Saturday, August 2, 2014

Obama Says He Will Act Alone on US Border Crisis, Slams Congress

As House Republicans leaders scrambled to toughen up their border bills to win the support of their most conservative members, Democratic President Barack Obama blasted Congress for failing to send him an emergency funding measure to sign before lawmakers leave for a five-week August recess.
House Republicans began Friday with a closed meeting in the basement of the U.S. Capitol, one day after a failed effort to pass a supplemental funding bill in response to an influx of children from Central America. Even the most conservative members emerged optimistic that the two border bills would now be changed to win the 218 votes needed to pass. Republican lawmaker Michele Bachmann said the bills now do what a core group of conservative Republicans wants:
“Stopping the invasion of illegal foreign nationals into our country,” she said.
No action in Senate
The Democratic-run Senate left town without passing a border bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blasted House Republicans for adding to the agenda a second border bill that would end an Obama administration policy of allowing hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children years ago to stay.
“House Republicans will vote to deport children who have been living in the United States their entire lives, all in a pathetic attempt to appease the Tea Party,” he said.
President Obama criticized House members for crafting border legislation they know will never be taken up in the Senate and that he has said he would veto.
“House Republicans, as we speak, are trying to pass the most extreme and unworkable versions of a bill that they already know is going nowhere,” he said.
The president said Congress is leaving him no choice but to act on his own.
“I am going to have to act alone because we don’t have resources. We have already been very clear, we have run out of money,” he said.
Stopping the flow
Republican lawmakers blame the president for contributing to the influx of 57,000 children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras this year, saying his rhetoric about immigration reform has caused confusion, which criminal trafficking gangs have exploited. Republican Congressman Tom Cole said the right thing to do is to send a clear signal to deter children from making the dangerous journey to America.
“So we need to stop this flow. We need to do in a humane and appropriate way,” he said.
House Democrats took to the floor in large numbers to oppose the border bills, calling them harsh and mean-spirited towards desperate children. Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez said Hispanic voters would remember the way Republicans treated the Central American children for many elections to come:
“Because the way you treat one of us today is the way you have treated all of us, and we will remember that,” he said.
Analysts say the president will likely have to shift funds to provide food and shelter for the children at the border, and that members of Congress will likely face the border issue again when they return in September.

President Obama's Weekly Address: It’s Time for Congress to Help the Middle Class

"Muj Se Pehli Si"- Malika Taranum Noor Jehan

"Premature to name Afghan leader for the Wales Summit"

Javed Hamem Kakar
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization NATO has stated that it was premature to say who would represent Afghanistan in the forth coming NATO Summit in the Wales next month.
The Wales in the UK would host the two day summit from September 4, 2014. President Hamid Karzai has been attending NATO summits so far but his term in the office has ended and Afghanistan expects a new president to take charge soon. In the 2012 Chicago Summit, NATO assured lasting aid to Afghanistan. These gatherings of the world leaders are of vital importance to the ware ravaged Afghanistan.
An official in the NATO headquarters Brussels told Pajhwok Afghan News on Saturday that it was too early to say who would represent Afghanistan in this summit.
NATO would devise its future Afghan strategy in the Wales Summit. Earlier it was hoped that the new Afghan president would have signed bilateral security pacts with the United States and NATO prior to this summit pawing a way for the two to chalk out their post 2014 aid and assistance strategies.
Hamid Karzai had been reluctant to sign the security pacts while both the presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah have expressed willingness to sign the agreements.
Afghan election process has come to a standstill at a crucial time when two important global conferences are about to resume. Few weeks after the NATO’s Wales Summit, the United Nations General Assembly would convene its annual meeting. It is becoming an increasingly pressing and awkward question for NATO, seeking to withdraw most of its troops, as who, if anyone, will represent Afghanistan at next month's NATO summit.
The news agency quoted some diplomats as saying that President Karzai could be invited, or pick who represents the country, at Celtic Manor in Wales on Sept. 4-5, but the prospect of Karzai's participation raises technical problems – the constitution deems his term is already complete.
It also risks upsetting the United States, with whom Karzai has had a fraught relationship, and complicating the signing of two agreements that would allow the United States and NATO to keep some soldiers in Afghanistan for training and counter-insurgency operations.

Why the US Spent More on Afghanistan Than on the Marshall Plan

By Akhilesh Pillalamarri
There are several reasons the U.S. has spent as much as it has in Afghanistan, to so little avail.
Recently, it has emerged in a report that the United States has spent more on reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan than it spent on the Marshal Plan, which resuscitated Europe after the Second World War.
According to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), congressional appropriations for reconstruction in Afghanistan have reached $109 billion in today’s dollars. On the other hand, the Marshall Plan delivered $103 billion in today’s dollars to 16 European countries between 1948 and 1952. However, reports comparing reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and the Marshall Plan do not generally take into account the fact that the Marshall Plan appropriations constituted a much greater proportion of the U.S. economy in the 1940s than Afghanistan reconstruction efforts do today. While the U.S. has spent $109 billion out of a $13-15 trillion economy on Afghanistan over 13 years, in 1948-1952, it spent $103 billion out of a $2 trillion dollar economy (adjusted) in only four years.
Nonetheless, the fact that the U.S. spent so much money on Afghanistan while getting so little from its efforts shows that many obstacles must yet be overcome for Afghanistan to fully stabilize. More than half of the money, $62 billion has been spent on building up the Afghan military, which essentially had to be built from scratch. The Marshall Plan, on the other hand, aided the economies of European countries and not their militaries directly.
Unfortunately, much of the American money in Afghanistan has been misspent or thrown at projects without first judging their viability or necessity. For example, a $2.89 million storage facility has gone unused for over a year. This goes to show that the U.S. solution of throwing money at problems, both domestically and internationally, has its limitations. Using money effectively to come up with desired outcomes is more important than spending large amounts of it on token projects.
Major worries regarding the Afghan army include lax oversight of weapons, many of which cannot be tracked, and which could find their way to the Taliban. More importantly, an army’s effectiveness or lack thereof often comes down to morale and discipline, factors that extend beyond how much money it gets. Emphasizing morale and discipline, so that the Afghan army does not go the way of some Iraqi units in northern Iraq, involves local, tribal and social factors in Afghanistan. These are not simply matters of pay. Additionally, the solution to Afghanistan’s security issues will need the cooperation of Pakistan, which is a political issue.
The report’s findings also go to show that decisions on how to spend money are best made by people on the ground with detailed knowledge of the needs of Afghanistan instead of being made by planners in the U.S. One of the most glaring examples of mistakes made by U.S. planners involved the U.S. Department of Agriculture spending $34.4 million towards a soybean project in the face of evidence that the crop was “inappropriate for conditions and farming practices in northern Afghanistan, where the program was implemented.”
Ultimately, Afghanistan has to do more to strengthen itself and its weak state. The Afghan state’s anticipated revenue this year is $2.8 billion while its expenditures will be $7.6 billion. Consequently, it will be dependent on foreign aid for years to come as it struggles to increase its revenue. Admittedly, this is difficult in a state that has little presence in many parts of the countryside and in a country where few people actually pay their taxes. Nonetheless, it is imperative that Afghanistan gradually increase its revenue base while finding ways to use the money it has more effectively.
The Pentagon has estimated that Afghan forces will require 370,000 people, which will cost more than three times as much as the Afghan government’s entire domestic revenue. Given this fact, in a country where a strong nation state has not yet fully taken hold, both Afghan and U.S. figures should be open to the idea of talking to tribes and militias and using them as a supplement to the national army in order to improve stability. Although risky, manipulating and playing different groups against each other is a skill that is necessary for the success of Afghanistan and one that any successful leader of the country must have in order to survive, as Afghan President Hamid Karzai pointed out.
Perhaps the U.S. spent so much money to little avail in Afghanistan because it channeled its efforts through ineffective and little-trusted state institutions in a country where the state has not been fully accepted and implemented as the dominant form of political organization. As Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili notes over at Foreign Policy, Karzai is correct in arguing that Afghan citizens feel closer to and trust traditional authorities more than state institutions. Customary authority is more likely than state building to ensure development and stability for Afghanistan. One should remember that it took many European countries hundreds of years to evolve state institutions out of complex feudal structures, so it is naïve to expect otherwise of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: Reports of Taliban surge are exaggerated, says incoming ISAF commander

The incoming NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander, Gen. John F. Campbell has called reports regarding the surge of Taliban militants as exaggerated. Gen. Campbell is expected to succeed Gen. Joseph Dunford as ISAF commander and take over commander of the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan.
The General suggested that the reports suggesting that the Taliban militants are gaining ground as U.S. troop levels fall and Afghan soldiers take on more fighting duties, are more about PR than battlefield realities. Speaking to reporters in Pentagon, Gen. Campbell said many of the claims were based on propaganda by the insurgents trying to intimidate the Afghan public into supporting them.
“A lot of what you’re getting on how bad it may have been down in the south, or this attack there, or some of the things in the east, is we have kind of lost the information war here,” Gen. Campbell quoted by Star and Stripes said. He said, “The Taliban are trying to go do what they couldn’t do for the elections with these spectacular attacks.” The remarks by Gen. Campbell comes as reports suggest that the Taliban militants surged out of strongholds in remote areas of the south and taken over strategic territory around Kabul as well as elsewhere in the country.
Campbell acknowledged the Taliban are making Afghanistan pay a heavy price. “It’s not much ado about nothing. There is very much some concern because of the numbers of civilians that have been attacked and killed is much higher,” he said. However, he insisted that there’s a fundamental difference between the war now and when he last commanded troops in Afghanistan in 2011.
Campbell said the improved Afghan security forces are usually able to retake lost ground quickly as the Taliban could take and hold positions.

Humaima Mallick Proud Of Romantic Scenes In ‘Raja Natwarlal’

Pakistani model-actress Humaima Malick says she may have shot steamy and passionate kissing scenes with her co-star Emraan Hashmi for her forthcoming Bollywood debut “Raja Natwaral” but there is no vulgarity in the movie.
“There is no vulgarity in the film at all. In fact, I am very proud that we have done many romantic scenes in the film and have shot beautifully,” Humaima said here Wednesday at the launch of a song from the film.
Directed by Kunal Deshmukh, “Raja Natwaral”, also featuring Paresh Rawal and Kay Kay Menon, will hit the theatres Aug 29. “Everyone can watch the film with his/her kids and family,” she added.

Pakistan: Food for thought, Mian Sahib(Nawaz)

If one goes by the tongue-in-cheek observations of some TV talk show anchors, the PML-N’s days are numbered. It is implied that massive rallies and dharnas in Islamabad are bound to create a situation that will force incumbent governments to agree to mid-term elections.
Imran Khan has upped the ante by asserting that because of rigging in the 2013 elections, the present government cannot be considered legitimate and polls under their auspices will mean a repetition of the farce of another (rigged) election. Hence this government has to go and a new electoral set-up forged for electing the real representatives of the people.
Looking back, Imran had given the PML-N a month to provide answers to his four questions relating to the way the 2013 elections were held. Characteristically, Nawaz Sharif did not take this notice seriously. Imran’s challenge was thus practically ignored giving him the excuse and opportunity of declaring that time had run out and the goal-post shifted. As for Tahir-ul-Qadri’s threat of launching a revolution, the government, weakened as it was after the Model Town incident, resorted to subject Qadri to tax-default notices. According to him, he and his organization have been asked to pay more than 700 million rupees to the FBR. Undeterred, Qadri has stuck to his resolve to wipe the government out on account of corruption, and for its failing to abide by certain provisions of the Constitution.
Instead of rising to the occasion to take Imran Khan seriously and somehow finding a way to engage him with a view to finding a solution to the problem, the government let the matter drift and the situation deteriorate from bad to worse. Valuable time was lost.
It is puzzling how most of the TV channels are vying with each other to project the PTI and PAT. Mr. Qadri has often been seen waxing eloquence, quoting scriptures and Articles of the Constitution of Pakistan to convincingly establish his case for the Inqilab. He claims the people have the right to rise and do away with an “incompetent, corrupt and cruel” administration.
There has hardly been a befitting response on the electronic media to the vilification campaign raging against the government. Sheikh Rasheed is often found firing broadsides from almost every channel. Thus the electronic media reinforces the noise raised by the opposition. (Geo, in spite of repeated assurances by the minister for information, has not yet been restored.) The government’s near-paralysis is inexplicable.
Too much is at stake; the incumbent government and democracy itself.
The regime’s deeply unfortunate behaviour in Model Town has been condemned even by the PPP, which has joined the rest of the opposition in denouncing the federal government for extended load-shedding inflicted on citizens. This, coupled by Zardari’s utterances about the PML-N leadership, and an indication of support for Imran Khan, has added to the government’s discomfiture. There is speculation that the PPP may make a common cause with Imran Khan, at some stage.
There is little doubt that the Sharif brothers have been found wanting in facing the odds stacked against them confidently. Instead of resolving to unite, or to demonstrate strength, there have been fissures in the party high command itself.
How could the Prime Minister, for instance, fly away to another land for ten days in the midst of complete political chaos and a war with over a million displaced people?
Yet another surprise was sprung. Without consulting the leader of the opposition, the army was asked to take over security of Islamabad under Article 245 of the Constitution on the grounds that a terrorist blow-back was imminent. It is widely believed that the army has been called in to help the government deal with the PTI (and possibly the PAT) rallies and dharnas. It appears that the government has done so, in panic, and not out of prudence to ward off a Taliban strike.
A word about the civil-military relations. The Musharraf trial is an issue of real contention. The fact remains that the government had a good case. The top brass was to be convinced that a bitter pill had to be swallowed to uphold the supreme law of the land. The Geo episode further added to the misunderstandings. Above all, the lethargic handling of talks with the Taliban resulted in the shifting of the initiative to the army which went ahead to start off the military operation in North Waziristan. In the Indian Express, C. Raja Mohan a veteran journalist, in a recent column, has reviewed two new books on the Pakistan Army. One is authored by Christine Fair, titled “Fighting to the End.” The second is titled “The Army and Democracy: Military Politics in Pakistan,” by Aqil Shah.
Mohan says, “Few armies in the world attract the kind of policy and scholarly attention that the Pakistan army does. Rightly so, for its institutional primacy at home and strategic influence abroad have few parallels. Many armies have run their countries, but most of them had to eventually yield to democratic change and civilian control. The Pakistan army however, exercises extraordinary power, whether in the barracks or the chancelleries. It controls Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, manipulates its domestic politics, shapes its internal security and runs the critical accounts of the country’s foreign policy with India, Afghanistan, China, the Gulf and the United States.” Speaking of Aqil Shah’s book, he further states, “Like Fair, he (Shah) too delves deep into the Pakistan army’s mindset and its self perception as the guardian of the nation… he poses two important questions: One, can the army really be pushed back to the barracks? And two, who will guard the guardians? Therein is much food for thought for Mian Sahib.

Pakistan:Two new polio cases in Peshawar, Bara, take total to 104
The unvaccinated children in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and tribal areas continued to thwart global efforts to eradicate polio as National Institute of Health, Islamabad confirmed two new polio cases today.
The new cases took the nationwide polio count to 104 this year alone for ahead of last year tally of 93. Pakistan has recorded highest number of polio cases among the three endemic countries.
One newly-infected child is the residents of the violence-wracked Bara subdivision of Khyber Agency. Polio virus detected in eight month old Hafsa resident of Bara. One year old Salma, resident of Peshawar was also found infected with virus.

File of case registered against PML-N MPA goes missing
The file of a case registered against Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) MPA Rana Shoaib Idrees in January 2013 for allegedly attacking a police station and torturing policemen has gone missing, Express News reported on Saturday. A case has been registered against ASI Umar Daraz and Inspector Ghazanfar for allegedly being responsible to cause the file to go missing.
Idrees was caught on tape attacking a police station in Faisalabad on July 19. The PML-N MPA and his accomplices allegedly attacked Khurarianwala police station in order to free their companions. They also reportedly tortured and injured Sub Inspector Riyasat Ali and other police officials, and damaged official property of the station. The Khurarianwala police had registered a case under various sections of the Anti-Terrorism Act and Pakistan Penal Code against nine identified and 50 unidentified men for taking the law in their own hands, damaging the police station, rioting and injuring policemen.
However, the Lahore High Court (LHC) had granted Idrees protective bail till August 11. At this point, Idrees had defended himself, saying the footage that the police presented as evidence against him was over a year old, of an incident that occurred before the May 11 general elections – the file of this case is now missing.

Pakistan's Load Shedding: Losing power

Despite a year of talk, the facts remain the same. Losses in the power sector are at the same level they were last year when the government made what it called a one-time retirement of the circular debt.
That extraordinary measure was taken to create some breathing room in which to implement the necessary reforms and bring down the losses, a goal that has evaded the government so far.
The latest round of figures compiled by the power bureaucracy in its monthly report of operational data show that the gap between the amount of electricity provided to the distribution companies and the amount of units billed is just under 19pc in the fiscal year ended June 2014, the same level they were at last year.
And this figure tells only half the story. In financial terms this means that electricity worth Rs211bn was lost in the last fiscal year. When recovery losses — the gap between the units billed and the amount of money actually recovered against those bills — are added to this tally the figure doubles, bringing us close to the approximate total of Rs550bn of the circular debt.
A closer look at the data compiled by the power bureaucracy shows that all distribution companies of the country are contributing their fair share to these overall losses.
For a while, the minister of state for water and power tried to peddle the story that the chief reason for the circular debt was that Punjab pays its bills but that Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa do not.
The data provided by the power bureaucracy belies this claim; it shows that more than half the losses occurred in distribution companies in Punjab with the remaining half shared by those from Sindh, KP and Balochistan.
It seems that inefficiency and incompetence do not have an ethnicity, and all apparent attempts to paint one province as superior in the matter of billing recoveries or distributional efficiency are without foundation.
Why is this data not made public? The power bureaucracy is required to produce monthly reports of its operational data which includes details of all the electricity generated and provided to all the distribution companies in the country.
The result is a report with 150 or so pages of detailed data on where the electricity is coming from and where it is going. There is no reason to keep this information out of the public domain, and the water and power secretary should seriously consider making the document available online, along with all back issues.
In addition, financial data should be similarly gathered and disseminated, including cash flow statements, so that claims about operational efficiencies can be verified.
There should be accountability of the power bureaucracy, and allowing some daylight into the dark corners where discretionary decision-making power lurks is the best way to ensure this.

Pakistan: Army to be visible in Islamabad soon

Army troops would soon be guarding sensitive buildings in Islamabad, and patrolling the streets later, as the federal government’s decision to deploy them in aid of the civil administration came into effect on August 1.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had sent shockwaves across the country last week by revealing that the government had issued a notification on July 24 to requisition services of the armed forces under Article 245 of the Constitution.
A day after a military spokesman disclosed on July 26 that the decision to call army was taken in a meeting, on the launch of the military operation against militants in North Waziristan, held on June 15, the minister accused those criticising the decision were making army controversial in a war-like situation. He said 352 troops were being requisitioned to assist police and other civic agencies secure Islamabad.
“Army soldiers will be all over the city and will be able to reach a hotspot in case of an emergency within 10 minutes. The army will coordinate with police and Rangers directly and through the district administration,” he said.
Senior Superintendent of Police Mohammad Ali Nekokara told Dawn that deployment of the soldiers under Article 245 will be finalised after consultation with the district administration.
“I believe that collaboration between the Army, police and district administration became necessary for national security in the wake of Operation Zarb-i-Azb. Police have been collaborating with all agencies. That is why not a single untoward incident has been reported in the federal capital since the launch of Operation Zarb-i-Azb,” he said.As of now SSP Nekokara did not feel the need to put troops on patrol duties in the city, however.
“They can be called to that duty if and when required,” he said.

Pakistan:PPP asks govt to withdraw army
The Pakistan People’s Party has asked the government to immediately withdraw Article 245 because the entire political leadership of the country and civil society have opposed it.
“The PML-N government is mishandling a political issue. It has complicated the matter of a political protest by calling in army in the federal capital,” former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said here on Friday.
Mr Gilani said during his tenure as a premier he had not called in the army to stop the lawyers march to restore the judiciary. He said the government should not have set this precedent. He said PTI’s long march should be peaceful. Punjab PPP President Manzoor Wattoo said the situation in Islamabad was not that bad to invoke the article. He said the government should withdraw the army because there was a possibility of a clash of the institution.
He argued that it also implied that the government and its law-enforcement agencies had failed to secure the federal capital reflecting poorly on its ability to handle a political issue.
Wattoo said the PML-N government was taking a solo flight. He said the ongoing military operation in North Wazirstan was launched without taking parliament into confidence.
Lahore PPP President Samina Ghurki said the government should not use force to deal with political issues.