Saturday, November 22, 2014

Video - Hungary: Thousands of teachers protest planned governmental budget cuts

'Western sanctions aimed at regime change in Russia' – Lavrov

Report: Obama Signs Secret Order Extending U.S. Combat Role In Afghanistan

The New York Times" reports that U.S. President Barack Obama has extended the combat role for U.S. troops in Afghanistan by another year in a classified order he signed in recent weeks.
Obama previously said U.S.-led NATO combat operations in Afghanistan would finish by the end of 2014.
NATO's follow up mission, beginning January 1, includes 9,800 U.S. troops and 3,000 from Germany, Italy, and other NATO countries.
Its initial intention was to focus on supporting Afghan forces.
But "The New York Times" reported on November 22 that Obama's order authorizes U.S. troops to continue combat against militants in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, if they threaten U.S. forces or the Afghan government.
It also allows for U.S. air support during Afghan combat missions.
The Associated Press (AP) news agency says U.S. officials confirmed details of the report on condition of anonymity.

President Obama's Weekly Address: Immigration Accountability Executive Action

Video - President Obama Speaks on Immigration at Del Sol High School

On November 21, 2014, President Obama followed up on his new steps to fix our broken immigration system at Del Sol high School in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Published Photographs Lead to Death Threats in Pakistan

Olivier Laurent
A photographer has received “a credible and direct threat" against her life after five years of images shot in Pakistan were published in the U.K.
With the rise of extremist movements around the world, journalists have become prime targets in a war of communication both in the field and back at home, once their images have been published, as photographer Alixandra Fazzina learned this week.
Fazzina was due to travel to Pakistan on Nov. 20, but she has since received warnings from diplomatic sources about “a credible and direct threat against my life,” she says. “I’ve taken risks in Pakistan, but they were very weighted up risks,” she says. “I don’t want to kill myself for a story.” Now, she feels, fear has caught up to her in London.
Fazzina started her career as a frontline photographer covering under reported conflicts in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Northern Uganda. “Over the years, my work has changed” she says, “It’s gone on instead to look at the consequences and fallout of wars.”
In 2008, after working on a long-term project in Somalia, she moved to Pakistan. “When I arrived, the effects of extremism were really starting to hit home,” she says. “One of the first things I did was to cover what was essentially Pakistan’s first frontline in the tribal areas. It was the first time that Pakistan’s military had engaged and began an operation against the Taliban there.” Pakistan has been facing conflicts on multiple fronts – from separatist movements in Balochistan to homegrown Pakistani Taliban factions spreading violence across the country and all the way to Karachi – in June, 28 people were killed in a coordinated attack at Jinnah International Airport in the country’s economic capital.
Fazzina’s ambition was to document the consequences of these conflicts. “What I want to get across is how much civilians suffer and to try and tell their stories, to show what the real effects of war are away from the frontlines,” she says. “Millions of people in Pakistan are still suffering now, and they’re not getting any assistance.”
In her photographs, Fazzina has tried to avoid pointing the finger at one particular culprit, instead putting the blame on all participants. “I’ve covered victims of collateral damage, victims of airstrikes, victims of drone strikes. I covered people suffering from the military, from foreign intervention in region and also from the Taliban. I’ve tried to cover victims of war from all sides because I believe that in any theater of war, all players are responsible.”
After diplomatic sources in Islamabad warned her of the threat on her life from local extremist groups, Fazzina has been forced to cancel a planned trip to Pakistan where she was to report on maternal health. “I take this threat very seriously. There is a strong possibility if I return I will be killed simply for having documented what are realities on the ground” she says. “But, I won’t be silenced by this threat.”
Fazzina’s situation isn’t unique, she explains, as Pakistani journalists and photographers constantly risk their lives to document their country. “It’s extremely difficult for journalists to report without facing some kind of a risk – be it threats, harassment, or even expulsion from the country by the state,” says Mustafa Qadri, a researcher at Amnesty International. “We’ve certainly seen this year a number of high-profile attacks on journalists, which seems to be in response to their work being critical of the government, Taliban, or political parties. What brings all of these cases together is the fact that there’s no justice, there’s no accountability. That basically sends a signal that if you’re not happy with what journalists are reporting, you can literally get away with murder.”
Since 2008, Amnesty International has documented 36 cases of journalists who were killed in response to their work, with many more cases of harassment remaining undocumented. The Committee to Protect Journalists has been trying to fight this problem, says Bob Dietz, the Asian program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Everyone feels that they have total impunity to direct a threat towards a journalist. Foreign journalists aren’t the largest targets for these things; it’s really the local Pakistani journalists who bear the brunt of it. A Pakistani journalist awakes in the morning, opens his phone and check for messages and there might well be a string of threats in there. It’s a way of life. It’s a reality that people are dealing with.”
“We’ve tried to combat it,” Dietz adds. “[We’ve asked] journalists not to hide these threats, and instead to bring them out in public as a way to disarm them.” Yet, the CPJ and Amnesty International don’t expect such menaces to subside, including those against Fazzina. “We really welcome the work that she did,” says Qadri. “We feel that not enough is done to expose the condition of women and girls in Pakistan; what ordinary life is for them. It’s really sad that in trying to do that, she’s now facing these kinds of threats.”
For the 40-year-old photographer, these threats are indicative of a massive shift in war reporting. “The landscape has really changed from fundamentalist groups wanting to tell their stories to journalists becoming actual targets of these groups,” says Fazzina. “In some way, the voices that can speak out against human rights abuses are slowly being silenced. And people would rather shoot the messenger than acknowledged the actual state of [affairs].”

Pakistan: ANP - ‘Imran should seek KP’s view over Kalabagh dam’

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s rally in Larkana has drawn criticism from his political rivals as Awami National Party (ANP) leader, Senator Zahid Khan on Friday advised him to seek an opinion of masses in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa over the construction of controversial Kalabagh dam.
Khan, during his party’s rally in Larkana earlier today, promised thousands of supporters that the PTI will not allow the construction of the dam without the consent of the people of Sindh.
The construction of the Kalabagh dam has long been a heated debate in Pakistan, where politicians and pressure groups argue over the provinces' fair share of water from the river Indus to support local agricultural needs.
In a statement issued soon after the conclusion of PTI’s rally, Zahid Khan said that besides seeking people’s views regarding the dam in Sindh, Imran Khan should also ask the masses in the province, where his party rules.

Pakistan: ‘Imran likes eating his own word’

In Punjab, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan talks about construction of Kalabagh dam but in Sindh, he contradicts his own statement, said Punjab government spokesman and provincial assembly member Zaeem Qadri while commenting PTI chairman’s speech in Larkana on Friday
He said that the politics of hypocrisy and lies will not be tolerated. What kind of politics is to level allegations against the people of Punjab in Punjab and people of Sindh in Sindh, he questioned. He said that the policy of fascism, violence and hatred of Khan will not succeed. He said that Pakistani people believe in political process and those finding shortcut will have to ultimately face failure.
He said that due to so-called protest movement, the popularity graph of the PTI has further decreased. He said that Khan has become the symbol of politics of stubbornness and promoted the attitude of intolerance. He said that the PTI did not play its political role according to the votes given by the people and Khan delivers the same speech in every city.
He asked the PTI chairman that how much credit he wants for the hospital and university constructed through public donations and whether he has become eligible for coming into power as a reward. He said that it has been proved that after Punjab the show of Khan has also flopped in Sindh.

Pakistan - lynching a Christian couple - Will it even help if I raise my voice for Shama and Shahzad?

The Kot Radha Kishan case of lynching a Christian couple, Shahzad and Shama, is no longer breaking news. In fact, killing minorities has hardly ever been ‘breaking news’ in Pakistan. As minorities are tortured, condemned and brutally killed in broad day light, it comes as no surprise at all to now find out that the family of the slain fear for their lives as they seek justice.
Shahzad and Shama were thrown into a brick kiln by an angry mob for having burnt the verses from the Holy Quran. There was no evidence, no investigation, no hearing, just an atrocious execution. Days after the shocking event, which caused a lot of stir in the cyber-world gaining international attention, this is the first time that the state will be acting as the plaintiff in the case.
Even though the state will be setting a precedent by acting as plaintiff, whether the state will finally look into the blasphemy laws and perhaps amend them, is yet to be seen. Salman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti, Aasia Bibi and countless others have been victims of a law which makes no sense at all. It is as though we tread on a very thin line when it comes to blasphemy in Pakistan. You just never know when you will be targeted under this law created by General Ziaul Haq.
Putting the pertaining issue of blasphemy law aside, as there is no way that this blog is going to change it, I will shift my focus on what the relatives of Shahzad and Shama are going through.
Even though the media has given tremendous support in condemning the atrocious act committed against Shahzad and Shama, and has paved out a way to seek justice for the couple that was murdered in cold blood, the family of the victims now fear for their lives. According to a press conference that was held earlier in the week, the family reported that they are being offered money and land as compensation and are being pressurised to withdraw their case. They have also received threats. The family has informed the police about this, but we all know too well how ‘safe’ they could be in the hands of the police. They have demanded protection as it’s their lawful right to do so, but they are not getting any. So in case one of the surviving members of this family is murdered, are we again going to raise our voice on social media platforms that will result in more international humiliation or is the government going to give them the safety that they deserve?
Why is it that the blood of the minorities is any less ‘red’ than that of the majorities? Why is the family that is already going through such an ordeal, not being given protection and instead are being forced to take back their case? And lastly and more importantly, when will the government look into the blasphemy law? These questions, although simple in their context, are quite complex in the mysterious thread of the society and the government.
I demand justice for Shahzad, Shama, Sahar Batool, Aasia Bibi, and countless others. But who am I?  I’m just another ‘majority’ who is a ‘minority’ in her country seeking justice only on humanitarian grounds but perhaps will not be offered any. So what’s the point of me even being classified as a majority since my demands are going to be squashed over like those of the minorities?

Reviving the left in Pakistan

Once dialectics go out the window, so does all sense of decency, discourse and, subsequently, peace
Whether one disagrees with the programme and solutions put forth by the left for organising society or not, there is no denying that the existence of a credible left wing in a country’s politics is essential for a political balance in national discourse. Even otherwise it is the left wing in any country that produces its intellectual and cultural voices and creates that very important space for dissent and alternative points of view. The absence of the left not only deprives a country of people’s movements in the long run but also has profound effects in terms of art, music, culture and other forms of expression. A country that cannibalises the left, as we did in the late 1970s and the 1980s, sees a narrowing of the secular space and erosion of reason. This is because the left intellectual is — unlike the right wing ideologue — always ready to engage in dialectics to resolve a question or a dispute. Once dialectics go out the window, so does all sense of decency, discourse and, subsequently, peace. There was a strong tradition of the left from the beginning in Pakistan. The Communist Party of India endorsed the creation of Pakistan and sent (perhaps naïvely) comrades to Pakistan to help usher in a socialist state, but there were more serious attempts as well. 
In the early years after the creation of Pakistan, Pakistani politics began to undergo the inevitable process of realignment. The left wing within the Muslim League, comprising of Mian Iftikharuddin and Maulana Bhashani broke away to form their own parties. Mian Iftikharuddin formed the Azad Pakistan Party while Maulana Bashani founded the Pakistani Awami Muslim League in conjunction with Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, another former Leaguer. Suhrawardy was decidedly a pro-west politician and that led to a break between Suhrawardy and Bhashani. The Awami Muslim League went on to become the secular Awami League after several iterations. 
Another political party that emerged over this time was Ganatantri Dal, a secular, left political party formed by former Muslim League stalwart and General Secretary Mahmud Ali. Meanwhile Bhashani joined hands with Mian Iftikharuddin’s Azad Pakistan Party and pro-Congress Khudai Khidmatgars of Bacha Khan as well as Abdul Samad Achakzai from Balochistan to form a new party called the National Awami Party (NAP). This party became the big tent party for the left. Bacha Khan’s brother, Dr Khan Sahib, meanwhile joined hands with Iskandar Mirza and the establishment to form the Republican Party. The Muslim League itself was reduced to mere husk and a decidedly centre-right party after its left wing began to reorganise elsewhere. The NAP and parties from across the spectrum came together to support Fatima Jinnah’s unsuccessful candidacy in 1964. 
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto formed the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in 1967 after having rejected the option of joining the NAP. At the time, NAP had gone through a major split between the pro-Maoists led by Bhashani and pro-Soviets led by Wali Khan over the issue of Fatima Jinnah’s bid for the presidency. Wali Khan had chosen to support Fatima Jinnah while Bhashani had de facto sided with Ayub Khan. With the coming of the PPP, most progressives switched from NAP to PPP, leaving the NAP-Wali Khan group an exclusively Pashtun nationalist party that today continues in the form of the ANP. Through the 1970s, the NAP-PPP conflict further eroded the left’s political space that was all but crushed by General Zia’s regime in the 1980s. We need not go over the permutations of the 1990s but, needless to say, even the politics of the 1990s further damaged the left’s ideological base in Pakistan while politicians played politics at the national level. 
This trend continued in the 2013 elections where, owing to the Tehreek-e-Taliban’s (TTP’s) involvement, the centre-right PML-N and right wing parties like the PTI control politics, with the PPP, much like the NAP of the 1970s, being reduced to a regional ethnic party instead of the national federal party it was. This is a disturbing trend and requires the PPP to reinvent itself as a national big tent left party, which is easier said than done. While it is a very difficult task, it is not an impossible one. First and foremost, the PPP needs a socially progressive agenda. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has already articulated the silhouette of this agenda by coming out guns blazing against religious extremism. Religious extremism is the number one issue that faces Pakistan today. It is this one point thing that will resonate with the left and liberal groups in this country. However, merely the Bhutto name is not going to revive the PPP. 
The PPP should actively reach out to the groups alienated by it. The newly formed Awami Workers Party may be cajoled into coming into a broad based alliance with the PPP at the Centre. The ANP can also be asked to ally with the PPP while retaining its own identity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Sindhi nationalists, Baloch nationalists and other Pashtun nationalists must be approached with an olive branch. 
The most important thing is that there has to be a broad-based agenda that unites not just the left but liberals as well on one platform. The revival of the left benefits not just those who agree with the politics of the left but also all those who want to see Pakistan a progressive and peaceful society based on reason. Saving the secular space and voices of dissent in Pakistan has to be the common point between these varied groups that otherwise may share no commonalities in goals, methods or ideologies. If the left and the liberals do not rise above mutual pettiness, they may well become extinct in the coming future. 

Pakistan: Withering souls - Children Dying

It is disgusting to find children dying in Thar and in Sargodha because the Sindh and Punjab governments respectively have been unable to look into the healthcare needs of the people. And when the Chief Ministers (CM) of both provinces weirdly defend themselves or remain silent, the anguish doubles. For the CM Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, children in Thar are not dying of poverty but because of maternity-related complications and malnutrition. Would the CM care to explain how else malnutrition occurs if not from lack of food resulting from poverty? For Shahbaz Sharif, the CM Punjab, the completion of bridges and roads in record time is more important than providing resources for healthcare facilities. He has the time and stamina to work day and night to see to it that his pet projects, laptop distribution, bridges, metros and car schemes are completed in the shortest possible time. But he failed to notice the lapse in the deadline of building a maternity ward in the Maula Baksh Hospital, the only hospital in Sargodha. The 11 children who have died in the District Teaching Hospital (DTH) Sargodha were shifted there from Maula Baksh Hospital for lack of facilities in the latter. But the poor souls had to encounter a dire fate in the DTH, which had five incubators for 20 patients and 25 beds to accommodate 50 children. There was insufficient oxygen supply and the staff, including the doctors, either was sleeping when the children were dying or had little expertise and resources at its disposal to treat the withering souls. Since 2013, 191children have lost their lives because of inadequate and poor health facilities in Punjab, while in Thar the dance of death continues with the number of children’s deaths reaching 300.
It is unfortunate that Pakistan has one of the poorest public healthcare systems. It is spending $ 9.30 against the internationally recommended $ 60 per capita. Pakistan has the third highest number of maternal, foetal and child mortality deaths, with 57 percent of neonatal deaths occurring in the first 72 hours after birth. Governance crises and poor political ownership has retarded progress in women and children’s health in Pakistan. No political party has prioritized reforming healthcare because unlike bridges and laptops, it largely goes unnoticed. It is the responsibility of the state to provide to its citizens food, shelter, education, healthcare and social welfare. This is the minimum a state has to do, and short of it, it loses its raison d’être. We have yet to see the state coming into action in the case of either Thar or Sargodha.  

PTI, JUD using crises to grow their own power at the expense of the state

Four years ago, historic floods devastated Pakistan. The government immediately launched an effort to raise money to provide relief for affectees, with President Zardari stepping up and donating over Rs.300 millions of his own money to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. The government admitted being overwhelmed by the unprecedented natural disaster, but efforts to help those suffering the most were hindered when ambitious politicians chose to use the event for their own personal agendas. Imran Khan led the pack in this move, telling the international community that Pakistan’s government was too corrupt and that they should donate their money to his own personal foundation. In doing so, the PTI chief was able to build his own personal stature, but at the cost of undermining the state itself.
Imran Khan wasn’t the only one who took this cynical attitude towards suffering, however. Also there was jihadi leader Hafiz Saeed who used his newly formed front group “Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation” to distribute relief goods. Like PTI, Hafiz Saeed uses “humanitarian relief” work as a cover for promoting extremism.
In Pakistan, Jamaat ud-Dawa and the FIF continue to operate quite openly and Hafiz Khalid Waleed said the group was using its flood relief camps to preach its version of Islam.
“We think that a Muslim has to live according to his religion in order to become a good human being. Thank God, we do preach to them, and it has its effects, and they are converted. To us, this is social work, too.”
Today, PTI and Jamaat-ud-Dawa are working hand in hand in Sindh, where Imran Khan is desperate to get a political foothold. By providing humanitarian relief, PTI and JUD are able to win the “hearts and minds” of the people there, turning them against their own government and making them more sympathetic to the PTI’s and JUD’s agendas.
This may be a cynical political ploy by PTI and JUD, but the real responsibility comes back to the state. If the state was providing adequate relief to affected people, there would not be a ‘vacuum’ for other groups to step into and take over the role of the state. By failing to provide for the people, the state is undermining its own legitimacy and fueling its own demise.

Pakistan: Two more polio cases reported in Balochistan

Two more polio cases were reported in Balochistan on Saturday, taking the number of polio victims to 14.
According to health officials, polio virus was detected in an 18-month-old girl Bibi Amina who is a resident of Killi Tarkha, Quetta.
The second case was confirmed in Balochistan's Khuzdar district.
Shah Zaman, a resident of Chandni Chowk in Khuzdar, fell prey to the virus even though he was administered polio drops, according to health officials.
The crippling disease continues to spread despite tall claims on the part of the government regarding its eradication. Majority of the cases that have been reported are found in Quetta and Killi Abdullah districts of Balochistan.
Earlier on Wednesday, a child in Killa Abdullah was reported to have the virus despite being administered polio drops.
Balochistan remained polio-free for almost more than two years before the first polio case was reported in July this year from Maizai Addah area of district Killa Abdullah.

Pakistan: Sargodha Hospital deaths Of Newborn

SOME 15 newborns have died in Sargodha this week because of lack of facilities at the district headquarters hospital. Allegations of neglect by doctors have expanded to criticism of the government officials’ apathy.
Once again promises have been made — among them a commitment to rush to Sargodha 20 incubators, whose shortage, along with that of some other equipment and, most tellingly, of doctors, is said to have contributed to the death of the newborns.
As help is awaited, there are fears that many young lives may still be in danger. The explanation offered by those tasked with running the DHQ is hardly credible — it is too simplistic to hold premature births responsible.
Child delivery, premature or otherwise, is a basic medical task a DHQ is expected to deal with efficiently. Failure to provide even this would mean that district-level public hospitals have degenerated alarmingly.
There have been calls for quick life-saving interventions in Sargodha from the government, just as there are demands for fixing the official focus where it is most needed.
The official tendency, as we all know, is to react to a situation, and quite often insult is added to injury when government functionaries seem to be more protective of the government’s reputation than attempting to fulfil their responsibilities towards the people.
Such are the workings of the system which we all believe has to be improved if not altogether discarded in favour of a new effort.
In Punjab, for some time there has been an inclination to address the issues via a short cut under the direct supervision of the chief minister. In the current case, too, a chief ministerial inspection team was sent to Sargodha, and according to news reports, a couple of newborns died while it was investigating.
The inspection’s purpose would be half served if the remedial measures it proposes after, hopefully, a thorough probe, are limited to just one DHQ or just one province. Let the tragedy in Sargodha be a turning point that leads to a redefinition of official priorities.

7m asthma patients in Pakistan

Chest specialists have observed that Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is caused by smoking and environmental pollution, which is increasing in Pakistan against the declining trend in the world.
The COPD is considered 4th largest killer disease in the world, which will become 3rd largest killer disease by 2020.
They were speaking at a public health seminar on ‘Yet, it is not late to bring patients of shortness of breath back to normal life’ held in connection with World COPD Day under the aegis of the Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman Memorial (Jang Group of Newspapers), Pakistan Chest Society and GSK here at a local hotel.
Prof Dr Kamran Cheema, President Pakistan Chest Society and Head of Pulmonary Medicine Services Institute of Medical Sciences/Services Hospital Lahore (SIMS/SHL), explained that COPD gradually squeezed the breathing vessels, which caused cough, sputum and shortness of breath.
In addition to this, COPD also swells and blackens breathing bags in lungs, which is primarily caused by cigarette smoking and environmental pollution of smoke-emitting vehicles, factories, etc.
He said that COPD was the 4th largest killer disease in the world, which will become the 3rd largest killer disease by 2020.
Prof Dr Zafar Hussain Iqbal, Head of Pulmonary Medicine Allama Iqbal Medical College/Jinnah Hospital Lahore (AIMC/JHL), while quoting the phrase ‘prevention is better than cure’ regretted its non-compliance, saying that at least 50 percent men and 11 percent women were addicted to smoking, which was the cause of various diseases, including COPD.
He observed that it was not an easy task to quit smoking and therefore needed a greater resolve and commitment, saying that the doctor, smoker’s family and friends should also help the person in quickly getting rid of smoking.
‘Only 25 percent of smokers succeed in quitting smoking,’ he said, adding that those persons, who are able to quit smoking for a year, are called ex-smokers in medical terminology.
He urged the government to control environmental pollution and also advised people to quit smoking, take balanced diet and do physical exercise with a view to avoiding this disease.
Dr Ashraf Jamal, Associate Professor of Pulmonary Medicine, SIMS/SHL, said at least 15 to 20 percent of smokers contracted COPD, which was quite alarming.
He said that at least seven million people were suffering from COPD in Pakistan, while prevalence of COPD was recorded up to 9 percent among the population of the world.
He said that balanced diet, regular exercise, medicines and green tea considerably helped to reduce the gravity of this disease.
He also advised the patients to take medicines through inhalers and avoid direct medicines and injections. He advised people to avoid fried food and those eatables that caused acidity.
Instead, he said the people should increase intake of fruits and vegetables.
Later, the panel of experts gave answers to questions of the audience. Besides, Dr Hafeez and MKRMS Chairman Wasif Nagi also spoke on the occasion.