Friday, January 30, 2015

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Video Report - President Obama Speaks on the Precision Medicine Initiative

Pakistanis fleeing offensive find new dangers in Afghanistan

Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have sought shelter at a sprawling refugee camp in a volatile region of Afghanistan after crossing the mountainous border to escape a military onslaught against insurgents.
For decades Afghans have fled into Pakistan to escape war and upheaval, but in recent months the tide has reversed, with some 60,000 Pakistanis — more than half of them children — taking refuge in the Gulan camp, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border in the restive Khost province.
"We knew the military operations would last a long time once they started," said Malik Omardin, a tribal elder who came from the Pakistani town of Datta Khel. "It's a mountainous area and the insurgents are very strong on their own territory, so the government will have a hard time finding and destroying the Taliban."
More than 210,000 Pakistanis have crossed into Afghanistan from the neighboring North Waziristan province since the Pakistani military launched a long-awaited offensive in June against Taliban and other foreign militants, who have long used the lawless tribal region as a launch-pad for attacks in both countries.
Eastern Afghanistan is an unlikely refuge. Khost and neighboring Paktika, where most of the refugees have sought shelter, are among the most dangerous provinces in the country. Local security forces have struggled to combat the Taliban following the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces, and the insurgents are expected to launch a fresh offensive in the spring.
On the edge of the camp, mine removers in pale blue body armor scan the dusty ground for ordinance left over from decades of war. But inside, local traders have set up stalls selling fresh produce, giving the camp an air of permanence. And the Pakistanis say they have been welcomed by local Afghans, many of whom had found shelter on the other side of the border in past conflicts.
The Pakistan offensive was launched last June after a militant attack on Karachi's international airport. The government warned residents to flee, and some 93,000 families — up to 750,000 people — have been displaced inside Pakistan. The Pakistani military says it has killed hundreds of militants, but journalists are barred from the region so it is not possible to verify the claims.
North Waziristan is one of seven tribal regions near the Afghan border where local and foreign militants — including the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaida and the Haqqani network — had long enjoyed safe haven. A parallel offensive is taking place in the neighboring Khyber tribal region to pursue militants fleeing North Waziristan.
The conflict goes back more than a decade, with the Pakistani government carrying out sporadic assaults on insurgents and U.S. drones targeting them from the air. The militants respond by attacking security forces and residents accused of spying on them, leaving communities gripped by fear.
"The Taliban come at night to place bombs on the roads, which explode and kill soldiers as well as local people, so then the government comes in to hit them back," said Shir Azia, a tribal elder from Miran Shah, in North Waziristan.
"We don't care whether it is the government or the Taliban in control, we just want to live in peace," he said. "We have lost everything because of the fighting."
U.N. agencies are working closely with provincial authorities to provide shelter, food, water, health facilities and schooling for the refugees. Recent arrivals include a high number of households headed by women as men seek work elsewhere — a normal development in refugee communities as resources run low.
Bo Schack, the U.N. refugee agency's director in Afghanistan, said he does not expect the flow of refugees to stop any time soon. More than 40,000 families, averaging 7.5 people, have crossed into Afghanistan, he said. Children account for 58 percent of the Gulan camp's population.
Initial concerns that militants could use the flow of displaced people as cover to sneak across the border have eased. "Our firm impression is that those we are supporting are civilians," Schack said.
However, diplomats and others familiar with the situation on the border have said they believe there has been a spillover of insurgents fleeing the offensive into Afghanistan.
"It is inevitable and unavoidable that militants are coming in this direction, and there will be problems for the Afghan authorities as a result," said one Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The camp bristles with weapons and armored vehicles, as Afghan police try to keep the peace, ensuring orderly queues at water trucks and registration desks.
In classrooms erected on the edge of land recently cleared of mines, children learn English by rote chanting. Outside, new arrivals aged between three and 10 years old squat patiently as they wait for their classes to begin. A plainclothes policeman paces nearby with an automatic rifle slung over his shoulder.
Ten-year-old Hayatullah Khan said he arrived at Gulan two months ago with his parents and four brothers. He misses his toy car, which he had to leave behind.
"We are not happy here," he said after class. "We want our homes. We have left behind our madrassas and schools. We have come here with nothing."

Majority of Afghans support US troops presence in Afghanistan: Poll

According to a new poll report many Afghans want to see a bigger US military role in Afghanistan while majority support the presence of US forces in the country.
The Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research (ACSOR) conducted the poll ahead of the formal conclusion of the US-led combat mission in November last year.
The survey report titled ‘Afghan Future: A National Public Opinion Survey’ is based on interviews with 2,051 Afghanistan with a margin of error of 2.5 percent points.
Interviews were conducted in Dari and Pashto in all 34 of the country’s provinces, according to ACSOR.
According to the report 46 percent, of Afghans want to see a “greater commitment” of U.S. forces in 2015 than planned, while only 29 percent said they want fewer or no U.S. forces.
The report further adds that 77 percent of the poll participants have said they support the presence of American troops, while even more have said the U.S. campaign to oust the Taliban in 2001 was a good thing.
The majority of the poll participants have blamed the Taliban group or al Qaeda terrorist network for the sustained vilence in the country, the report said, adding that only 12 percent of the participants blamed the US-led forces.

Pakistan - Sarwar's tearful exit

That somebody from the inner sanctum of power would show the mirror to the Nawaz Sharif government was not expected - much less from someone who was imported and appointed the governor of Punjab. However, what Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar said, as he made a tearful departure from the gubernatorial mansion in the heart of Lahore on Thursday, was nothing new. Everybody knew, before he said, that the present political system had been serving only the elite of this country, that the much-desired local governments were not being installed, that social sector was suffering from chronic shortcomings, that criminals were not being punished and justice was only for the rich and powerful, and that the valuable contribution of overseas Pakistanis, who send home some $15 billion every year, was disregarded. Perhaps he was saying all this and probably more to the ultimate rulers in Islamabad and Lahore all through his 18 months in office in private exchanges and brief official encounters. In fact, motivated to serve the people as he seemed to be, Mohammad Sarwar also did a few things on his own. He launched clean drinking water schemes, introduced merit-based admissions to the prestigious Aitcheson College and used his European connections to secure GSP-Plus status for Pakistan. But one would be only profoundly naïve to believe that the Sharif brothers were upset over these initiatives and decided to show him the door. There was something more to this painful adieu - the villain of the piece who wrecked this assiduously built Sharifs-Sarwar companionship is realpolitick.

The Sharif brothers must have come to conclude that this Chaudhry from central Punjab was asking for something more than what he had as the governorship of country's biggest province. That a person of Chaudhry Sarwar's familiarity with the art of statecraft would be asking for a role and powers that are not available to a provincial governor under the constitution is an argument that will have not many buyers. Article 105 mandates that "Subject to Constitution, in the performance of his functions, the Governor shall act on and in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet (or the Chief Minister)". In a parliamentary form of government there is no such thing as 'The Nawab of Kalabagh' as the governor. The narrative now being given to his tenure as governor by the national media tends to convey that Chaudhry Sarwar knew from the very beginning of his landing on the lush green rolling lawns of Governor's House in Lahore that he was cut out for a bigger, more active and high-profile role in Pakistan. And his moves and movements clearly showcased that mindset. He is said to have been an attendee of the so-called London Plan, was the one who could successfully persuade Tahirul Qadri to land in Lahore instead of Islamabad where a rousing welcome awaited him and persuaded the federal government to let the Azadi March reach the D-Chowk in front of the Parliament House. Some say that but for Nawaz Sharif's stout refusal he would have even resigned and possibly joined the protestors. But what proved to be the proverbial 'last straw on the camel's back' is said to be his take on President Obama's visit to India which he loudly pronounced as a diplomatic failure of the government - of which he was a part. Had he been the foreign minister he would have secured Obama's visit, he claimed. We don't know if he had been eyeing the foreign minister's post. Someone from his own camp should declare his foreign policy a disaster - only a week or so after another from his camp, Riaz Hussain Pirzada had accused Pakistan's close ally Saudi Arabia of fomenting extremism in Pakistan - that was not on anymore with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Chaudhry Sarwar has announced that he will stay put in Pakistan, except for a brief absence when he will be in the UK to campaign for his son's reelection to Glasgow Central MP seat - unlike former prime minister Shaukat Aziz and caretaker prime minister Moeen Qureshi. He would like to join politics; the more the merrier!

Pakistan - Three new polio cases reported

The Polio Virology Laboratory at the National Institute of Health (NIH) has reported three new polio victims, taking the number of cases detected so far this year (2015) to six.
The first cases of the new year were reported from Tank and Lakki Marwat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).
But an official of the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) told Dawn, on condition of anonymity that the new cases had been reported from Nowshera, South Waziristan and Qambar-Shahdadkot in Sindh.
“In all three cases, the patients are infected with the P1 virus, which can be transmitted directly from child to child,” he said.
In 2014, Pakistan reported as many as 305 polio cases, breaking its own 16-year-old record. The official said that due to the increasing number of cases, the health departments had to face embarrassment at both national and international forums.
“We have failed miserably in eradicating the polio virus from our country. Even though we try to blame the security situation in the country for this, it is a fact that the Pakistani strain of the poliovirus was exported to Syria in 2013,” he said.

Pakistan’s performance worse than war-torn Syria

“According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), as many as 38 children were affected in Syria. Even though the country has been in the throes of a civil war, they still managed to launch a massive vaccination campaign and inoculated 27 million children,” he said.
“The last polio case in Syria was reported in Jan 2014, and after that not a single case has been reported. If a war-torn country like Syria can control polio, why can’t Pakistan do it too? It is clear that there is no political will to eradicate the virus. Health departments are more interested in issues other than eradicating polio,” he said.
However, the head of the Polio Emergency Operations Centre, Dr Rana Safdar, was optimistic about 2015 and said this year would see far less cases than 2014.
“The six cases that have been reported in 2015 are last year’s cases. Most of the cases in 2014 were reported from KP and Fata, but neither the federal nor the KP government are accepting responsibility for them,” he said.
“Under the recently formed alliance ‘Sehat Ka Ittehad’, however, it has been decided that Fata and KP will be considered one bloc and it will be the joint responsibility of both governments to ensure vaccination in all areas,” he said.

Pakistan - Taseer murder case file disappears; govt denies

Important records related to the case of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer have gone missing from the Islamabad High Court, according to sources. The judge’s order sheet in the case has gone missing from the court record and is impossible to be reconstructed, court officials told Daily Times on condition of anonymity. Reportedly, the important records related to Taseer murder case disappeared from the case record the other day, but official sources, on the condition of anonymity, claimed that no record of the case had disappeared. “Three types of records are maintained for a sub judice cases i.e. police challan, judicial record and prosecution record”.

Around 99 percent judicial and other records can be reconstructed if it goes missing. Only one percent of the judicial record cannot be re-constructed as it contains orders of the respective judge, lawyers and court officials stated. They also said that Islamabad High Court Advocate General Abdul Rauf would plead the case in the IHC division bench on the next hearing of the case come Tuesday. Earlier, the IHC granted one-week time to the prosecutors for arguments against Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Salmaan Taseer, and adjourned the hearing till next week.

A two member bench of the IHC comprising of Justice Noorul Haq Qureshi and Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui heard the appeal petition filed by Mumtaz Qadri counsel Justice(r) Hafeez Akhtar. During the hearing, prosecutors pleaded the court for two weeks’ time for the preparation of the case against Qadri. Accepting the prosecutors’ plea advocate general gave one-week deadline to argue against the appeal of Qadri’s challenging his death sentence. In 2011, Qadri was sentenced to death by the Anti Terrorism Court (ATC) after confessing the crime and being proven guilty during interrogation and investigation.

Pakistan - Punjab Governor Resigns

Former Britain MP, Muhammad Sarwar, resigned from the position of Governor Punjab on Thursday.
While sharing his reasons during a press conference, the former governor claims that he was unable to serve the masses and believed that he would be able to “serve Pakistan better out of office.
” It is rather surprising that Mr Sarwar, who is a seasoned politician, was unaware of the well-known fact that governorship in Pakistan is a ceremonial position.
This is especially true for Punjab, where Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif jealously guards his many powers, leaving persons occupying other portfolios very little room to maneuver.
Sarwar’s speech seemed to suggest he had only discovered this reality after taking charge, which is a bit hard to believe considering how well acquainted he is with constitutional and political realities.
It is possible that he was promised a more proactive and powerful role as Punjab Governor but the PML-N leadership failed to keep that promise, prompting him to resign.
It has also been suggested that things had turned sour between him and the Sharif brothers due to the former’s inability to persuade PAT chief Tahir-ul-Qadri to put off the sit-in in Islamabad.
Some in the media accused Mr Sarwar of playing a double game in the Qadri-Imran issue, but none of these accusations were ever substantiated with concrete evidence or facts and therefore ought to be disregarded as mere conjecture.

In his speech, Mr Sarwar advised workers of all political parties to realize their power and speak truth before their leadership regardless of how unpleasant it may seem.
He lamented that political workers in Pakistan are not acknowledged for their services and continue to be marginalized by the rich and powerful members of the party.
This criticism appears to be directed at the ruling PML-N, whose leadership – the Sharif brothers – is notorious for holding a monopoly over power and treating politics as a family-owned business.
Mr Sarwar said that without local government elections, Pakistan couldn’t hope to reap the fruits of democracy.
He promised to campaign for the cause, which may put him at odds with the PML-N leadership in the days ahead since the party favours consolidation of power over devolution.
He also revealed that land grabbing had become a menace in the country, and he, as Punjab Governor, was unable to address the concerns of those affected by it.
He admitted that the land mafia is more powerful than a sitting governor of the largest province of the country.
Such remarks ought to be taken seriously, as there is a strong impression of collusion between politicians and land grabbers aka real estate developers.
The former governor has promised to stay in Pakistan and work for the betterment of the country.
Only time will reveal what the future holds for him.

Former President Asif Ali Zardari condemns Shikarpur blast

Former President Asif Ali Zardari has strongly condemned as most barbaric and inhuman the bomb blast in an Imam Bargah in Shikarpur resulting in the death of over thirty-three worshippers and injuries to many more.
Former President was shocked and grieved beyond measure over this latest act of terror of the militants and their degenerated minds. Condemning the blast and the killing and maiming innocent people the former President said that incidents of terrorism and militancy have not and will not weaken the resolve to fight the militants to the finish.
The former President asked the Sindh Chief Minister, Sindh government and Party workers to extend all possible material and moral support to the victims in their rehabilitation. 
Mr. Asif Ali Zardari also offered his deepest condolences to the bereaved families, prayed for eternal peace to those who lost their lives and speedy recovery to those injured in this attack.


53 Shia Muslims are said to have been martyred and around 50 were injured when a Wahhabi-allied Deobandi takfiri ASWJ suicide bomber stormed into an Imam Bargah in Pakistani province of Sindh’s Shikarpur District on Friday.
Martyrdom toll continued to rise and news channels reports began teh casualtis from 8 at noon and latest reports had it that martyrdom toll rose to 53 till the filing of this report. Since the conditions of many injured Shiites were critical at hospitals hence doctors fear rise in martyrdom toll.
Deobandi takfiri suicide bomber stormed into Masjid and Imam Bargah Karbala Molalla in Lakhi Dar area of Shikarpur District. Wearing suicidal-attack jacket, he exploded the explosive materials committing a suicide to perpetrate genocide against Shia Muslims. Martyrdoms embraced Shia Muslims while they were offering Friday prayers inside the mosque that is situated within one premise alongside an Imam Bargah.
Initial reports say that at least 12 Shiites were martyred and 50 were wounded. Deobandi takfiris of ASWJ (Sipah-e-Sahaba) or its subsidiary such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi or their allies and affiliates such as Taliban, TTP, Jaish-e-Mohammad (in fact enemy of Mohammad), Jundullah (in fact Jund ul Shaitan) are allied against Sunni Bralevis and Shia Muslims. They continued to bomb Sunni shrines and scholars and they also bombed a shrine in Shikarpur district also.
They had also made an attempt to assassinate Shia politician Dr Ibrahim Jatoi through a suicide attack but he survived and his supporters were martyred in Shikarpur district. A renowned Shia scholar and Friday prayer leader was also murdered in Shikarpur district last year.
Shia parties and leaders have condemned the targeted terrorist attacks on Shiites. They demand