based East-West Centre.
Bilawal hoped that the exchange programme would enhance the level of credibility and accuracy in reporting with advent of growing social media and public scrutiny.
East-West Centre’s G Shabbir Cheema, Susan Kreifels and Jawadat Bilal of PILDAT and Sherry Rehman were also present at the meeting.

Pakistani policewoman offers protection and understanding
A police station run by women in Pakistan is filling an important role in a society dominated by men. Chief Bushra Batool says it's become a place of last resort for the desperate.
Bushra Batool, 36, clears her throat and adjusts the black beret atop her head. She heads up the women's police station in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
Batool has just finished explaining to a man who came in to report that his maid stole his iPhone that she would have to file an investigation, despite his demands that she eschew legal procedures and bring the girl into custody to scare her into giving the phone back.
Police stations staffed by women officers were established to pursue cases filed against or by women as part of a framework instituted in 1994 by the country's first female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. In a society where everything from schools to wedding celebrations is segregated by gender, Batool says policewomen are essential in ensuring women see justice. "Our female officers go on raids and sit with the women of the house to ensure their security and to search them," she says from her massive, glass-covered desk in her office. "If there's a woman accused of a crime, a policewoman has to be there to make the arrest. In our society, men can't do these things."
Batool says the need for women officers goes far beyond keeping men from checking purses in front of government buildings. The vast majority of cases her station handles are allegations of domestic abuse - which are not easy for women to bring. "If a woman comes to the police station with a domestic violence claim, her in-laws might turn on her. They often say to her husband, 'Your wife has no respect for your honor.' Even if the woman is being psychologically tortured and physically abused, for a lot of families, that matters less than her husband's reputation."
Batool has seen the hard realities that follow these vexing social inequalities firsthand. Her officers provide escort to and from the courts for women who are staying in safe houses while their divorce proceedings are underway. It's difficult for women to have their say in matters of marriage. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, more than 900 women and girls were killed in 2012 for dating or marrying against their parents' wishes. Ending a relationship can be just as risky.
"A woman only comes to the police station when she has no alternative," Batool says with a sigh. "It's an act of desperation." Desire for independence
That feeling is one that she says only a woman can understand. As the eldest child in her family, she felt the need to act when her father developed heart disease.
Batool had been working toward an MBA at the time, but postponed her studies to help the family when she saw a job posting for policewomen. "If I left my home and took this job, it was because of a need, or at least a desire to live an independent life." That's not so dissimilar to the motivations that land many women in her station, whether they are accused of crimes, or filing cases against others.
"Not everyone we deal with here is a bad person," Batool says. "More often, they have a whole story behind them that pushed them to the point of getting into trouble with the law."
Stories behind bars
One such case is that of Hina Naheed*, who was brought in during a night raid on a brothel. Standing in a shadowy cell in the station where accused women are held until their cases are processed, she says she has been a sex worker for the last five years.
"I tried to do all kinds of things to improve my situation in life. I worked as a maid. I even got married again, but nothing changed for me and I ended up here."
On a mat in the cell is the three-and-a-half-year-old girl who she's taken care of as her own since the child's mother died. Caring for her and her older son pushes her to keep up this work, despite the pain it's caused her.
"When I was a maid, the men of the houses I worked in would harass me," she says. "Eventually, I figured, if they're violating me, then I might as well take up sex work myself. It was very difficult at first. I cried a lot and became depressed, but now, I've accepted prostitution as a part of my fate." Naheed has had to fend for herself and her small family since she left her husband several years ago. He had wanted to take a second wife - which is legal to in Pakistan but was unbearable to her at the time. Instead of accepting another woman into her husband's life, she got a divorce.
In a safe place
Bushra Batool hears these sorts of stories on a daily basis. She takes seriously her task to provide all women with protection while the law works its course.
"I can understand that [Naheed] is doing what she does because of some real need - one that my [female] officers will also understand and believe," she says. "Maybe if a male police officer were to speak to her, he would just degrade her."
Batool struggles with negative stereotypes about working women in a place where, she says, male chauvinism sometimes forces women to struggle or even starve instead of allowing them to work outside of their homes.
Her own engagement was broken off because her fiancé wanted her to leave her job. But, Batool says, being a policewoman has gave her financial stability and a sense of her self-worth, neither of which she's willing to compromise for any man.
"This station has taught me how to handle the ups and downs of my life," she says. "I can't leave it now."

Pakistan publishes list to embarrass tax cheats into paying up

Desperate Pakistani tax authorities are publicly shaming defaulters by publishing their tax details in a directory for the first time, officials said on Wednesday.
The cash-strapped authorities find it almost impossible to chase down the large number of defaulters - many of them powerful politicians - through the country's moribund courts.
Only around one in 200 citizens files income tax, leaving the state begging foreign donors to help fund crumbling public schools and hospitals.
Anger over poor public services fuels the Taliban insurgency and other militant groups destabilizing the nuclear-armed nation.
So far, there's little been political will to improve tax collection, since most legislators and many ministers have been tax evaders too. Reformists hope publication of the directory marks a change of policy.
"We hope this will become the talk of the town," said Shahid Asad, the spokesman of the Federal Board of Revenue. "People will be living these luxurious life styles and others will be saying to them - where is your name on that list?"
Cracking down on tax evasion is a key condition of a $6.7 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund intended to prop up Pakistan's dwindling foreign reserves.
The cash is being doled out in increments and should stop if Pakistan fails to institute reforms.
Directory publication signals that Finance Minister Ishaq Dar is serious about tackling the problem, said Umar Cheema of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan.
"It's a kind of miracle," said Cheema, who triggered a public outcry when his outfit published two reports showing that nearly 70 percent of Pakistani lawmakers did not file taxes in 2011 and around half did not file in 2012.
"Information is the first step towards change," he said. "Tax has become part of the mainstream debate and people are getting radicalized about tax evasion by the rich."
The publication of the directory makes Pakistan the fourth country in the world - after Sweden, Finland and Norway - to publish the details of all individual and corporate tax payers. Citizens have until May 15 to dispute the records.
But some reformists doubt that public shaming will be enough to provoke payment in a country where most of the wealthy are tax cheats. They are calling for prosecutions - no one has been jailed for income tax evasion for more than 25 years.
"By publishing this figure, they can't say they have done their job. They should pinpoint tax offenders, start an investigation and prosecute them," said Ikramul Haq, a professor of tax law and Supreme Court lawyer.
"Otherwise what is the purpose of publishing this list? It is just wasting time."
Many judges, generals and legislators were not on the 17,000 page list, he said, underscoring the deep-rooted interests that prevent reform.
But Pakistan's problems go beyond just collecting more taxes, said Nadeem Haque, a former deputy head of the country's Planning Commission.
Officials waste huge amounts of public funds on perks, ceremonies and land for themselves, he said. If given more cash, they would probably splurge on more luxuries, he said.
"We have to build society and institutions. Tax is neither here nor there," he said. "Without reform this system will remain intact and stifle the poor, who have only two choices: migrate or join some revolution that disrupts this system. The only one available is the Taliban."

Pakistan: Taliban can target Central Jail Bannu to free inmates: RPO Bannu

As per the letter, Commander 325 Brigade has been requested to prepare a quick response force.
Regional Police Officer (RPO) Bannu wrote to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government on Tuesday informing about the threat that Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) can possibly target Bannu Central Jail to free accomplices, Dunya News reported. Dunya News has obtained the copy of the letter that was written to the KP government. The letter warns that there’s credible intelligence that militants are planning to target the jail.
The letter reveals that Taliban have prepared to attack the prison in order to free their accomplices, many of whom are named in terrorism related cases.
Owing to the threat, the letter requests the KP government authorities to transfer the militant prisoners to a safer facility. A copy of the letter has also been sent to Commander 325 Brigade.
As per the letter, Commander 325 Brigade has been requested to prepare a quick response force. The letter also informs that strict security has been arranged to monitor the facility.
The security arrangements include deployment of over 100 security personnel and 24-hour surveillance of the facility.
This is not the first threat of its kind. Only last year, heavily armed Taliban militants stormed into Dera Ismail Khan central jail and freed at least 175 inmates including dozens of high profiled suspects.
At least nine people, including four policemen and five militants, were killed in the attack and the following shootout.
Prior to that, almost 400 prisoners including militants had escaped on April 15, 2012 from Bannu Jail after an attack by insurgents armed with guns, grenades and rockets.
More than 150 heavily-armed militants had stormed the central prison outside the restive northwestern town of Bannu bordering the lawless tribal regions. TTP commander Adnan Rashid, who was serving a jail term for attacking former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, and famed for writing letter to Malala Yousafzai, was among the freed detainees.

Pakistan: Tall tales and load shedding

It is a sad state indeed when the tail end of spring starts to feel like the burning summer months are upon us. For that, we can thank the government, which has started subjecting citizens to harsh load shedding once again. The power outages are so bad that they are climbing to as much as 16 hours a day. One dreads to think what will happen in the middle of summer when the people start using their air conditioners and electric fans, putting extra burden on the national grid. So is this the plan of the PML-N government, to steadily increase the misery of the masses in total contradiction to the election promises it made last year? One of the main priorities of its manifesto was to curb the debilitating energy crisis as soon as it came to power.
We have yet to see that happen.It is unfortunate that the PML-N seems to be no different than other parties, doing nothing but playing politics with the energy situation. Minister of State for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali has announced that load shedding will not be more than six to eight hours. One wonders to whom he is speaking considering that power outages occur after every hour throughout the day. If the minister is feeling so confident he should tell us how the government plans to reduce the load shedding by as much as 10 hours. He has also gone on record to say that some 4,250 MW of electricity will be added in the coming few weeks without telling us just how that will happen. Someone must alert the minister to the fact that when making such bold statements, he must back them up otherwise it will just be the usual rhetoric that no one will believe.
Abid Sher Ali should be more realistic when it comes to such important matters. As soon as the PML-N government came to power, it gave Rs 500 billion to plug the circular debt that had accumulated over the years. However, that was, as predicted in this space, a stopgap measure. Circular debt has climbed once again to Rs 300 billion. The main reason for this is bill default and theft. The biggest culprit of the former is the government itself. Most government institutions fail to pay their bills. This has added up to literally crippling the system, rendering the energy production deficit a stubborn problem. Abid Sher Ali likes to accuse the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government of protecting those who steal electricity but he is unaware that the malaise is part of all government institutions. While the government is looking into different schemes and programmes to enhance electricity production, e.g. coal, hydel, etc, it needs to be honest with the people instead of feeding them tall tales of fixing the problem in record time.

Manzoor Watto calls on PPP Patron-in-Chief
پاکستان پیپلزپارٹی پنجاب کے صدر میاں منظور احمد وٹو نے پاکستان پیپلزپارٹی کے چیئرمین بلاول بھٹو زرداری سے آج بلاول ہاؤس میں ملاقات کی۔ ملاقات کے دوران انہوں نے چیئرمین پی پی پی بلاول بھٹو زرداری کو بتایا کہ پنجاب میں پاکستان پیپلزپارٹی کے تنظیمی معاملات میں ضلعی ، تحصیل اور شہروں کی سطح پر تنظیم مکمل ہوچکی ہے اور ۳۰ جون تک یونین کونسل اور وارڈ کی سطح تک تنظیموں کو مکمل کردیا جائے گا ۔ پاکستان پیپلزپارٹی کے ونگز ، مدر پارٹی کے ساتھ مل کر کام کرینگے ۔ پاکستان پیپلزپارٹی پنجاب کے صدر میاں منطور احمد وٹو نے کہا ان کی لاہور تشریف آوری کے پروگرام کو ہر لحاظ سے پارٹی کے لیے مفید بنانے کے لیے متعدد کمیٹیاں بنادی گئیں ہیں جس میں استقبالی کمیٹی ، پبلیسٹی کمیٹی ، ثقافتی کمیٹی اور مالیاتی کمیٹی شامل ہیں ۔ چیئرمین بلاول بھٹو زرداری کے پنجاب کے دورے سے پاکستان پیپلزپارٹی پنجاب ، قائد عوام شہید ذوالفقار علی بھٹو کے دور کی پارٹی بنے گی اور کارکنان اپنے لیڈر کا بھر پور انداز میں شاندار استقبال کریں گے ۔ انہوں نے چیئرمین کو بتایا کہ ان کی شخصیت میں قائد عوام شہید ذوالفقار علی بھٹو اور شہید محترمہ بے نظیر بھٹو کی شخصیت جھلکتی ہے اور چیئرمین بلاول بھٹو زرداری کے دہشت گردی کے بارے میں جرات مندانہ مؤقف ، نجکاری کے نام پر قومی اثاثوں کی بندر بانٹ اور عوا م سے روزگار چھین لینے کی حکومتی پالیسی کے خلاف واشگاف الفاظ میں پاکستان کے عوام اور بے روزگار ہونے والے محنت کش افراد کا ساتھ دینے کا اعلان کیا ، اس لیے چیئرمین بلاول بھٹو زررداری کے لیے پنجاب کے عوام ان کے استقبال کے لیے چشم براہ ہیں ۔پی پی پی کے چیئرمین بلاول بھٹو زرداری نے پی پی پی پنجاب کے صدر میاں منظور احمدوٹو کی پارٹی کے لیے خدمات کو سراہتے ہوئے کہا کہ پارٹی کے لیے آپ کی خدمات قابل قدر ہیں اور آپ کی صدارت میں صوبہ پنجاب میں پاکستان پیپلزپارٹی پھر سے منظم اور مضبوط ہورہی ہے جس کو قیادت قدر کی نگاہ سے دیکھتی ہے ۔

Only visionary & young leadership of Bilawal Bhutto could steer the country out of crisis: Sardar Latif Khosa
PPPP Secretary General and former Punjab Governor Latif Khosa has declared that PPPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will visit Punjab by the end of current month. Addressing party ticket-holders, lawyers and office bearers of different wings of the party here at South Punjab secretariat, he said that only visionary and young leadership of Bilawal Bhutto could steer the country out of crisis. He lashed out at the government and said that despite the fact that all political parties mandated the government to hold talks with Taliban, it completely failed to deliver. He added that the government was highly confused on this topic as a result of which masses faced chaos. He said that the masses desperately looked for peace but the rulers failed to discharge their obligations successfully. “The government has not introduced any visible or successful foreign, internal or financial policy so far which shows that the rulers are focused on just accomplishing their tenure,” he maintained.
He said that the government failed to tackle energy crisis as no relief was so far offered to the public. He accused the rulers of filling their own bank accounts by selling out national institutions on throw-away prices. He warned that the PPPP would not let the rulers ruin national institutions.

Former PPP govt took the total collection upto Rs1980 billion from the previous figures 1020 billion & that too without any hike in tax rate
Leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah on Tuesday criticised the government’s decision to increase the tax rate in order to enhance tax collection.
Shah said that move would burden the masses furthers. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced to raise the tax rate in the country on Monday. “The tax defaulters should be apprehended to make the increase in the tax collection rather than putting more burden on the general public”, Shah advised the government while talking to media. He recalled that former PPP government took the total collection up to Rs.1980 billion from the previous figures 1020 billion and that too without any hike in tax rate. “The present government fixed Rs.2435 billion tax collection for the current fiscal but appears unable to achieve the target”, Opposition Leader noted.
For its failure to collect more taxes, Shah felt that government wants to punish the people by charging them the tax at higher rate. Shah also talked about the increased reliance of government on loans and showed its grave concern over this policy that would be leading towards more trouble in future.

TTP Linked Wahabi Terrorists Threaten Shia Residents To Vacate Peshawar Neighbourhood
Tehreek-e-Taliban linked takfiri Deobandi Wahabi terrorists of banned Lashkar-e-Islami (LI) has distributed a pamphlet in a neighborhood of the Khyber Pakhtunhwa capital threatening residents, mostly Shia Muslims, to vacate the area in the next ten days, The Shia Post reported.
Residents of Pahari Pura’s Manzoor Colony were warned of serious consequences failing to follow the militants warning.
The threatening pamphlet, with letter head of LI chief Lutfullah, said that the militant outfit’s shura (council) has decided to act against the colony, without elaborating what caused to offend it.
Lashkar-i-Islam – a Bara-based militant organisation in Khyber tribal region led by Mangal Bagh – was banned in 2008.
Police said they have launched an investigation to ascertain the pamphlet’s authenticity. They said police contingent has been increased with more patrolling in the area.

Pakistani.Shia Muslims Under Attack: Militants threaten residents to vacate Peshawar neighbourhood

A pamphlet, attributed to the banned Lashkar-i-Islam (LI), was distributed in a neighbourhood of the Khyber Pakhtunhwa capital threatening residents, mostly Shia Muslims, to vacate the area in the next ten days, police said on Tuesday.
Residents of Pahari Pura’s Manzoor Colony were warned of serious consequences failing to follow the militants warning.
The threatening pamphlet, with letter head of LI chief Lutfullah, said that the militant outfit’s shura (council) has decided to act against the colony, without elaborating what caused to offend it.
Lashkar-i-Islam – a Bara-based militant organisation in Khyber tribal region led by Mangal Bagh – was banned in 2008.
Police said they have launched an investigation to ascertain the pamphlet’s authenticity. They said police contingent has been increased with more patrolling in the area.
A local cleric in Bara, Mufti Munir Shakir formed the Lashkar-i-Islam in December 2004 after Sipah and Malikdinkhel tribesmen announced their full allegiance to him. However, the cleric was expelled from Bar Qambarkhel area after only six months owing to his extremist views and differences with Haji Namdar, another militant commander of the area.
Both Mufti Munir Shakir and Pir Saifur Rehman were forced to leave Bara after a jirga of local elders gave a consensus verdict following bloody clashes between the supporters of the two in early 2005. Mangal Bagh, a bus driver-turned-militant was elevated to the position of amir (chief) of Lashkar-i-Islam in May 2005.
Pakistani security forces demolished the house of Haji Rabat and destroyed the FM radio station set up in a mosque after they started the first military operation against Lashkar-i-Islam in mid-2005.