Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Video - Kerry calls for US updated war powers to strike IS

First Lady Michelle Obama Celebrates Nowruz at the White House

U.S. - Republican Idiocy on Iran

After helping to ignite a firestorm over a possible nuclear agreement with Iran, Senator John McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate, is now sort of acknowledging his error. “Maybe that wasn’t exactly the best way to do that,” he said on Fox News on Tuesday.
He was referring to the disgraceful and irresponsible letter that he and 46 Senate colleagues sent to Iran’s leaders this week that generated outrage from Democrats and even some conservatives.
The letter was an attempt to scare the Iranians from making a deal that would limit their nuclear program for at least a decade by issuing a warning that the next president could simply reverse any agreement. It was a blatant, dangerous effort to undercut the president on a grave national security issue by communicating directly with a foreign government.
Maybe Mr. McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, should have thought about the consequences before he signed the letter, which was drafted by Tom Cotton, a Republican of Arkansas, a junior senator with no foreign policy credentials. Instead of trying to be leaders and statesmen, the Republicans in Congress seem to think their role is outside the American government, divorced from constitutional principles, tradition and the security interests of the American people.
The letter was the latest shot to blow up the negotiations with Iran. Earlier this month, House Republicans invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to denounce a pact in a speech to Congress, and a group of senators is pushing legislation that could set new conditions on a deal and force a congressional vote.
Besides being willing to sabotage any deal with Iran (before they know the final details), these Republicans are perfectly willing to diminish America’s standing as a global power capable of crafting international commitments and adhering to them.
Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. was blistering in his condemnation, saying, “This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that our commander in chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments — a message that is as false as it is dangerous.” But perhaps President Obama described this bizarre reality best. “It’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran,” he said. “It’s an unusual coalition.”
So far, the Iranians have largely dismissed the bumbling threat, with their foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, describing the letter as “propaganda.” But there are fears it could embolden hard-liners in Iran who, like the Republicans and some of the Democrats in Congress, oppose any nuclear agreement between Iran, the United States and its major allies.
The Republican efforts have so infuriated Democrats that even those who might have supported legislation that would have given Congress leverage over an Iranian pact are having second thoughts. Before this, the thinking was that the two bills most in play — one that would increase sanctions on Iran and another that would force the administration to bring any agreement to Congress for a review — might draw enough Democratic support to override a veto by President Obama. Both measures would surely scuttle a deal, but the Republicans’ actions may have set back their senseless cause.
The best and only practical way to restrain Iran from developing a bomb is through negotiating a strict agreement with tough monitoring. In rejecting diplomacy, the Republicans make an Iranian bomb and military conflict more likely.

Pakistan - No discussion on blood money, says Salmaan Taseer's family

In response to blood money offered by religious parties to the Taseer family, eldest son, Shaan Taseer, said on Tuesday that there will be no negotiations on the matter.
“There shall be no discussion on the topic of blood money with me or any member of my family,” Shaan said in a statement.
He further requested any parties to withhold any such offers which would “be taken as an affront to the memory of my father.”
Shaan welcomed the offers of a ‘healthy debate’ on the assumption that talks will focus on the Blasphemy law and not blood money.
The released statement by the family has made its way to social media, with several people Tweeting a copy of the statement.
A couple of days after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) upheld Mumtaz Qadri’s death sentence under Section-302 of the Pakistan Penal Code, religious parties representing the Barelvi school of thought offered blood money to the family of slain Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer to pardon Qadri.
Qadri, a former police bodyguard who shot dead Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer in Islamabad in 2011 admitted him, saying he objected to the politician’s calls to reform Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws.
The blood money was offered after IHC on Monday rejected Qadri’s appeal against conviction and upheld his death penalty but struck out a terrorism conviction, according to Economic Times.
On Tuesday, leaders of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP), the Jamaat Ahle Sunnat, the Pakistan Sunni Tehreek and the Pakistan Sunni Alliance offered blood money to his family.
“We are ready to pay much more Khoonbaha (blood money) to the family of Salmaan Taseer (for Qadri’s release),” said Shabbir Abu Talib of the JUP.
To support his beliefs, Talib cited the case of Raymond Allen Davis, who was accused of being a CIA contractor and charged with killing two Pakistanis in a busy Lahore street in January 2011. Davis who was released by a Lahore sessions court after paying Rs200 million as ‘blood money’ to the legal heirs of the deceased.
According to Islamic jurisprudence, a killer can be pardoned by the legal heirs of the victim with or without taking blood money.
Earlier, the legal heirs of Salmaan Taseer had filed an application before the IHC requesting it to reject Qadri’s murder appeal.
Qadri has been hailed as a hero by many conservatives eager to drown out any calls to soften blasphemy legislation. The killing highlighted a growing gulf between conservatives and more liberal elements in society.
At his original trial, Qadri was showered with rose petals by some lawyers. His current appeal team features two judges, including the former chief justice of Lahore High Court.
The judge who convicted Qadri was forced to flee the country after death threats.

Have Bangladeshis overtaken Pakistanis in Britain?


At home and in diaspora, Bangladeshis are leaving Pakistanis behind in human development and prosperity.
Recent research from Britain revealed that children born to Bangladeshi parents achieve higher grades than those born to Pakistani parents. Furthermore, the average household income of Bangladeshis in Britain is now higher than that of Pakistanis.
In a short span of four decades, Bangladeshis have not only caught up to Pakistan in development and prosperity (both at home and in diaspora), they are also likely to achieve greater prosperity in the future than Pakistanis are.
Pakistan’s development professionals and political leadership need to acknowledge that the nation is now losing out to countries it once dominated in human development.
Four decades earlier, many African and Asian countries lagged behind Pakistan in socio-economic indicators of development. While Pakistan has been embracing religiously-inspired militancy and conservatism since the mid-70s, others pursued liberal policies for higher education and free market economy.
A U-turn in economic and social priorities is in order in Pakistan to prevent the nation from falling further behind its peers.
A recent article in The Economist exposed the growing disparities between Pakistanis and Bangladeshi immigrants in Britain. Not only did the children born to Bangladeshi parents score better grades in standardised tests than those born to Pakistani parents, they also outscored white British children.
Recent data revealed that 61 per cent of Bangladeshis in Britain obtained five good GCSEs, a certification for 16-year old students.
In comparison, only 51 per cent of Pakistanis achieved the same. White British students at 56 per cent also lagged behind the Bangladeshis.
The Economist further reported that the average household income of Bangladeshi households in Britain is now higher than that of their Pakistani counterparts. Research by Professor Yaojun Li at Manchester University, quoted in The Economist, provides evidence for the growing income disparities between Bangladeshis and Pakistanis.
In 2012, I reported for about Pakistani Canadians falling behind the rest. Census data revealed that Pakistani Canadians constituted one of the largest cohort of low-income households. Research from the UK also shows that Pakistanis are losing out to the rest in competitive labour markets.
It is important to explore the reasons behind the declining competitiveness of Pakistanis at home and abroad.
Bangladeshis and Pakistanis have sizeable communities in Britain. The 2011 Census reports 447,201 Bangladeshis and 1,125 million Pakistanis. The communities share some traits, but differ in others.
Both are primarily concentrated in one particular industry; Pakistanis are concentrated in taxicabs and Bangladeshis in restaurants. The immigrants from both communities originated in rural or small town settings. The dominant cohort among Pakistani immigrants originated in rural Mirpur. Similarly, most Bangladeshis arrived from Sylhet.
Pakistani immigrants arrived in the '60s and settled all across Britain as they pursued jobs in the textile sector. In the 1980s, when the Bangladeshi immigrants started to arrive in droves, the textile sector was already in decline.
This proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Bangladeshi immigrants. They ended up settling primarily in and around London where school and teacher quality is reportedly better than the rusting towns in the North, where Pakistanis had settled.
The concentration of Bangladeshis in the Brick Lanes of London facilitated peer networks to develop and the community gained strength in numbers. The same was not true for Pakistanis, whose communities were dispersed all over.
This is not to argue that Bangladeshis have already ‘made it’ in Britain. Unlike Pakistanis in Britain who own their homes, the same is not true for Bangladeshis. Almost one-third of Bangladeshis live in social (subsidised) housing. In comparison, only 18 per cent of the British live in social housing. Similar to Pakistanis, a large number of Bangladeshi women do not join the labour force, which limits the household’s earning potential.
However, by making education a priority for their future generations, Bangladeshi immigrants in Britain have made the right choice. Bangladeshis have also fared better than Pakistanis did in growing their networks beyond the immediate ethnic enclaves. Research has shown that unlike Pakistanis, Bangladeshis are more likely to strike friendships with other ethnicities. Furthermore, a smaller proportion of Bangladeshis report lack of close friendships than do Pakistanis in Britain.
Pakistani diaspora in Britain is not conforming to the changing times.
A large number of Pakistanis continue to bring spouses from back home. In Bradford, for instance, a large number of Pakistanis continue to be first generation immigrants.
A community of over 1.1 million individuals, which has been in Britain for over five decades, should now be working with second- and third-generation immigrants. Instead, waves of fresh migrants continue to arrive from Pakistan, which prevents the diaspora from developing educated, experienced, and networked communities.
Bangladeshis in Britain have strategised to partake in the networked knowledge economies. Their communities are strategically concentrated in and around modern economic hubs and they are investing in their children’s education. Pakistanis at home and abroad must take note.

Pakistan - India - Toilets Or Nuclear Weapons

The day Pakistan test fired the Shaheen-III ballistic missile, capable to carry nuclear and conventional warheads to a range of 2750 KM, another news item caught my sight. 41 million people in Pakistan have no access to toilets and have to defecate in open spaces. Statistics from across the border are not much different: in India more than 630 million people face the same agony – no closed toilets. As both countries take pride in showing off their nuclear arsenal; I wonder what our political leadership’s real priorities are. As per infographic created by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists; Pakistan has 120 nuclear weapons while its arch rival, India, is not far behind with 110 such weapons.
Why is it so that the people who vote and install their rulers in Islamabad and Delhi, are the one to be always at the receiving end without any hope of improvement in their lives? It doesn’t matter if it’s BJP, Congress, Peoples Party, Muslim League, or army (in Pakistan’s perspective) are at the helm of affairs in these countries, the end result remains the same – both the general public and its rulers live in separate worlds. What sort of harms and diseases are associated with public defecating need not much elaboration. Many rapes and sexual harassment related incidents were reported in India due to vulnerability of women folk while going out, especially in the rural areas. Democracy shall mean a governing system by the people, for the people but perhaps ruling class doesn’t fall under ‘people’ category.
What should our priorities be: increasing the stockpiles of already overflowing nuclear and conventional weapons and keep spending billions on motorways, or should we be providing health care, education, clean water, sanitation, food security, law and order? As in personal life rulers don’t have to worry about these ‘poor-public’ type issues, therefore, they enjoy doing big things which can make headlines.
Who says democracy is by the people, for the people?

Pakistan - Nuclear Reactors - Worst Case Scenario

Pakistan’s electricity shortfall is a dire crisis, but is the resolution of that crisis worth jeopardizing the lives of 20 million people? Pakistan is set to build two large nuclear reactors near energy-starved Karachi, with the help of the Chinese government. The harrowing scenes that followed the Chernobyl disaster are still etched in people’s memories; empty classrooms, abandoned towns, and the Fukishima disaster happened only a few years ago. It is inevitable that alarm bells start to ring when Pakistan builds two reactors less than 30 kilometres away from one of the world’s most populated metropolis.
There are several concerns, the foremost being the safety standards of the ACP-1000 type nuclear reactors being built; this indigenous Chinese design is not operational anywhere else in the world. Yet most objections based on this are little more than speculation, a fact the International Atomic Energy Commission’s Generic Reactor Safety Review (GRSR) endorses. The recently completed survey has cleared the reactor for construction, assuaging fears of a design flaw. Yet most industrial accidents are not caused by design flaw, but by human negligence and ill intent, both of which can be found in Karachi aplenty. The Taliban have shown an aptitude for mounting sophisticated attacks on sensitive installations, hijacking a naval vessel, infiltrating a naval airbase and later, the international airport. An attack, even a botched attack, could threaten the lives of Karachi’s residents, and the following shutdown of Karachi will shut down the rest of the country. The government’s desire to utilise the support structure of the existing, smaller power plant is understandable, as is the need for Karachi to have a power source in its proximity, but the worst case scenario – a distant possibility, for sure – is so catastrophic, it would be wise to relocate the power plant. The government will face large expenditure; relocation of the site, building infrastructure and support buildings, but the end result would be a disaster proof set-up, making sure that the plant will stop being an enticing target for extremists.

Pakistan - The new Senate

The 2015 Senate elections did not result in a clear majority for any of the political parties. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) were able to gather the most votes, gaining 27 and 26 seats respectively. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) came in third with six seats. The strongest parties in the Senate began vying for control of the body by attempting to gather support for potential chairperson and deputy chairperson nominees from amongst their own members. PPP was able to get the support of MQM, the Awami National Party (ANP), the F and Q factions of PML and the Jamiat-i-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) in their bid for Raza Rabbani as Senate chairman. MQM has attached a condition to their support for Rabbani: they have instructed their members to “abstain” from voting for the Senate leaders in case all their demands are not met by the PPP and PML-N. Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif backed the consensus on Rabbani and stated that PML-N would not be putting up any candidates for the positions of Senate chairperson and deputy chairperson. The PM highlighted his drive to resolve all major political issues through consensus with the other parties and commented that Raza Rabbani was a good choice for chairman since he has always been a decent politician.

These Senate elections saw a flurry of political activity and controversy amid allegations of horse-trading and the PML-N government resorting to last minute efforts to pass a 22nd amendment for fear of the defection of members of their own party. Upon not being able to garner enough support for this amendment, particularly from PPP and to a lesser degree JUI-F, the government let the elections go through as they were scheduled and via secret ballots. Despite the hype created by PTI and further “rigging” allegations after the elections, there has not been rampant vote trading in the Senate elections. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) asked PTI to come forward with “hard evidence” if they wanted an investigation regarding malfeasance in the Senate elections, yet such evidence has not surfaced so far. PTI Chairman Imran Khan has also pledged to boycott the vote for chairperson and deputy chairperson, claiming that the “nation does not want the politics of settlement anymore”.

Nevertheless, PML-N deserves credit for accepting Raza Rabbani as the joint candidate of the other parties for the chairmanship of the Senate. Despite its shortfalls, the PML-N government has worked on strengthening intra-party cooperation and attempted to gain consensus on all crucial issues through talks and All Parties Conferences (APCs). Even the bid to change the Senate electoral process to open ballots was put before an APC and since it was not a viable option, a consensus was not reached and the 22nd Amendment was not brought to parliament. Party cooperation and the test of intra-party talks are essential to determine which political move is the best for the country as a whole in the long term. “The politics of settlement,” as Imran Khan calls it, is necessary to ensure compromise and cooperation in a democracy and to focus on the needs of the people rather than those of the parties alone. The PPP has suggested that the deputy chairman be elected from Balochistan. This move, if it pans out, will help politically empower the province, which has been disgruntled and disenfranchised for long. In order to strengthen parliament, it is necessary to incorporate as much political and regional diversity as possible in its representation. What Pakistan needs, to crawl out of the shadows of its history of dictatorship, is the division of power, decentralised control and a strong parliament, which represents the interests of all demographics of people.