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Old Monday, August 18, 2008
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Israel to free 200 prisoners as Rice visits ME

Monday, August 18, 2008

OCCUPIED-AL-QUDS: Israel’s cabinet voted on Sunday to release about 200 Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture to President Mahmud Abbas aimed at bolstering slow-moving US-backed Middle East peace talks.

The August 25 release will coincide with a visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice aimed at encouraging the negotiations, which have shown little visible sign of progress since they were revived in November.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev called the move a “confidence-building measure” towards Abbas, adding: “We hope the release will help strengthen the peace process.”

The list, which will be considered for final approval by a ministerial committee on Monday, will include at least two veteran prisoners implicated in deadly attacks on Israelis in the 1970s, a senior government official told AFP.

They will be a rare exception to Israel’s general policy of not freeing those with “blood on their hands,” but the official said the security establishment “believes the risk of the release is very low.”

Israel had first announced the move on August 6 following a face-to-face meeting between Olmert and Abbas, the latest in a series of discussions since they relaunched peace talks at a US-hosted conference in November.

Once the ministerial committee approves the decision, Israelis will be able to appeal against the freeing of individual prisoners before the actual release takes place on August 25.

Rice—on her 18th to the region in the last two years—is also due to meet Abbas on August 25 before holding talks with the heads of the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.

A spokesman for Abbas called the prisoner release a “step in the right direction,” but said the Palestinians had hoped to see more freed.

Gilani launches crop insurance for millions of farmers

Monday, August 18, 2008

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has introduced a new crop insurance system for the first time since independence to compensate for the losses to millions of poverty-stricken farmers caused by floods, crop failure and natural disasters.

The immediate impact of this farmer-friendly decision will help hundreds of thousands of poor farmers to avoid the auction of their lands by the Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL), as it was decided before Gilani banned such auctions.

Disclosing his decision to The News, Gilani said the PPP government had always been working for the interests of the farmers, as they were the backbone of the economy. The PM said the new crop insurance policy, whose details were being worked out, would greatly help the farmers to recover their losses and avoid poverty which they suffer as a result of crop failures, production losses or natural disasters.

Gilani said after the crop insurance system, even the flood-affected people would be able to get their losses recovered and restart their normal life. It is the first time since independence that any government has revived the system of compensation to farmers, which was actually introduced by the British rulers. The system was Kharaba (destruction), under which, the revenue staff would go into the fields followed by the Patwari who was supposed to carry out the complete survey. Then the Naib Tehsildar used to carry out a partial survey. Finally, the district collector was dutibound to carry out a recheck of the system and ensure payments to the farmers.

Meanwhile, three-times federal secretary agriculture and now chairman Parc Dr Zafar Altaf told The News that PM Gilani’s decision indicates care and concern for the rural areas. He said the system was prevalent before partition when Kharaba used to be provided for lost production in terms of Annas (small coins). “The current vagaries that have come about in the agricultural sector are of two kinds: output is undetermined and price of the product, whatever that may be, is also not determined,” he said. So, Dr Altaf believed, the farmers were suffering from two or three kinds of disadvantages. He said that in a liberal economic system, it was essential to provide some safeguard if the marketplace did not provide adequate protection to a farmer.

Dr Altaf said the rural areas had been subjected to mass variations and disabilities because the nexus between the rural and the urban areas had been disconnected. “This disconnection had led to a pluralistic social system in which the rental class had gained at the expense of the grassroots productive class,” he said, adding Yousuf Raza Gilani’s government had shown its duty of care towards small farmers by taking the crop insurance step.

Dr Altaf said: “Historically this goes back to the time of the unionist government minister Sir Choto Ram who actually saved the Muslim farmers from the Hindu moneylenders. Now the Hindu moneylenders of the British Raj have been replaced by the corporate-sector trader who provides informal credit to the farmer at exorbitant rates.”

He said the urban sector had always been against the provision of crop insurance to the poor farmers. “The reason for that has been that they feel small farmers would not be honest in dealing with the crop insurance situation. In fact, the people of the rural areas are more honest, as they regularly pay back all their debts and the balance sheet of the ZTBL is the biggest evidence,” he said, adding: “When they are hit by the uncertainties of weather and the production system the formal sector takes steps to auction their small holdings.”

Dr Altaf gave full credit to PM Gilani for clamping a ban on the auction of farmers’ small landholdings. “The informal sector is even more regressive because after sometime, when the principal becomes huge, they automatically take over the land,” he said. He added that the government’s step should be followed by removal of all those policy issues, which tended to affect the productive system.

Bomb rocks net cafe in Peshawar

Monday, August 18, 2008

PESHAWAR: A powerful bomb exploded in a net cafe here at the Sanam Chowk, however no loss of life was reported, police sources said. A remote-controlled device was planted in the net cafe, which damaged the building partially. The police rushed to the site and started search for the accused.

Gen Zia’s plane crashed due to mechanical problem’

Monday, August 18, 2008

LONDON: The plane crash in Bahawalpur desert 20 years ago which killed former President Gen Zia-ul-Haq, along with former US Ambassador Arnold Raphael, and spawned several conspiracies theories has now been blamed on a mechanical problem, says a report in The Times.

According to the daily, American, Soviet, Indian and even Israeli intelligence agents were among those blamed for sabotaging the PAF C-130 Hercules plane. The Times has uncovered a far less complicated explanation. According to the US investigators, the mechanical problem, known to be relatively common with the C-130 military transport aircraft, was to blame.

"There were a lot of conspiracy theories and there still are, understandably in that part of the world,î Robert Oakley, who took over as US Ambassador to Pakistan after the crash and helped to handle the politically fraught investigation, told The Times.

Washington sent a team of the US Air Force officers to assist the Pakistanis in the investigation. The two sides reached sharply different conclusions. Mrs Nancy Ely-Raphel, US ambassadorís widow and Brigadier-General Wassom's wife, Judy, were both told by the US investigators that the crash was caused by a mechanical fault.

"It seems there was a mechanical failure for a C-130 in Colorado and the same thing happened," Mrs Ely-Raphael said. "A C-130 had gone into gyrations in the air over Colorado. It was not as close to the ground. They pulled it out."

"It was the steering mechanism, is the way he described it to me. It did not crash but it went through these gyrations up in the air and the pilot pulled it out. I had always thought C-130s were the workhorses of the air. I was quite surprised when the Air Force described to me what they had discovered," she said.

Mrs Wassom told the newspaper she has had to abandon her suspicions that it was sabotage. "My personal feelings about it were that it was not an accident. However, I was told I do not know how much after — that the Army had investigated and that it was an accident," she said. "They gave me some kind of mechanical reason for it," she added.

Oakley identified the mechanical fault as a problem with the hydraulics in the tail assembly. Although, the US Air Force pilots had handled such emergencies, the Pakistani pilots were less well equipped to do so. “These pilots did not have much experience flying C130s and they flew so low,” he said. The paper noted that a former US ambassador to India was relieved of his post after telling Washington that he believed the Israelis, concerned about the nuclear ambitions of Pakistan, were behind the crash.

According to the daily, the mystery of how Zia died still captures the imagination. A former PAF officer has just published a novel about the death of Zia, entitled "A Case of Exploding Mangoes".

In the book, Muhammed Hanif postulates the popular theory that the crew of the aircraft was incapacitated by VX nerve gas smuggled aboard by a Pakistani intelligence agent. Over the years, many possible culprits have been identified for Zia's killing, ranging from the ex-Soviet KGB or the Soviet-backed Afghan government of the time to India.
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