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Princess Royal Saturday, September 06, 2008 01:43 PM

Editorial: DAWN
 
[RIGHT][B]Saturday
Ramazan 05, 1429
September 06, 2008[/B][/RIGHT]

[U][CENTER][B][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Zardari’s pledge[/COLOR][/SIZE][/B][/CENTER][/U]

MORE than six months have passed since the general election but no headway has been made towards restoring the 1973 Constitution to its original form. All parties are united on the need for doing away with the 17th amendment and stripping the president of the draconian powers he enjoys at the moment, including Article 58-2(b). One reason why, in spite of the consensus, this task has not been taken up in earnest is the unresolved judges issue. While the two major parties showed unity in managing to get rid of Pervez Musharraf, the continued split on the restoration of the judges seems to have distracted attention from the need for grappling with the question of presidential powers. In an article in an American newspaper Asif Ali Zardari pledged that as head of state he would support the prime minister and parliament in their efforts to trim the president’s powers. Coming from a man whose election as Pakistan’s next president is a certainty, his resolve deserves to be welcomed.

Article 58-2(b) has done enormous harm to Pakistan. First inserted into the Constitution by Ziaul Haq the clause helped the general sack Mohammad Khan Junejo, his own protégé, within three years of Junejo’s election as prime minister. Ghulam Ishaq Khan used the powers under this article twice to dismiss Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Benazir thought she was safe from the mischief of this article when she had a PPP man, Farooq Leghari, as president. But that did not prevent Leghari from dismissing a prime minister who enjoyed a majority in the national assembly. Nawaz Sharif did away with 58-2(b), but Musharraf had it restored. The clause lays down the caveat that the president will use it only when he is certain that the government is no longer functioning in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. But Zia, Ishaq and Leghari used it for political reasons. The misuse of 58-2(b) led to four general elections in nine years, without giving the country political stability. There are other powers which also rightfully belong to the prime minister but which are now vested in the president. These powers include the appointment of Supreme and High Court judges and service chiefs. Once elected president Zardari must quit the party but it goes without saying that he will continue to influence the levers of the PPP’s policy-making apparatus. One hopes that once he is firmly in the saddle at the President House and his party overcomes the crisis in its relationship with the PML-N his commitment to make himself a titular head of state will not waver.

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[U][B][LEFT][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Right plans, wrong priorities[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/LEFT][/B][/U]

THE government has constituted two committees to recommend measures to cope with economic challenges under the five-year development plan and prepare a roadmap for human development. Earlier, in May, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani constituted an economic advisory council to formulate a reforms agenda and recommend policies to steer the country out of the current crisis. So now we have in all three committees, comprising a total of 39 members, mostly well-known economists, sociologists, businessmen, bankers, administrators, researchers, politicians and civil servants of proven ability. These committees between them comprise the best brains in the country in their respective fields. But if one went back to the inaugural days of every incoming government in this country over the last six decades one would find that without fail every one of them resorted to this practice only to consign these committees to inaction quickly and file their reports unseen. There must be hundreds of such reports gathering dust in government warehouses.

So, lest these new committees try to reinvent the wheel or waste time and the taxpayers’ money in repeating an exercise already done, it is important that they are first asked to go over the old reports, which contain significant contributions by many members of the three new committees. It is also important for these committees to keep in mind that we are past masters in preparing excellent socio-economic plans but utter failures when it comes to implementing these plans. Remember our second five-year plan that the South Koreans adopted and quickly left us at least three decades behind? The wide gap between the promises made in our plans and the reality on the ground actually reflects the divergence between the social premise on which the plans are built and the increasing demand on resources by a state obsessed with security. In order to escape this unfortunate legacy we must decide without further loss of time what we are: a security state or a social welfare state? Did Pakistan come into being to remain perpetually in a state of war or to better the socio-economic lot of Muslims of South Asia? If we continue to plan for a social welfare state but spend most of our resources in purchasing ever more sophisticated weapons we will for ever remain dependent on dole.

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[U][CENTER][B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Academic year complexities [/SIZE][/COLOR][/B][/CENTER][/U][/CENTER]

THE academic year of first-year students at Karachi’s government colleges has been shortened by no fault of the students. This is in contrast to not only the rest of Pakistan but the world where classes are held, on average, for over 200 days in an academic year. Even if the placement of students in the city’s 123 government colleges under the Centralised Admission Policy (CAP) is finalised by September 15, classes will not start before October 6. It takes a number of days after placement lists are issued for colleges to complete the admission process. Given the starting date and public holidays, the academic year is expected to be compressed to 130 days as against the desired 210 days. Why should the Karachi students suffer?

The slow, cumbersome process has been the undoing of the Karachi first-year students. Though the process began on Aug 5, submission of forms was delayed because most of the admission seekers received their matriculation transcripts late and could not submit their applications. How can the selection process begin in a timely manner when the results were not available on time? Furthermore, forms for the placement of candidates in government colleges were in short supply. Many citizens contacted newspaper offices to complain that several designated bank branches in various localities of the city were running short of forms. With the entire system marred by structural weaknesses delays have become inevitable. The slow-paced procedures need to be rectified if students are not to suffer because of inefficiency. As far as the admission procedure is concerned students generally rank their choice institutions in order of preference and submit their transcript to the government for evaluation. What should have been a fairly simple procedure has become the bane of the system. The lesson? If results are not issued promptly and forms are not made available in time, the process cannot be completed in a timely manner. A shortened academic year will leave students struggling to complete coursework, affecting the quality of education in the business hub of Pakistan. With the large number of holidays — scheduled and unscheduled — affecting the span of the academic year, one cannot take this matter lightly. Holidays must now be slashed to salvage the academic year.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Deciding for others[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]
By Najma Sadeque [/CENTER]

URBANITES owe much to independent television. It has played a key role in informing and aiding political mobilisation. For those with little or no education, it has been a crash course in democracy.

Yet television pulls its punches over grassroots issues similar to the government’s ‘hands-off policy’ where feudal politicians rule the roost and where independent channels are still not allowed to penetrate. So all we’re left with is an attempted urban democracy, where the media gives labour some voice and visibility, but doesn’t quite advocate equal rights and representation.

The enforced silence of entire communities, villages and tribes on exploitation, inhumanity and violence — notwithstanding the independent media cacophony that does not reach the countryside — is shocking. It amounts to being the chilling silence of the lambs which constitutes the real picture of Pakistan’s society and polity. For the masses, little has changed. Pakistan has never been a democracy even in its several short-lived democratic experiments. In our context, democracy can only be defined as being exclusive to men and male priorities, with focus on the interests of the middle and upper classes.

In some societies, one of the unwritten qualifications of a worthy male political representative is both the status of the womenfolk in his family, and that of his employees, whether peasants, factory workers or household servants. It can be very revealing where double standards are the norms. A man may be publicly pious, even good to his wife and daughters, yet viciously maintain bonded labour in chains.

Rights are not confined to basic wages and utilities. They also demand just redistribution and allocation of resources so that everyone can have a minimum acceptable start in life, since a just society is not possible under local or national monopolies and cartels. The obvious now needs to be spelt out explicitly in the constitution. Too many politicians separate political rights from human rights as if the latter were optional luxuries under lofty UN conventions only to be given lip service.

Giving people a once-in-a-while chance to cast a vote does not in itself constitute democracy. It merely offers them a narrow, pre-selected choice over leadership. But they cannot determine how and to what degree that leadership will deliver equal rights to citizens. A problematic matter indeed given that absolute power corrupts absolutely!

The road for suffering citizens to their parliamentarians in search of relief is long and convoluted. Real priorities tend to get skewed or suppressed. People do not even get heard. The irony is that a feudal is assigned the task of representing the interests of landless peasants and smallholders; that major business or industrial interests claim to speak for labour which doesn’t even receive minimum wages and facilities to give him dignity; and that an over-generalised GDP and export earnings are made the criteria of a country’s ‘success’ rather than health, livelihood, education, nutrition and comfort of the masses.

The presence of women in parliament is often flaunted as major ‘progress’. It may be so for them personally, but what has it gained for women at large? Domestic violence is accepted as a norm, and women continue to be murdered to assuage dubious male ‘honour’, while politically-connected culprits manage to go scot-free even if some lesser mortals do not. Action is seen to be taken only when an incident gets inadvertently exposed. There are no pre-emptive steps. The police serve the powerful, not the people.

The Balochistan incident of shooting, then burying the victims alive (although refuted by the police) wasn’t the first case of extreme violence against women in this country. Violence against women could fill a gruesome bestseller on Pakistan’s shameful track record, including that of presenting scapegoats as culprits to face the death penalty or the hapless hit-man forced to kill under orders. Laws are subject to interpretations of convenience. Economic exploitation is not even questioned as undemocratic. Justice has to be purchased through the courts and lawyers through a process that dooms the poor who mostly are deemed guilty unless they can prove their innocence.

Any government, even the most inept, can make laws. But the best of paper laws are of no use to people without implementation in a timely manner, not after the victims have died.

The prime minister may have been chosen by the leading political party under the rules, but ultimately he has to be the prime minister of all citizens, not just of his party members and followers. He should therefore be non-partisan in the public interest. Mr Gilani has been as admirable as he has been likeable in that respect until recently when he undertook the unbecoming duty of canvassing for a presidential candidate. That compromised his neutrality as a prime minister of the people.

Even otherwise, long before the prime minister’s independence was nipped in the bud and reduced to a token, the party appeared to be reduced to a civilian dictatorship, already being reflected in governance. The takeover by a single person who has never been known to be a party man or even seen by the side of the late chairperson over the past seven years, and who as a consequence of his past opportunistic stint in government, creates only doubts about his credibility and reliability as president, raising serious misgivings for the future. There are means to unilaterally dump a prime minister but none to dispense with an unsatisfactory president.

By marginalising party members respected for their integrity and contribution, competition has been forcibly done away with — with, shockingly, no protest from fellow members. It begs the question: what was the price paid? This party badly needs to hold up a mirror and see itself the way the people view it — with disapproval. For the moment, the cat seems to have got the members’ tongues, as they echo everything sounded from the empty drum of the head honcho.

Again and again, Ms Bhutto’s history and role is held up as reason for immediate family members to take up the reins. But second-generation life-chairmanship and arbitrary co-chairmanship until an imposed head is of the required age and maturity, is not democratic; it is carefully crafted cultism. As such, expectations are nil from an expected-to-be president who avoids public debate on people’s issues, knowing he cannot knowledgeably or competently engage in public debate, and relying on a not-so-representative numbers’ game instead.

If all this spells little hope for the ordinary male citizen, there is none whatsoever for the women. Until civil society creates parties that represent the majority and exclude entrenched interests, nothing will change.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]IRA is dissolving[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]
By Henry McDonald [/CENTER]

THE IRA’s ruling body, the army council, no longer has an army to command and control. British Northern Ireland secretary, Shaun Woodward, says that the IRA was dissolving after a politically sensitive report by the International Monitoring Commission, the organisation charged with overseeing the Provisionals’ (IRA) ceasefire.

The commission reported on Thursday that the IRA’s seven-man army council had fallen into “disuse,” but there would be no formal announcement of its being disbanded. Responding to the IMC’s 19th report, Woodward said: “I would go further and say this: is there an army for the army council to direct? It now seems according to this report there is not.”

Privately, the British and Irish governments accept the IRA cannot publicly announce its ruling body has been dissolved because it fears that its base would feel humiliated. Such a move would also leave it open to charges of selling out to unionists by dissident republicans.

In its latest report, the IMC said: “The mechanism which they [the IRA] have chosen to bring the armed conflict to a complete end has been the standing down of the structures which engaged in the armed campaign, and the conscious decision to fall into disuse.”

It added: “Now that that campaign is well and truly over, the army council by deliberate choice is no longer operational or functional.” The report’s authors also exonerated the IRA as an organisation from involvement in non-terrorist crimes, although it accepted some of its individual members or ex-members may be engaged in “ordinary” criminal activity.

Overall, the ceasefire monitoring commission said the IRA posed no threat to peace or the democratic process. It said it saw “no grounds” for believing that the IRA and its membership could return to “war”.

The Irish government emphasised the significance of the IMC’s conclusion that the IRA not only did not intend to return to war, but was also now incapable of doing so.

“This report demonstrates not only that PIRA (Provisional IRA)has gone away, but that it won’t be coming back. The IMC could not have been more unequivocal in its conclusion that the Provisional movement is now irreversibly locked into following the political path,” Dermot Ahern, Ireland’s justice minister, said.

The latest report is crucial, given the current pressures on the Northern Ireland power-sharing government.

— The Guardian, London

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - Sri Lankan Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]
Intra-party squabbles

Daily Mirror[/CENTER]

PARTY politics in this country has entered such an interesting phase that these parties have begun to pay greater attention to the squabbles in rival parties than to the rifts plaguing their own parties. The fact remains that almost all our political parties are afflicted with internal strife. It is, however, the UNP’s domestic friction that has currently attracted much public and media attention.

The rival parties and their media (appendages) while making all efforts to exaggerate the conflicts look for opportunities of enticing disgruntled members to their parties…. Although some parties attempt to hide their internal conflicts, it is not easy in the present context of advanced information technology that provides the country’s vibrant media with eyes and ears to pry into what goes on in any sphere of activity, periodic and cowardly attacks on them notwithstanding. Yet some parties with strict discipline succeed in preventing their conflicts [from] reaching the public glare.

The JVP, for instance, managed to project a façade of absolute unity for a long time until the departure of its propaganda secretary…. The JVP’s latest demonstration of its disciplinary control over its members also merits attention and commendation…. This indeed is a good example to be followed by all parties that expect good political conduct from members.The current UNP squabble … the much needed grist for the pro-government media mill … is often given full coverage.... Wednesday’s party deliberations were also given the usual treatment causing maximum damage to the party and its leader. However, this media treatment cannot be objected to when such deliberations are conducted in public with the media allowed to cover the event. As [the] media minister … pointed out … the media should be permitted to carry out its function of informing the public unhindered…. [T]he minister also stressed that nobody has the right to take the law into his or her hands even if media personnel act in violation of the law. The correct action … he pointed out, should be to seek the assistance of law enforcement authorities….

Comments being made on … conflicts by party activists show their impatience in placing their party in the seats of power. This impatience is understandable if the parties opposing the government have clear-cut alternative policies for solving the burning problems and taking the country forward to progress…. On the contrary there appears to be no major differences in party policies. Both sides, for instance, are for eliminating terrorism as a priority need and solving the national problem through a political formula.

The UNP now agitates for a general election. Are they really ready for such an election? What they must do first is to put their house in order and put their heads together in formulating a clear plan for resolving the national conflict if they are not prepared to go along with the APRC process. The urgent need today is for all parties to place the country above partisan interests as they often vow to do. — (Sept 5)

Princess Royal Sunday, September 07, 2008 10:34 AM

[RIGHT][B]Sunday
Ramazan 06, 1429
September 07, 2008[/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkRed"][SIZE="4"]President Zardari[/SIZE] [/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

IT’S official: Asif Ali Zardari will be the new president of Pakistan. The result of the indirect election was never in doubt given the majority that the PPP and its allies have in the presidential electoral college. However, other doubts do hang over the next president. On Election Day, everyone had at least one eye on the Punjab Assembly, where the votes for Mr Zardari were billed by many analysts as a de facto vote of no-confidence in the PML-N government. For now a fresh political crisis appears to have been averted as the PML-N candidate, Justice (Retd) Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, earned 201 votes — comfortably above the 186 required to secure a majority in the Punjab Assembly.

The second doubt concerns Mr Zardari himself. There have been more controversial presidents in the past — indeed, the last occupant of the presidency, Gen Musharraf, was almost universally unpopular — but none has been as controversial as Mr Zardari at the time of assuming office. The catalogue of allegations against him is well-known and every sordid detail has been raked up since his bid for the presidency was announced. While the past cannot be erased — NROs notwithstanding — what Mr Zardari needs to do is to dispel the impression that he is a political wheeler-dealer who is adept at making backroom deals but unable to rise to the requirements of statesmanship. The president-elect’s performance since Feb 18 has highlighted precisely this deficiency. Mr Zardari was able to ease President Musharraf out of office but at the cost of trust in his public commitments.

That trust deficit is significant because Mr Zardari has renewed his pledge to pare down the extraordinary, anti-parliament powers of the president. If Mr Zardari fails to keep his word again his credibility and democratic credentials will be in tatters. It is in any case questionable how much Mr Zardari can now do to make parliament supreme. As president, with a PPP-led government in parliament, Mr Zardari, regardless of his legal powers, will be the de facto centre of politics — rendering real parliamentary supremacy unattainable. But this is only another reason for Mr Zardari to give up 58-2(b) and the right to appoint service chiefs, governors and judges of the superior judiciary — it’s the absolute minimum he can do to correct the structural imbalance amongst the institutions of the state.

The third question mark over Mr Zardari is his ability to steer the country out of the economic and militancy crises. On the economic front, it is a fact that the PPP-led coalition government in Islamabad inherited a wobbling economy; however, it is also a fact that the PPP-led government, now in the sixth month of its existence, has not arranged any significant amount of money to prop up the economy. As president, Mr Zardari must urgently lobby friendly governments and international agencies for quick money on comfortable terms. The militancy crisis too has worsened. Most dangerously, the Americans appear to have lost patience with Pakistan and are launching regular strikes in the tribal areas. With fuel supplies to Isaf forces in Afghanistan now suspended, relations between the US and Pakistan are at their lowest ebb since 9/11. Mr Zardari must use his new office to immediately defuse this crisis — bravado aside, it is simply too dangerous to have the Americans breaking down the door to Pakistan. It was Mr Zardari’s right to become president; it is the people’s right to expect leadership from him now.

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[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]Time to act[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

THE Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Ordinance, 2007 which became law last year is now under threat. It has been reported that a bill to introduce amendments in the ordinance has been sent for consideration to the National Assembly’s standing committee on health. According to reports some of the changes envisaged will, if adopted, nullify all that was achieved last year after a concerted struggle by transplantation experts and civil society. Just before the ordinance was promulgated, Pakistan had emerged as a flourishing haven for organ tourism. In the absence of any legal checks, unethical medical professionals and unscrupulous middlemen were running a Rs1.5bn trade exploiting the poverty of the indigent who were persuaded by circumstances to sell their organs for a pittance. The exorbitant amounts obtained from the wealthy, but desperately ill, went into lining the pockets of some doctors and their agents. This shocking commercialisation of health brought disgrace to the country in international medical circles.

The ordinance was a move in the right direction. It won international approval because it categorically banned the sale of human organs, forbade financial compensation and adopted a stringent definition of “blood relatives” while laying down the regulatory framework for deceased organ donation to promote the concept of cadaveric transplantations. True, there have been teething troubles in plenty especially with the registration of transplantation centres. But by and large the ordinance did succeed in discouraging organ trade while cases of legalised organ transplantation showed a remarkable increase. SIUT, the largest transplantation centre in Pakistan, registered an increase of 166 per cent within a year in the organs transplanted — free of cost. Reports of the changes being sought are stunning. They have broadened the definition of “blood relatives” to include virtually anyone. Compensation will be allowed if sanctioned by the evaluation committee — in effect it means there will be no bar. Worst of all, foreigners will be allowed “in limited numbers” to visit Pakistan for organ transplantation. If the amendments are carried through, we shall be back to square one as far as organ transplantation is concerned. The time to act is now if the health sector is to be spared the evil of commercialisation.

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[U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][B]Much to answer for[/B][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U]

THE mystery surrounding Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist who went missing five years ago from Karachi, has been partially resolved. She has been indicted by a US attorney in New York on charges of attempted murder and assault on US officials. She has not been formally charged as she refused to appear in court. Although Dr Siddiqui’s present whereabouts are now known — saving her family the agony of hunting for a missing member — this does not reveal much of what befell her in the intervening years. She surfaced in July 2008 when she was taken into custody by the Americans in Afghanistan. It is still a mystery how she landed in Afghanistan and whether she was picked up by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. Was she a victim of the ‘extraordinary rendition’ the US has been resorting to? No charges of terrorism have been brought against her, though we were being told all along that Dr Siddiqui was an Al Qaeda operative.

What is one to make of all this? The Pakistan government has much to answer for. Under law no one can be taken into custody and be handed over to another government without proper extradition proceedings. No charges were proved against Dr Siddiqui. Mr Musharraf himself admitted in his memoirs that Pakistan earned millions by handing over ‘terrorists’ to the Americans. The fact is that what happened to Dr Siddiqui is apparently what is termed as ‘involuntary’ or ‘forced’ disappearance under international law. Doesn’t the government know that the UN has adopted a convention to protect people from enforced disappearance which is recognised as one of the most heinous crimes against huma-nity? It makes it obligatory on governments to disclose to the families the whereabouts of persons they detain only after observing proper legal processes. Their guilt or innocence is another matter.

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[B][U][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]New trends in global politics[/COLOR][/SIZE][/U][/B]

By Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi[/CENTER]

RUSSIA’S recent move to send its troops into Georgia in support of the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia has given rise to a new debate at the international level about the Russian role.

Should this be treated as a neighbourhood-specific effort to punish the defiant pro-West Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili? Is this the beginning of a new Russian global profile of challenging American bids to establish pre-eminence in almost all regions of the world, especially in Russia’s neighbourhood?

Russia may have both objectives in mind, with a greater focus on destabilising the defiant Georgian government that is working incessantly to cultivate the West, especially the United States, giving them a foothold on Russia’s borders. However, if the objective was to dislodge Saakashvili, this has not so far been achieved and he appears determined to cultivate the West.

Russia wants to maintain a strong military pressure on Georgia despite strong protests by the US, the UK and other leading western countries. It has not only refused to withdraw its troops from Georgian territory but has also created security rings around South Ossetia and Abkhazia to protect them from Georgia’s military attack. Russia went one step further by formally recognising these territories as independent entities. It has also promised them military assistance to deter the US from supporting Georgia’s possible military action against them.

Georgia severed diplomatic relations with Russia on Aug 29, 2008. Russia responded by doing the same. This is the first instance of a formal break-up of diplomatic relations between Russia and its former republic.

The present crisis began in early August when Russia dispatched its troops to Georgia, declaring that Georgia had violated ceasefire arrangements with South Ossetia. It pushed back Georgian troops from the vicinity of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, thereby neutralising whatever control the Georgian government had over these regions.

The people in South Ossetia and Abkhazia have strong ethnic linkages with their counterparts living in Russia. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 they expressed solidarity with Russia in order to maintain close links with their co-ethnic people living in Russia. As these territories border Russia, it encouraged separatist tendencies. Russia may like the breakaway regions to join it. They would have to depend heavily on Russia for their survival.

Problems between Russia and Georgia arose because of the divergent disposition of the two governments about regional and global issues. Russia continues to view its former republics as its domain of interest, especially those sharing a border with it. It does not want the West, especially the US, to establish its military presence or strong economic influence in the Russian ‘sphere of interest’.On the other hand, Georgia’s current president, Mikheil Saakashvili, is known for his pro-West leanings and he plans to join Nato. The United States encourages Georgia to distance itself from Russian influence and is attempting to establish its foothold in Georgia and other states in the vicinity of Russia.

Another development that perturbed Russia is the US and Nato decision to install missiles in Poland and a radar facility in the Czech Republic between 2011 and 2013, ostensibly to defend Europe from the long-range missiles of ‘rogue states’ like Iran and North Korea. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Poland on Aug 19, 2008 to sign an agreement with the Polish government on the installation of missiles.

The US and other western states demanded the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgian territory. The American secretary of state and the British foreign secretary visited Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, to assure their support to Georgia. They have taken a strong exception to Russia’s recognition of Georgia’s separatist regions because it amounted to negating the territorial integrity of Georgia. Neighbouring Ukraine also expressed concern at the Russian action.

Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, are convinced that all these moves — plans to establish a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic and efforts to win over Georgia’s president — are aimed at restricting Russia’s foreign policy options and building security pressure.Therefore, Russian leadership intends to apply strong military pressure on Georgia to force its government to give up the idea of cultivating the West as well as warn the US to stop penetrating its neighbourhood. It also wants to discourage the US from extending military support to Georgia for launching military action against the separatist regions.

Russia is also expected to increase its opposition to American policies elsewhere. It will oppose American bids to apply more economic and military pressures on Iran. It may also take exception to the Nato and American military presence in Afghanistan. However, Russia’s choices are quite limited in Afghanistan. It does not view Islamic militants as its friends.

Georgia has got entangled in the high-stakes politics of the US and Russia. The US and the European states want to encircle Russia by developing economic and security ties with its former republics and thus contain its bid to return to an active global role. Russia has somewhat recovered from the economic and political setback of the 1990s and wants to retrieve its influence at the global level. It is slowly emerging on the regional and global scene to challenge America’s pre-eminent role.

The Georgia episode has another implication for global politics. It has caused insecurity among the smaller states situated in the vicinity of big powers. It is clear from this incident that the major states do not want the smaller states in their immediate neighbourhood to engage in autonomous decision-making on domestic and foreign policy affairs. These smaller states are expected to accommodate the security sensitivities of the powerful states. The latter can apply military, economic and diplomatic pressures to change the disposition and policy options of such states. If the Russian-backed secession of South Ossetia and Abkhazia materialises, this will be a matter of concern for smaller and weaker states that face dissident movements and internal strife.

The US and the EU will support Georgia to the extent it serves their global agenda of containing the rise of Russia as a countervailing force. They will rely mainly on diplomatic and economic strategies to push out Russia from Georgia. Russia may be inclined to do so if its concerns in the neighbourhood are respected. The US will avoid any direct military confrontation with Russia and will not favour a return to the old-style Cold War.

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[U][B][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]Fight for female votes[/COLOR][/SIZE][/B][/U]

By Ewen MacAskill[/CENTER]

JOHN McCain shrugged off a poor prime time speech to the Republican convention on Thursday night to begin an aggressive play for the votes of the working class and women, heading off on Friday on the campaign trail with his running mate, Sarah Palin, for the first time.

The Road to Victory tour sets the stage for an epic battle for a newly identified swing constituency of working mothers — the hockey moms. Next week the Republicans and Democrats will go head to head for women’s votes in Florida, a potentially decisive state. McCain and Palin hope to peel away Democratic and independent women voters impressed by the Alaska governor’s unusual resume and her electrifying performance at the Republican convention on Wednesday.

Barack Obama will counter by sending Hillary Clinton to Florida on Monday, her third visit in two weeks, to try to shore up support among Democratic women. He will send Democratic women governors and senators, such as the Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius, to other battleground states.

The fight for women’s votes, coming after the party conventions, marks the start of the final phase of the two-year election campaign — the 60-day sprint to November 4.

McCain and Obama are battling for women disenchanted with the Democrats’ failure to nominate Clinton and for blue-collar votes in battleground states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, where McCain and Palin campaigned on Friday, and Pennsylvania, where Obama and his running mate Joe Biden spent the day.

Palin remains a controversial choice. The McCain team, nervous about an unguarded remark by her, appear intent on minimising her contact with the media, insisting she would give few interviews during the campaign.

The McCain camp is working hard to get a sympathy vote for Palin as a victim of sexism. McCain sent an email to supporters in which he lashed out at Democratic operatives who have “stooped lower than anyone could have imagined” in questioning Palin’s experience and discussing her pregnant teenage daughter.

McCain failed to rise to the occasion on Thursday night when he delivered his acceptance speech. He did not match Obama’s soaring rhetoric the previous week or even Palin’s feisty, sarcastic delivery on Wednesday night.

While he won several standing ovations as he related his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, the overall reaction was muted with long passages of his speech listened to in near silence.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

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[B][U][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]OTHER VOICES - Indian Press[/COLOR][/SIZE][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

[B]Burden of being a civilian

The Sangai Express[/B]

...IN Manipur the most dangerous thing to be is a civilian.... For any act of commission or omission by government agencies or non-state actors, the ugly fallout has to be borne by civilians and nothing illustrates this better than the latest ... decision taken by the government to keep all routes leading to the official residence of the chief minister and VIP areas out of bounds for civilians everyday from 6 pm till 7 am the next day.

The decision comes in the backdrop of the audacious attack launched by the proscribed PREPAK on the residence of the chief minister.... In the face of such an attack, it is natural that security be beefed up for the chief minister as well as other VIPs but the manner in which the government has decided to go about it is disgusting and an insult....

If all routes [to] the CM’s residence are to be blocked ... then may we suggest that the CM’s bungalow be moved to Leimakhong...? ...[T]he bomb attack ... was a clear case of security lapses. It was a case of the failure of the intelligence agencies to gather information. It was a failure of the state agencies to keep alert. ...

Instead of studying how the loopholes can be plugged the government has come out with the grand idea of shunting out all civilians from the roads leading to the CM’s residence and VIP areas.... — (Sept 3)

[B]Killing the deal

The New Indian Express[/B]

...[T]HE nuclear deal has encountered a near-fatal obstruction because of the US State Department’s ‘secret’ letter on the damaging consequences of a Pokhran-type test by India. Yet, there is nothing surprising about the assertion that the deal will be off if there is a test as this restriction is an integral feature of US policy. ...If complications have ... arisen, the reason is that the Indo-US agreement tried to fudge the issue by spelling out an elaborate consultative process in the event of a test. ...

That there are influential lobbies eager to kill the deal is evident from the revelation of the ‘secret’ missive on the eve of the second round of the [Nuclear Suppliers Group] meeting. As it is, a ‘clean’ waiver from the objectors — Austria, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and New Zealand — was going to be difficult to obtain. Now, they will be justified in saying that the State Department’s points should be incorporated in the final draft.

Although ... an underground ‘implosion’ is no longer essential since technological upgrades can be carried out via laboratory simulation, the political imperatives make it difficult for any government to accept restrictions imposed by others.

A voluntary moratorium ... is alright. But it would be politically suicidal for the ... government to bow to dictates from abroad. ... — (Sept 5)

Princess Royal Monday, September 08, 2008 05:04 PM

[RIGHT][B]Monday
Ramazan 07, 1429
September 08, 2008 [/B][/RIGHT]

[CENTER][U][B][COLOR="DarkRed"][SIZE="4"]Deteriorating ties[/SIZE][/COLOR][/B][/U][/CENTER]

IS America a friend or foe? If that is ambiguous today, there is no doubt the coming days will settle the issue one way or the other. Distrust has been building up between the leader of the war on terror and the “frontline state” for years. It centres on America’s belief that Pakistan is not doing enough and that elements in the ISI are helping the Taliban. Consequently, American leaders, including President Bush, threatened to act unilaterally in Fata if “actionable intelligence” were available. The threat was translated into action in full force in South Waziristan last week. The strong reaction in Pakistan and the condemnatory resolution passed by parliament seem not to have mattered with Washington, for it has launched more attacks since then. The future is even murkier, since the US and its allies are likely to react angrily to Pakistan’s decision to suspend fuel supply to the coalition forces in Afghanistan. These developments need to be studied against the barrage of anti-Pakistan statements in Washington, especially the venom exhibited by a man who could be America’s next president.

In a TV interview Barack Obama complained that the Bush administration had “wasted” the $10bn it gave in aid to Pakistan. He said that aid should not have been given without strings attached, and that Islamabad was receiving American military aid to prepare for war with India. Irrespective of the absurdity of the last charge, Pakistan has to wake up to the danger to its security if Obama makes it to the White House. His statement coincides with US press reports which quote Pentagon officials as saying that cross-border raids are not only necessary, more such raids could follow. Talking to German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung, Gen Tariq Majid, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, said Pakistan reserved the right to “appropriately retaliate” against such raids. While one can understand his anger, it is very obvious that Pakistan can do very little by way of retaliation.

The truth is we are in a foreign policy mess. Worse still, there is hardly a government which could adequately articulate Pakistan’s position on the issue and steer the ship of the state out of stormy waters. The protracted constitutional/political crisis is taking its toll, and there is no doubt governments hostile to this country have taken into account Pakistan’s political instability while drawing up their schemes. It is time Islamabad sorted out its relationship with Washington. Unfortunately, America too will be unable to take major foreign policy decisions until the next administration takes over. The least the Pakistani leadership can do in the meantime is to set its house in order.

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[U][B][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]In need of energy policy[/COLOR][/SIZE][/B][/U][/CENTER]

CIRCULAR debt is the latest stranglehold that has gripped the national energy sector. At first glance Islamabad’s plan to deduct unpaid electricity bills at source in its dealings with the defaulting provincial governments as well as federal and provincial agencies may look like a practical resolution of the crisis. A deeper look into the mechanics of the proposed arrangement, however, makes it look otherwise. With most of the defaulting agencies already facing a cash crunch, the deduction will have the potential to cause serious aggravation on several counts while resolving a single issue. Expecting public-sector organisations to be astute in their monetary conduct to manage the deductions will only be unwise. The federal government itself has too poor a record in terms of fiscal responsibility and debt limitation to ensure responsible behaviour at the provincial and local tiers. To manage automatic deductions at source, the affected entities will most likely do what they are best known for doing: approach the banks. Years of this vicious cycle has taken us nowhere except where we are. Continuing with that will only take us further in that direction, with the common man suffering the most on account of the inflationary trends that government malpractices trigger.

Ever since the new government took over, it has been trying one fancy way after another of passing the burden to the consumers. From extended load-shedding and inflated bills to ambiguous GST adjustments, the dice is loaded against the masses. Adding to their misery are streetlights that no one bothers to switch off even during daytime. Such blatant displays of official slackness only cause loss of hope in those running the system. The impending raise in power tariff will expedite that process.

On a broader scale, the government has also disappointed many by not coming out strongly about the need to redesign the country’s energy mix. The only alternative energy plan has so far related to coal and that too has more political connotations than actual intent. In any case, talking of coal-based energy from Thar, while refusing to optimise the already functional Lakhra mine is hardly the stuff of visionaries. According to targets set by the Alternative Energy Development Board, the country will have around 300-350MW on the national grid by 2011, which is less than 10 per cent of the current shortfall. What the country needs immediately is a well-defined energy policy that sets priorities in line with global trends. As things stand today, the government pledge to eliminate load-shedding by the next year is nothing more than a self-deluding fantasy.

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[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]Class consciousness[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

PUBLIC welfare is far from the militants’ agenda and their brand of faith. From denying polio vaccination to young children to depriving girls of their right to education, they do soldier on but certainly not in the name of humanity. Reports say that school-going children have been jammed between the militants and security forces for a year as scores of schools have either been razed to the ground or occupied by radicals or security forces to take positions against each other. Shockingly, students and school owners claim that the past 10 months have seen the destruction of over 125 girls’ schools, robbing more than 14,000 girls of education, and perhaps a self-reliant future. On the other end, Swat’s district education department officials maintain that 99 schools have turned to rubble, affecting 25,000 students. Meanwhile, schools that are operative have poor attendance as unannounced curfews threaten the lives of children and tutors. Reports also point to the still dormant dangers of out-of-school adolescents for whom the emptiness of their days, created by the absence of extracurricular activities and an academic routine, is causing them to be propelled towards militancy.

Unicef has pledged to rebuild 95 schools after Ramazan. But the question, however, is an old one: can the government not make alternative arrangements for these children so that their academic years are not squandered? NGOs and government departments would do well to depute personnel who are able to conduct classes in makeshift set-ups that are provided with ample security — a crucial prerequisite for Unicef endeavours as well. So far, very little has addressed the issue of subsidised materials for reconstruction and compensation for school administrations which will enable them to distribute textbooks, stationery, uniforms as well as equip their own premises. Undeniably, the turmoil is setting countless students back by years therefore continuation of syllabi must become a priority for officials and human rights groups. It has to be remembered that this is a scarred generation fraught with the collapse of social security and mental agony. Hence, new educational environments have to focus on their mental rehabilitation with in-house counsellors.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - North American Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

The real John McCain

The New York Times [/B][/CENTER]

BY the time John McCain took the stage on Thursday night, we wondered if there would be any sign of the senator we long respected — the conservative who fought fair and sometimes bucked party orthodoxy.

Certainly, the convention that nominated him bore no resemblance to that John McCain. Rather than remaking George W. Bush’s Republican Party in his own image, Mr McCain allowed the practitioners of the politics of fear and division to run the show.Thursday night, Americans mainly saw the old John McCain. He spoke in a moving way about the horrors he endured in Vietnam. He talked with quiet civility about fighting corruption. He said the Republicans “had lost the trust” of the American people and promised to regain it. He decried “the constant partisan rancour that stops us from solving” problems.

But there were also chilling glimpses of the new John McCain, who questioned the patriotism of his opponents as the “me first, country second” crowd and threw out a list of false claims about Barack Obama’s record, saying, for example, that Mr Obama opposed nuclear power. There was no mention of immigration reform or global warming, Mr McCain’s signature issues before he decided to veer right to win the nomination.

In the end, we couldn’t explain the huge difference between the John McCain of Thursday night and the one who ran such an angry and derisive campaign and convention — other than to conclude that he has decided he can have it both ways. He can talk loftily of bipartisanship and allow his team to savage his opponent.

What makes that so vexing — and so cynical — is that this is precisely how Mr Bush destroyed Mr McCain’s candidacy in the 2000 primaries, with the help of the Karl Rovian team that now runs Mr McCain’s campaign….

On Wednesday, the nastiest night of the week, Mr McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, and other speakers offered punch lines, rather than solutions for this country’s many problems — ridiculing the Washington elite (of which most were solid members) and Barack Obama.

“Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America, and he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights,” Ms Palin said.

Mr Obama, in reality, wants to give basic human rights to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, only a handful of whom are Qaeda members, and shield them from torture. So, once upon a time, did Mr McCain, but there was no mention of that in St Paul, or of the bill he wrote protecting those prisoners….

At the same time, the Republicans tried to co-opt Mr Obama’s talk of change and paint themselves as the real Americans. It is an ill-fitting suit for the least diverse, most conservative and richest Republican delegates since the Times started tracking such data in 1996….

Americans have a right to ask which John McCain would be president. We hope Mr McCain starts to answer that by halting the attacks on Mr Obama’s patriotism and beginning a serious, civil debate. — (Sept 5)

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]Is anyone listening?[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR][/B]

[B]By Dr Tariq Rahman[/B] [/CENTER]

WAS anyone listening to the horrified cries of the three women buried alive — although the police denies this — in Balochistan?

Can anyone imagine what those women must have felt when they were dragged by brute force to the place where they would see the light of day for the last time of their sojourn on this planet? Can anyone imagine the horror of feeling the earth being piled upon them as they lay bleeding and in pain? They endured this and their voices were muffled by the earth. Will they remain muffled forever?

Nor was this the only time that such a callous deed took place. It is the experience of many other women whose voices from the grave cannot reach us. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan publishes lists of women killed in the name of honour; sold in the name of honour; enslaved in the name of honour; maimed in the name of honour; and locked up in houses in the name of honour. And each time the voices are raised to abolish these customs — abolition cannot occur without widespread condemnation first — someone stands up to defend it.

It has happened in the NWFP, in Sindh and now in Balochistan. The defence comes in the name of custom, tradition and indigenous culture. Those calling for the abolition of these barbaric practices are condemned as stooges of the West.

The same thing happened when the Mughal emperors tried to ban satti. They did not succeed but the British did. And who was the beneficiary? Not the British but the people of South Asia — especially Hindu women. So, no matter who does it, weeding out customs which make the lives of women a living hell is to be welcomed. And if the upholders of human rights are inspired by western concepts of human rights they are to be welcomed because they are trying to prevent murder and torture.

One can think of other people, inspired by narrow and selfish western interests, who sell their own people to secret western prisons without a fair trial. So, it is not a question of western or eastern inspiration, it is a question of people’s lives. Human rights are for all and if we preach them and practise them our people will benefit from them, not westerners.

Civilisation may be defined as the rise of compassion. And the indicators of this are that a society has a fair and easily accessible judicial system; the poor and the weak are protected by legal and administrative institutions and there is equality amongst creeds, classes and genders. As we can see, since the Enlightenment Europe moved away from its medieval cruelty to a concept of equality under law, fair trials and the abolition of cruel and degrading punishments.

Even war became humanised as the Geneva Conventions made rules for prisoners of war which gave them both security and dignity. Since 9/11 this is being reversed as Aafia Siddiqui’s case demonstrates. She has been in prison without trial and even her children are not traceable. This is against the norms of justice in both war and peace in terms of civilisation. We should condemn this rolling back of compassionate institutions and the inevitable erosion of the humanitarian values upon which they are based.

We should oppose them and condemn them whether they are perpetrated by a western country or by our own rulers in the name of national interest or by our tribal and feudal chiefs in the name of their honour or tradition. We should not join the anti-humanist forces of the world in perpetuating inhumanity in the name of our indigenous culture.

Sadly enough, our religious leaders never condemn violence against women. This is probably because they too feel it is a western agenda to promote women’s rights, whereas this is a human agenda not a western one. What happens in Pakistan in the name of Islam and tradition is not Islamic by any means. In the case of the Baloch women it was apparently a case of women having chosen their husbands which is permitted both by religion and the laws of Pakistan.

But let us take the case of fornication by way of example. Even in genuine cases of pre- or extra-marital sex there is no provision in Islam for cutting down a woman as if she were an animal by a male relative acting as prosecutor and judge. What one would have expected religious leaders to emphasise is that individuals cannot take these matters into their own hands.

If there is reasonable doubt that such a thing has occurred even then no law allows husbands and brothers to chase the victim with a hatchet. At the most a trial may be held at the end of which the judge cannot give the extreme (hadd) punishment to the woman and her partner unless the actual act of penetration has been witnessed by four pious adult Muslims. As this is an almost impossible condition to meet, the death penalty is actually ruled out.

This is not what our ulema preach. Instead, they remain silent even over the most brutal murders of women. The police treat such matters as if they were not murders at all and the sessions judges are apt to release prisoners even if there is evidence against them. Moreover, if the woman had been falsely accused there is no punishment for the accusers which is in direct contradiction to Islamic law. So, what is essentially a matter of humanity and compassion has been lost sight of in this spurious western-indigenous debate.

The values which have made women live under a perpetual reign of terror in our rural areas belong to a worldview much older than Islam. It is the ideology of male domination. Honour is the cover-up word for this domination. In this worldview women are the property of men. If they exercise their right of choice — even if it is allowed by religion and the law of the land — they are punished because by doing so they do not act as ‘property’.

If we want to present a better image of Pakistan abroad or make the claims of democracy credible at home, we should condemn such acts and call for the punishment of those responsible for them. It is up to civil society to make rulers listen to the voices of those women who reach out from their graves asking for justice. We cannot fill our voices with the pain of the sufferers but can we not aspire to their anger? Is anyone listening?

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[B][U][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]Capital flight[/COLOR][/SIZE][/U][/B]

[B]By Luke Harding [/B][/CENTER]

FOR Russia’s leadership, it seemed everything had gone right. In three weeks, the country had invaded Georgia, crushed its military and defied international opinion by recognising the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Western threats came to nothing. Russia’s attack on Georgia went unpunished.

But victory has been undermined by an alarming flight of capital. Analysts estimate that, since the war began on August 8, $19bn has been withdrawn from the country.

The Kremlin is also facing other economic problems. They include a rapid drop in the oil price, which has fallen almost 30 per cent from peaks close to $150 a barrel, and a 9.7 per cent increase in inflation since the start of the year.

Analysts believe the war could become the catalyst for a more profound slowdown following at least seven years of unprecedented economic growth.

So far the Kremlin has managed to unite Russians in support for the invasion of Georgia. But as the economy cools, the euphoria is wearing off.

“The war in Georgia has been the major driver of the whole thing. Officially capital flight has been $19bn. We estimate it could be $20bn-$25bn,” said Vladimir Osakovsky, a Moscow-based analyst at UniCredit. “For most of this year we were viewed as a safe haven. Capital was flowing into Russian markets and into Russian funds. We have lost this safe-haven sense.”

According to Osakovsky, the decline began not with the war in Georgia but in late July, when the prime minister, Vladimir Putin, launched an extraordinary attack on the mining and metals company Mechel. Mechel’s share value plunged 38 per cent on the New York stock exchange after Putin threatened to “send doctors” to examine its owner. Mechel shares lost $6bn in one day.

Meanwhile, there is lively debate behind closed doors in the Kremlin. According to Andrei Piontkovsky, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, writing in the Moscow Times, Russia’s political elite is split between the national and global kleptocrats.

The global kleptocrats have invested most of their assets in the West, and are fearful that Russia’s confrontation with Nato could escalate into a full-blown conflict. The national kleptocrats, by contrast, have stashed their billions inside Russia. They have less to lose should Russia try to repeat its military success in Georgia in other post-Soviet states such as Estonia or Ukraine.

It is no secret that Russia’s elite send their children to English private schools, have houses in London’s Mayfair and South Kensington, and enjoy skiing holidays in the French Alps. The EU has failed to find effective ways to persuade Russia to end its occupation of Georgia, but few doubt that the most devastating tactic would be to refuse Kremlin officials Schengen visas.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Tuesday, September 09, 2008 11:04 PM

[RIGHT][B]Tuesday
Ramazan 8, 1429
September 09, 2008 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][CENTER][U][COLOR="DarkRed"][SIZE="4"]Kashmir warning[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/CENTER][/B]

THE warning by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq that the Muslim youth of the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir could be “forced to resort again to arms” should be heeded by New Delhi. Mr Farooq is a top separatist leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and is the spiritual leader of Muslims in Kashmir — as such his words carry much weight in the context of peaceful mass agitation in the state. Mr Farooq was not advocating violence — indeed, he vowed that Muslim protesters will “continue to fight peacefully and politically” — but simply expressing the widely-held opinion that Kashmir is on a knife-edge. Since June at least 40 Muslims and three Hindus have died in police shootings. More than 1,000 are believed to have been injured in clashes with security forces. The violence was sparked by the state government’s decision to hand over 100 acres of forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board. The early protests have since morphed into a full-throated cry for azadi in the Kashmir Valley.

The Indian government’s response has been predictable: repression, arrests and curfews. It is clear, however, that this time it will not be business as usual — the Kashmir issue is alive and burning more fiercely than ever. Mr Farooq rightly claimed that until the basic issue of Kashmir’s future is addressed the past will not be forgotten. In the past five years there was some progress in the Indian-administered state: tourists had returned, the economy grew, militancy slowed and the composite dialogue with Pakistan brought limited change to the lives of ordinary Kashmiris. Yet nothing was done to reduce the alienation of Kashmiris and the feeling that they did not ‘belong’ inside the Indian federation. Instead, New Delhi clung to the belief that Kashmiri resistance to ‘becoming Indian’ could be smothered by stationing 700,000 security forces in the state and pouring money into the region. The contemptuous attitude towards new ideas was on full display when New Delhi dismissed Gen Musharraf’s four-point solution to the Kashmir issue, which involved a gradual withdrawal of troops, self-governance, no changes to the region’s borders and a joint supervision mechanism.

What can be done now to avert a second violent uprising in Jammu and Kashmir? New Delhi has recourse to at least two safety valves. First, the troops in Kashmir — the visible arm of Indian repression — must be reduced. Second, cross-LoC trade and the movement of people must be rapidly increased. The cooler political temperature must then be used to address the call for azadi. It is not clear what the call means at the moment: complete independence, maximum autonomy from India or becoming a part of Pakistan? What is clear though is that things must change — and change soon.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]More Lal Masjids? [/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B][/CENTER]

IT appears that the authorities have learnt nothing from last year’s Lal Masjid episode. It was a trauma caused as much by misplaced — even ridiculous — concepts of Sharia enforcement as by sheer paralysis on the part of the authorities. We are forced to refer to the Lal Masjid affair because, as a Dawn report informs us, 70 new illegal mosques have come up in Islamabad, and the local administration and the Capital Development Authority have done nothing about it. Lal Masjid did not turn into a bastion for militants overnight. The Ghazi brothers gradually expanded the mosque under their control and built new structures, including living quarters for their families. The CDA, to be fair to it, pointed out the illegal activity to the government, but certain ministers and powerful sections of the bureaucracy looked the other way. Thus the mosque’s transformation into a centre for militants was encouraged. From here activists were sent into commercial areas to terrorise CD shop owners. Many other violations of the law took place. Finally, the government acted on July 3 last year leading to dozens of deaths.

Unless the government wants more Lal Masjids, it must act now. Evidently, the CDA and the local administration seem once again overawed by the power of those who exploit religion for their own narrow ends. More regretfully, the religious parties tend to keep quiet on such shenanigans and, thus, indirectly encourage illegal activity of this sort. The government would be failing in its duty if it does not act to uphold the law and to reclaim state land that has been misappropriated in the name of religion. The last elections have clearly proved that the overwhelming majority of the people reject Talibanism and stand for the rule of law, moderation and tolerance. The PPP itself is a party wedded to the ideals of liberalism, and it must not let corrupt elements masquerading as religious divines spread chaos in society. In the case of Lal Masjid, the Musharraf government had acted very late. Let not the present government repeat that mistake and thus allow criminal elements to defy the state’s writ in the federal capital.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]A dismal literacy rate[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

YESTERDAY was International Literacy Day, and the good news is that out of a global population of 6.7bn people four billion are literate. However, while this fact may be cause for cheer, it also offers a chance to assess how heavily skewed the figures are in favour of the developed world. In many developing countries like ours, literacy rates are abysmal. Pakistan has an overall literacy rate of 55 per cent. On closer scrutiny, it becomes apparent that the statistics vary considerably when seen in the context of gender parity or the urban-rural divide. In any case, they reflect poorly on the government’s efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goal in education which aims to ensure that by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

If universal primary education is to be achieved, the government’s policy needs to be tailored to achieve this goal. The problem, however, has been the lack of implementation of reforms. What lies at the core of the problem is missing political will as amply demonstrated by our meagre education budget which is less than three per cent of GDP, whereas many other countries allocate four to five per cent of their respective budgets for educational needs. The government’s lackadaisical attitude towards education is compounded by socio-economic factors such as poverty, gender discrimination, child labour, poor educational infrastructure and militancy.

The onus is on the government to carry out the reforms it often promises in order to ameliorate the situation. Poverty is one of the primary reasons why children are unable to attend school. The opportunity cost of sending children to school, rather than to work, is too high and thus poverty alleviation measures are needed to address this problem. Moreover, greater efforts to spread awareness about the importance of education through the media are needed for the message to have a far-reaching impact on society. This will also help tackle the problem of militancy which is the newest threat to education. Militants incite people through radio transmissions not to send their children to school, and they resort to the bombing of girls’ schools. The government must ensure the damage is minimal especially in the northern areas which have been affected most by such militancy. Finally, the education sector itself is in dire need of reform. Widespread corruption in the education department has become the bane of the system and needs to be strictly dealt with before we can be sure that money for education is being properly used.

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[B][U][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]Theatre of the absurd[/COLOR][/SIZE][/U][/B]

[B]By Irshad Abdul Kadir[/B] [/CENTER]

SINCE the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto last December, there has been a surreal quality to politics in Pakistan. But as a result of a bizarre series of events during the last few weeks the political landscape has become more akin to the theatre of the absurd.

The democratic order which was restored after a credible election has been run by the unelected heads of at least three political parties. Consequently, matters of state have progressed or regressed in accordance with the weight of countervailing influence brought to bear in each case.

The speed with which the move to impeach ex-President Musharraf became a national clarion call, indicates what can be done if one has the clout. Likewise, the foot-dragging witnessed on the other popular cause of the restitution of the Justice Chaudhry-led judiciary, is also attributable to a powerful impeding element.

The dichotomy in the power structure resulted in a paralysis of executive initiative signified by the bureaucracy’s reluctance to proceed with the business of state ‘without further orders’. A secondary cause for the inactivity is the civil servant’s customary reserve to commit himself to any course of action, lest, in the event of the government falling, he is left to justify his moves to the succeeding government.

Instances of unfettered power exercised by the controllers of the government’s destiny led to ill-conceived policy statements that have in certain instances been recalled, resulting in the kind of loss of face occasioned by the hasty withdrawal of the takeover of the ISI by the Ministry of Interior. There are also charges of reneging on commitments — as in the case of the Murree Declaration — levelled against the PPP. Consternation too has been caused by the growing list of novitiate appointees to public offices.

Such extraordinary events were made possible by the herd instinct of elected members who consider themselves duty bound to follow without question the lead given by the individual, the name or the family, even in situations compromising vital national interests. Such sadly, is the nature of the Pakistani democrat today.

Arbitrariness in high places seems to have infected the media also. Several Urdu and local language newspapers and TV channels have forsaken their traditional neutralism for partisanship. Their commentaries on the latest developments are tinged by a carte blanche approach towards rightist causes — political or militant — irrespective of the legality of or justification for the issues involved. Individual preferences dominate the requirement for professionally conducted analyses.

Confusion in public spaces is rampant, with everyone voicing half-baked opinions. No one is fully aware of the truth concerning any of the prevailing issues even though the economy is nose-diving into the clutches of the World Bank and the Taliban are at the door. Decisions taken in earlier times are retroactively declared illegal and ultra vires and yesterday’s villains are celebrated as today’s heroes.

The charged atmosphere was further exacerbated by PPP’s nomination of Asif Zardari for the office of the president to which he was subsequently elected. Much of the outcry focused on the missing prerequisites: education, experience, image and perception.

The presidential choice calls for a five-year stint (with possible renewals). During the tenure he will have recourse to protocol, presidential perks (including blanket immunity from all charges) and a ceremonial lifestyle suitable for an elder statesman. If he falls in line with democratic norms, he would have to resign from the co-chairmanship of the PPP, adopt a neutral stance, oversee the stripping of the extraordinary powers adopted by Gen Musharraf and fade away when the bugle blows as figureheads do.

If he chooses instead to adopt a political stance, he would for a period of time become the most powerful man in Pakistan in the Musharraf tradition, but in accordance with historical experience, he would ultimately meet a similar end to his predecessor.

Had he steered clear of the presidency, he would have avoided the controversy and doubt stirred by the thought of a PPP head of state operating in tandem with a PPP prime minister. As party co-chairman, he would have continued to exercise power as before. He would have had the opportunity to become an eminence grise of the Pakistan political scene casting his influence on national politics in the manner of Sonia Gandhi or Altaf Hussain, unfazed by the rise and fall of PPP or other governments or by charges of pelf and power bedevilling political dispensations.

The restitution of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is another problem that requires urgent attention. The legal issues involved are not conducive to ready resolution. The need of the hour is for a solution that operates in the best interests of the state untrammelled by the hype, hysteria and heroics that have queered a perfectly justifiable movement. The question of the restoration of the dismissed judges and the restoration of the chief justice should be addressed separately.

The latter calls for a quid pro quo arrangement restoring the chief justice and precluding him (and all other judges) from entertaining challenges to the NRO. The restoration should also be conditioned on the understanding that the chief justice would retire after being restored, in deference to the judicial tradition of retirement of controversial judges.

From a constitutional perspective, Justice Chaudhry’s presence on the Bench would be highly controversial. In all probability, he would be perceived as a champion of democracy, unassailable by any contrary force. Such a view would give rise to a sense of inequality among the pillars of the state with the judiciary dominating the executive and the legislature.

From a judicial perspective, Justice Chaudhry’s compliance with the rules of national justice would preclude him from appearing on any Bench likely to be addressed by any lawyer who had supported his cause. He would also be precluded from any Bench dealing with issues concerning individuals or causes having a nexus with the restoration campaign.

It seems though that so long as personal agendas take precedence over national causes, the balance of the state is unlikely to be restored.

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[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]Ditching Mugabe[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]
[B]By Tracy McVeigh[/B][/CENTER]

SOME of President Robert Mugabe’s senior aides have had secret negotiations with South African mediators in an effort to secure amnesties from any future prosecution in return for supporting regime change in Zimbabwe.

Army, police and secret service chiefs have repeatedly pledged loyalty to Mugabe in public and insisted that they would never ‘salute’ or support a government led by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the head of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who secured most votes in the presidential election that took place in March this year.

But government sources in both Zimbabwe and South Africa have told The Observer that a senior army general and a Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) chief visited Pretoria last weekend to seek assurances from South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki that they would not be prosecuted in the event of Tsvangirai taking over.

Mbeki is mediating in the power-sharing talks between Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party and the MDC, negotiations which appeared to be hanging by a thread last week with the MDC threatening to pull out and accusing Zanu-PF of a lack of commitment to dialogue.

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said his party’s patience was being stretched to the limit after Mugabe told journalists in Zambia on Wednesday at the funeral of President Levy Mwanawasa that he would form a new government of national unity if Tsvangirai did not sign the document already agreed to during the talks.

‘We feel frozen at the moment and if the MDC does not want to see the country move, then we will be left with no choice than to form a new government without them,’ said Mugabe. On Saturday, however, the MDC backed away from its threat, insisting that it was still fully committed to dialogue.

Robert Mugabe relies heavily on Zimbabwe’s defence force chiefs, most of whom have been supporters of the ageing dictator since the 1970s war of independence and were heavily involved in conducting the murderous campaign of violence against MDC supporters and activists that erupted after the March election results were announced.

Mbeki’s spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said he knew nothing of any secret meetings and insisted power-sharing talks were continuing.

Sources close to the talks said the Zimbabwe defence forces’ Lieutenant-General Constantine Chiwenga, police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri, and CIO director-general Happyton Bonyongwe were at a private meeting in Pretoria. Behind the scenes, Zanu-PF’S politburo, including Mugabe, is said to be distancing itself from the violence that killed more than 120 people between the first round of voting and June’s one-man presidential run-off poll, laying the blame on the army and the CIO.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

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[CENTER][U][B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/B][/U][/CENTER]

[B]A victory with challenges

Kawish[/B][/CENTER]

PPP CO-CHAIRMAN Asif Ali Zardari got a two-thirds majority … in the presidential electoral college.… His induction will mark the country’s transition to full civilian democracy after nine years of military rule. Pro-dictatorship forces … were still in shock as one last blow struck them in the form of the election of Mr Zardari. These anti-democratic and anti-people forces had also tried to subvert the mandate of the general elections to create differences among political forces and had also resorted to the postponement or boycott of elections. They succeeded partially in this bid. However, they failed to distract the political forces.

Benazir Bhutto may not be amongst us but her party is in power through the vote of the people. It is time to take revenge on anti-democratic forces. Benazir Bhutto strongly believed that democracy is the best revenge; hence the PPP government should follow her dictum and strengthen democracy.

The PPP has guidelines provided by Benazir Bhutto. The Charter of Democracy is there and by implementing it, democracy can be strengthened. The democratic forces that had elected the prime minister unanimously and later voted for Mr Zardari in the presidential elections can also stand with the PPP on this point.

Some clear indications of reconciliation are there. With the start of the presidential elections, the political forces played a laudable role. Also worth appreciating is the statement of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif who said that Mr Zardari’s election spelt the defeat of dictatorship. …Asif Zardari’s election … is not only a victory for democratic forces, it is also a challenge for the party’s resolve.

According to the 1973 Constitution, the country has parliamentary democracy. But time and again it was … tailored to suit the needs of dictators. An imbalance of power was created turning it into a presidential system of government. There is a dire need to restore the parliamentary system in its original form. The PPP has got a golden opportunity. It is up to Mr Zardari to keep his promise and repeal the Seventeenth Amendment and Article 58-2(b) in the interest of democracy.

The PPP … should realise that it faces myriad challenges. The PPP must work responsibly to demonstrate its democratic spirit. — (Sept 7)

[B]— Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi[/B]

Princess Royal Wednesday, September 10, 2008 10:01 PM

[RIGHT][B]Wednesday
Ramazan 09, 1429
September 10, 2008 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]The president’s plans[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

TO cheers from PPP supporters, Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar swore in his second president in 10 months, elevating Asif Ali Zardari to the presidency. The ceremony was in sharp contrast to the grim one last November when President Musharraf took the same oath in controversial circumstances. The PPP is the largest national party and it deserved to momentarily bask in its success. Now comes the hard part. The joint press conference held with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan highlighted some of the problems that confront Pakistan. With President Karzai at his side, President Zardari was lobbed some heavy questions on foreign policy. First, the positives. President Zardari promised “good news” on relations with India before the term of the Congress-led government expires in May 2009. Given that the soon-to-be leader of the opposition, the PML-N, also supports improved ties with India, now is the time to push for real progress in the long-running but wobbly peace process. The hurdles are clear: mass unrest in Jammu and Kashmir and accusations and counter-accusations by India and Pakistan of fomenting violence against each other. However, in President Zardari the Indians have a potential peace partner with real civilian power and at least the tacit support of the armed forces. It is time to bury the myth that peace with India can only be achieved by a military interlocutor.

President Zardari also indicated his commitment to sustaining the “great bond” with China, to the relief of anxious officials of the foreign service who have viewed the Indo-US nuclear deal and the closer Pakistan-US military ties as distressing signs of impending regional isolation. No doubt Pakistan cannot be hostage to the past in striking new arrangements in the region, but the Sino-Pakistan relationship is extraordinarily important. China showed its commitment to Pakistan by kicking up a fuss at the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting that was deciding on a key waiver to enable the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal. Now talk is centred on a similar Sino-Pakistan nuclear cooperation deal, which if struck will go some way towards easing fears of Pakistan falling behind India in the nuclear stakes. The bad news is on the war on terror. President Zardari was asked repeatedly about the writ of the state in the tribal areas, the frequent civilian deaths in US missile strikes and Afghan complaints of Pakistani complicity in the Taliban fight-back. President Zardari parried the questions with platitudes that “not an inch of land will be lost” and that Pakistan is committed to the war against terror. Tellingly, he appealed for the establishment of an international fund for victims of war against terrorism — thereby indicating that Pakistan will have to tolerate more US strikes in the weeks ahead.

On the domestic front, President Zardari parried direct questions on the fate of his co-chairmanship of the PPP and the anti-parliamentary presidential powers, including Article 58-2(b). The weeks ahead will no doubt reveal the president’s thinking on how to reconfigure the balance of power between the president and the prime minister.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Guarding power?[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

THE relationship between the citizenry and its law enforcers is not at odds for nothing. Given that the former has to grapple with routine police negligence and resort to private security options, there is much to fuel apathy amongst our custodians. Other than burdensome additions such as Karachi’s 600-strong Muhafiz force, primarily drawn from the infamous Sindh Reserve Force, the number of police officers on guard duty also runs into thousands — official statistics show as many as 482 personnel deputed on security duty for Sindh cabinet ministers and advisers; approximately 1,700 officers at embassies and government offices as well as guarding judicial and government officials; while over 1,000 watch over police top brass. Needless to say, these alarming figures have come to light amid the elected government’s tall claims of abandoning VIP culture. Sindh’s home minister enjoys an astounding 43 guards and the Sindh ombudsman has 40 police personnel. The provincial information minister, who recently lashed out at the ‘mindset’ of the local police and the ‘ineptitude’ of a particular police station, has as many as 11 police guards. Such deployments point to a heightened sense of self-importance as these hardly make for ‘life-threatening’ offices.

Second, these are trying times where a poverty-stricken populace is turning to rampant crime — the first half of this year witnessed a dramatic rise in kidnappings for ransom with over 38 cases while a whopping 64 incidents took place in 2007. The fact that the beleaguered force is already in the grip of a manpower crisis — one officer for every 545 citizens — prompts the question: should the blame for apathy be laid at the police’s door or on the conscience of our bigwigs?

There is no better time than now for the home ministry to address the woes of such an indigent force, particularly of the mid-level police corps. The most recent travesty came in the form of nepotism — from September 1995 to November 2007, 52 out-of-turn-promotions have taken place. Reforms must begin with empowering the Police Superintendents Association of Pakistan and the Public Safety and Police Complaints Commission. This is aside from alleviating long-festering issues — lack of pay raises, decent living quarters, training and upgrades that are on merit. Also, political patronage has to be rooted out to encourage neutrality. On the other end, an indigenous police force is crucial to Karachi as only a sense of belonging can curb detachment as well as police excesses. Funds saved on additions such as the Muhafiz force and related expenditures can be funnelled to assuage the plight of our law enforcers and to revive women’s police stations. After all, a homegrown, reliable force, and not private security, is the right of the public.

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[B][U][RIGHT][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Patients in the crossfire[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/RIGHT][/U][/B]

PROTESTING doctors and a government indifferent to their demands are a dangerous mix for patients. This is more than apparent in the ongoing protests launched early last month by junior and mid-career doctors working in government hospitals in Lahore. Almost daily these doctors either gather at a protest camp in front of the Punjab Assembly or take to the streets blocking traffic and inconveniencing the man on the street. Although no government can afford to allow its medical practitioners a long absence from duty in view of its responsibility towards the sick, the authorities in this case have done little to bring the doctors back into hospital wards and operation theatres. In fact, they have responded to the protests with force and taken punitive action. At least one protesting doctor is facing the sack and police are not averse to using batons against the demonstrators when they feel the need to do so. With both sides sticking to their proverbial guns, the patients can only pray that at least one of them stands down.

The doctors are asking for an increase in their salaries, a better service structure and job security. Indeed, with spiralling inflation and the rising demand for medical care, better working conditions and better wages are something that these doctors should be getting without having to stage protests to press their demands. The government, on the other hand, may be constrained by financial limitations. The two sides should understand that their intransigence can continue only at the patients’ peril. Continuing protests and official apathy to the doctors’ demands are putting lives at risk. This is unacceptable and should not be allowed to go on indefinitely. For the general good of the patients, the two sides should try to find some middle ground to resolve the impasse. They should do so as soon as possible.

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]OTHER VOICES - European Press[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

The unshattered glass ceiling

The Independent[/B][/CENTER]

THE decline in the number of women in top jobs in Britain is alarming. Last year, slow progress on equality in the workplace actually went into reverse in half of the sectors surveyed. Today we have fewer female MPs, cabinet ministers, senior police officers, judges and NHS executives than we did even a year ago.

The standard explanation for this is that women have babies and that this arrests their career development. Improvements in maternity provisions seem to have exacerbated this trend. Paid maternity leave has now been extended to a full year, but it is available to the mother only. This has, perversely, entrenched women in the traditional role of wife and mother because the man is unable to take the same parental leave to share the child care. The government should change the law to allow couples to choose which of them wants to take the year off.

But there is more to the problem than that, which is why women who do not have children — a quarter of the female workforce at age 40 — suffer from the same discrimination and disadvantage. The trouble is that the attitudes and habits of the British workplace were forged in an era when breadwinner dads and stay-at-home mums were the norm. That mindset persists. It is a macho culture of long working hours where, even if the old boys’ network is not what it was, the boys go out for a beer with the boss after work. And — despite the fact that girls now outperform boys at school and at university — there continues to be a subliminal consensus that women are less capable or strategically able than men.

All that needs to change. More flexible working patterns, the choice to work from home and job shares need to become the norm. Workers also need access to more high-quality, affordable child care. Attitudes need to change in politics too. It is shameful that fewer than one in five British MPs is a woman and that countries like Rwanda, Afghanistan, Iraq and China beat the UK on women’s representation in parliament. Nor can there be any excuse for the decline in the proportion of women in top jobs in the public sector. The shattering of the glass ceiling can no longer be left to gradual social change. It is time for changes in government policy. — (Sept 5)

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]
Eating out cheaper in London[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][B]

By Alexandra Topping[/B][/CENTER]

HOUSE prices are dropping, the economic forecast is dreary and the rain has not let up for months in London. All the more reason to find comfort in the good things in life, it would seem. According to the new Zagat guide, London restaurant lovers are paying little heed to the credit crunch, with more people than ever eating out regularly in the capital.

With the average cost of a meal with three courses and a glass of wine in London increasing by about 3.7 per cent to $71.77 since last year’s survey, it is hardly surprising that 76 per cent of Londoners say they are spending more eating out than ever before. Yet 82 per cent of the survey respondents said they are going out just as much, if not more, than they did two years ago.

Tim Zagat, co-founder of Zagat Survey, said: “Although the average cost of a meal in London is up, that hasn’t stopped diners from eating out on the town. Thanks to an influx of less expensive eateries 43 per cent say they are going out more and only 18 per cent say less.”

The deepening economic cloud may have a silver lining for London’s restaurant scene — thanks to a declining Pound Sterling, London is no longer the most costly city for dining out in the world. “London is no longer quite so daunting for tourists from a price perspective,” said Zagat. “There is also lot of choice at the budget end of the scale in London. The famous restaurants may get all the publicity, but there are also a lot of wonderful inexpensive ethnic restaurants.”

Thanks in part to the relative strength of the euro, Paris now tops the list of the world’s most expensive places to eat out. And according to the 2009 guide, the food that is in London is now not only cheaper, but better than the average fare found in the French capital.

In a scale up to 30, Zagat reviewers gave London an average food rating of 20.52 compared with Paris’s 19.40. For anyone who has experienced the studied surliness of that city’s waiters it will come as little surprise that it is much the same story with service — overall London restaurants average 18.39 for service compared with 17.88 in Paris.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:12 PM

[RIGHT][B]Thursday
Ramazan 10, 1429
September 11, 2008 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Pricey electricity[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

ELECTRICITY has become more expensive. The ministry of water and power has issued a notification to retrospectively increase the electricity tariff by an average of 31 per cent for all consumers of the eight distribution companies of the Pakistan Electric Power Company. This means that domestic, agricultural, commercial and industrial consumers — in short, everybody — in Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Islamabad, Multan, Peshawar, Hyderabad and Quetta will receive substantially higher electricity bills. The tariff increase, although necessary, has been met with dismay across the board. The All Pakistan Organisation of Small Traders and Cottage Industries has demanded the withdrawal of the notification, claiming that over 4,000 businesses have already closed down.

Electricity pricing is a complex issue but several simple observations can be made. First, why did the government need to issue the notification so surreptitiously late into the night? Governance by stealth appears still to be the modus operandi in Islamabad. There is simply no excuse for news reports having to rely on ‘sources’ to inform the public of a matter as basic and important as their electricity bill. Even until Wednesday evening, officials at the ministry of water and power were unavailable to advise the public on what to expect in their bills next month. Then there is the issue of the methodology used to calculate the new price of electricity. The prevailing method is for the distribution companies (DISCOs) to petition Nepra, the national electricity regulator, for a tariff increase. Nepra considers the DISCO’s petition and then issues a recommendation to the government. The ministry of water and power can accept, decline or modify Nepra’s recommendation before issuing a final notification. In the current cycle, individual DISCOs petitioned Nepra in May and June requesting an increase of between 10 and 20 per cent in tariffs. However, Nepra advised the government at the end of August to raise tariffs of the DISCOs by up to 76 per cent, with different rates of increase for individual DISCOs. Those recommendations have now been converted by the ministry of water and power into a uniform tariff increase across the DISCOs for different categories of consumers. The only thing that is clear in this whole process is that the public has been kept in the dark about the government’s thinking and plans for future tariff increases.

Finally, there is the issue of winners and losers in the tariff stakes. So-called ‘lifeline’ consumers have been given a reprieve by increasing the base from which the increases are applicable to 100 units from 50 units. However, consumers using 700 units and above will effectively be billed 50 per cent more. Depending on consumption, the middle-class is set to take an enormous hit of either 26 or 50 per cent.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Coping with trauma[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

A REPORT about the plight of the family of a young man, who died in the recent twin suicide blasts at the Pakistan Ordnance Factories, has highlighted the emotional and psychological fallout that such traumatic events can have on affected families. The victim’s mother, who also has four daughters, was so traumatised by the loss of her only son that she had to be hospitalised. It is not only the family members of those who have died but also the survivors of suicide attacks who may suffer from severe emotional reaction to such horrendous events — a condition which is clinically termed as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Although the term PTSD was originally coined in 1980 with reference to the readjustment difficulties experienced by Vietnam veterans on their return to the US, it has since then been increasingly extrapolated to civilian populations who are traumatised by shocking events. We as a society have been pretty resilient and resourceful, and have shown a remarkable ability to rebound and cope with one traumatic incident after the other, whether it is a suicide blast, a natural disaster, a major accident or war. Nevertheless, there has been growing awareness that the increasing number of people affected in one way or another by such mass-based distressful events, as well as by other more individual-based traumatic experiences like torture, assault, domestic violence etc., need help in dealing with and recovering from their emotional shock and returning to their daily life and routine.

In this respect, the First International Conference on Psychotrauma held recently at the Jinnah Convention Centre in Islamabad represents an important step in building our capacity for preventing and mitigating stress caused by traumatic events. Organised by the National University of Science and Technology’s Centre for Trauma Research and Psychosocial Interventions, the conference discussed ways to deal with the growing phenomenon of pyschotrauma in our society. As many countries have already done, we too need to establish more specialised psychotrauma centres, not only for psychological therapy and counselling but also to provide education and training in emergency mental health services to all emergency service professionals including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and counsellors. As was aptly pointed out at the conference, while it may be impossible to prevent natural disasters and difficult to stem acts of violence in society, the psychological and social effects of these on our people can be minimised by building our capacity to put up a fight against them.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]A rare honour[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

SPECIAL athlete Haider Ali’s silver medal in the long jump final of the Beijing Paralympic Games on Tuesday has done Pakistan proud. In his first Paralympic Games, 23-year-old Haider, who has cerebral palsy, took the lead over favourites China and Poland, and ended up sharing the world record with Farhat Chida, the gold medallist from Tunisia. Coincidently, this was also Pakistan’s first-ever medal at the Special Olympics since the country’s debut in the competition in 1992 at Barcelona. This achievement will go a long way in propping up Pakistan’s fast-eroding sporting image in a year marred by shameful debacles in cricket, hockey, squash and, of course, the recently-concluded Olympic Games in Beijing from where the 37-member Pakistani contingent returned empty-handed. Indeed, Haider’s feat is a rare honour especially in view of the severe embarrassment endured by the national hockey team that finished eighth — an all-time low for a once winning team — at the Games. What is equally shameful is that none among the shooting, swimming or athletic contestants made any kind of attempt to reach the medal podium. In such a bleak scenario, Haider’s effort, fortitude and sense of sporting spirit at the Paralympic Games, despite his handicap, is deserving of unqualified praise and not one bit blighted by fellow athlete Naveed Butt’s doping saga the same day.

Haider’s achievement makes it all the more difficult for our so-called sporting superstars to save themselves from the wave of national antipathy that has arisen in the wake of their abject performance at the Olympic Games. It is not as if the athletes and sports administrators woke up to the Olympic challenge one fine morning. They had four years to prepare for the Beijing Games and yet turned in an abysmal performance when they got there. This is hardly surprising when the quick-fix solution to sporting woes and the lethargy of years comprised energy-sapping camps — instead of efforts to put together winning combinations, work out strategies, eliminate deficiencies and throw up new ideas on the tactical side. It is no shock then if they returned from the Olympics with nothing to show for their efforts.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

Yet another try at peacemaking

Arab News[/B][/CENTER]

THE Israeli response to the Syrian peace proposal will have to wait. No reply will be [given] until the results of elections in Israel and the US are in. But President Bashar Assad’s assurance that when there is a peace accord there will be reciprocal recognition should make Israel’s eventual response a positive one. The logical next step would be for Syria and Israel to engage in face-to-face negotiations.…[E]ven though the Syrian proposal has not been made public, it revolves mainly around the Golan Heights captured by Israel in 1967…

…Israel has demanded that Damascus end its support for the groups in battle with Israel, namely Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian Hamas. There is nothing surprising in this. This is the usual Israeli tactic to avoid making any commitments … to Arabs. With an injured innocence, Israel can say it can’t make any concessions as long as Damascus associates with or helps its enemies. Again it will be Israel or its friends who will decide whether the association has ended or not.

In 2003 President Bush announced that Syria just had to wait until all pending issues in the Middle East were settled before the US turned to the Syrian-Israeli track. Ariel Sharon helped convince President George W. Bush to keep the Syrians on the backburner for years.… [R]eal peace can only be achieved with full and active Syrian participation and cooperation. — (Sept 8)

[CENTER][B]Don’t push Pakistan around

Khaleej Times[/B][/CENTER]

WITH the third possible unilateral US strike inside Pakistan in as many days, the outrage in Pakistan is only understandable.

There can be no denying that Islamabad has been at the forefront of the so-called war on terror ever since General Musharraf effected the u-turn on the Taliban and hopped on to Bush’s ‘with us or against us’ bandwagon in the aftermath of 9/11.

Those accusing Pakistan of not doing ‘enough’ betray a gross misunderstanding of ground realities. Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan remains one of the most difficult to monitor anywhere in the world. For the US to strike from the outside not only adds to domestic resentment that has festered over long years of war, but also severely compromises the Pak military’s operations....

It is not surprising that a number of very strong trends have emerged inside Pakistan. One, the tribals that sided with the insurgents have grown in number and strength, using the hate-America card chiefly because of such outside strikes that ridicule locals on the ground as well as the government in Islamabad. Two, the more moderate group too now advocates ditching the US alliance as it has brought unprecedented losses for their country. Three, with a democratic government in Islamabad that is struggling practically on all fronts, America is making it increasingly difficult for Pakistan to remain part of the US coalition.… — (Sept 6)

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[U][B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Democracy’s best revenge[/SIZE][/COLOR][/B][/U]

[B]By Shamshad Ahmad[/B] [/CENTER]

AFTER the Oct 6 burlesque enacted in Pakistan last year in which a military dictator unconstitutionally proclaimed himself re-elected we finally had on Sept 6 this year a real presidential election in which the PPP’s co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari, was constitutionally elected as the first democratically-chosen president of Pakistan in a decade. This was the best revenge that democracy could have taken on dictatorship.

Gen Musharraf was ‘re-elected’ for five years by his handmade ‘Queue-lined’ assemblies despite serious questions over his eligibility in the circumvention of Articles 41 and 63 of the constitution. Asif Zardari has been elected president in a constitutionally legal election for five years, but in his case too, there were questions over his eligibility raised both within and outside the country. The only difference was that in the case of Musharraf, the latter’s illegality under Article 41was real, whereas in Zardari’s case, questions related only to alleged perceptions of his past.

Democracy is not about perceptions or reputation. Democracy is about people who are the final arbiters, no matter how poor a reputation a politician might have. They choose their leaders. History then gives its verdict on whether or not they made the right choice. In Gen Musharraf’s case, the new democratically elected assemblies have spoken loudly and clearly against him. History didn’t let him complete his five years. It was quick in giving its verdict. He was forced to quit. He stands discredited and doomed to ignominy.

Zardari has a chance to prove that perceptions regarding his reputation are ill-founded. History is already registering its accounts and will soon start judging him. It is between history and Zardari now. What about the people? They would like to believe that real democracy has finally returned to their country. And in politics, as in every other aspect of life, what people know and understand or what they believe largely depends on what they see, hear and feel and how they think and act.

But in looking at the unfolding events in our country and the acts of our newly elected rulers, we see what is not, and see not what is because we have chosen to be prisoners of an exploitative system based on elitist, feudal and tribal structures. There are no angels in politics. Even in the world’s major democracies, heads of state and government and eminent politicians have been implicated in assorted scandals. Big names come to mind in no time. Hypocrisy and vacillation are the hallmarks of success in politics.

If Plato was sometimes cynical about politics, he had reason to be. As he wrote in his Apology, “a man who really fights for what is right must lead a private, not a public life, if he hopes to survive, even for a short time.” Politics knows no morality, no ethics. Plato was raised by a distinguished Athenian family for a political career but was disillusioned with politicians. He saw his city-state being torn apart by a power conflict among the politicians themselves.

Disheartened by the oligarchs’ attempt to discredit Socrates, his teacher and friend, Plato refused their offer of a political niche although some of the oligarchs were his close relatives and friends. He was even more profoundly disillusioned by the democrats who, when restored to power, condemned and executed Socrates. So he fled both country and politics for a self-imposed exile with Euclid in Megura.

For Plato, the prisoners are we who are “dwelling in the cave of concrete experience until the philosopher-king brings enlightenment to our shadowy reality”. He acknowledged that the philosopher would be reluctant to descend to the shadowy world of reality once he glimpsed the sun but he still remained uniquely qualified for leadership because in his view, his eyes would be on the principle of good, not on political ambition and personal power.

Plato devoted almost all his thinking to reuniting the public and the private, the political and personal realms of existence, so that the “virtues of the individual soul” would lead to the virtues of the national soul. Soul-tending, he called it, and it is what we in Pakistan today need more than ever before. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had inherited a physically truncated country. Asif Ali Zardari’s challenge is much bigger and perhaps more tortuous. He inherits a Bhuttoless truncated party and an emotionally disintegrated country. Both need soul-tending.

We as a nation have suffered the politics of power and blood for too long. It has been a constant struggle and a long tragedy of errors since the very beginning. The script is the same. Only the faces have been changing. We have seen prime ministers assassinated, removed in military take-overs, executed through judicial murder and in some cases even exiled. Benazir Bhutto gave her life for democracy and fell tragically at the altar of our politics of power and blood.

Pakistan has been the scene of pitiable tragedy for too long now. We have had coups, both military and civilian, and in every instance, there has been someone from the judiciary to provide ‘legal’ cover to the illegality. The present set-up is no different. It is rooted in the Nov 3 illegality.

Benazir Bhutto must be turning restlessly in her grave over what her party is doing to the pledges she had made to the nation during the last days of her life. She had pledged a genuine democracy rooted in the will of the people and had promised to reinstate the real judges. She had told the chief justice that he would soon be back in his chamber. She must be witnessing with horror and anguish that her own commitment to the chief justice and the one to the people’s Feb 18 verdict remain unfulfilled.

We may not have a philosopher-king but we now do have a democratically elected president who has the authority to do justice that his party’s immortal leader and his own better half had pledged. The nation awaits soul-tending from him. Plato’s central question in his Republic was ‘what is justice?’. Mr President, let us hear from you: ‘Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry is justice’. This would complete democracy’s revenge. Let history judge you differently from the baseless perceptions of your past. Prove your detractors wrong. You have a chance to be a different ruler in Pakistan and make history.

[B]The writer is a former foreign secretary.[/B]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]White women’s choice[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Ewen MacAskill[/B] [/CENTER]

WHITE women voters are deserting the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama because of the sudden emergence on the Republican ticket of Sarah Palin, according to a poll on Tuesday.

An ABC/Washington Post survey recorded that an eight-point lead Obama held over his Republican rival John McCain before the arrival of Palin had turned into a 12 per cent lead for McCain.

The trend is in line with other polls since Palin, McCain’s vice-presidential running mate, ignited the Republican convention with a speech last week espousing social conservative values and presenting herself as a small-town mother taking on the cosmopolitan media.

McCain, who was behind Obama in most polls before last month’s Democratic and Republican conventions, has taken a three per cent lead in a tracking poll by the RealClearPolitics website.

Although the momentum has shifted to McCain and Palin, the election will be decided by independents and moderates, where Obama’s domestic and foreign programme should have the greater appeal.

However, the loss of support among white women could be fatal for his chances of winning the presidency if it was to be sustained. Obama had upset this constituency before the conventions, with many Democratic women unhappy that he had dumped their champion, Hillary Clinton, out of the nomination race.

McCain received another boost when Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post backed him in a front-page editorial. Earlier this year, Murdoch, who has extensive media outlets across the US, had hinted of support for Obama.

Palin campaigned with McCain again on Tuesday, before taking off on her own for what is likely to be a tumultuous return to her home state, Alaska. She is not only bringing in the crowds but also the funding. McCain said a single fundraising event in Chicago had brought in $4m.

The Democrats were initially uncertain about how to respond to Palin, but Obama, in recognition of her impact, now devotes almost as much time to attacking her as he does McCain. At a rally on Monday, he ran through her CV: “Mother, governor, moose shooter. That’s cool,” he said. But he went on to say that voters had to look beyond and study her record as a Republican to see that she would amount to a continuation of the policies pursued by President George Bush over the past eight years.

Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, acknowledged she had energised the Republican base but said the crux question was whether she would succeed in reaching out to independents in the run-up to the election on November 4.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Friday, September 12, 2008 10:05 AM

[RIGHT][B]
Friday
Ramazan 11, 1429
September 12, 2008 [/B][/RIGHT]

[CENTER][U][B][COLOR="DarkRed"][SIZE="4"]Unwise US policy[/SIZE][/COLOR][/B][/U][/CENTER]

THERE has been a regime change in Islamabad, but the basic misunderstanding between Pakistan and the United States on how to conduct the war on terror seems not only to persist but grow. This is evident from the utterances in Islamabad and Washington by authorities both political and military. On Wednesday, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani rejected the American claim that the rules of engagement gave the American forces the right to take military action inside Pakistan. In a statement, the chief of the army staff said the rules of engagement among the allied forces were “well defined” and that military operations against the militants in a given area were the responsibility of the armed forces of that country. The statement is significant because it comes in the wake of his mid-sea meeting with US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen on an aircraft carrier where the two reportedly reached an understanding on some of the irritants that characterise their relationship. But on Wednesday, Mullen told a congressional hearing that his country would adopt “a new, more comprehensive strategy” that would cover areas on both sides of the border.

The same day, while the State Department and the White House merely spoke of the need for greater cooperation with Islamabad, the American press said the US forces would not seek permission from the Pakistani military about an attack in Fata but would merely “inform” it. The press reports claimed that in July President Bush approved orders authorising the American Special Operations forces to carry ground assaults inside Pakistan. The report quoted an American official as saying that the situation in Fata was “intolerable” and that the US military had to be “more assertive. Orders have been issued”. It is astonishing that America should fail to grasp what France has the good sense to appreciate. On Tuesday the French Foreign Office said attacks like the one by a drone in Fata on Monday caused human tragedies and undermined international efforts to fight terror.

The Taliban are a problem for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, but as Gen Kayani said a successful war on terror required an indepth understanding because it was a complex issue. While force had to be used where necessary, he said, political, reconciliatory efforts could not be ignored. What the American strategists do not realise is that by flaunting their power to attack in Fata they are undermining Pakistan’s democratic government. Pakistan considers the war on terror its own war, because the Taliban are waging a rebellion against the state and have killed, mutilated and injured thousands of Pakistani men, women and children. Regrettably, Pakistan notes to its dismay that the coalition forces do not have their heart in the fight against the Taliban and are casualty-conscious. The truth about the mess across the Durand Line was highlighted by an Isaf spokesman at a presentation in London last July. He conceded that unless the present number of coalition troops was trebled, it would be impossible to stop infiltration. It is quite clear that Pakistan would not be required to ‘do more’ if both the level of commitment and the number of troops in Afghanistan were increased.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Whither woman power?[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

IT may be some time before the three brutalised women of Balochistan are cold in their graves and the uproar dies out. But neither the despicable brutality nor the resultant outrage, seems to have delivered the message of tolerance and sensitivity. This week in Islamabad, yet another woman’s face was doused in acid by a man, who was also her teacher, after she turned down his proposal of marriage. Small wonder then, that the results of a research conducted by the Asian Human Rights Commission cannot be refuted. It clearly states that there has been negligible change in the incidents of violence against women after the Women Protection Act 2006 came into force. This is further supported by a report issued by a local NGO which has brought staggering figures of violence against women to light — as many as 1,321 were recorded in the first quarter of 2008 with 44 in Islamabad. Another document reveals nearly 328 cases in Sindh alone. Perhaps the fault lies in isolating and highlighting a particular atrocity as opposed to pursuing a consistent collective movement — the only way to achieve the ultimate goal of a sensitised environment.

Experts and activists have long insisted that the National Commission on the Status of Women be made more independent and relevant in both urban and rural areas, and undeniably this has to be one of the most urgent and foremost priorities of the elected government. In the past, the Ministry of Women Development and an NGO had joined forces to support survivors of violence and facilitate their reinstatement in society with a joint venture that focussed on capacity-building for state-run women centres. It is hoped that the government will allow similar endeavours to flourish and not thwart them as residues of an old regime. After all, survivors of brutalities are often the most neglected aspect of a crime and their rehabilitation must be held supreme.

Second, before these atrocities begin to question the validity of the Women Protection Act, lawmakers need to ensure its large-scale implementation with stringent penalties for the perpetrators. It is also imperative that families are encouraged to register complaints and this is only possible if women police stations are operative and police stations in general are sensitised towards the treatment of women with an understanding of the excesses carried out against them.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]No let-up in price increase[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

THE price-checking campaign initiated over a week ago by the Karachi city government has not led to a cessation of profiteering. Notwithstanding the price-control mechanisms put in place prior to Ramazan, prices are rising unabated. Since price lists continue to be ignored, the latest measure by the city government to check profiteers has been to set up 54 complaint centres in the city. These may have worked insofar as prices have come down in certain areas with a fine of Rs3.27m being collected from over 2,000 profiteers and some unscrupulous retailers being put behind bars since the beginning of the month. But this small difference in the state of affairs is not enough and much more needs to be done to bring down prices across the city.

The rising rates of essentials can be attributed to inadequate resources for implementing the price-control mechanisms. For a city divided into 18 towns with an overall population of 14 million, there are only two to four complaint centres per town. Also there are insufficient price checks as there are only 50 price magistrates in the city. However, more than that it is sad to note that the response of the consumers to these centres has been lukewarm at best. According to official estimates, on average a town receives 12 to 15 complaints of overcharging by retailers each day. The public needs to overcome its reticence to report instances of overcharging and make full use of the complaint centres in this respect. Prices have come down in some areas where complaints have been lodged. The government, on the other hand, needs to install more such centres and increase the number of price magistrates in the city. A combined effort by the people and the authorities will alleviate the problems associated with the current price hike.

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[B]
[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - Pushto Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B]

Afghan genocide must be stopped

Tolafghan[/B] [/CENTER]

AFTER the fall of the Taliban … the allies started focusing on reconstruction in Afghanistan and the people there thought they would be able to build a place for themselves in the international community.

Unfortunately … the suffering of the people increased and their hopes were thwarted. …The Afghans experienced bombings by the allied forces on their wedding ceremonies, cultural gatherings and places of social festivities. The frequency of such attacks has increased in the last seven years. Even the reports of the UN, usually controlled by the allies and Nato, state that the number of Afghan casualties is more than 8,000.

The indiscriminate deaths of women, children, the elderly and the unarmed illustrate the fact that the foreign troops are not here only for Al Qaeda — the enemy of the foreign troops. Many people are of the opinion that the foreign forces want their stay to be as extended as possible and so they intentionally commit genocide. Several questions have been raised about the activities of the allied forces. Why can’t they discriminate between the civilians and those involved in armed resistance against the allied forces? Why do the allied forces always target wedding ceremonies and social festivities? The Afghan people have yet to get answers to these questions.

If the allied forces are convinced that the Taliban are not in majority among the Afghans … why do they look for them amongst the common people? The Afghans are caught between the ferocity of the Taliban and the ruthlessness of the allied forces. If the latter continue in this manner, the Afghans might be forced to take the path of a popular uprising. …The genocide of the Afghans should be stopped immediately. — (Sep 6)

[B]— Selected and translated by Khadim Hussain.[/B]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]No room for fanaticism[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Dr Mahnaz Fatima[/B] [/CENTER]

Fanaticism has grown in the country to the extent that settled areas in the NWFP and even in Sindh are facing a threat of take-over by obscurantist forces.

When we call these forces “religious extremists” or “religious fundamentalists” we tend to confer a kind of legitimacy on them by associating these trends with some form of religion when the reality is to the contrary.

Islam does not allow indiscriminate killing of innocent people no matter what the reason. Means are important and ends do not justify the means. God allows us to fight against only those who fight us and does not expect us to commit excesses as Allah loves not the ones who commit excesses. Killing one innocent person is like killing entire humanity. God also says that there is no compulsion in religion. And, God allows a great deal of freedom of expression and individual action.

He could have decreed and all would have fallen in line. But, this is not the route He adopted. God Himself appealed to human reason, and sent His message through thousands of messengers for the people to understand, own, believe, and then follow His creed. The fact that a whole lot of sinners thrive on earth shows that God gives people ample time, space and opportunity to rectify their behaviour before they are judged by Him. And, no one is allowed to take one’s own life no matter what. Life is a gift from God to whom the soul is destined to return only at a time of His choosing. No freedom of choice is allowed to human beings in this respect by the Creator.

These are some of the religious guidelines regarding human life and respect for it. Religious teachings must be followed, and we must be tolerant and wise instead of attempting to enforce our own worldview through brute force at the expense of innocent lives. According to the fundamentals of the faith, no physical offence should be done, no one should be harmed indiscriminately, and certainly no suicides.

An Islamic society is based on honesty, integrity, justice, equity, fair play and equal opportunity for all. Thus applied, Islam calls for an earnest effort made in the way of God to establish a benevolent society for His people to benefit from. Emphasis is required on good, polite behaviour, codes of public conduct and community, and national decision-making that would steer society in the desirable direction instead of expanding one’s own zone of influence through sheer terror.

Islam places great emphasis on knowledge acquisition and its valuable dissemination for a favourable impact on society. The first word of the first revelation sent to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was Iqra, that is, ‘read’. Nowhere did God ever enjoin only the men to read and not the women. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in his famous saying, “Acquire knowledge even if you have to travel to China,” does not discriminate between men and women. An unquenchable thirst for knowledge would then be the pursuit of the religious.

Burning down girls’ schools and depriving half the population of the opportunity to gain knowledge is not only extremism but irreligious conduct. It is fanaticism of the kind of shab-khoon, called terror in modern parlance.

In olden days, shab-khoon was a way to get people unawares while they slept at night, and shed their blood. The practice was considered highly reprehensible even in times when the world had not developed much scientifically and technologically, because it was unjust terror unleashed on a people who could not defend themselves.

Like all monopolies, any effort to establish a monopoly of a certain shade of religion over the people is equally bad. It generates negative spillovers. There is a need to dissociate oneself from practices based on brute force so that there is a clearer understanding of the tenets of Islam. This is necessary to deny any implicit sympathy that some, who call themselves religious-minded, may have for terror. The erroneous worldview must lose support amongst pockets of the population, poorest of the poor, as we see today.

Due emphasis should be laid on the economic prosperity of the community and on poverty alleviation that Islam so stresses. This can be done through better understanding of the principles of economic justice and equity enshrined in the faith which aim at ensuring a life of dignity for all. The uplifting principles of Islam need wider dissemination through the education system so that we attain the twin goals of ridding society of violence as well as poverty.

Income poverty stems from a poverty of knowledge, poverty of a mistaken belief system, poverty of values and poverty of intellect. All this requires a holistic knowledge-based view of what life is, what its purpose is, and how it should be lived.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Investment in water[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Juliette Jowit[/B] [/CENTER]

COUNTRIES across the world will have to dramatically increase investment in dams, pipes and other water infrastructure to avoid widespread flooding, drought and disease even before climate change accelerates these problems, experts have warned.

Investment needs to be at least doubled from the current level of $80bn a year, an international congress was told this week, and one leading authority said spending needed to rise to 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product just “to be able to cope with the current climate” — one thousand times the current level.

The warnings follow a summer of dramatic events, from hurricane flooding in the Caribbean and the east coast of America to desperate measures in drought-stricken Mediterranean countries, including importing water by ship.

Rich nations suffer huge under-investment, but the threat of poor infrastructure to populations in developing countries is even greater, said Dr Olcay Unver, director of the United Nations’ Global Water Assessment Unit.

So serious is the problem that next year the UN’s World Water Assessment Report will make one of its main messages the need for investment to “accelerate substantially”, said Unver.

“You can’t justify the deaths of so many children because of lack of infrastructure or lost productive time of people [who are] intellectually or physically incapacitated because of simple lack of access to safe water or sanitation,” he added. Dr Glen Daigger, senior vice-president of the International Water Association, said there was growing evidence that spending on clean water and sanitation was the single greatest contribution to reducing disease and death.

The UN has identified dams for hydropower and irrigation as leading drivers of sustainable economic growth in developing countries. “Water and sanitation is clearly a better investment than medical intervention, but it’s not sexy,” added Daigger.

Last year the World Bank called for investment in water infrastructure to more than double from $80bn to $180bn over the next 20-25 years to cope with population growth and climate change, which are expected to leave about four billion people living in “water stress” areas —deemed to have insufficient water to meet daily needs. Conditions would be particularly severe in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, said the bank. Water pollution and the threat to coastal areas of erosion, sea level rise and storm surges are also growing concerns.

However, experts meeting at the IWA conference of 2,700 water professionals in Vienna suggested the true scale of the problem could be much higher.

Prof Pavel Kabat, one of the lead authors of the water chapter in last year’s report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said investment needed to rise to 1.5 per cent of GDP for 20 years, just to cope with existing population demand and climate variability. Africa, the region with the greatest lack of infrastructure, would have to spend its entire forecast GDP growth for more than half a century even to reach relatively modest levels of water storage and supply; and even Europe would have to triple spending.

Failure to invest would mean “we’d have more recurrent floods and droughts because our systems are not able to take the magnitude and frequency of water we’re witnessing,” he said. It would also undermine other development spending in poorer nations, said Kabat, citing the example of Kenya, where he said two extreme years of wet and dry in the 1990s destroyed 40 per cent of the country’s wealth.

“If these things are not in place we can keep on building schools but we’re not doing the right thing,” he added.

Earlier this year the American Society of Civil Engineers said the US needed to spend $1.6tn over five years to repair all its crumbling infrastructure, and gave the worst assessment of all to the water sector.

[B]—The Guardian, London[/B]

Artemis Sunday, September 14, 2008 04:10 AM

[RIGHT]Saturday
September 13, 2008
Ramazan 12, 1429 [/RIGHT]



[COLOR="DarkRed"][CENTER][B][U]Civilians must lead[/U][/B][/CENTER][/COLOR]
WHO in Pakistan is in charge of the war against terrorism? On Wednesday, COAS Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani issued a statement condemning recent violations of Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty by US forces and missiles and vowed to defend Pakistan “at all costs”. Gen Kayani was categorical: “There is no question of any agreement or understanding with the coalition forces whereby they are allowed to conduct operations on our side of the border.” On Thursday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told reporters that Gen Kayani’s statement “reflected the government policy”. Is the country to infer then that the civilians are taking their cue from the military top brass? Why must the army chief enunciate government policy rather than the prime minister — or the president?

Few would have failed to note that Gen Kayani’s statement came a day after President Zardari’s first press conference in which the president was repeatedly pressed on Pakistan’s position on the war against militancy. Two things stand out from that press conference. One, President Zardari chose to make his presidential debut whilst seated next to President Karzai. This was a strange decision as the Afghan president’s harsh and long-running attacks against the Pakistan Army, and particularly the ISI, have made him radioactive in the eyes of the Pakistani establishment. Second, President Zardari refused to take the many opportunities offered during the press conference to categorically condemn US attacks in Fata, particularly the raid by US Special Operations Forces in a village in South Waziristan on Sept 3. Indeed, at one point in the press conference President Zardari renewed his call for setting up an international fund for victims of the war against terrorism. Some will interpret this to mean that his government has accepted that more raids inside Pakistan’s tribal areas were inevitable. Given the jarring difference between the tone of President Zardari on Tuesday and that of Gen Kayani on Wednesday, one is led to question Prime Minister Gilani’s statement on Thursday that there is no disconnect between the civilians and the army.

Moreover, in these dangerous times, a further twist has been added: the Americans are lashing out at Gen Kayani. The New York Times article disclosing that last July President Bush had authorised US strikes inside Pakistan also contained an extraordinary direct allegation against Gen Kayani. Speaking anonymously a “senior American official” told the NYT that it was “difficult to imagine that [Gen Kayani] was not aware” of the plot to bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul in July. Against this American onslaught, the Pakistani leadership — civilian and military — must speak with one voice. What that voice says must be determined by the Pakistani leadership. But what is clear is that it must be a civilian voice.


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[B][U][COLOR="DarkRed"][CENTER]No end to Israel’s land grab[/CENTER][/COLOR][/U][/B]
GIVEN Israel’s hunger for land, one should not be surprised by the disclosure by an Israeli rights group that the Jewish settlers on the West Bank have usurped thousands of acres of Palestinian land in continued violation of international law. The rights group — B’Tselem — gives us two methods used by the Israeli settlers to steal Arab land: they have widened their settlements’ perimeter fences and scared the Arabs off. Actually there are many more — and barbaric and subtle — tactics which the Israeli government and settlers deploy to keep nibbling at Palestinian lands. These tactics, often monstrous, include building highways and roads that destroy Arab villages and orchards, declaring areas off-limits to Palestinians for declared reasons of security, and diverting water from Arab villages to the Jewish settlements. No wonder, the area under the settlements is now 40 per cent of the West Bank, even though in 1948, when the UN partition plan was adopted, the European settlers possessed only six per cent of Palestine’s land.

All settlement activity is in violation of international law. As the UN Security Council Resolution 446 says the “... policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East”. Similarly, the International Court of Justice declared the Wall which Israel was then building as illegal. But the Jewish state flaunted its hubris by going ahead with the construction of what Yasser Arafat called “the Middle East’s Berlin Wall” and so aligned it that it gobbled up more Palestinian land.

Evidently, there is no check or pressure on the Israeli leadership because the US and to a certain extent the European Union have extended it their unqualified support. All peace plans have fizzled out because Tel Aviv never had any intention of quitting even an inch of Palestinian land. In November last, Israel signed the Annapolis document, which pledged it and the US to a two-state solution by the end of this year. However, within a week of the signing, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared that his government was not bound by the Annapolis timetable. The future, too, holds no hope for the Palestinians because both Barack Obama and John McCain, especially the former, have pledged America’s continued support to Israel in spite of its morally bankrupt position in the world.

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[U][B][COLOR="darkred"][CENTER]School wall collapse[/CENTER][/COLOR][/B][/U]
THE death of four youngsters who were crushed under the weight of a 100-year-old wall which collapsed in a school on Manora Island on Thursday, speaks volumes for the kind of priority the educational authorities attach to safety at school. Although the school in question had been abandoned for a newer building nearby, the question rankles as to why it wasn’t demolished or fenced off. The old building had apparently been vacated six years ago as it had become a looming threat to the students and teachers. However, even after the students were shifted to a new school the concerned authorities continued to ignore demands to demolish the old structure. Pakistani schools face severe problems of infrastructure, such as the absence of boundary walls, dilapidated buildings, unusable furniture and so on. The statistics issued in 2007 are telling: 52 per cent of government schools in the country have no boundary wall while 15 per cent are without a proper building, placing the students at great risk, especially in light of the frequency with which school collapses are reported.

Last year when a school collapsed in Jacobabad, there were nine injuries but luckily no fatalities. However, Kashmiri children in 2005 were less fortunate when a massive earthquake caused schools, many of them poorly constructed, to collapse like a pack of dominoes. This is one problem facing the education sector to which there is a simple solution — money. The government can give a boost to existing infrastructure by allocating more funds to improve the condition of school buildings. Not only will this provide a more nurturing learning environment for children, it will also counter potentially life-threatening circumstances. The government needs to learn a lesson from the latest tragedy and direct all its attention to the renovation of such buildings so that they conform to safety norms. In this regard, a focus on quality is imperative. It is evident that the material used in the construction of schools is of poor quality. Moreover, inspection should take place at the time of building to ensure the safety of design and structure, while regular checks should be carried out once the school is operational. Meanwhile, the authorities in this case should be brought to book.

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[COLOR="darkred"][B][U]OTHER VOICES - Sri Lankan Press[/U][/B][/COLOR]


[COLOR="DarkRed"][B][U][CENTER]Concern over refugees
Daily Mirror[/CENTER][/U][/B][/COLOR]

IT is not a matter of surprise that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed deep concern over escalating violence in northern Sri Lanka and the humanitarian impact of the clashes on civilians. As suggested by Secretary of the Peace Secretariat Prof Rajiva Wijesinha it is possible that the UN secretary-general had been prompted by reports about the large numbers of civilian casualties in other theatres of war making him conclude that the situation here is similar.

The UN secretary-general’s appeal … is not directed only at the government. He reminds all concerned … of their responsibility “to take active steps to ensure the safety and freedom of movement of civilians, allowing humanitarian organisations to do their work in safety.” Reports say that the fighting … uprooted 12,000 families in July alone.

The UN High Commissioner Pillay with her wealth of experience … will undoubtedly be able to understand the particular situation here…. Ms Pillay, who herself was a victim of both racial and gender discrimination in Apartheid South Africa, said that “if discrimination and inequality were allowed to fester, it would poison harmonious coexistence.”

While being responsive to concerns expressed by various countries and organisations over the situation prevailing in the country, it is Sri Lanka’s responsibility to take special care to alleviate the suffering that the hapless victims caught up in the armed conflict undergo today. The tribulations they undergo should receive the attention of the authorities as well as the rest of the country’s population not in response to appeals and concerns expressed by outsiders but because of the feelings of compassion that spring in human hearts….

The initiative taken by the National Freedom Front … to supply the requirements of the displaced people needs commendation. The party has decided to open a relief service centre to collect essential items of food, clothes and other materials for dispatch to the troubled areas. The main organiser of this move, NFF Chairman Wimal Weerawansa, in fact, is under obligation to extend the same consideration he extends to the security forces on the battlefront, to these victims of the war as well. Other parties that are genuinely concerned about the people’s suffering … should extend their cooperation in this humanitarian undertaking. — (Sept 12)

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[U][B][COLOR="darkred"]EU’s tense ties with Russia
By Shadaba Islam[/COLOR][/B][/U][/CENTER]

RELATIONS with Russia continue to dominate the European Union’s autumn foreign policy agenda, with the 27-nation bloc struggling to ease tensions with Moscow over its recent military action in Georgia while simultaneously seeking to convince worried former Soviet states that a resurgent Russia will not be allowed to become the dominant force in the region.

It is a difficult, if not an impossible, task. Most EU nations, heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas resources, are clearly determined to keep relations with Russia on an even keel. But they want to balance this with efforts to increase aid and trade with former Soviet states, especially Ukraine and Georgia, which feel threatened by Moscow.

The EU’s dual track approach was in evidence last week as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, acting as current EU president, flew to Moscow to convince Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to withdraw Russian troops from Georgia and then immediately held talks with Ukrainian leaders to draw the country closer into the European embrace.

Mr Sarkozy’s visit to Moscow was a partial success: the Russian leader promised to pull back soldiers from Georgia by the second week of October but insisted this was conditional on the deployment of 200 EU monitors to the region. In return, Mr Sarkozy said if Russia implemented its promise there would be no reason for EU-Russia talks not to go ahead in October, adding: “Things are perfectly clear: we want partnership and we want peace.”

The French leader’s visit to Moscow came only a week after the EU froze partnership talks with Moscow over its action in Georgia. EU members remain divided over how best to deal with Russia, with so-called ‘new’ EU states from former eastern Europe — joined by Britain and Sweden — demanding tougher action against Moscow but Germany and France lobbying for a more conciliatory approach.

A day later, the French president was back in Paris, promising closer cooperation with Ukraine which, with its large Russian minority, is increasingly worried about a possible Russian threat to its sovereignty. Kiev, which is demanding an EU membership promise, was told that it was “a European country that shares a common history and common values with the countries of the European Union”.

Officials said this was the first time that the Union had stated so clearly that Ukraine was on the path to EU entry. But, not surprisingly, Ukrainian officials expressed palpable dismay that the EU did not go further. Many Ukrainians had hoped that Russia’s military assault on Georgia, and its subsequent attempt to partition the former Soviet republic, might prompt the EU to go the extra mile for Ukraine which wants to join the EU by 2020.

Now, however, pro-West reformers in Kiev are concerned that many EU states, including heavyweights France and Germany, which remain lukewarm about offering EU membership to Ukraine, will become even more reluctant to do so because of fears this will further antagonise Russia.

The collapse last week of Kiev’s ruling coalition when opposition parties loyal to Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko called for a law to weaken presidential powers while strengthening those of the prime minister, adds to concerns that faced with an unstable Ukraine, the EU will opt for keeping Kiev at arm’s length.

The EU was careful at the summit with Ukraine to affirm its commitment to the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to hold out the prospect of agreements on free trade and easier travel for Ukrainians to EU countries. Crucially, however, there was no promise of EU accession.

“Be clear that this agreement shuts no door, and maybe it opens some doors. This is the most we could offer, but I believe it to be a substantial step,” the French president insisted. But diplomats said Germany and the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent Belgium, were the most reluctant to state clearly that Ukraine could one day join the EU.

The three Baltic states, the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden and the UK, while recognising that Ukrainian accession was not an immediate possibility, all sympathised with its aspirations.

As a result, for the moment, Ukraine will have to make do with an ‘association agreement’ with the EU, a pact that for Balkan countries such as Albania, Macedonia and Serbia represents the first step on the path to membership. In Ukraine’s case, however, EU officials insist that entry into the bloc is not on the cards in the immediate future.

The association deal is expected to be ready in about a year. At the same time, negotiations on an EU-Ukraine free-trade pact, underway since February, will only be wrapped up by the middle of 2009 at the earliest.

Unfortunately for Ukraine, Georgia and others, their calls for stronger ties to the EU, including demands that they be allowed to join the club, coincide with an EU-wide debate over the bloc’s institutional structures and future borders.

The ill-fated EU constitution designed to streamline European institutions to cope with enlargement, has still not been ratified after it was defeated in a referendum in Ireland earlier this year. In parallel, many EU states, including France and Germany, are demanding that the bloc put all plans for further expansion — including the possible inclusion of Turkey — on ice pending a decision on the treaty.

Ukraine’s Nato hopes have also run into objections from Germany and France, which in April blocked a US bid to put it on the fast track to membership. Nato foreign ministers will reconsider Ukraine and Georgia in December.

Moscow has watched warily in recent years as Ukraine and other former Soviet republics have pressed for closer ties with Nato and the EU. Seeking to ease such concerns, the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso insists that closer ties between Europe and Ukraine should not upset Russia. “We don’t need a Cold War in Europe, we need cool heads,” he said recently.

EU officials admit that given EU enlargement fatigue, Ukraine’s sheer size puts it far beyond the kind of expansion that the EU could begin to consider at the moment. With a population of 46 million, integrating Ukraine into the EU would be as problematic as Turkish entry.

Gaining membership of Nato is relatively easier than joining the EU which requires a large-scale adoption of EU economic, social and political rules and regulations. Nato’s focus is on comparatively simple questions of whether the newcomer could bring useful military forces or territory, and of whether existing members would be prepared to defend it.

The only problem is that if Ukraine and Georgia were to join Nato, the western military alliance could one day come into direct confrontation with Moscow.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.

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[COLOR="darkred"][CENTER][B][U]Arab takeover’s fallout
By Ian Herbert[/U][/B][/CENTER][/COLOR]
Mark Hughes, the Manchester City manager, acknowledged on Wednesday that Abu Dhabi does not recognise Israel but insisted that the club’s new Arab owners would not present a problem to his defender Tal Ben Haim, the Israel captain.

There is a feeling among some who are close to Ben Haim, however, that the sale of the club to Arab owners — four weeks after the player signed from Chelsea — could present an impediment to the 26-year-old’s career at Eastlands. Ben Haim would certainly be unable to play in any exhibition matches or attend training sessions organised by the new owners in Abu Dhabi, owing to the United Arab Emirates’ policy of not allowing Israelis to enter the country.

The UAE embassy in London reiterated this week that “an Israeli citizen would not be allowed into the United Arab Emirates because there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries.”

Ben Haim, who has featured in each of City’s three Premier League matches this season, is familiar with such difficulties.

Though Abu Dhabi prides itself on being relatively religiously liberal, there are instances of intolerance. One of the half-brothers of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the man behind the (pounds sterling) 210m takeover of City, was responsible for setting up and running the Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up a few years ago, which sanctioned the publication of anti-semitic material.

Sheikh Sultan, the member of the Al Nahyan royal family who secured funding for the centre is understood to have been upbraided by his family. The embarrassed emiracy eventually closed down the centre in 2002.

Hughes also said the Al Nahyan takeover at City has lifted him back into a world he has missed since his playing days were concluded. “One of the main reasons I came here was the anticipation of going into these games with top, top quality players.” n

— © The Independent
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Princess Royal Monday, September 15, 2008 08:37 AM

[RIGHT][B]Sunday
Ramazan 13, 1429
September 14, 2008 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Raids every other day[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

IT should now be clear to all and sundry that the US has decided to continue attacking targets inside Pakistan no matter what Islamabad’s sensitivities may be on the matter. This is evident from the increase in the frequency of raids by American forces and attacks by drones inside Fata. On Friday an American drone attacked a non-functional school building, killing 12 people. This was their fifth attack in 10 days, making it an average of one raid every second day. The reason for the impunity with which the Americans are operating inside Pakistan territory is obvious: the leadership chaos. The question of Pakistan’s military prowess and its ability to hit back is of secondary importance. In any case, we have no choice but to tackle the issue diplomatically. As Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said on Friday, Pakistan would like to settle the issue through diplomatic means because Islamabad enjoyed cordial relations with the countries concerned. This policy is obviously based on common sense. Pakistan has to act cool-headedly, because the situation is grave, and the allies tend to give an impression as if they are enemies. The glee with which President Hamid Karzai has endorsed America’s new ‘forward policy’ shows Afghan national interests getting mixed up with America’s war on terror. No Afghan leader would like to miss this opportunity. More menacingly, having received a snub from Nato, the Bush administration is now trying to rope in Britain. Even without Tony Blair one could be reasonably sure the British would be only too happy to be on board in raiding across the Durand Line as apparently Gordon Brown is no different inasmuch as poodle-like tendencies are concerned.

The issue for Pakistan is the need for putting its own house in order. One does not know who is minding the store. In fact, it appears the process of foreign policy formulation and its articulation has been forgotten and those at the helm are trying to learn it, for one cannot but note the gaucherie about it. Incidentally, do we have a foreign minister? It is indeed astonishing that everybody is doing the talking except Shah Mahmood Qureshi. Those who have spoken on the American raids are army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, President Asif Ali Zardari and the prime minister; the foreign minister, until yesterday, had been conspicuous by his silence. Also, the high-level contacts that have been a feature of our close relationship with China have declined. Since assuming office, the prime minister has visited Sri Lanka, America, Malaysia and Egypt, but, ignoring the Olympic formality, he has not paid an official visit to Beijing to know what our north-eastern neighbour thinks about the situation Pakistan is trapped in.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Power play?[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

PAKISTAN is a long way from accepting a woman’s right to free speech. Shocking reports state that the PML-Q’s Senator Yasmeen Shah — who had earlier raised the issue of the women allegedly buried alive in Balochistan — has claimed that Senator Israrullah Zehri threatened her with dire consequences for highlighting the matter in the Senate. Mr Zehri had earlier stunned the nation by indicating that the killing and burying alive of women were part of Baloch tribal traditions. According to some reports, Senator Yasmeen Shah also claimed that Senator Zehri maintained that ‘a death squad comprising 12 tribesmen had been dispatched to assassinate her’. Clearly, the issue is not only about the burying alive of the ‘errant’ women of tribal terrains; it is also apparent that there is an attempt to dissuade those voices that are raised in condemnation. Although the Senate committee on human rights has condemned the Balochistan senator for his remarks to a fellow legislator, a deeper malaise is at play. Pakistan is one of the few places in the world where public figures not only get away with defending murder in the name of age-old customs and accusing the media of giving these atrocities undue coverage, they are also not prevented from uttering words that smack of a medieval mindset. It will certainly be a while before our women can be protected from brutal social mores that demand abject submission.

The plot has often been sidelined in the case of the murdered Balochistan women. First, all official emphasis centred on the ‘idea’ of the victims being ‘buried alive’ rather than the fact that the acts were crimes against the state. Second, the senator who deserved all-round censure for defending what is tantamount to plain murder was not pulled up by government high-ups as he deserved. Perhaps, it is not much more than a stunt to divert attention from the barbarism that plagues his province, however if a political personality — and Senator Zehri is not the only one to have done so — upholds such brutalities, why do we lay the blame at the door of jirgas that comprise orthodox elements who, unlike presumably educated legislators, can hardly envision a different world than the one they inhabit? Does no law prescribe any admonishment for those who condone such brutalities? After all, they are not much more than instigators of mass injustices against women. It is time that we woke up to the fact that it is those who promote inhumane customs, as much as the criminals themselves, that need to be deterred, irrespective of their political standing.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Water crisis[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

AN acute shortage of water is set to play havoc with Pakistan’s crops. According to the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) the country will face a shortage of 35-40 per cent in the upcoming rabi (winter) season, threatening the wheat crop, which is critical to the country’s food security. To stave off a food crisis next year, Irsa has demanded that the two largest consumers of irrigation water — Sindh and Punjab — reduce their indents in the current last days of the kharif (summer) season. The provinces have been reluctant to accede to Irsa’s demand because reducing the water supplied to the rice and cotton crops in the crucial last watering period will dent the output of those crops, which are critical to Pakistan’s economy. Sindh and Punjab argue that nature may yet intervene to supply more water for the wheat crop this winter. Irsa has prevailed over Sindh but Punjab is resisting. The Punjab resistance is based on a shrewd calculation. Irsa wants Punjab to reduce its current indent from Tarbela dam and take extra water from Mangla; however, the canal system is such that a higher water level in Mangla will benefit Punjab more this winter than a higher level in Tarbela.

The current crisis, while grave, is only a symptom of a deeper malaise: the lack of water planning in the country. The current water crisis has been triggered by unusually low temperatures in the Northern Areas which has reduced the flow in rivers. However, that is precisely what long-term water planning accommodates for: seasonal fluctuations and a buffer for unexpected dry spells. As far back as 1976, when Tarbela was completed, it was estimated that Pakistan needed a new dam of Tarbela’s size — the world’s largest earth- and rock-filled dam — every seven years to meet its water requirements. Thirty-two years on, not a single comparable dam has been built. The blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Pakistan’s ruling elite. Water is quite literally the lifeblood of Pakistan. Agriculture accounts for 20 per cent of the country’s GDP and employs 40 per cent of Pakistan’s labour force. What Pakistan desperately needs are two things: a national water policy and immediate implementation of that policy.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Who owns Karachi?[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Bina Shah[/B] [/CENTER]

I LIKE our city nazim Mr Mustafa Kamal’s ‘can do’ spirit with regard to his belief that it’s up to the citizens of Karachi to take responsibility for the upkeep and civic health of this city. Forward-thinking and progressive, the nazim has created a website for the project which boasts the tagline ‘My City — My Responsibility’.

The programme was started on Aug 14 this year, and the idea is simple: anyone can come forward and register himself or herself as a ‘city owner’. All you have to do is volunteer two hours of your time per week doing something “in the interest of the city”.

According to the website, on Independence Day, labourers, students, artists, members of the business community, government officers, elected representatives, taxi drivers, and even the pesh imams of mosques came and put their names down to become city owners. Although it’s still far too early to judge the success of the programme, the nazim has big dreams for Karachi, and envisions a whole cadre of city owners who will do things like plant trees, clear rubbish, inspect schools and hospitals, help with traffic (students of Karachi University and Sir Syed University did this in Clifton and Defence in the second week of September) and other civic duties of this nature.

All this got me thinking about the question: who owns Karachi? Is it the people? Is it the mafia? Is it the army? Is it the members of one ethnic group or another? The original inhabitants of the province? Immigrants of the old guard from India, or the new wave from the NWFP or Afghanistan? Is it the much-maligned ‘foreign hand’? Do I own Karachi? Do you?

Recently, I got a beautiful letter from a Mr Yusuf Dadabhoy, and many of the things he describes in it make this question even more complex. He defined old Karachi of the forties, fifties and sixties (the golden years, according to most people of my parents’ generation) as “the prestigious locality of Karachi: Garden East, bordering between Chowk Gurumandir on the south, Lasbella intersection on the north, [and] Soldier Bazaar on the west side”.

He went on to reminisce with great fondness how this area was considered the “gem of Karachi”, in which newly designed bungalows competed for grandeur with old mahals and havelis built by Hindu Sindhis in the thirties and forties, bringing to life with his vivid words a Karachi that most people in my generation and younger can’t even imagine in today’s Karachi of guns, drugs, crime and filth.

Mr Dadabhoy talked about the old Muslim Sindhi settlements around Lasbella Chowk, known as goths, and described a cheerful scene on Eid day as “little Sindhi children dressed in shining red, orange and yellow shalwar kameez with matching glittering gold and silver dupattas, golden and silver sandals with little heels and bands packed our houses in good cheer”.

In true Gujarati style, the grand houses of this neighbourhood would open their doors to the Sindhis and treat them to morning Eid feasts of Indian-spiced whole chickens, tomato-flavoured red mutton ‘champ’ qorma, Gujarati kofta with fresh baked naan, meethi roti, meetha paratha, coconut-filled samosas, and Gujarati mithai.

I learned more about Karachi from Mr Dadabhoy’s letter than I have from all my years living in this city, to be honest. He told me about the newly built universities in the Garden East area, the engineering schools, science colleges, the hospitals, the primary and secondary schools. I could close my eyes and envision wide boulevards lined with cherry trees that bloomed with hibiscus and gulhmohar in springtime. I could smell the chicken tikka as it was being grilled on the hot coals at Bundu Khan’s; I could hear the shouts of excited children as they stood in line at the Bambino, Lyric, Naz and Nishaat cinemas. And if I concentrated hard, I could hear the lions roaring from Karachi Zoo in the early mornings….

And that’s not all. Karachi at one point was considered to be one of the most exciting centres of industrial activity: crossing the Lasbella Bridge, you’d get to the Site Industrial Area, where large cotton mills, factories that produced ceramics, aluminum, plastics, cast iron foundries, cement plants, pipe-making plants, soap and detergent plants, all bore testament to the remarkable ‘can-do’ spirit that Karachi has always been known for.

At five o’clock, the bells and whistles would pierce the air, and Mr Dadabhoy told me that you’d see lines of disciplined workers changing shifts from their homes in Pak Colony, Nazimabad, Golimar and Lasbella. “We invested in businesses, industries, primary schools, hospitals, charities, banking and insurance … the urban Sindhi contributed greatly to making Pakistan a sustainable country.”

But as Mr Dadabhoy rightly points out in his letter, things are different today. “The plight of the urban Sindhi living in scattered goths around the old areas of Karachi is now [moving] towards despondency, helplessness, and misery…. What went wrong with the Sindh provincial urban planning commission?... why were they not given land to build new settlements closer to their goths, competitive primary schools, institutes to learn basic trade or the healthcare profession, Sindh government scholarships for the bright and able, community centres or government-funded programmes to uplift their goths?”

Some provincial planners, well aware of the plight of the urban Sindhi population, have decided to focus on Thatta as an option for a growing young population, and with development of both Thatta and the Keti Bandar area, the women legislators of Sindh are working on creating modern settlements with sound infrastructure to house the disenfranchised populations of the old goths of Karachi, as well as a restive interior youth who want to move from the rural to the urban areas of Sindh, but find it hard to succeed in Karachi.

Yes, I can’t help but wonder, does the urban Sindhi today feel that he or she owns Karachi? And if the new generations do find Thatta a viable alternative to the economic opportunities that once attracted people from all over Pakistan to Karachi, the gem of Pakistan, will they feel cheated of their inheritance?

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]A football ballet[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Helen Pidd[/B] [/CENTER]

WHEN the English National Ballet (ENB) announced a new work which interpreted 10 great footballing moments through the medium of dance, there was much to look forward to — not least in the hairdressing department.

Would the company don Charles II-style wigs of tightly permed curls to play Colombian goalkeeper Rene Higuita? Are there any dancers bald enough to make a convincing Archie Gemmill, the Scotsman who scored a wondrous goal against the Netherlands in the 1978 World Cup (“Scotland are in dreamland!” blared TV commentator David Coleman)? Can a dancer still look elegant en pointe in a Maradona mullet?

Alas, these important questions must remain unanswered. The Beautiful Game — A Football Ballet, which previewed on Friday in London ahead of its premiere proper in Liverpool next Tuesday, does not take its mission literally. Its nine-strong cast wear their own, tasteful hair throughout.

And while they do incorporate elements of each of the ten pieces of footballing history voted for by more than 20,000 fans as being the best ever, they do so in a rather loose manner.

It opens with five buff boys in football kits jogging out of an imaginary tunnel, followed by four dainty ballerinas in sporty, tight white tops and red, white and blue tutus.

Another highlight of The Beautiful Game comes when one of the ballerinas is hoisted into the sky, her fingertips clearly tapping an imaginary ball, which will invoke painful memories for those still bitter about Diego Maradona and the Hand of God in the 1986 World Cup.

Other footballing memories recreated with arabesques and battements include Gordon Banks’s World Cup save against Brazil in 1970, David Beckham’s free kick against Greece in 2001, Johan Cruyff’s nifty turn, which he debuted in 1974, and, of course, England’s Geoff Hurst’s “They think it’s all over” World Cup goal from 1966.

At the launch, former soccer star John Barnes — a guest of the New Football Pools, which commissioned the ballet to celebrate its 85th anniversary — admitted that professional ballet dancers train far harder than their footballing counterparts.

“For most footballers, they just have to give their all for 90 minutes two times a week, and apart from a few training sessions spend the rest of the time resting. They only train intensively for six weeks before the new season,” said Barnes, who in the 1980s was sent, with his team mates at the southern English club Watford, to learn ballet by the club’s then manager, Graham Taylor, who believed it would improve their footwork, coordination and balance.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - Indian Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B]

[B]On to a new era of discovery

The Hindu[/B] [/CENTER]

FOURTEEN years, thousands of physicists and $8bn in the making, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s most powerful particle accelerator built at the European Centre for Nuclear Research in Geneva, crossed a major milestone on Wednesday. The first proton beam was successfully switched on and steered around the full 27-kilometre circumference of the underground ringed machine, marking the beginning of a new era of discovery in physics. The world particle physics community today is perhaps in the midst of a revolution in its understanding of what the universe is made of and how it works. Even as physicists have successfully described the fundamental constituents of matter that make up the universe with increasing detail based on what is called the Standard Model, over the last 15 years they have realised that they know much less than they thought they did. For instance, the Model cannot describe the universe in the first moments after the Big Bang. Today physicists believe that visible matter — the stars and the galaxies — makes up only five per cent of the energy density of the universe. The rest is believed to be some mysterious dark matter and dark energy. A crucial missing link in the Standard Model is the Higgs boson, the elusive particle that is believed to endow mass to all the particles. Tevatron, the most powerful accelerator of today at Fermilab in the United States, fell short of the energy required to produce Higgs.

The LHC is designed to bring together counter-rotating beams of protons to collide head-on with seven times Tevatron’s energy and create temperatures and energy densities prevalent at a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. This will produce a host of particles — known, expected and totally unexpected. These may answer some outstanding questions. Is Higgs for real? What is dark matter made of? What is driving the accelerated expansion of the universe? What lies beyond the Standard Model? Is it supersymmetry? Are there higher dimensions that string theories require? Is there new physics lurking at these energies and beyond? They may also raise new ones. All these will slowly unravel as results begin to emerge from the LHC a year from now. About 600 million collisions per second will spew out 15 million gigabytes of data annually that physicists around the world will analyse. In this exciting development, there is some creditable contribution from Indian physicists, who are participating in two of the six experiments to be performed using the LHC. It is, however, unfortunate that at this time of great scientific excitement over the prospect of new discoveries, there should be irrational voices predicting an apocalypse. — (Sept 12)

Princess Royal Tuesday, September 16, 2008 10:21 AM

[RIGHT][B]Tuesday
Ramazan 15, 1429
September 16, 2008[/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"] As the Chenab dries up[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

THE last days of the kharif (summer) agricultural season are proving to be a nail-biter for farmers. In recent weeks, the rice, cotton and sugarcane crops have been threatened by a shortage of irrigation water. Now it appears that India may be adding to the water woes by reducing the flow of water in the Chenab river. Directly threatened are the fields of basmati rice on either side of the Chenab, dealing a potentially heavy blow to the economy. The Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan has predicted that Pakistan could earn up to $3bn from the export of rice — a crucial fillip for an economy struggling with a record current account deficit. However, a shortfall of water in the crucial last two weeks of the kharif season is sure to adversely affect the output of the rice, cotton and sugarcane crops.

It is not clear what precisely is causing the drop in the Chenab river. On the one hand, the Indus river system is generally facing a shortage of water this year and the drop in the Chenab river could be a part of this general picture. On the other hand, Pakistan’s suspicions of the Baglihar hydroelectric dam project, built on the Chenab river in the Indian-administered Jammu region, have resurfaced. Last month, the Pakistan Indus Water Commissioner Jamaat Ali Shah warned that India was violating the Indus Waters Treaty, signed in 1960 and brokered by the World Bank, on two counts by filling the Baglihar dam. According to Mr Shah, India may only fill the Baglihar dam up to Aug 31 and that too only if 55,000 cusecs of water is released downstream. Today, the water flow is approximately 20,000 cusecs, significantly less than the average low of 35,000 cusecs. So is India filling Baglihar beyond the period it is allowed to and over and above what is permissible?

There can be no immediate answer. Commissioner Shah will write to his Indian counterpart, G. Aranganathan, who will then write to the Jammu and Kashmir Indus water commissioner before writing back to Mr Shah — by which time the kharif season will have ended. There is, however, a long-term issue at stake. Pakistan’s concerns over the Baglihar dam, the construction of which began in 1999, led to the appointment of a neutral expert, Raymond Lafitte, who delivered a binding verdict in Feb 2007 which suggested some changes to the design of the dam but also overruled some of Pakistan’s objections. In late July, Commissioner Shah inspected the dam and declared that it conformed to Professor Lafitte’s recommendations. However, the underlying issue — that India can and is manipulating the flow of water in the Chenab through the Baglihar dam — is clearly not settled. For this, Pakistan must study the relevant data and present proof of foul play, if any, to the World Bank for resolution.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Delhi bomb blasts[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani did well to condemn without reservations the bomb blasts that spilled innocent blood in New Delhi on Saturday. These synchronised blasts created havoc in some of the Indian capital’s busiest shopping districts, killing at least 20 people and injuring over 100, besides causing widespread panic. With the Indian Mujahideen — as yet a shadowy group — having claimed the responsibility for the slaughter, at least at the initial stage of investigation there is little room for Indian officials or the press to blame Pakistan or Pakistan-based groups, as has been the practice in the past. In recent months, the Indian Mujahideen have claimed responsibility for a number of similar blasts in other Indian cities including Ahmedabad and Jaipur, but it is far from clear what precisely they intend to achieve by these acts of brutal madness that kill innocent people and fan existing communal tensions.

The explosions have coincided with demonstrations in Indian-administered Kashmir, where a new wave of protests against New Delhi’s rule has been raging since the controversial June transfer of 100 acres of land to a Hindu trust — although it is not clear whether the explosions have any link to the Kashmir unrest. But bombing shopping centres and killing innocent men, women and children are hardly the way to ventilate one’s grievances and seek their redressal. On the contrary, such barbaric deeds are counterproductive and serve only to strengthen the hands of other communal organisations. Hopefully, investigations into the blasts will lead to the arrest of those responsible for the crime.

The Indian press is calling for tougher anti-terror laws and is blaming the security agencies for intelligence failure. However, this can only be part of the solution to a menace that is rooted in communal and socio-economic grievances. It would also be in keeping with India’s secular credentials if laws to curtail terror were applied to all groups guilty of inciting communal hatred. This will help ensure that the Indian government keeps its focus on combating the activities of all extremist elements seen as much in the New Delhi explosions as in the recent attacks on India’s Christian minority and churches. Failure to do so will cause further resentment against the state and fuel militancy.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]For the sake of children[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

CHILD mortality rates are a good indication of the priority a country attaches to the health of its children. In this regard, there is optimism that governments are paying closer attention to the issue. According to Unicef, child mortality rates have fallen by 27 per cent since 1990. On the grimmer side, however, the figure is in favour of the developed world while insufficient progress has been made in Africa and Asia on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds. The under-five mortality rate in Pakistan was recorded at 99 per 1,000 live births in 2005, well above the average of 68 per 1,000 live births around the world. While progress has been made to some extent in comparison to past figures, the country needs to do much more to achieve the MDG in child mortality. The pursuit of this goal implores the question: what determines the child mortality rate in Pakistan? It would be impossible to isolate factors such as education, income, maternal care practices, basic sanitation, lack of infrastructure and healthcare facilities, under-nutrition and the urban-rural divide from child mortality.

The causes of child mortality provide the key to its solution. The overall lack of infrastructure and facilities has a devastating impact on child mortality rates. The government needs to put in place such infrastructure so that poverty-stricken families in both urban and rural areas have access to healthcare facilities. Given the far-reaching impact of skyrocketing food prices, targeted subsidies should be given to deal with the problems of hunger and undernourishment. Programmes aimed at lowering the child mortality rate should target low-income, illiterate families whose children have all the cumulative risks associated with malnourishment, poor access to healthcare and economic barriers. Education and awareness are equally important for teaching families about the basics of child healthcare such as essential vaccinations. There is a dearth of female teachers and health workers in the country which exacerbates the problem. Meanwhile, the advances made by countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal in this respect should serve as an eye-opener for Pakistan and propel it to act with speed.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]How not to fight the US[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Shahab Usto[/B] [/CENTER][/LEFT]

DEVIATING somewhat from his usual mantra — that fighting terrorism is in Pakistan’s own interest — President Bush recently laid the ‘responsibility’ of fighting terrorism at Pakistan’s doorstep. This raises questions about the terms on which Pakistan joined the war.

In democracies, such questions are decided in parliament. But unfortunately, in Pakistan, most wars have been fought under one or the other military ruler. The decision to join the current war was also taken by Gen Musharraf on the spur of moment. Since then a pall of secrecy has surrounded the terms of engagement. The official line is that Pakistan joined the war in its own interest. In reality, the war was godsend for Gen Musharraf especially when Pakistan was dubbed as America’s ‘non-Nato ally’ in the war.

But the country paid a heavy price for Gen Musharraf’s political indebtedness to the West. The Americans, it seems, were given a free hand in running the war, using our facilities, intruding our territory, killing our civilians, destroying the tribal and administrative structure of Fata, and thus fanning fury against the state. Yes, in return Pakistan did receive millions of dollars a month, but to what end?

Apparently, the war on terror was the outcome of the events of 9/11, but analysts hold that such a war exemplifies one long conceived by the neo-con votaries of the Bush doctrine. Its purpose was to achieve political objectives using awesome US military power and violating human rights and international laws including the Geneva Conventions.

Therefore, instead of using ground forces to mop up Al Qaeda – Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan, the tactics used were to inspire awe and terror through massive aerial bombing, killing thousands of innocent civilians and destroying their homes and hamlets. It is no surprise that the hostility towards the Americans arising from such attacks allowed the Taliban to continue their sway over large swathes of territory running from southeastern Afghanistan to Pakistan’s tribal regions in the northwest.

On the civilian front, President Karzai has utterly failed to develop the civil and political institutions of his own country in order to build a viable state. He has ruled with the support of warlords. Therefore, instead of political parties, it is powerful groups based on tribal, sectarian or ethnic lines that dominate.

The so-called provincial reconstruction teams installed by the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan to run developmental projects have also proved ineffectual. Finally, the eradication of poppy production in Afghanistan that fetches billions of dollars per annum and thus feeds much of the Al Qaeda–Taliban insurgency is far from being accomplished.

No wonder that after having fought a seven-year futile war, killing thousands of innocent people and squandering billions of dollars, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen has admitted that America is “not winning” the war in Afghanistan.

But he has not owned US military and political failures in Afghanistan, and has instead concentrated on terrorist attacks on Nato, launched from safe havens in Fata. Therefore, pursuing a new military strategy the US has initiated ground and aerial attacks in Fata, ignoring the reservations of its Nato allies.

Although Gen Kayani and Prime Minister Gilani have stood up against this violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, a difficult question has arisen for the fledgling government: how does one resist US aggression?

Predictably, some leaders are expounding a quid pro quo approach, and have suggested a blockade on US transit cargo to Afghanistan and retaliating militarily. Such bravado may earn them public support, but will prove detrimental if not suicidal for the country. Even if Pakistan succeeded in resisting US military attacks, it could not withstand the economic and political fallout of such a confrontation, especially in view of its floundering economy and worsening law and order situation.

Moreover, we may all share anti-US sentiments, but we do not share a national outlook on the war, as did the Vietnamese in their fight against the US. The conduct of our politics has divided us into disparate political, sectarian and ethnic groups. We cannot confront a superpower on the issue of terrorism that has all but ruined our polity.

Therefore, prudence is needed to steer the country out of its predicament. We should use our being a front-line state in this war to our own advantage and engage the US-led West in a long-term constructive partnership on the lines of what once front-line states like Germany and Japan did after the Second World War.

Luckily, the Americans also seem to think along these lines. Already, the administration has come up with a large aid package over the next decade. The Saudis have also pledged funds to ease Pakistan’s oil burden. Given that the war on terror is a global menace, the Europeans and powers like Russia should also be convinced of the need to share the financial burden in this region.

A national consensus must also be forged through parliament on renegotiating the terms of engagement with the US. The consensus would enable the government to negotiate from a position of strength. The new terms should clearly define operational areas and objectives.

Each party should restrict its operations to the Durand Line; sharing resources and intelligence, the objective should be not only to destroy terrorist infrastructure, but also to reconstruct the social and political infrastructure of Fata — a place where most are out of a job, illiteracy prevails and where there are no modern political institutions.

There is little doubt that development in Fata and the defeat of terrorism there holds the key to at least temporary success. If Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are at stake in Fata, then the future of the war on terror and the credibility of the Bush doctrine are also at stake.

A point to remember is that even if the war is won along the Afghan and Pakistan frontier, terrorism will still not be defeated as long as injustices continue in Kashmir, Palestine and the Arab countries — just as it will not as long as the US continues with its hostilities towards Iran and supports dictators the world over.

[email][B]shahabusto@hotmail.com[/B] [/email]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Russia’s Opec bear hug[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Richard Wachman[/B] [/CENTER]

AS if the prospect of a global recession isn’t enough, consider the latest threat to world economic stability: an alliance between Russia and Opec, the oil-producing cartel dominated by Saudi Arabia.

That’s a scary possibility, as Russia supplies one third of Europe’s energy needs, while Opec accounts for nearly 40 per cent of global oil production. Together they produce half the world’s oil, so any pact that paves the way for Russia to become a full member of the cartel would present a threat to many countries, which are becoming increasingly dependent on their energy imports.

But is such a merger really on the cards? The Russians would clearly like one: last week, it sent its energy minister Igor Sechin to attend Opec’s meeting in Vienna and proposed ‘extensive co-operation’ with the cartel. A memorandum of understanding is being prepared for signature in the coming months.

Oil is Russia’s biggest bargaining chip, as the soaraway price has done more than anything else to give it the confidence and clout to re-assert itself on the world stage. A pact with Opec would strengthen Moscow at a time when it has lost friends in the West following its invasion of Georgia and its harassment of foreign companies, such as BP, which have business interests in Russia.

An extension of the oil cartel to include Russia, however, will be hard to pull off. Saudi Arabia, by far the most important Opec member, is a conservative state supposedly aligned with the United States, and may be reluctant to alienate such a powerful ally. But it is not impossible: Opec already comprises countries hostile to the US, notably Iran and Venezuela. So why not add Russia?

Hidden from the debate, however, is the fact that Saudi Arabia is a cartel within a cartel. With 21 per cent of all Middle Eastern proven oil reserves, it is the only country with significant surplus capacity. That means it can cushion itself from price falls by bumping up volume in a way that other countries can’t. No doubt that was one reason why Russia has been frantically lobbying behind the scenes for Opec to cut production to keep prices high, as it faces capacity restraints and stands to lose billions in foreign reserves.

Last week, the cartel said it would cut production by around 500,000 barrels, bringing a rebuke from the International Energy Agency, which claimed the move would undermine the price relief that consumers have enjoyed in the last month.

But Opec may have overreached itself: by trying keep the price of oil at around $100 a barrel, it has stoked fears that a recession will be deeper than anticipated and will lead to a slump in demand. As a consequence, oil closed on Friday at just under $100 a barrel and could slide further.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

We must speak with one voice

Ibrat[/B] [/CENTER]

THE fact that … Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has said that under the new democratic leadership all elements of national power will defend the country’s territorial integrity with full support of the people is quite encouraging. Speaking at the corps commanders’ conference he talked about the unanimity of opinion between the government and the army. This explanation has come when the transition to democracy has hardly reached completion. At this juncture, an explanation about the unanimity of views raises eyebrows and concerns. But the incumbent army chief is a professional soldier and not in favour of indulging in politics. As soon as he took over command from Gen Musharraf, he called back … army officers from civilian institutions. This is only one example.

While taking notice of US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen’s statement in which he had said that the US would cover areas on both sides of the border, Gen Kayani vowed to defend Pakistan at all cost. Gen Kayani asserted that there was no agreement with the US forces in which they were allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistani territory.

It would have been better if this statement had come from the president or prime minister. However, there are reports that before issuing this statement the president was consulted. The very next day Prime Minister Gilani endorsed Gen Kayani’s statement and said it “reflected the government’s policy”. In a democratic set-up, the civilian administration is the competent authority to make decisions like what action should be taken on the borders and when and under what strategy should troops be called out from the barracks. Gen Kayani followed the principle that the new democratic leadership will defend the country’s territorial integrity. Hence he rejected the impression created by certain quarters that there were differences between the government and the army.

However, there is a dire need that the Pakistani leadership — civilian and military — speak with one voice and … this must come from the civilian leadership. Prime Minister Gilani’s statement that Pakistan will deal with the situation through a diplomatic approach … is very moderate. This may be a pragmatic approach because war is not the solution to any problem. Although the Pakistani Army has the capability to deal with aggression, diplomatic channels should first be fully utilised.

President Asif Ali Zardari during his visit will meet the British prime minister and raise issues such as the war on terror, the ongoing operation against extremists in Fata and US air raids in Pakistan’s territory. President Zardari will also address the UN Assembly where he is expected to hold meetings with President Bush and Indian Premier Manmohan Singh.

This illustrates that wide-ranging diplomatic efforts are being made. First the diplomatic option should be exercised. In case of war even the Americans will not be winners as they will not get the required results. They would leave huge conflicts … and have a negative impact on the region. Our political leadership is well aware of this situation. Therefore diplomatic sources should be used skillfully as we already have witnessed a misadventure in Kargil. Not falling prey to any haste, we should enter the process of dialogue. — (Sept 14)

[B]— Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi[/B]

Artemis Friday, September 19, 2008 08:32 AM

[RIGHT]September 18, 2008
Thursday
Ramazan 17, 1429 [/RIGHT]


[B][CENTER]Soft on America?[/CENTER][/B]


STRANGE things are happening on the war against terrorism front. While President Zardari, Pakistan’s most powerful civilian leader, was shaking UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s hand outside No 10 Downing Street, Adm Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was flying to Pakistan to hold emergency, unscheduled talks with the top brass of the Pakistan military. Adm Mullen also met Prime Minister Gilani on Wednesday, but the meeting with civilian leaders were clearly a sideshow. Chief of Army Staff Gen Kayani’s recent vow to defend Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty “at all costs” from foreign forces and subsequent noises from the military hierarchy all point to one fact: the military is angry — the word ‘enraged’ is being bandied about — by US attacks in Waziristan. Adm Mullen came to address that anger.

While President Zardari and his civilian cohorts have all rejected American military intervention inside Pakistan, the general tenor of their remarks has been restrained and suggests everyone — inside and outside Pakistan — needs to work to reduce the tension in the Pakistan-US relationship. President Zardari’s remarks to reporters after his meeting with Prime Minister Brown epitomise his government’s soft stance. The president “hoped” that there will be no more US attacks inside Pakistan and said that the UK “understands Pakistan’s position” on those attacks. Intriguingly, the president said that the UK had a better understanding of the subcontinent than any other country and was therefore ideally positioned to present Pakistan’s point of view to the world. President Zardari’s comments on British influence were an unfortunate contrast to those of former Indian prime minister, I.K. Gujral, who contemptuously dismissed Britain as a “third-rate power poking its nose in” when then-UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook dared to offer his country act as a mediator on the Kashmir issue. President Zardari’s comments were also strange given that the UK is furious about its troops losses in Afghanistan — over 30 have been killed this year in Helmand province, where most of the UK’s 8,000 troops are based — and has often blamed militants crossing over from Pakistan for those deaths. Significantly, Mr Zardari was unable to tell reporters that Prime Minister Brown agreed that US attacks in Pakistan were a bad idea.

The fact is American strikes inside Pakistan are a terrible idea. US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher has said the whole Pakistani state apparatus must line up behind the goal of beating the terrorists and stabilising Pakistan. Unfortunately, the Americans giving the terrorists a beating on Pakistani soil will do anything but stabilise Pakistan — and all but guarantees that even fewer Pakistanis will accept that our own army beating the terrorists is a good idea either. No doubt President Zardari and everyone down the de facto hierarchy of civilian power are new in office and faced with an extraordinary crisis. However, the president appears to have frozen in the face of an American onslaught. Mr Zardari must now use his speech before a joint sitting of parliament to explain his plan for defeating militancy — and keeping the Americans at bay.

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[B][CENTER]Political antics in Punjab[/CENTER][/B]

REPORTS of efforts to unsettle the Shahbaz Sharif government in Punjab do not inspire hope of a lasting order based on the principles of democracy and tolerance. The PML-N, which heads the now uneasy coalition in Lahore, is justified in objecting to any moves to destabilise its government. The PPP maintains that it is not planning to stage a coup against Mr Sharif, yet overtures made by PPP men such as Governor Salman Taseer defy the assurances held out by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his party colleagues.

The PPP did allow the PML-N to not only take control of Punjab but also consolidate its hold on power. With help from the PML-Q, the PPP could muster the number required to form a government in Punjab after the Feb 18 election. The PPP could in fact have managed to secure for itself the slot of chief minister of Punjab — a title that has eluded the party for more than three decades now. That opportunity was not taken, we were proudly told, in the interest of democracy and national reconciliation. Theoretically, the PPP has no case now for mounting a challenge to the Sharif government in the province since PML-N is by far the biggest party in the Punjab Assembly. Practically, Taseer & Co may have a numerical chance of taking power in Lahore but given the acrimony the act will surely lead to, the party which is in power at the centre may be well advised to refrain from any such adventure.

This is one side of the story and it will be impossible to absolve the PML-N of all blame should it lose its grip on power in Punjab. It is difficult to say which came first — the PPP’s effort to seize the biggest and most powerful province or the PML-N’s attempt to force the PPP to sit on the opposition benches. The PML-N had to leave the federal cabinet after its partner broke a pledge. The PPP’s support for Mian Shahbaz Sharif was not conditional on the fulfilment of any promise. Consequently, it can be argued that the PPP has no moral compulsion to leave the Punjab cabinet. If any party has that compulsion, it is the PML-N which continues in power while judges continue to be re-sworn at the Lahore High Court barely a kilometre away from the Punjab Assembly.

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[B][CENTER]Time for the kill[/CENTER][/B]

MONSOONS always herald the dreaded return of the deadly dengue mosquito, yet authorities have never failed to deliver an unapologetic repeat performance — a failure to advocate timely precaution that can prevent a yearly epidemic. Reports claim that on Tuesday, as many as 16 new suspected patients of dengue were admitted to various hospitals in Karachi. Unsurprisingly, this year too the figures for dengue victims remain alarming. According to the Sindh health minister, 598 people have been brought to health facilities across the province and 172 have tested positive for the vector-borne virus. Karachi is home to over 60 victims out of which, claims the minister, some 24 have been discharged. Dismal statistics persist despite last year’s 25 dengue deaths with an astounding 3,000 reported incidents of infection. Earlier this year, relevant authorities had expressed fears that the virus may acquire a year-round presence if apt and immediate preventive measures are not adopted. Needless to say, these steps become all the more imperative given that only 20 per cent of the population has access to malarial treatment; the same for dengue.

This week, the Sindh health minister announced that his government intends to embark on a public awareness campaign against Aids, Hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, polio, pneumonia and dengue. The department has prepared a documentary for the electronic media which will be supported by radio and print campaigns. However, where the move is well-founded, it can quite literally be saved for a rainy day. The monsoons have left us with many victims — a situation that was perfectly avoidable had the same initiative been generated earlier in the year. It seems that once again health officials have failed to value time. Regrettably, the poor timing of elaborate health initiatives renders them irrelevant, especially in a country where the absence of new mosquito control technology makes a well-timed approach the only remedy to such outbreaks.

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[B]
OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press[/B]

[CENTER][B]Another ‘Black Monday’[/B][/CENTER]The Peninsula, Qatar

THE US Federal Reserve has allocated $70bn in an effort to bail out the country’s fragile financial system through open operations after stock markets in New York and across the world suffered a severe blow on Monday.

The world had not recovered from the shock of subprime meltdown when two of Wall Street’s major banking and finance firms, Lehman Brothers, America’s fourth largest investment company, filed for bankruptcy protection while Merrill Lynch, which was worth $100bn last year, sold out to Bank of America for a ‘paltry’ $50bn…. Unfortunately, Lehman Brothers could not find a buyer for saving investors and to redeem its reputation. It was yet another ‘Black Monday’ in the history of Wall Street, which nose-dived 500 points, after the 1987 debacle in America’s financial hub. Financial markets crashed 21 years ago also on a Monday. The heat is being felt in almost all the stock markets, including Qatar, with losses amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars due to poor mortgage finance and unproductive real estate investments besides leaving the fate of some 85,000 staff of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch uncertain.

The Doha Securities Market (DSM) fell sharply by 7.06 per cent while the Gulf Arab stocks recorded the lowest in 14 months. It has been reported that foreign investors have been taking profits in DSM, causing a heavy dent in the securities market….

Now, the million-dollar question before the financial pundits … is, will Uncle Sam step in with effective pragmatic measures to stem the rot? — (Sept 16)

Cowardly acts of terror

[B][CENTER]------------[/CENTER][/B]


[B][CENTER]Gulf News[/CENTER][/B]

THE series of explosions that rocked Delhi on Saturday was claimed to have been instigated by a group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen. Quite what their objectives are, they have not disclosed. But it must be assumed that they are trying to create divisions between Hindus and Muslims, with the attacks being undertaken not only during Ramazan, but also close to some important Hindu festivals.

What is particularly alarming is that these despicable and cowardly acts against innocent people are aimed at weakening the communal harmony in the country. This wouldn’t be the first time such attempts have been made in India. In the latest case, five bombs were set off in random fashion around New Delhi. This shows complete disregard for human life. Bombs are not target specific; to the contrary they will destroy anyone and anything in their reach. The people calling themselves Indian Mujahideen have demonstrated contempt for human life. Ramazan, when these explosions took place, is not a time for violence against one’s fellow beings. It is a time for prayer, fasting and contemplation.

Yet it is glaringly apparent that the so-called Indian Mujahideen prefer to create violence and havoc in busy marketplaces, and that also at times when the markets will be most crowded. The penchant for violence in India is increasing as both Hindus and Muslims resort to the wanton form of destruction that we saw on Saturday. It is a fruitless exercise to resort to death and injury to prove a point.… — (Sept 15)

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[CENTER][B]Predetermining conflict
By Jehanzeb Raja[/B][/CENTER]

THE world in general and Pakistan in particular have witnessed cataclysmic events which have had a profound impact on their psyche, behaviour and conduct. These events are interrelated in one way or another.

Would it be prudent to state that 9/11 shaped not only US behaviour and attitude towards others but also confined the regional ambitions of emerging powers to ‘preferred policy goals’? While India emerged as the preferred power to deal with in South Asia, Pakistan, despite its honeymoon with the coalition forces in Afghanistan, did not find long-term favour.

In the new world order, Washington’s priorities were to commit US forces to two potential conflict zones simultaneously in order to be able to regulate their final outcome. While Iraq and Afghanistan emerged as ‘near threats’, North Korea and Iran were long-term threats which could wait. Resultantly, Pakistan was marginalised in its quest for recognition as a self-professed regional power.

Pakistan’s Kashmir policy took a direct hit because of its alleged military support to ‘freedom fighters’ in Kashmir, and seen as terrorists trying to destabilise a democratic India. Kargil and its fallout were symptoms of a larger malaise which we failed to recognise: our attempts to find strategic depth in Afghanistan and the consequent rebound on the intervention of US forces, much to the detriment of the state’s long-term strategic goals vis-à-vis India.

Intelligence-gathering during peacetime negates or confirms the ‘hypotheses’ wargamed for a potential conflict, both external and internal. While our conclusions over the post-Kargil standoff with India with respect to avoiding an all-out war may be correct, the exploitation of the environment went in India’s favour, with the knowledge that the US would not allow an all-out war between two nuclear powers, especially when its game plan was unfolding in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Consequently, we lost face both on the political and military fronts because of India’s superior exterior and internal manoeuvres. A poor understanding of the international political environment led to faulty conclusions being drawn which included the assumption that Kargil would ultimately result in a stalemate, with India accepting the intrusion as a consequence of its Siachen adventure. Nothing could have been more out of sync with US interests in the region. We faced a humiliating retreat once India was given the ‘go ahead’ by the US leadership.

The insurgency pattern in Balochistan can be seen in its revival after 1974 and subsequently as it gathered momentum in 2000, especially in relation to the US interest of isolating an increasingly dominating Iran in the region. The IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline was planned under an adverse international environment, where the long-term ambitions of the US in the region were ignored. Meanwhile, the alternative energy options from Turkmenistan and Qatar, widely supported by the US, were ignored to our own detriment especially in view of the lack of control over the security situation in Balochistan. The pattern is reversed in Afghanistan’s north where relative peace prevails and where the Northern Alliance guarantees security for alternative power transmission lines through Wakhan and the Kunduz province.

What does this mean to our strategic analysts? Considering the expected acute shortage of energy in the coming years, we will perforce gravitate towards these ‘preferred options’. Why then must we squander millions of dollars in feasibility studies and waste precious time in the process?

In a post-9/11 world, notions of sovereignty, independent foreign policy and ‘first-strike capability’ in a conventional conflict have to be seriously reviewed. During Kargil, preparations to arm strike aircraft with nuclear warheads and the movement of strategic launchers to forward launch sites were picked up by US surveillance immediately, with warnings being issued to both antagonists to scale down this alert. The launching of Tomahawk cruise missiles over Pakistan’s sovereign airspace and meant for Al Qaeda/Taliban targets in Afghanistan in 2001 is a case in point where information was shared at the last moment with Pakistan, and that too to avoid a misunderstanding concerning a possible Indian strike. Again, during Operation Enduring Freedom, US strategic over-flights in Pakistan’s airspace were forced upon a vacillating government, which had not fully comprehended the dynamics of the unfolding US strategy in the region. Not only were over-flight rights given, certain PAF airfields were also handed over (officially for logistic support) to US ground forces for the conduct of Afghan-based operations. Why did we fail to adapt to the changing military strategy in our region?

First and foremost, the fixed mindset of our strategic analysts, and the notion that Pakistan was militarily weaker than India led to a strategy of pre-emption, or choosing the time and place to strike first to neutralise enemy war plans in a reactive mode. Also the idea of capturing strategic depth or the centre of gravity to quickly bring about a reversal in strategic operations has to be seen in the early arrival of military thresholds.

Is the conventional wisdom of using direct military force preferred over the weakening of the state from within by means of insurgency and insurrection? Is this the preferred model post 9/11?

A reappraisal of Pakistan’s threat assessment will point towards greater emphasis on internal threat especially in view of the Taliban and Baloch insurgencies in two provinces. While the conventional military threat has receded where Pakistan’s traditional enemy is concerned, the preferred model is the attrition-based one that advocates prolonged internal operations leading to the erosion of will and an economic meltdown.

The ultimate aim of weakening the state from within is to erode the capacity to launch military operations and the logistic sustainability for future military endeavours in Kashmir and Afghanistan — in other words to make it a pliant state to allow the ambitions of outside state actors to unfold; and so that minimal resistance is offered. There seems to be a paralysis in the minds of our policymakers on what to do in the given scenario.

The writer is a retired brigadier.

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[CENTER][B]Gurkha veterans
By Audrey Gillan[/B][/CENTER]

THEY clutched union flags and held pictures of the Queen, and some wore rows of medals across their breasts. But the words on the banners that they unfurled spelled out their protest: “Gurkhas Won 13 VCs But Still Unwanted By UK.”

On Tuesday, hundreds of Gurkha veterans gathered outside the high court in London to mark the beginning of a battle against the British government’s refusal to grant settlement in the United Kingdom to those who retired from the regiment before 1997.

The actor Joanna Lumley told the gathering: “My father served alongside the Gurkhas for 30 years. I am a daughter of the regiment. He would be absolutely overwhelmed with shame and fury that we have behaved this way to the Gurkhas, our most loyal and constant friends..”

Lumley rallied them with the words “ayo Gurkhali”, the traditional battle cry meaning “Gurkhas go forward”. Many veterans see this as their final fight: five have died in the time that it has taken for their appeals to be heard.

The UK government argues that since the Gurkhas’ regimental headquarters were in Hong Kong until 1997, those who retired before then would not have developed significant ties to the UK. Five Gurkhas who have been refused visas on this basis are spearheading what will be a test case for almost 2,000 other similar refusals.

The Gurkhas, who have fought and died for the British for almost two centuries, insist that their ties are strong. Arguing their case, Edward Fitzgerald QC told the court that the Home Office’s claim that those who retired before 1997 could not have built up close ties to the UK was not rational. “To say this is to ignore the history of the Gurkhas. And it is to ignore the special debt this country owes to all Gurkhas, past and present,” he said. “What matters is the fact of service, not the location of service.”

Soldiers recruited from the Commonwealth to the British army have a right to settle in Britain after four years of service anywhere in the world, under a policy known as the Armed Forces Concession (AFC). Fitzgerald said the AFC “elevates three years in UK barracks beyond the defence of Britain abroad”.

Present in court, in their wheelchairs, were two Gurkha soldiers who were awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery. Tulbahadur Pun, 85, was decorated for charging the enemy alone and enabling his platoon to move forward. Lachiman Gurung lost a hand when, after lobbing back a number of enemy grenades, the third one he threw exploded in his hand — he continued to fire at the enemy for four hours. Pun was awarded a settlement visa only after a special concession followed a high-profile campaign; Gurung does not have one.

— The Guardian, London


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Princess Royal Sunday, September 21, 2008 09:41 AM

[RIGHT][B]
Sunday
Ramazan 20, 1429
September 21, 2008 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="Navy"][COLOR="darkred"]The president’s speech[/COLOR] [/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

GOVERNORS, chief ministers, parliamentarians, advisors, services chiefs, diplomats and unelected politicians — all converged on parliament yesterday to watch President Asif Ali Zardari deliver his inaugural speech to a joint session of parliament. The full pageantry of democracy was on display and it was reassuring to see, for once, politicians, opposition and treasury members alike, adhere to more elevated norms of civility. The main show, however, was the president’s speech — which left one feeling short-changed. While the nation looked towards the president for policy, the president provided rhetoric instead. Only a few hours later, the bombing in Islamabad was a macabre reminder — if one was needed — of the high stakes involved.

The bombing also provided a gory backdrop to President Zardari’s remarks on the war against terrorism. The president’s voice rose when — in a clear allusion to recent US strikes inside Fata — he said that Pakistan will “not tolerate any violation” of its sovereignty. However, no explanation was given of how the government will go about fulfilling its vow. The president rightly pointed out that Pakistan must understand the “limits of confrontation” — an armed confrontation between Pakistan and the US or Afghanistan would be disastrous and must be avoided at all costs. However, Pakistanis are confused by the do-nothing policy of its leaders. One clear, positive measure announced by the president was the holding of an in-camera joint session of parliament to brief MPs on the militancy threat. Yet the president did not take the nation into confidence on the situation in Bajaur, Swat, Khyber, Kurram, Mohmand, Waziristan, Dir — which inevitably will be linked to yesterday’s bombing.

About the constitution and the much-maligned, anti-parliament Seventeenth Amendment and Article 58-2(b), the president boasted: “Never before has a president stood here and given away his powers.” But the president only invited an “all-party committee” to “revisit” the constitutional amendments. No timeline and no specifics of what will be changed were given. The PPP’s law minister, Farooq H. Naek, has already mooted an 80-point constitutional amendment package that covers the anti-parliament amendments and much more. Pakistanis are rightly suspicious of open-ended committees charged with vague responsibilities.

Similarly, the president’s comments on Balochistan were disappointing. It clearly goes to the credit of the government that violence in Balochistan has come to a virtual halt in recent weeks. However, the president gave no next-steps or roadmap on how his government hopes to achieve permanent peace in the restive province. The only sign of acknowledgment of issues in the smaller provinces was his call to the government to “restore” provincial autonomy and rename the NWFP Pakhtunkhwa.

The economy too got the glib treatment. President Zardari promised to take Pakistan out of the artificial darkness caused by the electricity shortage; to position the country as a hub of regional commerce and trade; and to revive sustainable growth. How all this will be achieved was left unsaid.

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[B][U][COLOR="navy"][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]KCR revival[/COLOR] [/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

FORMER mayor of Bogotá Enrique Penalosa had a point when he said at a seminar in Karachi the other day that high-speed signal-free highways would not necessarily rid the city of its mounting traffic woes. The number of vehicles, he warned, would rise in time to fill — in fact clog — the expanded roads, leaving the environment even more polluted and causing the government to run up a more massive fuel import bill. Clearly, a long-term solution is needed. Times without number this newspaper has made an impassioned plea for the revival of the city’s circular railway, which in the mid-1980s operated over 100 trains and was used by around six million passengers every year. Neglected by successive governments pursuing skewed urban transport priorities, the rail-based mass transit system collapsed in the late 1990s when the number of trains dropped to a disappointing two.

However, the hope that the Karachi circular railway might be up and running were rekindled recently when the Central Development Working Party, which has the authority of approving projects submitted by various ministries, decided that the Rs52.3bn KCR project would be executed within three years. The government is expecting the foreign component of the investment — raised by a key Japanese government agency — to be Rs39.2bn. The circular railway would have the capacity for carrying 700,000 passengers daily using over 240 eight-coach electric trains. The 50-kilometre dual-track railway project would have 23 underpasses and overhead bridges — bypassing the current 18 level crossings — and 23 stations in the city. The Karachi Urban Transport Corporation, which is the executing agency of the KCR, is said to be currently in the process of undertaking an environment impact assessment of the project.

It has been argued that one of the reasons why the circular railway fell by the wayside in the past was that it gradually became inaccessible to commuters who took up residence in newly established localities not linked by the rail loop. This problem is being overcome by laying a six-kilometre-long track to the existing circular railway infrastructure connecting the Jinnah Terminal with the Drigh Road station and running buses to the rail stations. Like most mega-cities, Karachi needs and deserves a rail-based mass transit system. It is about time the city took a first step in this direction.

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[B][U][COLOR="navy"][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]Children for sale[/COLOR] [/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

IT is tragic that incidents of parents selling their children are increasingly in the news these days. One such case is that of Aisha Malik who offered her two children for sale in Hyderabad’s main bazaar some time back. What was the government’s response? The prime minister sought a report on the incident and sent some compensation money to the woman who was given shelter by a charity organisation. This may have been a heartwarming deed, but one ought to be looking at the entire picture of internal trafficking in the country. It is no secret that thousands of vulnerable women and children are trafficked to settle debts and disputes or forced into sexual exploitation or involuntary servitude.

Internal trafficking is a manifestation of extreme poverty and it is mainly poverty alleviation programmes that will help mitigate the problem. In these perilous times of high inflation, subsidies for health and education are essential for low-income and destitute families to ease the burden of supporting children. However, other aspects of the problem also need to be dealt with, one of which is bringing down the population rate. Regular family planning campaigns in all parts of the country will go a long way in dispelling impracticable notions and ensure that there are smaller families with fewer needs. Unfortunately, little progress has been made on this score and much remains to be done to bring down the fertility rate.

Deterrence is of equal importance. Selling children should be treated as a crime. As advised by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, those parents selling their children in the name of ‘unemployment and poverty’ should be arrested, and it is the government’s responsibility to take action against those who are involved in selling minors. Undoubtedly, along with the other measures proposed, this will discourage such actions in the future.

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[B][U][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkOrange"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Who needs the NFC?[/COLOR][/COLOR][/SIZE][/U]

By Dr Pervez Tahir[/B] [/CENTER]

THE constitution of a National Finance Commission (NFC) has been among the early decisions taken by the democratic regime. The only two consensual awards emerged during democratic regimes in the past, one under Mr Bhutto and the other during the first tenure of Nawaz Sharif. That might happen yet again. So, at least, all well-meaning souls wish. But will it, with positions and even postures set in stone?

Each province now has its well-known position, with a Kalabagh-like regime-neutral provincial consensus. Territorially the largest province, Balochistan wants territory to be the basis of distribution. The NWFP is the poorest; it insists on poverty and backwardness as the criteria for horizontal distribution. Sindh believes it collects the most taxes and would like it to be the basis. Punjab is the most populated and has had the muscle to keep population as the sole criterion in the apportionment of resources. If the presidential election is any guide, this time round the power has tilted in the other direction.

One shudders to think how this new matrix will play up in the deliberations of the recently constituted NFC, the conciliatory gestures of Mian Shahbaz Sharif towards the smaller provinces notwithstanding.

Resource distribution had haunted the unitary federation inherited in 1947 from its very inception and was finally its undoing in the smog of 1971. Reading the proceedings of the Pakistan Economic Association in the 1950s and the 1960s, one comes across a recurrent view of the Bengali economists about the unfair centre-province resource distribution. At play had been the logic of power.

East Pakistan was the condemned, over-breeding province; so population could not be the criterion of resource distribution. ‘National interest’ demanded parity. Once that unfortunate province was seen off by the forces that be, population was unashamedly enforced as the sole criterion of federal-provincial apportionment.

The Panel of Economists set up by the Planning Commission in 1969-70 on the Fourth Plan came out with two separate reports, a Bengali report and another by Punjab- and Karachi-based economists representing West Pakistan. The plan never took off. The Panel of Economists recently set up by the Planning Commission to prepare the next five-year plan is drawn almost entirely from what President Zardari described in his recent Washington Post article as “an elite oligarchy, located exclusively in a region stretching between Lahore and Rawalpindi-Islamabad” and Karachi, with an IFI nexus as the most common denominator.

Nominal representation of economists from Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and none from rural Sindh, the Seraiki belt of our amiable prime minister, Fata, AJK, and Northern Areas gives little hope for inclusive development or the ‘Pakistan Khappey’ project.

Arrogance like this has sown the seeds of a deep mistrust in the federating units. Resources are generated in provinces, not Islamabad Capital Territory. Should the provinces trust the federal government with the major chunk of their resources? The last NFC was subverted by the Musharraf government by shifting the focus from the vertical distribution on which there was a consensus to horizontal distribution between the provinces.

All provinces were agreed that the federal share be reduced to 50 per cent from the hefty 62.5 per cent fixed by the NFC 1997 on the advice of the current chairman of the Panel of Economists. Instead of acting on this united stand, the Musharraf-Aziz government challenged the provinces to come out with a new formula for distribution among them. The inevitable result was a deadlock, giving Musharraf the chance to impose an interim award to protect the federal share.

The success of the new NFC hinges on two actions by the federal government and an act of entente by the Punjab. The former has to implement this year, not over the years, the provincial consensus that already exists on a 50:50 vertical distribution with no deduction of collection charges, and the latter has to accept population as just one of the criteria. If the unlikely happens, and the NFC moves on rather than witnesses walkouts and boycotts in the very first session, then a possible consensus formula may be à la the Senate elections: equal weightage to population, territory, poverty and revenue collection.

Roughly, the resulting weighted average will give Punjab 36.42 per cent compared to 57.36 per cent at present, Sindh will improve to 29.34 per cent against the existing 23.71 per cent, the NWFP’s gain will be 15.19 per cent compared to 13.82 per cent at present and Balochistan will claim 19.05 per cent against the existing share of 5.11 per cent. The fact of Balochistan being the only significant gainer, and the estimates of tax collection and poverty, will raise the temperature of the discussion at the NFC. What is acceptable for the Senate may not be acceptable for resource distribution.

If inter-provincial disharmony is what NFCs promote, who needs them? My reading of the positions taken by the smaller provinces is that the issue is not more resources but control over their resources. That understood the response has to be to allow each tier of government a major elastic tax of its own. The federal government can live perfectly well within its constitutional limits on taxes on incomes including agricultural incomes, and customs. Sales tax should return to the provinces. Local government qualifies for the third tier; it must be allowed all property-related taxation. Further, provinces should have full control over their natural resources.In case of need, any tier should be able to approach the Council of Common Interests (CCI) and negotiate assistance from other tiers. In the interest of efficiency, the Federal Board of Revenue may continue to collect all taxes but it should be placed under the CCI and be funded by fixed collection charges.

[B]The writer teaches at the GC University, Lahore.[/B]

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]Mbeki in trouble[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

By Chris McGreal[/B] [/CENTER]

PRESIDENT Thabo Mbeki’s political future hung in the balance on Friday as South Africa’s ruling party debated whether to force him from office and a leading former judge said he should be put on trial for allegedly misusing his power to try to imprison the man likely to succeed him, Jacob Zuma.

The African National Congress national executive began a three-day meeting at which Mbeki’s future will be decided after a high court judge accused the president and senior justice officials of being part of an illegal conspiracy to charge Zuma, the ANC’s president, with corruption for political ends.

Mbeki’s critics were lobbying hard for his removal, although earlier in the week Zuma was more cautious. South Africa’s influential council of churches warned that ousting Mbeki could create chaos.

Before the meeting, Mbeki launched a robust defence of his actions saying in a statement that the “insults” hurled at him were not based on facts. He denied any involvement in the decision to prosecute Zuma and said “no evidence has been provided by those making the claim”.

But the president received another blow before the meeting began when one of the country’s most respected former judges, Willem Heath, called for the president, his former justice minister, Penuell Maduna, and the former chief prosecutor, Bulelani Ngcuka, to be charged with crimes for pursuing a political prosecution. His call followed a ruling last week by a high court judge, Chris Nicholson, against the prosecution of Zuma, which he said was the result of “baleful political influence”.

Heath told a Johannesburg newspaper, the Mail and Guardian, that South Africans needed protection from the “systematic abuse, detailed in the judgment, of organs of state by the president and his purported henchmen.

“If the behaviour found by Nicholson is not addressed, the application of the principle of the separation of powers will remain at the whim of those who have seemingly been using it most effectively for personal gain.”

Some senior party officials said they would not support ousting Mbeki because of the damage it would do to the party.

Mbhazima Shilowa, the premier of Gauteng province, with Johannesburg and Pretoria at its heart, said that a no-confidence vote would divide the ANC. “I think members of the executive will not vote for that motion,” he said. “I personally don’t think the judgment provides any basis to say the president must go.” But some ANC factions, including the party’s youth league, Communists and trade unionists have lobbied hard to oust Mbeki.

The council of churches said that removing Mbeki could plunge the country into a crisis. “In our view, the recalling or impeachment of the president will lead to the collapse of the current executive and would plunge the country into an unnecessary crisis.”

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - Indian Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

Rightly warned

The Tribune[/B] [/CENTER]

THE warning given to the Orissa and Karnataka governments under Article 355 of the constitution is the minimum the centre could have done in the given situation. By their failure to protect the life and property of the minorities, the two governments have invited the wrath of the central government.

The article empowers the centre to issue a warning if the constitutional obligations are not met by the state concerned. If the warning is not heeded, it can dismiss the state governments and impose president’s rule. The centre has taken this step only after agencies like the National Minorities Commission and the National Human Rights Commission have sent their representatives to these states to study the situation. They have come across mounting evidence of the complicity of the states concerned in the perpetration of atrocities on the Christian community.

In Orissa, the dastardly murder of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader — Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati — by the Naxalites has been used as a ruse to attack the Christians in Kandhamal district. The state clearly failed in protecting the life of the swami, who faced a threat to his life, and, later, the life and property of the Christians. A large number of them have been pauperised by the orgy of violence let loose by the Sangh Parivar cadres. The state police could do precious little to save them from persecution. The hoodlums could not have dared to behave in this manner except in the blissful knowledge that the government led by the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal would not challenge them.

Perhaps, taking a cue from their compatriots in Orissa, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal unleashed violence against the Christians in several districts in southern Karnataka. Many old churches in Mangalore and other places were vandalised, ostensibly in protest against a booklet alleged to have been published by a neo-Christian. Instead of taking action against the author and the publisher for the sacrilegious book, the state allowed the Hindutva goons to take the law into their own hands. Television clippings showed the police attacking convents and manhandling nuns and other inmates in the name of controlling the situation. We hope the two state governments will heed the warning and protect the minorities which is their constitutional obligation. Failure to do so can expose them to more drastic remedies under the constitutional scheme of things. — (Sept 20)

Princess Royal Monday, September 22, 2008 06:04 PM

[RIGHT][B]Monday
Ramazan 21, 1429
September 22, 2008[/B][/RIGHT]

[B][CENTER][U][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Tough but essential[/COLOR][/SIZE][/U][/CENTER][/B]

THE government has ignored the country’s sliding economy for far too long. Until a few days back, it appeared to have totally lost its focus on the economy. It seemed as if the entire federal cabinet was preoccupied with politics, and the government couldn’t spare even a single minister to attend to the worsening economic and financial imbalances in spite of clarion calls from the central bank and others. The announcement, however, of what the finance minister termed on Friday as a ‘crucial’ macroeconomic stabilisation programme is expected to renew official focus on the sliding economy.

The stabilisation package, which seeks to discourage luxury imports, put an end to government borrowings from the central bank and cut subsidies and other government expenditure in the short term, is likely to bring about the much needed macroeconomic stability, narrow fiscal and current account deficits, tame inflation and preserve foreign exchange reserves. According to the minister the strategy put together to cope with the macroeconomic challenges was ‘homegrown’. He, however, acknowledged that the government had ‘consulted’ multilateral lenders like the IMF and the World Bank before finalising the stabilisation programme.

Apart from other measures, the government’s firefighting effort primarily focuses on complete elimination of energy subsidies by the end of the current fiscal to cut expenditure for reducing budgetary deficit down to 4.7 per cent of the GDP. The oil subsidy has already been eliminated with the recent domestic price adjustments, and gas is expected to become more expensive over the next few weeks. The price of electricity has already been raised by 47 per cent, including 16 per cent general sales tax, in two months and whatever remains of subsidy on it will be gone by June 30, if not before. That will save the government several billions of rupees it has to pay out of the budget.

There is little room for disputing the principle behind the elimination of subsidies. But the fact remains that the poor- to lower-income segment of the population suffer the most whenever government support on basic necessities like energy and food are withdrawn. A big majority of the population will be forced to slash essential expenditure on education and healthcare to cope with the higher food, transport and energy costs if their income does not keep pace with higher costs. It is where the government needs to intervene and protect the poor and the fixed income groups. But the government, it seems, is more likely to focus only on the macroeconomic stability at least for the time being and not on the hardships the people are going to face owing to the elimination of subsidies. And that will be tragic for the poor of the country.

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[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]Defeating terrorism[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

THE carnage at Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel has shocked Pakistan and has been rightly condemned. The target may have been ‘western’ but the timing — soon after iftar — ensured that the majority of victims were Pakistani. In the days ahead, the bombing will take to a fever pitch the debate about whether Pakistan is fighting its own war against terrorism or America’s. The debate will miss the point: it is an internal war, and it goes to the heart of what we want Pakistan to be. Do we want a country that provides a decent standard of living in a safe environment for its citizens? Or do we want to fight ideological wars that will condemn us to a vicious cycle of death and destruction? For the terrorism apologists, a strange distinction holds: that those opposing the Americans or Indians or the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan are not our concern because they do not want to harm us. This is not true. They do harm us because they retard our future and, as the Marriott bombing so viciously demonstrated, they destroy our present.

More urgently than ever, the defence establishment needs to get its act together. The civilian leaders and their uniformed counterparts must draw up a clear policy to fight terrorism. Pakistan is not faced with an ordinary law and order situation and the terrorist violence is not confined to a few areas. A counter-insurgency strategy is needed for all parts of Pakistan and the defence establishment must quickly pull together every strand of available resources. No doubt even the most efficient administrations in the world would be taxed by such a task. But what is truly distressing about Pakistan is the utter lack of any visible direction. Since Aug 6, Pakistan has been fighting militants in Bajaur. Yet virtually no one in the country is aware of who we are fighting and why. Worse yet, it’s not clear who is responsible for the operation: the political government, the military or both? Is it any surprise that the people are confused and split when they do not know who we are fighting, why we are fighting and even who ‘we’ is?

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Disaster preparedness[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

AS we near the third anniversary of the Oct 8, 2005 earthquake, which this year will coincide with the International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction, it is heartening to note that some form of a permanent disaster management infrastructure, which did not exist on the day the quake struck, is finally emerging. The National Disaster Management Authority, established in Dec 2006 for implementing the disaster management policies of the National Disaster Management Commission, recently signed a memorandum of understanding with a leading European rescue service to establish three specialised urban search and rescue teams in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.

The NDMA is also organising the first national disaster risk management conference-cum-exhibition in Islamabad to impress the need for full activation of provincial as well as district-level disaster management authorities, including one in the federal capital. Meanwhile, the recent modernisation of Islamabad’s fire-fighting service and the expansion in the Punjab cities of the emergency service, Rescue 1122, first established in 2004, are other positive additions to our disaster management infrastructure. Then there is also the National Volunteer Movement formed about a month after the Oct 8 earthquake to coordinate the relief activities of individual volunteers and several private organisations. This continues to encourage public volunteerism by recruiting, training and maintaining a pool of young people ready to be mobilised and deployed to help in disaster relief and rehabilitative operations.

However, one important aspect of disaster preparedness that we need to focus greater attention on is public awareness through education and community participation, an aspect which international agencies concerned with disaster reduction have been promoting since the post-tsunami 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters. One of HFA’s priorities emphasises the use of knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels. Children in schools are not only vulnerable to threats posed by natural disasters; aided by teachers and administrators, they can be powerful agents of change as well, provided they are armed with the knowledge of how to prepare in advance, how to act on warning and how to reduce risks at home and in their communities. It is therefore essential to make disaster-risk education a component of the national school curricula. As with various other aspects of life including career, health and civic consciousness, building a culture of disaster prevention, preparedness and resilience also begins at school.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - North American Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

Immigration deception

The New York Times[/B] [/CENTER]

YES, immigration is a complicated and combustible issue for political candidates — and the economic meltdown is everyone’s top priority. No, that is no excuse for ignoring immigration or lying about it to voters, as John McCain and Barack Obama have been doing.

Mr McCain lied first, in a Spanish-language ad that accused Mr Obama of helping to kill immigration reform last year, by voting for amendments that supposedly doomed a bipartisan bill. The ad lamented the result: “No guest worker programme. No path to citizenship. No secure borders. No reform. Is that being on our side?”

For Mr McCain to suggest that Mr Obama opposes the “path to citizenship” and “guest worker programme” compounds his dishonesty. Mr Obama supports the three pillars of comprehensive reform — tougher enforcement, expanded legal immigration and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here.

Mr McCain was an architect of just such a comprehensive bill. But he is also leading a party whose members rabidly oppose the path to citizenship. So, in deference to them, Mr McCain now emphasises border security as the utmost priority. Except when he’s pandering in Spanish.

Mr Obama’s retaliatory ad, also in Spanish, was just as fraudulent. It slimed Mr McCain as a friend and full-bore ally of restrictionists like Rush Limbaugh, even though Mr Limbaugh has long attacked Mr McCain’s immigration moderation. It quotes Mr Limbaugh as calling all Mexicans stupid and ordering them to “shut your mouth or get out”, which he never did….

Meanwhile, the Bush administration keeps raiding factories and farms, terrorising immigrant families while exposing horrific accounts of workplace abuses. Children toil in slaughterhouses; detainees languish in federal lock-ups, dying without decent medical care.

Both candidates once espoused smart, thoughtful positions for fixing the problem. But Mr McCain is shuffling in step with his restrictionist party. Mr Obama gave immigration one brief mention at the Democratic convention, in a litany of big-trouble issues, like abortion, guns and same-sex marriage, on which he seemed to say that the best Americans could hope for are small compromises and to agree to disagree.

They’re both wrong. The country needs to hear better answers, stated clearly and forthrightly over the shouting. The answer to immigration is what it was last year: comprehensive reform that extends order and the rule of law to a system that is broken in a million complex ways. Mr McCain and Mr Obama both know this. They should get back to telling the truth about it, in English and in Spanish. — (Sept 19)

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]Being lost in passion[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

By Zafar Masud[/B] [/CENTER]

A FEW weeks back we had discussed the yearly gastronomy festival of Paris. Let us revisit that delicious domain, but this time to discover the fabulous odyssey of a young Swiss national who was in the habit of citing the fifth-century French thinker St Augustine to elucidate his philosophy of life: “The one who is lost in his passion is not as lost as the one who has lost his passion.” But before we pursue the hot trail of Pascal Henry, a few words about the little red book of gastronomy with a name that is already familiar to most readers as that of a famous manufacturer of automobile tyres. Michelin is also known for its prestigious restaurant guide, a bible of sorts to gourmets all over the world. As any dedicated restaurant owner will confirm, being cited in the Michelin guide is an honour, being awarded one star in it is a lifetime’s crowning glory for a chef and being consecrated with two stars is tantamount to entering the realm of what can safely be described as a culinary Vatican. With three stars, a chef has the right to claim the status of a Greek god. They invariably do.

Time to return to our story. Pascal Henry had quietly followed, albeit astride a hotrod motorcycle, the modest career of a dispatch letters and packages deliveryman in the beautiful city of Geneva in his native Switzerland. His salary was modest but at age 46 he was free of any family constraints, so to speak of. This had meant some savings in the bank and a comfortable retirement to look forward to.

The wise have, through the beginning of time, agreed satiety incontrovertibly leads to tedium; and our hero was no exception. Besides, Pascal Henry had a passion: eating in good restaurants. So he decided early this summer to take a long leave from work and embark on a fantastic voyage round the globe that was to take him to the restaurants which boast of three Michelin stars in the little red book. Twenty-six of these are based in France, seven in Spain, five in Italy, nine in Germany, three in England, two each in Switzerland, Belgium and Holland, eight in Japan and four in the United States. Henry’s plan was to visit the above nine countries and grace the tables of all the 68 fabled temples of gastronomy.

There, however, was a snag. Though his lifetime’s savings were enough and some, to kick-start the mind-boggling, and stomach-churning one might add, wanderlust around the globe, travelling to nine countries, staying at hotels and dining at top-class restaurants could cost a fortune, to say the least.

So Pascal Henry struck upon a strategy that he made sure to discuss with Paul Bocuse, the dean of the French chefs from whose restaurant in Collonge in France he began his adventure on the fifth of May this year.

Following a hearty meal and a heated conversation, Bocuse was impressed enough by the young man’s gastronomic passion to have himself photographed in his company and to write a few words about him and his unusual voyage in the blank pages of an elaborate album that Henry had been careful to carry with him.

This, the young adventurer had correctly surmised, would be useful recommendation to the chefs whose establishments he would be visiting in future and the snowballing of similar tributary notes and photographs would help him, who knew, cut corners here and there on a multitude of expenses.

The strategy worked! Pascal Henry successfully savoured his way through great restaurants run by such legendary chefs as Alain Ducasse, Guy Savoy, Bernard Loiseau, and many more, his collection of autographs and photographs growing rapidly in size by the day.

Needless to say repetitive consumption of good food and fine wines contributed to the gourmet adventurer’s own size as well and by the time he entered the door of El Bulli, the celebrated three-star restaurant in Cala Monjoi, Spain, on the 12th of June, according to his own admission Pascal Henry was eight kilos heavier than when he had begun his journey some five weeks earlier.

Ell Bulli was the 40th restaurant Pascal Henry was eating at and there had remained 28 more to go to. As he finished his meals that fateful evening he was approached by a group of journalists who had wanted to interview him. A brief conversation followed and Pascal Henry suddenly dug into his pocket for his visiting cards.

“Oh, I left them in the car. Hang on, I’ll be back in a minute.”

He never came back. He left on the table the unpaid bill and his famous album with signed notes and recommendations and his photographs with the great chefs. Today Interpol is looking for him in all the countries he had been to and rumours are rife he might have returned to Switzerland where he could be hiding under a false identity.

Pascal Henry’s disappearance remains as mysterious, and totally as illogical, as his adventure was fantastic.

[B]The writer is a journalist based in Paris.[/B]

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]Blair faces grilling[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

By Ed Pilkington[/B] [/CENTER]

TONY Blair opened a new chapter of his public life Friday night when the man who honed his debating skills in the rowdy context of the Westminster parliament applied them to the far more sedate setting of a lecture hall at Yale.

The former prime minister began a term-long series of seminars on faith and globalisation at the Ivy League university, in his first experience of teaching. With his new title as Howland Distinguished Fellow he has followed in the footsteps of his son Euan, who graduated from Yale with a master’s degree in international relations earlier this year.

Blair told the college paper, the Yale Daily News, last week that he was “a bit nervous”. “I was never a star student, and I’m coming along mixing with a whole lot of people who I’m sure are a whole lot more clever and smarter than I am.”

A touch of nerves was evident too on Thursday when Blair broke other new ground — appearing on the satirical current affairs show presented by Jon Stewart. Blair came across as tense and a smidgeon tetchy in front of cameras in New York as he was hit by a stream of barbed comments from Stewart on his friendship with George Bush and the Iraq war.

Stewart, who enjoys a devoted television following as one of the sharpest political observers in the US, began by reflecting on the coincidence of the Yale posting with the economic meltdown on Wall Street. “You’ve picked the perfect time to come and work in America. Did you get your money up front?”

“Yes,” Blair replied.

When the interview turned to the subject of the US president Blair was unable to disguise his discomfort. “Your relationship with George Bush seems — what’s the word I’m looking for? — inexplicable,” Stewart said, prompting a roar from the live audience.

Blair winced and said: “Here’s something I find always goes down well, particularly back home: I like him.”

“I would probably like him too if he wasn’t in charge of me,” Stewart fired back. Then he added: “It’s like we’re talking about the bad boy at school, and you’re saying, ‘You don’t know him like I know him’.”

Blair replied: “I’m not a fairweather friend. We’ve been through a lot together.” Blair faced a similar barrage of cutting quips on his decision to back Bush over the invasion of Iraq. Asked whether he still felt it was a smart strategic move to topple Saddam, Blair conceded that he had not anticipated the maelstrom to come.

“If you look at the bloodshed there’s been, and the difficulty, I would have been shocked but I would have asked why has this come about? There’s a fundamental struggle going on I’m afraid, and there are two sides.”

He insisted he had come to the view that the Iraq war was necessary “of my own accord and from my own conviction”. But he added it was not a decision he took lightly. “None of this is easy,” he said.

Since he departed Downing Street last year Blair has looked to the international stage in his search for a new role. He has taken on responsibilities as an envoy to the Middle East and as a participant in negotiations over climate change.

Blair, 55, has also modelled his activities on the post-presidential activities of his friend Bill Clinton, whose global foundation bears a close resemblance to the Tony Blair Faith Foundation that was set up in May.

Blair’s lecture series will explore several of the themes that lie at the core of his foundation. The course is focused on the public roles of religious faiths in the context of globalisation.

Students will be encouraged to think about the resurgence of religious belief and how some faiths serve as oppressive or violent forces while others make positive contributions to society.

Hundreds of Yale students applied for the course. As part of their coursework they will be asked to develop ideas about how religions can be encouraged to take a constructive part in pluralistic societies.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Tuesday, September 23, 2008 05:28 PM

[RIGHT][B]Tuesday
Ramazan 22, 1429
September 23, 2008 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="Navy"][COLOR="navy"][COLOR="DarkRed"][SIZE="4"]Zardari’s US visit[/SIZE][/COLOR][/COLOR][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

ASIF Ali Zardari’s first visit to America as president comes against a national background characterised by uncertainty and a fear of the unknown. While the attacks by the American military in Fata served to embitter relations between the two countries, the bombing of Islamabad Marriott Hotel shook the country to the core, demonstrated the terrorists’ power to strike in the heart of the capital and exposed the limitations of the nation’s security apparatus. US reaction to the bombing has been positive, and President George Bush and the two presidential candidates have pledged support to Pakistan. However, this support must be categorical, devoid of mistrust and include more than its military component. Here President Zardari has to be clear in his mind about how he presents Pakistan’s viewpoint to the American leadership.

Unlike the general impression, not all Taliban supporters are motivated by ideological considerations. A number of suicide bombers, as investigations showed, agreed to collaborate in return for the Taliban’s pledge to take care of their families. Fata is a poverty-stricken area and there is no possibility of a turn for the better so long as fighting continues. That is where the Americans have to realise that periodic forays into the tribal belt and the transfer of military hardware to Islamabad alone cannot turn the tide. Most tribesmen are fed up with the Taliban for having destroyed their environs, and both Islamabad and Washington would be missing the point if they did not adopt a welfare-oriented strategy pledging massive funding for Fata’s economic development. Besides being Pakistan’s own war, the war on terror is a global effort to be won or lost in the treacherous terrain straddling the Durand Line. Washington should realise Pakistan’s strategic importance, its sensitivities to the violation of its sovereignty and Islamabad’s justified anger at the hollow ‘do more’ shibboleth. Pakistan needs solid diplomatic and material support from the international community. Its economy is in dire straits and must be bolstered with an injection of funds.

Also on the agenda is the president’s meeting with Mr Manmohan Singh. The Indian prime minister has, no doubt, written to his Pakistani counterpart expressing his condolences over the Islamabad bombing, but the allegations against Pakistan by Indian officials, dragging this country into the New Delhi bombings, have vitiated the atmosphere. President Zardari has to do some plain speaking and give Mr Singh the Pakistan government’s perception of the Indian intelligence’s perverse role in fomenting trouble in Fata and supplying money and arms to militants for terrorist activity in Pakistan. Islamabad believes that with the Afghan authorities fully in the picture, the Indian consulates in Jalalabad, Kandahar and Kunar have become an operational centre for anti-Pakistan activity. It is New Delhi’s responsibility to remove Pakistan’s misgivings.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Securing Pakistan[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

IN the aftermath of the devastating bombing in Islamabad, serious questions are being raised about the level of preparedness of the emergency and security services. Depressingly, they are the same ones that are raised after each terrorist strike — and go unanswered each time. In the case of the Marriott bombing, two sets of questions arise: those concerning the events before the explosives-laden truck struck the security barrier of the hotel and those concerning the hours after the truck burst into flames. Consider the second set of questions first. It took more than 10 hours for Islamabad’s fire department to extinguish the blaze at the Marriott. We know that people died in the period between the initial explosion and the time by which the site was brought under control — the Czech envoy who died inside the hotel made a call to his embassy and asked to be rescued. Clearly, potentially life-saving time was lost by a fire department that does not have enough of the right equipment and does not know how to best use the equipment it does have. A report in this paper has claimed that 30 high-level posts in Islamabad’s fire department are vacant. Given the threats that Islamabad faces, negligence of this kind rises to a criminal level. The speed of the response of the gas and electricity utilities was also said to be sluggish though a spokesman for the gas company disputed this assertion.

The second set of questions concerns the performance of Pakistan’s security apparatus. Failures are apparent at every stage leading up to Saturday’s attack. How did such large quantities of lethal explosives make it into the hands of terrorists? How were the terrorists able to commandeer the truck and drive it into Islamabad? And what was that truck doing unchecked in the heart of Islamabad on an evening that every major leader of Pakistan — civilian and uniformed — had gathered there? In the aftermath of terrorist attacks, we learn of intelligence teams with obscure names — Special Investigation Authority, Special Investigation Group, Joint Investigation Teams. However, the public knows little of their record of failure or success. No doubt fully securing cities from suicide bombers is an all but impossible task. But equally obvious are the gaping holes in our security apparatus. We need help and we need it now. Misplaced nationalism argues that foreign help — especially from the Americans — is unwelcome and an intrusion in our ‘domestic’ affairs. Yet anything that helps saves Pakistani lives must be welcomed. From our emergency services to our intelligence apparatus, the international community can do much to raise our level of preparedness in the face of an unprecedented terrorist threat. The US must lead the way in providing such support. It has spent an extraordinary amount — several hundred billion dollars — in Iraq; investing a mere fraction of that sum in Pakistan’s anti-terrorism infrastructure would go a long way to defeating a common enemy.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Urban forestry[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

THE city government has vowed to plant more than a million trees in Karachi by December this year, however conspicuous by its absence is legislation to protect these trees. It is was therefore heartening to hear city nazim Mustafa Kamal’s call for the formulation of laws to protect trees in the city. Nature conservation is an integral part of city planning. Not only is it an effective measure for pollution control, it also adds to the aesthetic value of cities. The city government in Karachi should be lauded for its drive to establish parks and tree plantation. However, if these trees and green area development are to be maintained then legislation is the first step in that direction. Legal development in the care and management of trees in the urban setting of Karachi will ensure that these trees become a permanent feature of the city.

Tree protection in the urban centres of the West is commonplace. Laws are in place to prevent the destruction of trees. According to one report, in most western cities it is “prohibited to cut down, to remove, to fell, to damage, to destroy, to modify and to prune protected trees, and to enhance their decay”. Laws in Pakistan should be formulated on these lines. This is an imperative measure along with the constant monitoring of trees if tree plantation is to be sustained. Successful implementation of these laws is what will achieve the purpose. Thus these laws should be structured in a simple way so that the implementation is practicable and efficient. Implementation should not be marred by bureaucratic red tape as action will only yield positive results if taken in a speedy manner.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Settling down to rule[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B][CENTER]By Mohammad Waseem[/CENTER][/B]

THE Zardari-Gilani government is settling down for what is a five-year term of rule by public representatives. The detractors are many and scepticism is legion. Doomsday scenarios regularly appear in the press, especially concerning civil-military relations.

But, all indicators are that the original constitutional nature of the state is destined to bounce back after the adventurism and dictatorial and arbitrary rule of Musharraf for nearly a decade.

More than anything else, the transition from Musharraf to Zardari is symptomatic of the transition from military to civilian rule. Does it mean that the dark shadows of Bonapartism have disappeared from the horizon? One can hope that what often turns out to be an unpalatable reality for the state elite becomes a permanent feature in Pakistan, in the form of democracy.

It is fashionable among the articulate sections of the population to project that the failures of governance are failures of democracy. The deficit of performance, which the present ruling set-up inherited from its predecessor, is a big challenge. Musharraf simply waited too long to resign and allowed public life to sink beyond reasonable limits.

For long, international diplomacy was hooked on to a profile of Pakistan which was unenviable. The world is accustomed to looking at this country in dichotomous terms vis-à-vis its eastern neighbour — a military state in Pakistan versus democracy in India. What happened in 2008 in Pakistan in the context of parliamentary elections soon followed by presidential elections represents a shift in the political initiative from non-representative to representative institutions, and hopefully leading to a change of profile.

The middle class, which traditionally served as the support base for non-representative rule both military and civilian, is gradually moving away from political conservatism to democratic goals and means. Civil society, in line with the media, has contributed to the cause of democracy in a qualitative sense. The classical mould of the state of mind in the middle class is changing thanks to the media explosion and emergence of a network society.

There was all the likelihood that the new set-up would have remained vulnerable to the vicissitudes of an adventurist presidency. However, potential for conflict between the two highest positions in the politico-administrative hierarchy represented by the president and the prime minister has been removed after the presidential election. Political stability, which shunned Pakistan from March 2007 onwards for more than a year, is expected to return.

Is Bonapartism down and out? Musharraf put or kept in jail President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani among others for years on end in the tradition of medieval kings. He turned the law into a petty instrument of personal rule. All this led to a playing field that was not level for electoral and constitutional purposes. And yet one hears the call for indemnity for his misrule spread over nine years.

How can the nation safeguard democracy in the face of the challenges emanating from powerful elements in society? What is needed is to cultivate the constitutional source of legitimacy in the form of mass mandate over and above all other forms of legitimacy. The message needs to be internalised by all those who operate from outside parliamentary politics. A move backwards to the age of non-representative rule cannot and should not be allowed ever again.

The progressive character of the present dispensation will come out fully only when the erstwhile concentration of power in the hands of the state elite moves away from it in favour of the smaller provinces. President Zardari’s elections was indeed a projection of the project of setting the disproportionate distribution of power right by Balochistan, the NWFP and Sindh reflecting their position as equal federating units of Pakistan. One hopes that their representation in the corridors of power will increase incrementally and reasonably, if not radically and massively.

Can Pakistan move away from state-centred policy frameworks and ideological trends in the direction of society-oriented means and goals under the present ruling set-up? Can the government address the issues close to the heart of the public in various parts of the country? These issues range from gas and electricity revenues for Balochistan and the NWFP respectively and the allocation of resources to various provinces taking into account factors other than mere demography.The PPP-led government at the centre has now consolidated itself and thus established ‘entrance legitimacy’. It faces the next challenge in the form of ‘performance legitimacy’. Never before has the public been so aware of political, economic and security issues as now, thanks to the activism of the print and electronic media for half a decade. The PPP government faces an uphill task in terms of addressing issues relating to the inflationary spiral and the much-feared economic meltdown.What is required is the qualitative input of the best available talent in the country in the formulation of policy and the allocation of resources. The ruling set-up very much needs to cultivate its profile as a government by policy not patronage. It needs to develop the potential to swim through contradictory currents of agenda in the war against terror on the one hand and the political and religious sensitivities of the public on the other. While the formal transition from military to civilian rule is complete, the government needs to address substantive issues relating to the bar and the bench and the Seventeenth Amendment.

The election of the leader of opposition in the National Assembly as chairman of the public accounts committee is a strong indicator that the mainstream players on the political stage are laying out the ground rules of the game in a spirit of commitment to make democracy work. One can hope that given a solid parliamentary support base, the backing of smaller provinces and non-hostile relations with its erstwhile ally the PML-N, the PPP government will be able to fulfill its mandate.

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[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]Romania’s migrants[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B][CENTER]By Toby Helm[/CENTER][/B]

ROMANIA is to launch a campaign to lure tens of thousands of its key workers and students back from Britain by telling them their long-term economic and professional prospects could be brighter in their homeland.

The action by the Romanian government — which is emphasising the high cost of living in the UK and the falling value of the pound — is the opening shot in a ‘competition for labour’ that could see UK companies and the tax-funded National Health Service (NHS) suffer a serious loss of manpower to former communist states over coming months.

Poland — with more than one million citizens in the UK — has drawn up similar plans to encourage so-called ‘reverse migration’, advertising the attractions of its own economy in English and Polish newspapers in this country and offering special loans to help those who return.

Ion Jinga, the Romanian ambassador in London, said that he wanted to encourage Romanians to take a pride in helping their own country to develop, rather than see them move permanently to the UK.

Romania, which enjoyed eight per cent economic growth in the first half of this year, is suffering from acute labour shortages caused by an exodus of workers following its accession to the European Union in 2007.

Next month the Romanian embassy will stage a conference for Romanian students in London at which it will promote the benefits of returning home after their studies. It has 50,000 workers in Britain, among them many doctors, nurses and construction workers whose skills are now in high demand at home.

Jinga said a number of factors including the high cost of renting homes in the UK and the falling value of the pound had to be weighed against the benefits of higher salaries in the UK. ‘Salaries are not everything,’ he said. ‘It is brilliant to work and live in England, but there are important incentives for returning.’ He added: ‘We cannot afford to lose our best brains.’

Although Jinga insists he is working closely with the British government, the Romanians’ action will be seen by many as a counter-attack against the UK in response to special ‘transition’ rules that London imposed on Romania and Bulgaria when the countries joined the EU in January 2007.

Because of concerns about the level of immigration at the time, Tony Blair’s government imposed a seven-year programme of restrictions under which Romanian and Bulgarian citizens had to apply for jobs in specific sectors in order to work in this country. Previously people from new EU entrant countries had been allowed in without any restrictions.

Romania and Bulgaria felt victimised. Their main thrust is now to make sure as many skilled people as possible remain in their homeland.

[B]—The Guardian, London[/B]

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[CENTER][B]Lack of trust

Kawish[/B][/CENTER]

DESPITE the fact that the PPP and PML-N have vowed not to create problems for each other in the centre and Punjab, political wrangling continues in Punjab. The PML-N is accusing Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Manzoor Wattoo of polarisation whereas the PML-N is averse to tolerating PPP members in the cabinet. Manoeuvring is also going on in the ranks of the PML-Q where some members have changed loyalties. New tactics are being adopted to win the numbers game. Owing to the fact that the PPP showed that it was pleased with the PML-Q, the PML-N launched a crackdown against the PML-Q. The PPP says that in case it is pushed out of the Punjab cabinet, the PML-N-led provincial government would not last. However, the PML-N is satisfied and sees no threat to its government. All claims of the two major parties depend on the support of some independents and PML-Q members because none have a simple majority in the Punjab Assembly.

The people’s mandate notwithstanding, politicians continue to indulge in political altercation. Today, Punjab is far ahead in political conflict than the other three provinces as the two major parties continue to work against each other. Constitutionally, there is ban on floor-crossing, but these two parties are busy trying to win the numbers’ game. The PML-Q and independent members are the targets of both parties. In this bid they are not paying heed to the constitution or to political ethics.

Hardly six months have elapsed since the present government came to power but political wrangling has resulted in destabilisation and political uncertainty. Both parties are responsible for creating this situation as they failed to show political acumen and tolerance. Lack of trust is the root cause of the issue. The PML-N had remained a political rival of the PPP in Punjab. Amidst fears that the PPP might take revenge, the PML-N has won over the support of some PML-Q members to reduce its dependence on the PPP…. If this political conflict continues, how will the mandate be honoured and how will people get relief?

We would like to recommend to the PML-N leadership to serve the people in alliance with the PPP. At the same time, we would like to suggest to the PPP not to be part of any agenda which may destabilise the Punjab government. — (Sept 19)

[B]Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi[/B]

Artemis Wednesday, September 24, 2008 09:31 AM

[B][RIGHT]September 24, 2008
Wednesday
Ramazan 23, 1429 [/RIGHT][/B]
[COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="2"][U][B][CENTER]
A national threat[/CENTER][/B][/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

THE warning by NWFP Governor Owais Ghani that militant groups operating in his province have established firm links with similar groups operating in Punjab is indicative of the national-level threat of militancy. The NWFP governor was not pointing a finger at Punjab or starting a blame game — he was simply pointing out the truth about Pakistan’s militant network. Southern Punjab has been host to some of Pakistan’s most radical militant Islamist groups for many years. The groups are familiar and the names endless: Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Sipah-i-Sahaba, Lashkar-i-Taiba, Harkatul Ansar, Hizbul Tahrir, Harkatul Muhahideen, Jaish-i-Mohammad, Tehrik-i-Jafria and Sipah-i-Mohammad. They have brought with them new forms of terror to Pakistan, especially suicide attacks. In March 2002, two operatives of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi bombed the International Protestant Church in Islamabad — believed to be the first suicide attack by a jihadi outfit. Two months later, Harkatul Jihad-al-Islami killed 11 French engineers outside the Sheraton hotel in Karachi. Today, such bombings have become depressingly familiar — and occur across the length and breadth of Pakistan. No one familiar with these groups doubts that they are operating in the NWFP and fighting the state.

Eliminating such groups ought to be the top priority of the state. Unfortunately, it is not at all clear if that is the goal of the state. There are some positives in the current situation. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif took a tough, uncompromising line against Punjabi militants during his last tenure in the late 1990s. Violence by such groups came down dramatically on his watch — though allegations of extra-judicial killings and heavy-handedness by his government shot up. Chief Minister Sharif is then familiar with these groups and may well be able to rein them in again today — but the provincial administration must be careful to not overstep the boundaries of the law.

In the NWFP, it is reassuring to see Governor Ghani and Chief Minister Amir Hoti on the same page in the fight against terrorism. The ANP-led provincial government in the NWFP appears to have woken up to the dangers the province faces from militancy. The negatives become apparent once we zoom out to the national level. Islamabad appears lacklustre in its attempts to shut down homegrown militant groups. Be it the vigorous pursuit of cases against militants in the judicial system, shutting down the supply lines and recruitment channels or re-evaluating the intelligence agencies’ relationship with militant groups, the federal government has not provided a clear lead for the provinces to follow. This is tragic and is costing lives daily in militancy hotspots. Pakistan can only win its war against the terrorists if it pursues them with vigour, whoever they are and wherever they are. And if Islamabad provides direction. At the moment neither appears to be happening.
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[COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="2"][U][B][CENTER]Afghan envoy’s abduction[/CENTER][/B][/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

THE kidnapping of the Afghan consul-general in Peshawar on Monday brings to mind the abduction of Tariq Azizuddin, Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul, last February. Both envoys are said to have violated security norms and paid for this lapse. Azizuddin drove through the Khyber Agency on the way to the Afghan capital without informing the local authorities of his journey. In this case, too, Abdul Khaliq Farahi was guilty of breach of security. Here the similarities end, for Azizuddin was kidnapped in the tribal areas, while the Afghan envoy, who was going to become his country’s ambassador to Islamabad, was kidnapped in the provincial capital. In Azizuddin’s case, there was no resistance, but in Farahi’s case the faithful driver paid with his life. Azizuddin was reunited with his family after 97 days, and it remains to be seen whether the Afghan diplomat will suffer a similar and agonising period in captivity before being freed.

The Afghan envoy’s kidnapping once again shows the terrorists’ subterranean organisation, the efficacy of their intelligence system, and their ability to strike — whether at the Islamabad Marriott or in Peshawar’s posh Hayatabad area. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Initially, that was the case with Azizuddin too. Later, it was revealed that the government had to release a number of Taliban to secure the diplomat’s freedom. What was praiseworthy in Azizuddin’s case was the secrecy with which the government followed the case and finally managed to secure his freedom. In this case, too, one hopes the government will pursue investigations away from the media’s prying eyes.

Regrettably, the Afghan government has acted with hurtful impetuosity and been quick to blame Pakistan for “unsatisfactory security cover” for the envoy. The Pakistan government says that there were guards at Farahi’s residence, but he chose to discard security precautions. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has condemned the kidnapping and directed the security agencies to do their utmost to recover Farahi. But the Afghan government, instead of lending cooperation to Pakistan and showing some understanding of the gravity of the situation this country faces, has once again proved it misses no opportunity to score a propaganda point off Pakistan. Against the harsh reality of this deep mistrust between Kabul and Islamabad, Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak’s proposal for a joint border force looks impractical. The two governments should first try to build bridges, develop mutual confidence and shed suspicions before a proposal of that nature can be considered.
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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="2"]Police excesses[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

THE term ‘torture’ has come to be closely identified with police workings in the country. It is not surprising, therefore, that recently an eight-year-old boy died and a woman sustained injuries in Sanghar as a result of alleged torture by police officials. This is a blatant violation of the law by the very authority that is meant to enforce it. Police often place extracting confessions ahead of the rules that govern such practices. Pakistan has all the necessary laws in place to prevent torture; however, these are not implemented in letter and spirit. It is also a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which is an international human rights instrument. Under the Convention it is mandatory for signatories to take effective measures to prevent torture within their borders.

This begs the question: how effective has the government been in dealing with erring police officials? The Police Order 2002 outlines offences by police officials which merit punishment, and the inflicting of torture or violence is punishable with imprisonment of up to five years along with a fine. However, this is not being implemented. The failure to carry out reforms has led people to regard the police with mistrust; the police have become a symbol of terror and incompetence.

After the incident in Sanghar, the villagers expressed their outrage by blocking the road and placing the dead body on it along with burning tyres. Such incidents indicate disillusionment with the police force and accentuate the failure of the authorities to mete out punishment to guilty police officials. The government should now act swiftly to ensure that justice is done. Very often police officials are able to cover up their crime through false reports and evidence. In this case, as in others, one hopes an investigation is carried out and the culprits brought to book.
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[B]OTHER VOICES - European Press[/B]

[B][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][U][SIZE="2"]The pantheon of misplaced trust[/SIZE][/U][/COLOR]

The Slovak Spectator[/CENTER][/B]

WHAT to do about those pesky opinion polls that frustrate half of the nation about the choices of the other half? There is a specific type of poll that’s especially guilty of causing a large portion of the population to roll their eyes and hang their heads: the kind that measures which politicians the public trusts most. If the polls are right, then the country’s most trusted politician is the prime minister, since 32.4 per cent of those polled named him in mid-September when the Slovak Statistics Office asked random respondents to list the three politicians they trusted the most. President Ivan Gašparoviè came in second with 15.6 per cent.

The third most trusted is Interior Minister Robert Kaliòák with 10.8 per cent…. Fico, Slota, and Meèiar. These three have been topping different opinion polls long enough to understand by now that their popularity is not just a summer fling with almost half the nation, but an expression of the public’s happiness to be ruled by them…. “People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get,” English novelist Aldous Huxley wrote in his novel Brave New World.

Over 30 per cent of the nation is happy with a prime minister who tolerates a justice minister suspected of ties to Baki Sadiki, the alleged boss of a drug gang. This is the same prime minister who not so long ago heralded a new era … by declaring that it is not unacceptable to award public funds to supporters … of the governing coalition parties if their projects conform to the law and the rules.

If we talk about the trust that people put in politicians, perhaps it is worth mentioning … a story about Slota’s signature on parliament’s attendance sheets, which mysteriously appeared even when Slota was not around…. Slota earned several ‘badges of honour’ for missing the highest number of parliamentary sessions, but he is still paid from our taxes for being there…. But Slota’s presence in the pantheon of most trusted politicians is no less disturbing than having Meèiar there…. Perhaps it’s justified because it is highly probable that if parliamentary elections were held tomorrow, Slovaks would see these same faces marching into government, despite all the controversial statements … and all the failed ministers they’ve had to fire.…Yet politicians worthy of the public’s trust do not work their way up the ladder or burst onto the political scene overnight…. — (Sept 22)
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[B][CENTER][COLOR="DarkRed"][SIZE="2"][U]Palin swots up on diplomacy[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

By Ed Pilkington[/CENTER][/B]
SARAH Palin has thrown herself into a 36-hour crash course in foreign diplomacy as she makes a highly publicised visit to the UN in New York this week in an attempt to shrug off the perception that she is an international affairs ingenue.

The Republican vice-presidential candidate, who obtained a passport to travel outside North America for the first time only last year, is meeting a raft of leaders from several of the world’s current hotspots. But her cramming timetable fails to include any scheduled encounter with a major European leader.

Her induction begins Tuesday night with attendance at a cocktail party held by President George Bush at the city’s Waldorf-Astoria. The Lebanese president, Michel Suleiman, and other leaders, carefully selected for their goodwill towards America, were on the guest list.

Even before Palin takes her first steps into the UN’s international territory on the East Side of Manhattan, she has walked into controversy. She had been billed to appear at a rally outside the UN building organised by New York Jewish groups protesting at the arrival of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at the annual UN general assembly.

But Palin’s invitation was withdrawn by organisers following a public spat with Hillary Clinton.

Since her appointment as John McCain’s running mate last month Palin has faced stiff criticism, and even ridicule, for her lack of international experience. The McCain campaign unwittingly fanned the flames by emphasising that as governor of Alaska she was knowledgeable about neighbouring Russia. The theme was picked up in a Saturday Night Live spoof in which Tina Fey has Palin say: “I can see Russia from my house.”

In meetings at the UN she will meet leaders from many of the world’s most sensitive regions. She will meet the presidents of Afghanistan and Iraq, Hamid Karzai and Jalal Talabani, as well as the leader of the main US ally in Latin America, Alvaro Uribe of Colombia. The new Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, is on the list, as is Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]
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Princess Royal Thursday, September 25, 2008 09:53 PM

[RIGHT][B]Thursday
Ramazan 24, 1429
September 25, 2008 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Bush’s equivocation[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

“HELP” to Pakistan’s sovereignty was all that President George Bush could promise when he met President Asif Ali Zardari at the Waldorf Astoria in New York on Tuesday. Missing altogether at his first-ever meeting with President Zardari was a categorical commitment to avoid violating Pakistan’s territorial integrity. The key sentence uttered by him carefully avoided the word ‘sovereignty’. It was left to Information Minister Sherry Rehman to cheer us up by claiming that the American president had assured his interlocutor that he respected Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Noting that President Zardari’s words “have been very strong about Pakistan’s sovereign right and sovereign duty to protect” his country, he said “the United States wants to help”. Period. Shorn of diplomatese, his remarks convey one obvious message to Pakistan: America makes no promise that attacks on Fata of the kind seen recently at Angoor Adda and elsewhere will not be repeated. He did say, however, that Pakistan was an ally, and that “we’ll be talking about security”. He also looked forward to “deepening our relationship”.

Some hopeful material was available in these Bush remarks, for he seemed to be conscious of the need for focussing on the economic aspects of their bilateral relationship when he spoke of “prosperity” repeatedly and said America’s “friends around the world” needed a better life. Coming at a time when Pakistan’s economy is in a mess, with little or no possibility of a surge in the near future, these words are perhaps the only source of solace for President Zardari. Even this bit of comfort must be overshadowed by the realisation that President Bush has only a few weeks left in the White House, and the next incumbent would have his own set of priorities.

Hit by the volatility shown by oil prices, Pakistan has to fight an economic battle in which the removal of subsidies has served to pauperise a people already squeezed by food inflation and tormented by rising electricity rates. What the PPP-led government needs desperately is a massive economic bailout, and one hopes that the Friends of Pakistan group, to be inaugurated by President Zardari in New York tomorrow, will be able to come up with measures not only to help this country overcome the current crisis but also to draw up a strategy for long-term financial assistance. The group includes, besides G-7, such friends as China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The meeting will be followed by a separate US-Pakistan strategic dialogue focussing on the economy. The friends are there. But the big issue is how we are able to set our own house in order and utilise foreign assistance in a manner that enables us to stand on our own feet. Unknown to many, Fata had quite a few industries. They fell victim to the war, robbing the tribesmen of yet another source of livelihood, thus aggravating economic woes and fuelling militancy.

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[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]Mired in graft[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

CORRUPTION along with profligate defence spending, backward capitalism and a feudal system that breeds cyclical poverty has hampered development in Pakistan as long as anyone can remember. We seem to be degenerating instead of evolving, and nothing will improve until the law is applied equally to all and unless those in leadership roles develop a moral conscience. People connected to the civilian and military establishments have pillaged this country and lined their pockets almost from day one, to the huge detriment of everyone except themselves. Highlighting “the fatal link between poverty, failed institutions and graft”, Transparency International reminded us on Tuesday of the inverse relationship between corruption and economic growth: in developing countries, the more there is of the first the direr will be the lot of the majority.

This is hardly rocket science. When a cash-strapped country’s resources are pocketed by corrupt officials, the social sectors suffer grievously. Education and healthcare go into decline, development projects are put on hold or shoddily executed, and basic needs like affordable housing and clean drinking water come to be denied to an increasing number of citizens. Besides fattening the bank accounts of the powerful, such misuse of authority keeps the masses in poverty and servitude, allowing for cheap labour in factories and generations of enslaved peasants tilling the fields of feudal lords. As for an oversight mechanism, we have the National Accountability Bureau, a remarkable organisation whose résumé includes blackmail and political victimisation. Little wonder then that TI ranks Pakistan as the 46th most corrupt country in the world, a distinction we share with the likes of the Comoros islands.

Graft is bad for business too, at least in terms of foreign investment. A maze of official bureaucracy where backhanders are expected at every turn tends to deter investors interested in the long haul. It invites, instead, fly-by-night operators looking to make a quick buck. Even if ‘respectable’ investors come to the fore, the bribes they must pay are naturally included in overheads and as such the products they produce cost local consumers more than they should. In Pakistan’s case, corruption imperils democracy as well, for that is the charge that military rulers and autocratic presidents lay against politicians. Disillusioned with the system and the perceived hedonism of elected officials, many in the public start espousing the ‘merits’ of military rule. Ultimately, some also become pawns in the hands of militants and religio-political parties that wish to herd us to an even more malignant medieval age. We must mend our ways, now.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Hands off Makli[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

THE controversy emanating from the historical Makli graveyard in Thatta is outrageous and sad in equal measure. On either side of the fence are politicians playing the blame game, with one party accusing the other of vandalising historical graves and the other insisting it has done nothing wrong by the dead or the alive. Since the Sindh minister for culture and tourism, Ms Sassui Palijo, is directly linked with the controversy — her father is accused of vandalism — at a time when she happens to be the custodian of the historical site by virtue of her portfolio, it is only fair that her ministry come forth and explain the matter. By extension, the Sindh government, too, must be called upon to investigate the allegations of vandalism without prejudice to either side. Once the truth is ascertained, the guilty should be brought to book without any political allowances being made.

The Makli necropolis is one of the few national heritage sites which also happen to be on Unesco’s World Heritage list. The tombs built there of carved sandstone and belonging to Sindh’s medieval ruling dynasties deserve better upkeep and vigilance, both of which have been found woefully lacking on the part of the authorities concerned. An ordinary citizen is stopped from indulging in harmless activity at the site, such as taking photographs, while the influential and the mighty have tombstones taken from the graveyard to adorn their living rooms and landscaped gardens. That this cannot be done without someone responsible for the monuments’ security looking the other way is clear. In the case of Makli, not only should the dead be left alone in their final resting places, without being disturbed by the digging of water channels across their graves, their tombstones, too, should be left alone to stand as silent sentinels of the much wronged and vandalised land of Sindh.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]A harvest stained with blood[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B][CENTER]By Feryal Ali Gauhar[/CENTER][/B]

IT is early. A light drizzle dampens the still smouldering ashes from which dark clouds arose the night before, obliterating the evening sky, obscuring the horizon of Islamabad the Beautiful. Some 12 hours after the inferno which took more than 50 lives, rescue workers sift through tons of mangled steel and charred wood.

The hopelessly disfigured bodies of those who could not get away were removed the night before. But a search is still on for those who may have survived the terrifying flames which engulfed the Marriott Hotel, just a stone’s throw away from the Parliament House, the Prime Minister’s House, the Presidency, the Federal Sharia Court, the Secretariat, the Foreign Office, Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, Pakistan Television, the National Library, The National Art Gallery, the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, the Supreme Court, the Federal Bureau of Revenue, and numerous foreign missions.

Except for the recently appointed Czech ambassador, no ‘dignitaries’ died in this terrorist attack. The bodies of the injured and the dead were the bodies of ordinary citizens, some wealthy enough to afford a five-star end to the day long fast marking the month of Ramazan. Many of the dead were there to earn a living, to support large families living in small, unknown settlements and hamlets dotting the map of this, my beloved, beleaguered country.

These are the bodies of the unsung, the guards at the entrance gate of the Marriott Hotel who tried their best to extinguish the fire which the suicide bomber had set off by detonating a grenade or perhaps the explosives strapped to his chest.

These are the bodies of the handsome, liveried men, tall and dignified, who stood at attention besides the main door of the hotel, welcoming all guests, holding the door open to visitors, standing on their feet for 12 hours a shift in order to feed families living on the edge in some neglected neighbourhood.

These were the bodies of the women who cleaned the rooms occupied by those who could afford to spend more than a worker’s monthly salary on one night’s comfort. These were the waiters and the chambermaids and the drivers who sat outside in the luxury vehicles of those who had come to feast at iftar, a time when Muslim men and women are to recognise hunger, to acknowledge the gnawing of the gut, to express gratitude for the meal before them, however humble it may be.

But the meal that was served in the lawns of the Prime Minister House the same evening was not humble in the least. For many who partook of it, the message may have been lost entirely, reducing the ritual of fasting to just that.

For many who lost their lives at the Marriott, the evening meal was yet to come; in a corner of the kitchen, they were more concerned about the appetites of the guests. And that seems to have been the primary concern at the Prime Minister House dinner as well. Apparently, it was only after guests were fed and seen off that the political leadership made itself present at the site of devastation.

It is distressing that a national security official actually admitted this at a press conference the next day. The entire cabinet, the military’s top brass, the prime minister himself, the newly elected president, almost all members of parliament, the chief ministers of the four provinces, the president and prime minister of Azad Kashmir and other guests who were present at the dinner heard the blast at 7:49 pm and continued to enjoy their meal, and only after ushering out the last guest did the said official leave for the hospital where the injured and the dead had been transferred.

It appears that for these VIPs finishing dinner was of paramount importance in an emergency. Declaring that no VIP died in the inferno due to the “president’s prescient vision” was as tasteless as it was heartless, as if the deaths of those who expect to be led by competent and sincere leaders is inconsequential.

The greatest irony of all is that the young men who are willing to be recruited into the ranks of countless suicide bombers blow themselves up for the mere fact that perhaps that is a death preferable to the one brought on by hunger.

In a country where hunger has mounted, where the granary of the land of five rivers does not yield enough to feed its citizens, where the water in its rivers has been replaced by effluents, where able-bodied men and women seek meaningful work in vain, trudging the streets on empty stomachs, there cannot be a deadlier harvest than the one we are now reaping.

Decades after we were allied to the United States in its hegemonic struggle against the Soviet “infidel”, we are still harvesting the fruit of that war. The difference this time is that the graves being dug are for our own people, caught between the greatest contradictions of an unjust world, that of hunger stalking a land of plenty. Certainly the harvest this autumn is one stained with blood, surely those we bury next to the gnarled roots which clutch this earth shall remind us that we are the enemy of those we do not know, and those we do not know are amongst us, ploughing our land, ripping up the soil which barely conceals the scars of our lost kingdom.

The writer is the author of No Space for Further Burials.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Green lifestyle[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B][CENTER]By David Adam[/CENTER][/B]

PEOPLE who believe they have the greenest lifestyles can be seen as some of the main culprits behind global warming, says a team of researchers, who claim that many ideas about sustainable living are a myth.

According to the researchers, people who regularly recycle rubbish and save energy at home are also the most likely to take frequent long-haul flights abroad. The carbon emissions from such flights can swamp the green savings made at home, the researchers claim.

Stewart Barr, of Exeter University, England, who led the research, said: “green living is largely something of a myth. There is this middle class environmentalism where being green is part of the desired image.

But another part of the desired image is to fly off skiing twice a year. And the carbon savings they make by not driving their kids to school will be obliterated by the pollution from their flights.”

Some people even said they deserved such flights as a reward for their green efforts, he added.

Only a very small number of citizens matched their eco-friendly behaviour at home by refusing to fly abroad, Barr told a climate change conference at Exeter University Tuesday.

The research team questioned 200 people on their environmental attitudes and split them into three groups, based on a commitment to green living.

They found the longest and the most frequent flights were taken by those who were most aware of environmental issues, including the threat posed by climate change.

Questioned on their heavy use of flying, one respondent said: “I recycle 100 per cent of what I can, there’s not one piece of paper goes in my bin, so that makes me feel less guilty about flying as much as I do.”

Barr said “green” lifestyles at home and frequent flying were linked to income, with wealthier people more likely to be engaged in both activities.

He said: “The findings indicate that even those people who appear to be very committed to environmental action find it difficult to transfer these behaviours into more problematic contexts.”

The team says the research is one of the first attempts to analyse how green intentions alter depending on context. It says the results reveal the scale of the challenge faced by policymakers who are trying to alter public behaviour to help tackle global warming.

The study concludes: “The notion that we can treat what we do in the home differently from what we do on holiday denies the existence of clearly related and complex lifestyle choices and practices.

Yet even a focus on lifestyle groups who may be most likely to change their views will require both time and political will. The addiction to cheap flights and holidays will be very difficult to break.”

The frequent flyers said they expected new technology to make aviation greener, echoing comments made by Tony Blair last year, who said it was “impractical” to expect people to take holidays closer to home. He said the solution was “to look at how you make air travel more energy-efficient, how you develop the new fuels that will allow us to burn less energy and emit less.”

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B]

[B]The right to survive

The Egyptian Gazette[/B][/CENTER]

THOUGH we keep calling for the right of repatriation for Palestinian refugees, Arabs and Muslims seem to forget that many of these refugees are living miserably in their camps in neighbouring countries, as well as in the Palestinian territories. Apparently this is because of the simmering conflict between the two Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, which has recently resulted in the death of 11 persons, nine of whom were from a single Fatah family.…

Though Egypt has been sparing no effort to reconcile the fighting factions, two caravans of aid were recently stopped on their way to … Gaza. The purpose of the caravans was to break the siege of Gaza. However the caravans were stopped by security officials in Sinai, though the blockade of Gaza was last month busted by a foreign ship. Before continuing to advocate the Palestinians’ right of return to the homeland, we must espouse their right to survive. — (Sept 21)

[CENTER][B]First test of leadership

Haaretz[/B][/CENTER]

TZIPI Livni’s victory over Shaul Mofaz in the race to become Kadima’s leader seems narrow because it did not match the pollsters’ forecasts…. If there is a moment when a person can achieve fame or infamy, it is when that person loses an election with dignity. Mofaz did this when he quickly accepted the outcome. Since Mofaz decided not to appeal the results and took “time-out” to consider his next steps, he should not appeal the election’s legitimacy….

The way Livni tries to form a government will be the first test of her leadership. Being clean means more than not accepting envelopes filled with money. Livni has to prove that in contrast to her predecessor, she chooses [people] best suited to the job to be her cabinet ministers…. The selection of Amir Peretz as defence minister because he wanted a job for which he was unsuited.

If Livni wants to lead and not to be led, she must build a government that reflects her agenda. — (Sept 19)

Princess Royal Friday, September 26, 2008 05:08 PM

[RIGHT][B]Friday
Ramazan 25, 1429
September 26, 2008[/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Intelligence deficit[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

IT is widely held that a suicide bomber can’t be stopped from carrying out the carnage he has planned. While this argument is not without merit, it is not entirely true either. Yes, there is little the security agencies or hapless private guards can do once a fanatic with explosives on hand and mayhem on his mind reaches the venue of the crime. True, it is impossible to thoroughly check every truck or trailer entering or leaving major cities and, come to that, to know what sort of vehicle the terrorists will use at any given time. So here’s the point: we need better intelligence so that potential attackers can be checked in their tracks. Granted there may be slip-ups even with the strictest of vigilance but the threat of suicide attacks can at least be downgraded from the ever-present danger it is today to the occasional tragedy from which, sadly, no major country in the world is now immune.

This is precisely the theatre of war where Pakistan’s vast and lavishly funded network of intelligence agencies must engage the enemy within and deliver telling results sooner than later. What we have seen in recent years is an intelligence failure of catastrophic proportions. Cabinet members minced no words on Wednesday when they stated that the intelligence apparatus had “miserably failed” in pre-empting Saturday’s attack on the Marriott hotel in Islamabad as well as other acts of terrorism. The prime minister and his cabinet are right in asking the security agencies to get their act together. But why this should be so difficult is a troubling proposition. It is no secret that the intelligence agencies, and the ISI in particular, possess a unique insight into the workings of organisations that once came in handy in the misguided pursuit of ‘strategic depth’ and have now turned on the state of Pakistan. True, the tactics of the militants have changed over the years, as has their leadership. Still, it should not be beyond the capabilities of the agencies to better infiltrate the insurgents with vastly improved results.

Perhaps, embroiled as they have been in politics over the years, the intelligence agencies have lost sight of the real problem. Now, without delay, they must refocus their energies. There is no want of expertise but the priorities are skewed — though understandably so given the direction in which the intelligence network has been pushed by a succession of politically vindictive rulers. More troubling is the lingering fear that decades of ideological indoctrination may have left their mark, that there may be ‘renegade’ elements within the agencies that not only sympathise with the Taliban and their ilk but actively further their murderous cause. Even if this is untrue, a thorough rethink is in order. We are not fighting someone else’s battle.

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[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]Turmoil in Afghanistan[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

AS the clock winds down on the Bush administration, an eleventh hour review of the Afghan war strategy and overall mission is underway. The news from Afghanistan is grim: violence is up, the economy is down, and the local population is disillusioned with the Karzai government and its foreign backers. A further deterioration is expected this winter. A drought has endangered the food security of nearly a quarter of the population and fighting between the Taliban and Isaf and US forces is expected to increase dramatically in the normally quiet winter months. Almost everyone with knowledge of the Afghan situation is downbeat about the immediate prospects for the country. It is little wonder then that Americans are reviewing their mission only nine months after the last review was undertaken. President Bush will not want to leave office with Afghanistan on the brink of collapse.

The problem is that the Americans appear to view Afghanistan through the prism of a military strategy. The tens of billions of dollars that the West has poured into the country in development aid are virtually nullified by the ever-increasing civilian casualties of war. As the Taliban have grown bolder in their attacks on Isaf and US forces, the military response has been increasingly indiscriminate — further alienating the local population. This is the same pattern that is being played out in Waziristan, from where the Americans insist cross-border attacks are being launched inside Afghanistan. The only strategy that can be successful is one that empowers and enables local forces to take on the Taliban.

In Fata, this would mean the local tribes marshalled by the Pakistani state. In Afghanistan, this would mean the Afghan government, which must take the lead in securing the country and winning the trust of its people. However, the Afghan government led by President Karzai is widely discredited and alleged to be thoroughly corrupt and incompetent. This is another problem: Afghanistan will only be stabilised when the Afghan people have a political system and government they are comfortable with. Inevitably, this will differ from US perceptions of what a democracy ought to be. Perhaps the basic problem in Afghanistan these past seven years is a contradiction that originates in the White House. An administration chock-full of policymakers who loathe the idea of nation-building has been forced by its president to remake parts of the world in America’s likeness. Unfortunately, it is the Afghans who are paying the price for this contradiction.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]The curse of polio[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

POLIO continues to be a nightmare for the country and its health corps. Yet another incident of a five-year-old girl from Jamrud tehsil was reported last week. Although the victim had received several drops of the polio vaccine, doctors confirmed that she had contracted the P1 virus. Sadly, this year’s figures for NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas alone are close to 25. An anti-polio campaign was announced last week by the district coordination officer in Timergara to target 200,000 children. The announcement came soon after cases were detected in neighbouring Swat and the Bajaur tribal region. It came with a plea to religious and tribal leaders and social welfare organisations to cooperate with vaccinators so that no under-fives were left out — a possibility in view of the Taliban promise in Afghanistan to medics administering polio drops that they would not be deterred in their mission.

However, the fact that the most recent victim had already received polio drops is deeply disconcerting. Aside from a definite need for a committee to manage the Expanded Programme for Immunisation, assess its activities, introduce accountability for the security of funds, there are technicalities such as delicate dispensation methods where even a minor slip can render a vaccine ineffective. One such procedure involves the cold chain which requires storage in ice boxes with strictly prescribed temperatures. Also, the problem of health personnel and immunisation material reaching extraordinarily remote crevices of the tribal belt is a challenge that demands vigilant monitoring.

Experts also believe that before polio vaccines are administered, it must be ascertained that the child in question is not suffering from another infection, be it minor or major, as any illness can cause the shots to lose their efficacy. Another area of focus is an extensive survey to determine how many ‘immunised’ children have fallen prey to the debilitating disease, along with a follow-up programme on the inoculated to monitor the health of the children and the maintenance of the booster. In the end, it is hard to forget that the battle against polio is in its 14th year. Should such basic concerns not be in the past by now?

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Ijtihad in our times[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B][CENTER]By Dr Asghar Ali Engineer[/CENTER][/B]

OURS is one of the most progressive religions. The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) was surprisingly open and modern in his concepts. He not only accepted validity of other religions before him through divine word but emphasised peaceful coexistence with all, if others do not take up arms against Muslims.

He drew up the Covenant of Madina to promote harmonious co-existence between all faiths and called it one community. The Quran emphasised the doctrine of freedom of conscience (la ikrah fi’deen – 2:256) which was no less than a revolutionary concept in those days. It is also a harbinger of human rights as it declares, “We have given equal honour to children of Adam” (17:70).

The Quran also declared gender equality when it says, “And women have rights similar to those against them in a just manner.” (2:228). These are revolutionary declarations. The world realised equal dignity of human beings, gender equality and freedom of conscience only in the 20th century whereas Islam had declared this more than 1,400 years ago.

But today we see very different practices in the Muslim world. Many even accuse Islam of not permitting human freedom and deny human rights; women enjoy few rights in the Muslim world. Partly it is due to misconceptions and partly the Muslim world is responsible for all this. The conservatism which we see in the Muslim world today is more cultural and due to social structures, as it developed through centuries of monarchical or colonial rule which strengthened feudal values.

What developed by way of jurisprudence during these centuries was taken as authentic teachings of Islam representing its values. However, fact was that Quranic teachings were too revolutionary for the early medieval society to be accepted and hence the then social values became predominant and the dream of a Quranic society remained unfulfilled. Time has now come to realise this dream in more concrete terms.

The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) with his vision had realised that the Quranic teachings may not be easily accepted as prevalent social structures would try to overwhelm the Quranic values. Also, he wanted society to move ahead and not remain stagnant. He thus left room in the Sharia for the doctrine of ijtihad i.e. maximum assertion of human intellect to resolve new problems arising in society.

We find this doctrine enunciated in the hadith pertaining to his companion Ma’az bin Jabal who was appointed by the Prophet as governor of Yemen. The Prophet advised him to resolve problems through ijtihad if he did not find their solution in the Quran and the Sunnah. He also said that if one commits a mistake in doing ijtihad, one would be rewarded for the sincere effort; if one finds the correct solution then the reward would be twice as much.

One will hardly find such parallels in history of other religions where intellectual freedom to solve problems is promoted instead of falling back on conservatism. There is complete consensus among ulema on the concept of ijtihad as the way forward, yet the tragedy is that none encourages its application. This is not because of Islam but because of social conservatism pervading the Muslim world.

It is not only a necessary exercise today, it is, I believe, obligatory on scholars committed to the Quranic values to attempt ijtihad in order to rediscover the spirit of the faith. Many extremist and militant Islamic groups have promoted serious misunderstandings about the values and teachings of Islam and have thus hijacked it for their own political agenda.

Also, unlike during the Muslim rule in the first few centuries, a vast number of Muslims live as minorities in various non-Muslim-majority countries. There is a great need to develop a new code to serve the needs of these substantial Muslim minorities so that they could live with a good Islamic conscience.

Only ijtihad can make that a reality.

[B]The writer is an Islamic scholar and heads the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai.[/B]

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[B][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]Citrus cities[/U] [/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/B]

[B][CENTER]By Razi Ahmed[/CENTER][/B]

CITIES in Pakistan have expanded but without much imagination for sustainable development which, in some global cities, is premised on the green ideology.

The cities of Karachi, Peshawar, Faisalabad and even Lahore and Islamabad are coping with mounting urbanisation at the expense of the little greenery left in these cities. Green surroundings have more than ornamental value; they are critical to sustaining the ecosystem which is now becoming increasingly compromised in many industrial cities.

Unless we don’t think and act green, we will not be able to effectively counter the steel and concrete ambitions of estate moguls; nothing will transform current attitudes that accept the development which is turning our cities into places of municipal chaos and harming the natural environment. An enabling role by the state is necessary to mitigate the effects of the crass commercial exploitation of city limits propagated by biased developers. This can be done as demonstrated by Lee Kwan Yew’s experiments at greening Singapore in the 1960s, where stakeholders were passionately beckoned to plant a sapling or two. The results of the eventual implantation of the green idea in Singapore show that development is possible without impinging on natural surroundings.

Haphazard expansion and urbanisation have denuded Karachi of its fabled green streets and parks in the old colonial, multi-ethnic quarters of Saddar. Its favourite, sometimes bloody, political playground, Patel Bagh —now Nishtar Park — was once home to sprawling trees that made the adjacent Soldier Bazaar and Parsi Colony idyllic to live in. On the other end, Mumbai, despite its many post-independence teething troubles, has guarded the beautiful green rows of trees that line its streets. The neighbourhoods of Malabar Hill and Colaba, and in between, belie the city’s density of population largely because of the shade of sprawling trees in ample number.

The benefits of greening cities are abundant but developers, government and other parties interested in governing cities often relegate greenery to the realm of insignificance. At the most, they pay lip service to it. A strong agent of change needs to emerge as has happened in many other cities that, although plagued by similar problems, have demonstrated that an inclusive and integrated action plan, can actually work to promote development that is sustainable and in keeping with the natural environment.

From Bogotá to Barcelona, powerful, elected mayors have reversed the results of the urban malaise to rejuvenate their cities in green ways. These agents of change have galvanised public opinion and supported plans for a better environment — for instance, those that seek to cut down on traffic congestion and vehicular emissions. Models in Barcelona and Bogotá demonstrate how right policies with correct palliative mantras can bring about a sea change in urban architecture. Barcelona’s Avinguda Diagonal bifurcates the northern and southern stretches, has bike tracks under azure skies lined with bursting citruses.

Likewise, Bogotá’s many worlds — the rich and slum dwellers — have access to bike routes made possible by its former mayor, Enrique Peñalosa. The results may not be phenomenal but the schemes to cycle along green thoroughfares are playing a part in neutralising the carcinogenic city air.

Misplaced means adopted to achieve a green end have to be redressed as ad hocism prevails in the face of political flights. The current Punjab chief minister’s masterly transformation of Lahore during his last term entailed foreign trappings in the form of date palms imported at exorbitant prices to mirror the look of the Middle East. As was to be expected, these palms, climatically (also culturally) unsuitable to Lahore, have stood frozen in time serving only as relics of the broader Sharifian lust for the all-encompassing badge of amir-ul-momineen.

Development and environmentalism are not mutually exclusive. Eco-friendly ideas, anchored in a given local context and culture, have proven just that. Cities such as Singapore and Barcelona, despite being crucial nodes in the global economy, place emphasis on the sanctity of the environment and illustrate how development and the environment can be compatible.

The UN should annually assemble global city authorities and highlight the importance of greening cities in keeping with the Millennium Development Goal for environmental sustainability. The Clinton Foundation has, to its credit, initiated programmes in cities such as Karachi to work on greening public sector buildings to alleviate emissions. The forum ought to be broadened to disseminate ideas and information to approximately three billion people that populate cities around the world.

[email]razi.razi@gmail.com[/email]

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[B][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]OTHER VOICES - Sri Lankan Press[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/B]

[CENTER][B]Coexistence of poverty with prosperity

Daily Mirror[/B][/CENTER]

It is not surprising that incidences of theft, robbery, house-breaking, financial racketeering and plunder of state funds have shown an increasing trend. When people find it difficult to live with the steady rise in the cost of living, they resort to various methods of coping with the problem…. According to police records, robbery related crimes have shown a marked increase.

On Tuesday, Governor of the Central Bank Ajith Nivard Cabraal informed the people through the media about the significant progress the economy has made. The overall economic picture he created was indeed bright…. In the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2008, compiled by Transparency International (TI), the country’s position has deteriorated to the 94th… on the basis of corruption perceived to exist among public officers and politicians….

The prevalence of this… corruption is well-known and the plague persists unabated while measures and institutions … remain atrophied. The absence of checks and balances and non-imposition of appropriate punishment to culprits provide encouragement to venal sections in society….Unfortunately, it is the law-abiding citizens of this country who have to bear the brunt…. While the vast majority of officers in the police department do their duty well …a small percentage … brings discredit to the department. IGP Jayantha Wickremaratne’s concern about this situation is evident from the comments he has recently made on allegations against the police force. It is hoped that the IGP will make every effort to restore the lost prestige of the police force… thus ensuring … efficient protection. — (Sept 25)

Hurriah Sunday, November 02, 2008 09:56 AM

[B][CENTER][SIZE="3"][U][COLOR="DarkRed"]Why raise private armies? [/COLOR][/U][/SIZE][/CENTER][/B]

[B]Sunday, 02 Nov, 2008
By Tasneem Noorani [/B]

IT seems that we have failed to learn anything from our past which includes botched strategies of helping the Taliban conquer Afghanistan and our ‘slow boil’ strategy in Kashmir.

According to a report in this newspaper filed from Washington: “Pakistan plans to arm tens of thousand of tribals in Fata, to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants”. It further states that “the US military, which used Iraqi tribesmen to fight Al Qaeda, supports this plan, hoping to replicate its success in Iraq”.

To me this is almost a conspiracy to kill the spontaneous uprisings of the tribals against foreigners and the misguided locals. The welcome movement of locals raising lashkars against the Taliban and foreigners started this summer. It indicated the end of the patience of the vast majority of tribals, who did not agree with what was happening. The consistent policy of the armed forces, where they have taken on the miscreants firmly, must have encouraged the silent majority to stand up and be counted. But it was obviously a spontaneous movement in line with the tradition of collective responsibility, a part of their riwaj.

Why are we trying to give it the look of a foreign-sponsored move? This will surely make it suspect in the eyes of the locals and make them look like the agents of the US, a perception which can make anyone the No 1 target in the tribal areas. The US military was not even aware of the existence of the tribal areas of Pakistan when the tradition of raising a lashkar to fight a common cause of a tribe became part of local custom. How could it have followed the policy in Iraq, which it was supposed to be replicating in Pakistan’s tribal areas?

Assuming the news report from Washington is correct, there will be two serious consequences. First, as mentioned above, the identification of a perfectly indigenous move, as per local traditions, with the US will make it highly suspect in the eyes of the locals and all those associated with it will be branded American agents, which will immediately kill the movement and make the task of the Taliban easier.

Secondly, there will be repercussions of officially arming a civil population. Have we not seen the effects of our past strategies of arming and training a civilian population, both on our eastern as well as western borders? According to the news report, we are going to supply the tribesmen with arms again, reportedly purchased from China, even though that is a commodity which is not in short supply in the area.

Supply of arms will be followed by weapons and some tactical training. We will perhaps even concede to the tribals’ request for more lethal weapons. After all, the idea is to make these people match the enemy they are trying to defeat.

In the process we will have a few scores of tribal armies, who will be battle hardened at the end of this phase. Assuming that the current enemy is annihilated, the battle-hardened tribals will turn in unpredictable ways on new ‘enemies’.

A majority of the tribals are caught in the crossfire of a war that has been thrust upon them. They are poor people, living in primitive conditions, trying to eke out a living. Because of lack of economic opportunities of any kind, including agriculture, they have traditionally indulged in trade which is perceived to be illegal by usually accepted norms. Their business is to smuggle luxury goods into the country.

Growing poppy and extracting heroin is the most financially rewarding occupation for some, considering the limitations of land, but it means being involved in the drug business. Kidnapping for ransom (they usually do not kill) is another ‘business’ they find profitable for their financial survival. All this cannot be condoned by a civilised society; then again society should reflect on what it has done for the tribesmen to enable them make an honest living.

Even in this conflict, while the US is willing to send arms and experts for capacity building, can we think of a scheme to help put money in the pockets of these people? Infrastructure is fine, but the economic impact of that takes time to trickle down. We have been hearing of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) for the last two years and will probably continue to only hear about them for the next few years.

Even if 10 per cent of the money spent by the US in the tribal areas was put into schemes which would have directly benefited the tribals, we would have had the Taliban on the run much earlier.

Arming lashkars with US money will enable some general in the US to claim credit for his innovative policy, but will discredit and kill the only hope that the area has to fight Talibanisation.

The local political administration system, which may be weakened because of the blun

ders of the Musharraf era, still exists. I understand that the current government is trying to reinforce the old system. These are the right people to interact with the lashkars. They have their own riwaj and locally accepted ways of helping anyone they choose to. The political agent and his team are the most appropriate people to be strengthened and provided resources to nurture and support the popular uprising.

The tribals are risking their lives confronting the extremists because they are aware that their riwaj is under threat. Let them do it their way. Let us keep our smart alec strategies to ourselves.


[U][B][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]A difficult period [/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/B][/U]

[B]Sunday, 02 Nov, 2008[/B]


THE Foreign Office broke no new ground when it said on Friday that Pakistan’s relations with the United States were passing through “a difficult period”. The FO’s recognition of the strained relationship between the two came the day America launched two more attacks in Waziristan, killing at least 21 people, including an Al Qaeda operative. The raids will continue — let us accept it. The outgoing American president signed a secret order in July authorising attacks in Fata. Until there is a change of policy, Pakistan should be prepared for this frequency and scope of American attacks. On Thursday, the American Homeland Security chief said that a country should have the right to attack another if it harboured potential terrorists. He thus reaffirmed what President George Bush and other Republican administration officials have said several times in the wake of 9/11, namely the US had the right to make ‘pre-emptive’ strikes in such cases. The most ‘original’ piece of foreign policy declaration came from Paul Wolfowitz, a former deputy defence secretary, when he talked of ‘ending states’ to ensure America’s security.

While the drone attacks and the often negative statements coming from America constitute a serious commentary on our diplomatic endeavours — for we have failed to convey our viewpoint adequately to the US and the world — they also betray a lack of America’s trust in Pakistan. Although the war on terror is supposed to be a joint US-Pakistan endeavour — both regard the terrorists to be their enemy — the two sides have failed to coordinate their strategy. Pakistan has mobilised over 100,000 soldiers and suffered countless casualties but the coalition forces across the border are not certain if their war aims are being achieved. They suspect the ISI of continuing to follow a “strategy of double-think”, so to say, that is fight the militants at home and use them abroad. This lack of confidence between the two sides has created bad blood between them.

Friday’s attacks come at a time when peace moves are afoot, and American officials too have been speaking of negotiating with the Taliban if they distance themselves from Al Qaeda. The foreign office statement reiterated what the prime minister had declared some time back — that Pakistan would tackle America’s violations of its sovereignty by diplomatic means. There is no other choice. With our growing dependence on American military power and the government’s desire to seek economic support from the IMF that looks for the proverbial nod from Washington to release funds to Islamabad, it would be counter-productive to overreact and succumb to pro-Taliban lobbies to challenge the US. In the long run, however, Pakis- tan must reduce its dependence on America and learn to stand on its own feet economically if it wants to conduct an independent foreign policy.

Princess Royal Monday, November 03, 2008 06:41 PM

[RIGHT][B]Monday
Ziqa'ad 4, 1429
November 03, 2008 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Where are their rights?[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

IT is a sign of how callous we have become as a society when hardly any hue and cry is raised over the abusive and often unnatural treatment meted out to our children. The latter, because they are without a voice, cannot even seek redress. Our children are exposed to paedophiles (and consequently to a host of diseases including Aids) with poverty forcing many to accept money in return for sexual services. They are also victims of despicable social practices such as child marriage, an instance of which was reported in our paper on Saturday. During times of natural calamity, too, they are among the worst hit as evident in the case of Balochistan where an earthquake last week left 30,000 children homeless and exposed to dangerous illnesses such as pneumonia.

However, while it is amply clear that society has failed to protect its children, one must blame the government even more for not even attending to whatever legal obligations it has regarding its young citizens, let alone enacting a comprehensive law that would seek to shield them from all manner of social ills. As we pointed out in a recent editorial, the state is not even sure of the age at which a child ceases to be one. On the one hand, it has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child according to which adulthood begins at 18. On the other, the Employment of Children Act states that a child is under 14 years. Meanwhile, national identity cards are issued at the age of 18.

It is time to give children a clearer status in society and to ask ourselves some tough questions. Do we bring them — and so many of them — into the world as a future safeguard against a poverty-stricken old age? Or do we look upon them as individual personalities whose need for love, care, shelter, etc goes beyond being a mere responsibility for parents, elders and the state? Indeed, together we should be cherishing this responsibility and ensuring that our children are given all their rights and more, and that they grow up into happy, well-adjusted, thinking adults who believe in giving their best to those around them. By not doing so, we are violating all laws and norms of human rights. Besides implementing existing laws and enacting new ones, there is also a need to sensitise institutions like the police and the judiciary to the vulnerability of children and to the state’s duty to provide them with relief in times of distress. Such measures would shake society out of its current stupor and contribute significantly to the welfare of children.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Ban on illiterate workers[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

WHILE it is not clear to what extent the Saudi ban on issuing visas to illiterate Pakistani workers will affect remittances, it is evident that the blow will be a considerable one to our economy. Remittances from Saudi Arabia amounted to over a billion dollars in the last financial year with the Saudi embassy issuing a maximum of 1,200 work visas per day. According to reports, only a quarter of those granted visas were able to read and write. With the money — totalling billions of dollars — from expatriate labour in various countries crucial to sustaining our economy, it is evident that the labour ministry will have to reassess its performance. The ministry may pride itself on making a significant contribution to national finances through the export of Pakistani labour. But surely greater attention should be paid to basic requirements, like education, that would enhance the value of our workers in countries where there is a market for their services. After all, we have the example of other developing countries like Sri Lanka whose women are in great demand in the Gulf and other Arab countries for domestic duties. Trained by government-run centres in household duties and made aware of cultural sensitivities, they have so far proved to be assets abroad, and contribute significantly to the Sri Lankan economy — although several cases of maid abuse are now forcing Colombo to review its overseas employment policy.

No doubt our workers too toil diligently abroad. But illiteracy is the source of many ills, and according to the Saudi embassy is causing difficulties for its government. The removal of this hurdle is essential and a workforce with at least basic education requirements should be applying for overseas jobs, and not specifically in Saudi Arabia. Asking Riyadh to delay the implementation of the new rules is of little use. This hardly serves Saudi Arabia’s interests and would do little for ours in the long run. What we need are literacy programmes and better government policies and infrastructure for training that would facilitate our expatriate workers during their stint abroad. This would also encourage them to rely on government institutions and thus escape the trap that dubious recruiting agents lay for them with promises of greener pastures in foreign lands. At the same time it is necessary to strengthen forums for registering and acting on the complaints of expatriate workers, many of whom are treated shabbily in the Arab countries. Only a government that is sensitive to its workers’ needs can expect maximum output from them.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]The missing bus[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

ISLAMABAD must be one of the few capital cities in the world that still lacks a basic bus system. Despite recent improvements in the city’s road network, it does not have a public transport service to match. The existing transport system comprising fragmented services provided by a medley of individually operated vans and mini-buses is inadequate. Not that there has been a dearth of apparent attempts to rehabilitate this system. The Islamabad Transport Authority, the Capital Development Authority and even the Islamabad Traffic Police have all separately tried in recent years to launch new bus services, but the disappointing results are clearly visible on the roads of Islamabad where students, office workers and the public in general continue to suffer every day. The root of Islamabad’s public transport malaise appears to lie in the absence of a single agency with comprehensive powers to deal with a wide range of transport problems and coordinate overall solutions. Jurisdiction on transport issues is divided among several agencies resulting in duplication of responsibility, undermining of accountability and resistance to change. The situation has been made worse by the lack of sufficient resources. Also complicating the situation is the lack of local regulatory frameworks in urban transport.

The recent re-introduction of the private Varan buses on the roads of the twin cities is a positive move, but this is basically a service between Islamabad and Rawalpindi. What is needed is a successful public bus system within Islamabad itself which calls for institutional reorganisation, planning and training. This is essential to meet the needs of those who do not have access to private transport. While the plan for a rail-based transit system in the twin cities, announced last year, is welcome, this is likely to take years to materialise. Without an accessible and efficient bus system, poor mobility within Islamabad will continue to hamper economic growth and improvement in the quality of life, restricting accessibility — especially of women — to jobs, education, health services and recreation.

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]OTHER VOICES - North American Press[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

[U][COLOR="darkred"]Oh, Washington? While you’re bailing ...[/COLOR][/U]

The New York Times[/B] [/CENTER]

AT a Congressional hearing this week, the mayor of Trenton cut through the weighty economic theories concerning this latest downturn and borrowed a simple message from the Beatles. “Help!” Mayor Douglas Palmer pleaded. Like mayors and governors across the country, Mr Palmer asked Congress to funnel money to city and state governments where tax revenues are plummeting and requests for aid are soaring.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has begun appealing for Congressional help with the ‘precarious’ financial status of many states. Unlike the federal government, most states and cities require balanced budgets, and the conference has estimated a $26bn shortfall for 27 states so far this year. If the economy continues its slide, that figure is surely to grow, with some estimates rising to $100bn by the next fiscal year.

If Congress and the White House can bail out bankers and insurance companies and possibly the auto industry, they should be able to help state and local governments, too. The aid could be temporary, the way it has been during past recessions.

In addition to extending unemployment benefits and food stamp programmes, which provide the biggest immediate boosts to states’ economies, one promising idea being pushed by governors is to put more federal money into projects like roads, subways, bridges, tunnels, schools and sewage plants….

Many states also need added support for Medicaid…. Investing in highways and health care is a far more effective way of stimulating the economy. With their record profits, the oil companies are the last ones the government should be helping at this point. And states won’t use federal funds for executive bonuses or corporate junkets, the way some financial firms have.

Giving money to state and local governments has its hazards, of course. Congress must resist making this next stimulus into an ugly porkfest, with money for everybody’s favourite waterworks. And it cannot become an excuse for governors and mayors to avoid making hard decisions about how to cut their own budgets.

But it is time for Congress and the White House to recognize how crucial it is to help local governments who provide services like schools and health care and police protection that cannot fall victim to this latest recession. — (Nov 1)

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[B]
[U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Change of colours in Washington[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By S.M. Naseem[/B] [/CENTER]

FALL is typically a season of changing colours on the US East Coast. As winter approaches, shiny green leaves gradually turn into an arresting array of rust, brown, red, yellow and other colours, making the landscape breathtakingly beautiful.

This year, however, a much more radical change of colour is likely to take place inside the most coveted residence of the nation, the White House, where until half a century ago the only black inmates were the maids and bartenders of the presidential household.

The likelihood of Senator Barack Obama becoming the first non-white occupant of the White House has become almost a certainty after his spectacular success against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries and Senator John McCain in the race for the presidency. Arguably, he faced far greater challenges in defeating Hillary Clinton in the primaries than in his yet undecided contest against Senator McCain.

At the start of the primary campaign, Mr Obama was an underdog and the victory of Senator Clinton was being taken for granted. She enjoyed almost unequivocal support of the Democratic establishment by virtue of being the first lady for eight years and having served two terms as a senator and she was also the icon of a vibrant feminist movement in the country. The gruelling primary contest which ended in April after Hillary — with unconcealed reluctance — conceded the nomination. It left Obama a little over six months to launch his presidential campaign, while his Republican rival, McCain, had sewed up his party’s nomination much earlier.

However, it was the primaries which helped shape Obama’s campaign for the presidency. He did not allow the wounds of the long and protracted primary campaign, with the often unsubtle use of race and gender as a weapon by partisans on both sides, to fester and made strenuous, if sometimes unrewarding, efforts to win over Hillary’s committed fans.

Mr McCain, however, was no walkover either. While his age and his close association with the Bush White House and its neocon policies had largely faded his maverick image and his Vietnam heroics, he retained the advantage of his prolonged experience invoking not only his own service to the military but also of “a long line of McCains who have served the country in war and in peace”.

In spite of these odds Obama has reached so close to the White House doors. It is because of his personal charisma and compelling biography of mixed ancestry and diverse cultures. The latter has, in fact, been an impediment in getting the support of American blacks, whose traditional leaders such as Rev Jesse Jackson felt alienated from him.

But Barack Obama, who entered active politics only a little over a decade ago, showed exemplary savvy by keeping the political and demographic arithmetic in mind to reach his political goal. His historic speech in Philadelphia in March splendidly finessed the issues of race, religion and colour raised in connection with his firebrand pastor Rev Wright and succeeded in linking the race issue with that of economic deprivation.

Fortunately for Obama, the tailwinds of economic and financial crises, stemming from the bursting of the housing bubble, which affected both the whites and blacks — perhaps more of the latter — helped to give the Obama campaign a windfall which McCain had not anticipated. Less than a week before the global financial crisis unravelled and Wall Street’s invincible icons started falling like dominos, Mr McCain was continuing to parrot that the ‘fundamentals’ of the economy were strong.

Suddenly, it dawned on him that the Bush administration, whose economic policies he had consistently supported but wanted to distance himself from, was launching a mammoth bailout plan to rescue the financial markets with the economy on the verge of a meltdown.

The strategy devised by McCain’s advisers to ignore the economy and focus on other issues such as Obama’s lack of experience, his questionable patriotism and ability to defend the country against a future 9/11, and innumerable other vulnerabilities, which Fox News and Rush Limbaugh incessantly regurgitated, had to be put on the back burner.

In a sudden U-turn, Mr McCain decided to become a populist and announced the suspension of his campaign. He went back to Washington to help solve the unfolding crisis, though ended up contributing nothing to the crisis or his campaign, except a lot of embarrassment, especially at the David Letterman show.

This was Mr McCain’s second gamble. Naming Sarah Palin as his running mate had already become grist for the comedy mill given Ms Palin’s inept handling of serious questions about the economy or foreign policy. Although Palin has been a larger crowd-puller than McCain, her crowds have not been dominated by Hillary supporters.

Despite his blundering campaign, it would be premature to say that Mr McCain’s electoral goose is cooked, much less to write his political obituary. Sarah Palin has resorted to the crudest tactics that a losing campaign can undertake, including smears. Besides spreading false rumours about Obama’s birth, nationality, patriotism and political associates, the McCain campaign is using incendiary ‘robocalls’ — phone calls where a machine delivers a message — linking Obama to terrorism, infanticide, and other charges.

Obama is now being described as a socialist, rather than a liberal, who believes in big government. It is ironic that it was the Bush administration — supported both by Obama and McCain — who ‘socialised’ many of the leading banks and financial institutions during the ongoing financial crisis. The McCain campaign is also launching an intimidating counter-campaign to discourage the recently registered black and young voters from exercising their franchise, as well as attempting to exclude those whose houses have been foreclosed.

If in spite of these heavy odds, Senator Obama does make it to the White House it will indeed mean crossing a historic rubicon. Changing the colour of the president will of course not change the colour of the country. Neither will it transform the US, as McCain is wont to warn, into a socialist republic. Nor will the wars started by Bush come to an end soon.

But there is certainly a hope shared by all that the US will learn from the political and economic fiascos it has landed the world in during the last decade and will turn a new leaf in its relations with both the developed and developing world.

As president Obama will hopefully be able to correct the flagrant policy mistakes of the Bush era and may be able to address the global issues whose urgent solution demands proactive and wise statesmanship, which his predecessor woefully lacked. n

[email]syed.naseem@aya.yale.edu[/email]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Chinese in Guantanamo[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Duncan Campbell and Richard Norton-Taylor[/B] [/CENTER]

SEVENTEEN Chinese prisoners who have been held for nearly seven years in Guantanamo Bay will be informed on Monday (Nov 3) that they could spend the rest of their lives behind bars, even though they face no charges and have been told by a judge they should be freed.

No country is willing to accept them and the US justice department has now blocked moves for them to be allowed to go to the US mainland, where they had been offered a home by refugee and Christian organisations.

The men’s lawyer, Sabin Willett, wass flying to Guantanamo Bay last weekend to break the news to the men, who are members of the Uighur ethnic group seeking autonomy from China. In a blunt and angry letter to justice department lawyers, Willett spelled out what he thought of the way the men had been treated.

“After years of stalling and staying and appellate gamesmanship, you pleaded no contest — they are not enemy combatants,” Willett has written. “You have never charged them with any crime.”

Last month a federal judge ruled that the men should be freed. “They were on freedom’s doorstep,” said Willett. “The plane was at Gitmo. The stateside Lutheran refugee services and the Uighur families and Tallahassee clergy were ready to receive them.” However, the justice department appealed against the ruling and Willett claims this will put the men into a potentially endless limbo.

On Friday Willett said his clients were “saddened” by the latest events. The men, who are Muslims, were in Afghanistan in 2001 and were captured by Pakistani troops and handed over to the US. So far, more than 100 countries have been asked to take them as refugees but none have agreed. Willett blamed US authorities for incorrectly describing them as terrorists.

According to the US justice department, the men “are linked to an organisation that the state department has labelled to be a terrorist entity, and it is beside the point that the organisation is not ‘a threat to us’ because the law excluding members of such groups does not require such proof.”

Willett is also angry the defence department will not agree to let him meet his clients unless they are chained to the floor.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Monday, December 29, 2008 03:55 PM

[RIGHT][B]Monday
Zilhaj 30, 1429
December 29, 2008 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Accident management[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

ACCIDENTS will happen but we as a nation have consistently failed to learn from past mistakes. More than five years ago the oil tanker Tasman Spirit ran aground as it tried to enter the Karachi harbour and eventually split apart, releasing vast quantities of its toxic cargo into the Arabian Sea. The result was the worst environmental disaster in the history of Pakistan. With no contingency plan in place, the shipping, port and government authorities either watched, ran around like headless chickens or opted for denial mode. The leakage was minor, according to a Karachi Port Trust official, and that there was nothing to worry about. The communications minister — and this was a classic — reportedly said that the beaches weren’t that clean to begin with. Meanwhile, with no master plan of action and an inexcusable lack of coordination between the relevant agencies, almost 20 days passed between the time the Tasman Spirit ran aground, started leaking and finally broke up, wreaking havoc.

The Tasman Spirit disaster was huge, but to this day we are unequipped to deal with even relatively minor accidents that can damage the environment. Take the puncturing earlier this month in Karachi of a pipeline which drenched an entire neighbourhood in oil. Faced with an emergency situation, the relevant authorities responded in an ad hoc fashion, for the simple reason that no mechanism is followed for the environmentally safe disposal of hazardous materials. Oil was pumped into drains that discharge into the sea. Truckloads after truckloads of sand were brought in to stanch the flow but as yet no official has satisfactorily explained how and where the oil-drenched detritus was disposed of after being hauled away. On Friday, a truck-tanker overturned in the streets of Karachi and spilled some 44,000 litres of petrol. What did the rescue workers do? They diverted the petrol to a stormwater drain that leads to the nearby Arabian Sea. But they were not at fault, really. The problem lies elsewhere.

There are few laws and no clear-cut contingency plans to follow. The Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997 calls for the “preparation of emergency contingency plans for coping with environmental hazards and pollution caused by accidents, natural disasters and calamities”. This is yet to happen. According to the website of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA), new ‘Hazardous Substances Rules’, which cover the kind of accidents under discussion, were drafted in 2003. Going by the information on the Pak-EPA’s own website, these rules still remain in draft form. The result: there is no central plan or policy to tackle such accidents in a coordinated fashion. That said, laws or policies alone cannot achieve much. Implementation is the key, and in this context what is required is a coordinated system of accident management that includes the training of those involved in rescue operations and the rapid mobilisation of the concerned provincial environmental protection agency. It may sound like a tall order but it can be done.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Taliban’s dilemma[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

TO educate or not to educate — girls in particular — seems to be the question the Taliban are agonising over. They have yet to make up their mind and demonstrate their honesty in the matter. On Thursday it was reported by a section of the media that militants in Swat have announced a total ban on female education in the district from Jan 15. Such a move, if it is actually implemented, would keep an estimated 40,000 girls out of school. But a day later the leadership of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan sought to distance itself from the ban that smacked of anti-social obscurantism. Mercifully, the TTP chief has now proclaimed that he was not opposed to female education, so long as the girls are properly veiled. He has promised to probe the issue and get the Taliban in Swat to rescind their decision about which they are now being equivocal.

All’s well that ends well, it is said. But can we be certain girls’ schools will not be bombed? Even when no formal ban had been announced, the Taliban proceeded to bomb girls’ educational institutions as a matter of routine. The worst affected were the regions where their writ runs since the war on terror intensified. In the last 14 months they have destroyed over 100 schools in Swat and this has been done even when they have entered into accords with the Pakistan authorities not to do so.

Although strategically speaking, bombing girls’ schools may not create such a critical impact on the course of the war, it certainly has profound implications in terms of the political and social message it sends. In a society where women are an underclass by virtue of their gender and are denied equal advantages of education — only 36 per cent of women over 15 years of age are literate compared to 63 per cent men — bombing of girls’ schools comes as a warning to parents to desist from changing this pattern. In a wider sense it also means that no change in the status of women will be brooked. Since the education of girls poses a threat to the ideological beliefs of the Taliban they want to resist it. This should also come as a wake-up call to the policymakers in Pakistan. The emergence of the Taliban reflects, amongst others, our failure to make education accessible to all and inculcate tolerance, compassion and humanism in the population.

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[COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][B][U]Christmas Eve slaughter[/U][/B][/SIZE][/COLOR] [/CENTER]

BESTIALITY is not confined to animals alone as the callous behaviour of man often shows. On Christmas Eve in Los Angeles on Friday, an armed Santa Claus left nine people dead in a murder and arson spree. Then he shot himself. A jobless aerospace worker, Bruce Jeffrey Pardo organised his massacre with scientific precision. Carrying four guns, Pardo took with him a device, wrapped like a Christmas gift that contained a mechanism for spraying fuel. Dressed as jovial Santa Claus, he rang the bell of a home and fired on the eight-year-old girl who opened the door. He then fired at random at a party of 25 people and went looking for his former in-laws, shooting them in what the police said looked like execution-style killings. He then sprayed the party room with fuel, lit it and fled, but not before he himself got burnt.

In Pakistan, men have blown themselves up in mosques and churches, bombed Eid congregations and funerals and destroyed schools, ironically enough all in the name of religion. Just as Pardo performed his fiendish deed on the sacred and joyous Christmas Eve, so also in September fanatics bombed Islamabad Marriott during Ramazan. The deed would have been dastardly at any time, but the occasion underlines the cold-bloodedness of those with a ‘mission’ regardless of their ideological leanings . Last month, we saw in Mumbai innocent men, women and children belonging to various nationalities and different faiths die in a criminal act by men whose identity has yet to be confirmed. Pardo had no criminal record, and his neighbours remember him as a nice man who walked his dog and attended church regularly. Yet, cold-blooded murder was his intention. Whether it is perceived injustices by society or noble political causes, nothing justifies mass murder. In more pragmatic terms, as recent history shows, acts of terror whose victims are innocent people have hurt rather than advanced ideological movements.

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][U][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - North American Press[/SIZE] [/U][/COLOR]

Rethinking packaging

Toronto Star[/B] [/CENTER]

WHY does a child’s plastic doll come covered in plastic, inside a cardboard box, protected by yet more plastic?

Ontario’s living rooms, recycling bins and garbage cans will be overflowing this morning with the leftovers from over-packaged presents.

We can easily do something about wrapping paper if we want to celebrate a greener Christmas. (Reusable gift bags, or using old newspapers and magazines for wrapping are simple options.) But what about all the manufacturers’ packaging that the gifts come in?

Yes, consumer choice is always an option. But how do you tell a four-year-old that Santa Claus couldn’t bring her the toy she really, really wanted because it came with too much packaging?

If Ontario’s Environment Minister John Gerretsen has his way, there’s a chance that next year’s post-Christmas garbage cans won’t be quite as full of seemingly unnecessary packaging....

Gerretsen vows that the provincial ministers will raise “in a stronger way than we have in the past” the need for Ottawa to introduce nationwide packaging standards that would restrict material that is difficult to recycle.

This is by no means the first time a provincial environment minister has promised action on packaging, but Queen’s Park does seem to be more serious about it this time.

In a review underway of Ontario’s own waste diversion act … reduction plays a much more prominent role than it has in the past.

The discussion paper goes so far as to talk about a “zero waste” future. Given Ontario’s dismal failure to achieve any of its waste reduction targets to date, this must be taken with not just a grain of salt, but the entire shaker.

Yet the vision is the right one and the first of the 3Rs — reduction — is the key to reaching this lofty goal. That means less packaging to begin with and making producers of products responsible for disposal of their packaging. “You make it, you take it back,” says Gerretsen.

This extended producer responsibility model has been used in Europe to prod companies to improve the design of their products so they can be reused or recycled more easily.

We’re recycling more — that’s good — but we’re consuming more too. That’s not so good. In the coming year, we’re all going to hear more about how to boost the 3Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle — to help limit our footprint on the planet. ... — (Dec 26)

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Language and politics[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui[/B] [/CENTER]

THE significance of language in individual and societal lives is vital. It’s one of the important cultural expressions that act as an identity marker. With the passage of time the socio-political aspects of language were brought to light by linguists, anthropologists and social thinkers.

Now language is considered a linguistics phenomenon and a highly socio-political concept that is linked to power.

Language is no more viewed as merely a neutral and passive tool of communication but a powerful constituent of social reality. In a number of imperialist adventures language was used as a weapon to gain and sustain control over the colonised nations. The cultural hegemony is generally facilitated and made possible with the help of language. Power groups consider their language and culture as supreme and take on the job of civilising others by imposing their language and culture on them.

No language is inherently superior or inferior but its speakers’ status lends to social prestige to the language. Powerful groups consider their language supreme and view others’ as substandard. Terms such as ‘dialect’ and ‘vernacular’ were used to downgrade a language. The contemporary view, however, suggests that all languages are equally respectable. That is why the term ‘dialect’ that had a negative connotation, is no more in vogue and linguists prefer the term ‘variety’ instead.

During the imperial rule in pre-independence India, English was used as a tool to create a class of people who could act as a liaison between the colonisers and the Indian masses. Macaulay’s Minute on Indian Education was a typical example of the imperialistic technique of glorifying one’s own language and culture and stigmatising others’. Comparing the superiority of English over Sanskrit and Arabic, the two languages so dear to Hindus and Muslim, Macaulay’s view was sweeping and judgmental, “A single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature in India and Arabia.”

The imposition of English was made possible in a strategic manner by attaching benefits and perks to it which included government jobs in the British Empire and a relatively elevated social status. These pragmatic benefits persuaded people to learn English.

Some religious groups in India opposed English as a symbol of imperial rule but very soon Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and his colleagues realised that closing the doors to English would simply mean giving up opportunities for an improved life during British rule. During the Pakistan Movement language emerged as an important factor to fight the case of an independent country on the basis of the two-nation theory. Urdu was adopted by Muslims as their language as compared to Hindi associated with the Hindus.

In 1947 when India was divided and Pakistan came into being, Urdu was declared the national language of the new state. We see three major trends in deciding the national language of a country. The first is that the mother tongue of the majority is given the status of national language as in the case of the US and UK where English is the mother tongue of the majority of people and thus the national language. The second trend is that liberated colonies decided to keep the language of their masters as the national language as happened in Africa. The third is that instead of one language certain countries declared more than one language as their national languages as in Canada where they have English and French.

In Pakistan we see that none of these trends were kept in view while deciding about the national language. Urdu was not the mother tongue of the majority. The majority comprised Bengalis followed by Punjabis, Sindhis, etc. There was not much resistance against Urdu from Punjab on two major counts: First because of the close affinity between Urdu and Punjabi at the grammar and lexicon levels; second, because Punjabis were in the army and in the bureaucracy and thus were close to the centres of power. This was not the case with the Bengalis as there was no affinity between the two languages and Bengalis, having minimum representation in the army and bureaucracy, were not present in the centres of power.

This sense of deprivation coupled with the centre’s insistence on having one national language led to historical protests. The demand was to declare Bangla, besides Urdu, as a national language. By the time centre was forced to declare Bangla as the second national language it was already too late. The death of Bengali students at Dhaka University gave impetus to the movement of freedom that culminated in the shape of Bangladesh.

In the recent past a group of scholars raised the issue of replacing English with Urdu. But this proposal is abstract in nature and not practicable in the absence of political will at the state level. The use of the mother tongue at an early level, however, needs serious consideration as there is ample research to suggest the usefulness of the mother tongue during the early phase of education for concept formation among children.Language choice should not be an either/or question. We need to expose our children to different languages, including English. But learning English should not mean sidelining our mother tongue and indigenous languages.

The writer is director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

[email]shahidksiddiqui@yahoo.com[/email]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Tigers in trouble[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Justin McCurry[/B] [/CENTER]

ASIAN economies on Friday showed more signs that recession is deepening with Japan’s industrial output falling at a record pace and South Korea warning it faces an “unprecedented crisis”.

The once unstoppable Chinese economy is also feeling the strain, with companies recording a sharp slowdown in profit growth in the first 11 months of the year. Japan’s industrial output marked a record fall last month, raising fears that the world’s second-biggest economy is sliding towards deflation.Output sank by 8.1 per cent in November, the biggest drop since records began in 1953. The ministry of economy, trade and industry estimates output will decline by a similar amount this month and by more than two per cent in January. If the forecasts are right, output for the three months to December will shrink by a record 11 per cent.

Unemployment rose to 3.9 per cent, up 0.2 per cent from the previous month, with the overall jobless rate reaching more than 2.5 million, an increase of 100,000 from last year, the health and welfare ministry said.

Japan’s exporters have seen their profits quickly eroded by the soaring yen — now hovering around a 13-year high against the dollar — and a decline in sales in the US and Europe. The downturn has forced the country’s powerhouse car and electronics makers to slash production and cut work forces, with Toyota announcing its first ever loss this week.

The government has unveiled financial stimulus packages that include 12 trillion yen in extra spending. Having taken interest rates to almost zero recently Japan’s financial authorities appear to be running out of options.

The Bank of Japan recently cut interest rates by 0.2 per cent to 0.1 per cent. The BoJ also increased its outright purchases of government bonds and, for the first time, said it would buy commercial paper outright in an attempt to ease the pressure on cash-strapped firms.

“We need to take unprecedented measures when in an extraordinary economic situation,” said the prime minister, Taro Aso. “Japan cannot evade this tsunami of world recession, but by taking bold measures we hope to be the first in the world to come out of recession.”

Analysts said production had “fallen off a cliff” and were pessimistic about the prospects for an early recovery. “What’s going on is beyond what Toyota and Sony ever imagined,” said Mitsuru Saito, chief economist at Tokai Tokyo Securities.

The mood was similarly grim in South Korea. “The Korean economy is faced with an unprecedented crisis with exports and domestic demand, the two pillars of economic growth, falling at the same time,” the ministry of knowledge economy said in a new year policy report.

The ministry said it would aim to boost 2009 exports to $450bn from about $430bn projected for this year.

Faced with slowing demand from export markets, China needed to take more steps to stimulate domestic consumption, central bank officials there said. China’s over-reliance on investment and exports has been exposed by the global financial crisis.

Profit growth at Chinese industrial firms rose 4.9 per cent in January-November from a year earlier, down sharply from annual growth of 19.4 per cent in the first eight months of the year, data showed on Friday.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Tuesday, December 30, 2008 12:26 PM

[RIGHT][B]Tuesday
Muharram 01,1430
December 30, 2008[/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Israeli savagery[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

WARS are waged for territorial gains or regime change in another country. However, where Israel is concerned, this does not seem to be the case as its violence is aimed at the killing of civilian populations. The current Israeli operations, which have already killed over 300 people and injured over 1,000 in the Gaza Strip, amply demonstrate the Jewish state’s unending thirst for Palestinian blood. Ever since Israel came into being (and even before) its leaders have made no secret of their plans to ‘cleanse’ the land of its native population. Some names will forever serve as stark reminders of this fiendish policy — Deir Yassin, Sabra-Chatila in Lebanon, Jenin and now Gaza. Land operations had not begun while these lines were being written, but the navy was shelling the coast, and Israel was massing tanks near the Strip, presumably to complete what little bit the aerial strikes had not accomplished so far — a massacre of greater ferocity

While the Israeli butchery is shocking, stunning is the reaction of western governments. None of them had the courage to rise above historical prejudices and condemn the carnage without reservation. All have called for a halt to the “violence”, thus equating the victim with the criminal. US president-elect Barack Obama chose to blame Hamas for the rivers of blood flowing in Gaza and urged it to stop rocket attacks; the European Union was “concerned”, not about the massacre but about “the events” in Gaza; while Britain, France, Italy and Russia all equivocated. Most disappointing was the lack of a worthwhile reaction from the UN, which merely passed an innocuous non-binding resolution, while Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was “deeply alarmed” by the “heavy violence”. Given America’s own attitude towards the Arab-Israeli problem it is futile to expect the world body to indict Israel for its excesses. The reaction in Arab capitals and by the toothless OIC is of no consequence. But the extent of anger among Arab masses can be seen from a slogan in Cairo streets: “Mubarak and (Israeli Foreign Minister) Livni have agreed on the massacre.”

The slaughter is likely to intensify as the chief of the Israeli armed forces said the attacks would be “continued, expanded and intensified as much as required”. Those who blame Hamas for firing rockets into Israeli territory should note that its leadership had observed an Egyptian-brokered six-month ceasefire that expired very recently. Moreover, Israel’s bloody response has been utterly disproportionate to Hamas rocket-fire. The Muslim world is powerless, while there is no countervailing power to tear up the carte blanche which America has given to Israel for its massacre of the Palestinian people and for holding on to the occupied territories in violation of UN declarations and the agreements to which Israel and America are a party.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Buner attack[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

THE suicide bombing that killed over 40 people in Buner district is a gruesome reminder that the Taliban neither forgive nor forget. On Aug 13, residents of Dara Shalbandi, a village in Buner, surrounded six Taliban militants and asked them to surrender. The Taliban were accused of killing an ASI and eight constables in attacks on a police post and mobile in the area. Refusing to surrender, the Taliban hurled grenades at the villagers. A fire-fight ensued and when the dust settled the six Taliban were dead. Revenge had to be taken, and an opportunity arose on Sunday when a by-election for NA-28, a seat that fell vacant when four-time MNA Abdul Mateen Khan passed away in late October, was held.

However, the devastation at the polling station in Shalbandi goes beyond the lost lives. The Taliban have warned of further attacks, sending a chilling message across the region: those opposing the Taliban will be mercilessly attacked. Indeed, it is difficult to comprehend the speed with which Buner’s security situation has collapsed. Adjacent to the militancy-infested Swat district, Buner was long known for its scenic hillsides, peaceful population and Sufi saints. In a district profile for the 2002 general election, the Herald magazine stated: “Unlike a number of its neighbouring districts, Buner is known for its peaceful atmosphere.” 290,000 people are registered to vote in the district and 70,000 exercised their franchise in the February election. The violence in Buner grimly encapsulates how militancy is eating away at different parts of Pakistan as we have long known it.

Defeating the militants, operating under the umbrella Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, in northern Pakistan is no easy task. The armed forces have been struggling to contain the TTP in Swat for over a year now and neither ceasefires nor military action has worked. In fact, the militants appear to be going from strength to strength and, as the Buner attack illustrates, are expanding their area of operation. Worryingly, the state’s consensus to fight the militants appears to be faltering. The ANP-led government has once again begun to voice its doubts about the military operation in Swat, although it has not suggested a viable alternative. The ANP’s position is admittedly difficult: its party leaders are prime targets of the Taliban and in Swat they cannot even visit their homes for fear of being attacked. But with the Taliban in the ascendant, now is not the time to back off.

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[B][U][LEFT][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]Promises to keep[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/LEFT][/U][/B]

KARACHI’S backwaters of Lyari may finally get a new of life with the recent announcement by the Sindh chief minister of a release of Rs500m for the development of the beleaguered suburb. Interestingly, the move is a welcome volte-face by the party which had turned its back on the gasping locality, including in times when it was immersed in a bloodbath. In September, there were myriad reports of much anger and disillusionment as, despite being a stronghold of the party in power, Lyari remained afflicted with water paucity, disposal facilities for solid waste, unemployment, lack of education and rampant encroachments. Residents and party workers demanded financial relief for their district, and criticism for the party’s local leadership’s failure to address pressing civic needs was reaching a crescendo. To make matters worse, numerous projects, initiated by the former controversial town nazim, were also suspended in September; one such project was the formation of Lyari Bagh. Meanwhile, last July, the Lyari Town council had approved a surplus budget of Rs552.606m for the fiscal year 2008-09 and the home minister had also assured compensation for losses caused by plunder and violence, but neither ‘effort’ materialised to stem Lyari’s slide into destitution.

Be it political differences or ‘insincere’ pledges, the ultimate victims are the people of the land. Without doubt, the spirit of revival can no longer be ignited by proclamations alone. The test of this government lies in the implementation of these promises. There is little doubt that the rehabilitation of the area will be half the battle won against crime. However, the foremost priority must remain compensation for those who have to rebuild their lives, followed by an overhaul of the impoverished suburb — basic amenities, respectable living conditions, education, employment and funds to create self-employment opportunities. Extracurricular distractions for its youth that range from football fields, skill training, shopping areas and parks to cinema houses are mandatory. There must also be an allocation of funds for police patrols and helplines so that Lyari does not revisit its dark past again.

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[B][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"][U]OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press[/U][/COLOR][/SIZE]

BB murder: restore people’s faith

Kawish[/CENTER][/B]
PEOPLE of this country have witnessed a number of sunsets. But the sunset of Dec 27 of last year stands as a reminder of our winter of discontent. It was more painful than could be imagined. That evening, bathed in blood, will not be forgotten. Sindh received condolences for the loss of its brave daughter who was assassinated in Rawalpindi for her ‘crime’ — commitment to the people. One year has passed, but this pain and sorrow is still fresh. Sindh remains in a state of mourning. Anger and anxiety prevails.

After the passage of one year the mystery of Benazir’s murder has not been solved. The motives, killers and others behind this high-profile murder have not been traced. The killing of BB meant the loss of democracy for the people. Therefore, the people are justified in wondering why the killers haven’t been traced even after one year.

The government led by her own party has approached the UN to investigate the case. But there seems to be no progress … and the lack of commitment to any investigation is obvious…. People have the right to ask that if the UN is not going to start an investigation, would the government not probe the case….

No progress is reported about investigation by the UN. What are the hurdles and complications in this regard? If there are any hurdles, why does not … the government launch a parallel enquiry of its own?

This pain and sorrow is quite understandable and should be converted into strength. Only this strength — a motivating force can defeat anti-people and anti-democracy forces…. Agreed that anger is a negative sentiment, but when it is against the enemies of democracy, and injustice, it is important. Some anti-democratic forces are up to no good and are for diverting this strength towards violent acts. This is dangerous and should be guarded against.

The people, who are the real heirs of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and owe a debt to her, are demanding a fresh FIR of BB’s murder. The application given to the UN should be properly pursued. If at all there are some complications, an independent committee of experts of international repute, free from all influences, should be constituted to probe this case impartially. This is necessary to restore the people’s confidence in the government. — (Dec 27)

[B]— Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi[/B]

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]Carnage in the Gaza Strip[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

By Mustafa Qadri[/B][/CENTER]


ISRAEL’S murderous bombardment of Gaza at the weekend has nothing to do with self-defence. It was about midnight last Sunday when the phone rang. “I’m not sure I will survive tonight, the Israelis are bombing us everywhere.”

It was Mahmoud, a young resident of Rafah, a city in the Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt. We first met when I visited the troubled coastal territory after Israel dismantled its settlements there in September 2005. On Saturday Dec 27, just before midday, Israel’s powerful air force, the fourth largest in the world, commenced a deadly air assault on over 40 separate locations in the Gaza Strip. The strikes were as calculated as they were cold — the targets almost entirely people and facilities vital to the Hamas government. In one of the areas hit body parts were strewn along a courtyard where police officers had gathered along for a parade.

Hamas may have been the target, but the vast majority of casualties have been civilians. The death toll currently is at least 300 while a further 1,000 have sustained injuries. The figure is expected to increase as Israel’s bombardment continues. Since Monday morning Israel’s navy has commenced bombing Gaza from the coast. Compounding the suffering is the fact that medical and other humanitarian supplies are in dire straits thanks to Israel’s three-year-old blockade of the territory.

The present conflict is the deadliest since Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank in the Six Day War of 1967. That is an achievement of surprising distinction given the bloody history of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the Palestinian uprisings, or intifadas, of 1987 and 2000.

In stark contrast to the widespread death and destruction wrought on Gaza by Israel, one Israeli man was killed and another five people have been injured by rockets fired from Gaza.

Of course the Israeli government argues that the murderous bombardment is a response to these rockets attacks. Again the mantra of self-defence has been wheeled out to justify yet further Israeli aggression. But the calls of self-defence must be understood within the broader context of the continued annexation of Palestine. It is the greatest of reverse-psychology ploys — Israel calls Hamas and other Palestinian resistance movements existential threats while, at the same time, it continues to expropriate what little land the Palestinians still possess.

The UN Security Council quickly released a non-binding statement calling for an end to hostilities. But, as is the Security Council’s wont, it was a limp document that failed to name either Israel or Hamas by name and which glibly called for a return to the ceasefire. Justice for the hundreds murdered appears to be beyond the pale.

Yet even a ceasefire is close to impossible without acknowledging that Israel is beyond reproach. It is high time that we acknowledged that the so-called international community, and particularly the ‘Middle East quartet’ consisting of the European Union, United Nations, United States and Russia, have been completely incapable of protecting those most exposed to the conflict — the Palestinians of the occupied territories who are killed, harassed and humiliated on a daily basis.

There is good reason to be critical of Hamas too. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has cited Hamas’s inability to renew a ceasefire with Israel for this most recent assault. As noted earlier, Israel claims that the attack on Gaza is a response to rocket attacks. But even at the height of the ceasefire Israeli forces routinely invaded Gaza. Gaza has been blockaded so harshly that half the population, even before this most recent attack, were living below the poverty line.

If responsibility is proportional to the ability to control one’s actions then Israel has the lion’s share of culpability for the carnage presently unfolding in the occupied territories. And yet, with a compliant international community which forever hides behind statements calculated to appear balanced but which in reality enable Israel to escape punishment for its crimes, Israel has become emboldened to seek military responses to political problems.

At the apex of the international community’s complicity stands the United States. The Bush White House was quick to attribute blame for the violence to Hamas. A spokesperson for President Bush diplomatically described the movement as a bunch of “thugs”. Such statements are more than just unfortunate, they legitimate Israeli aggression.

There is little hope, however, of a shift towards a more balanced US role under president-elect Barack Obama. Ever fearful of the powerful Israel lobby, he has gone to great lengths to prove his loyalty to the Zionist state. “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night,” Obama said during a visit to Israel earlier this year, “I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that.”

Sadly, that logic does not appear to apply to the Palestinians. According to the UN, 105 Palestinian children have been killed this year, thanks largely to Israeli forces armed and supported by the United States. While grand rhetoric has been a feature of Barack Obama’s political career he has opted to remain silent as Israel continues to wreak havoc on Gaza. It is becoming increasingly clear that Israel’s latest attack on Gaza was a premeditated attempt to destabilise the Hamas regime. Lately, the Israeli Ha’aretz newspaper revealed that a detailed plan to destroy the Hamas government in Gaza was drawn up six months ago even while Israel was negotiating a ceasefire with it.

The exiled leader of the Hamas movement in Syria called on Palestinians to wage a third intifada or uprising in response to the wanton death and destruction. That may be nigh impossible, such is Israel’s full-spectrum dominance of the occupied Palestinian territories. One shudders, nevertheless, to think what fury the third intifada would unleash.

The writer is a freelance journalist who has covered the Israel-Palestine conflict from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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[B][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]Stalin misses top spot[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

By Tom Parfitt[/CENTER][/B]


JOSEPH Stalin was edged into third place in a nationwide poll to name Russia’s greatest historical figure on Sunday amid controversy over the results. The Name of Russia project, which captivated the country for several months, ended with accusations that the final tally was rigged.

More than five million votes by telephone, text and the internet were registered in the poll, which named Alexander Nevsky, a medieval warrior prince, as the winner. Stalin had led the poll early on and narrowly missed the top spot.

The dictator took 519,071 votes compared to Nevsky’s 524,575.

Critics said the results were massaged to produce winners convenient to the Kremlin. Nevsky rallied Russian forces against foreign invaders in the 13th century and has been promoted as a national hero by the Kremlin, which hints that Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, and the president, Dmitry Medvedev, are unifying figures from the same mould.

In second place was Pyotr Stolypin, an early 20th century prime minister and noted reformer. Stolypin, who served under the last tsar, Nicholas II, has often been lauded by Putin as a role model whose attempts to achieve stability he would like to emulate.

Alexander Pushkin, the poet, came fourth while Catherine the Great, the only woman on the shortlist, was 11th. Communists said the vote had been “cunningly” manipulated to prevent Stalin or first Soviet leader Lenin (who came sixth) winning because the Kremlin was embarrassed at their popularity.

In a statement, the Communist party said it had “no faith in the organisers of the voting project”, who had decided Stalin and Lenin were “bad lads” who should not win. The results prompted the “same level of trust as in the central electoral commission”, it said, in reference to Kremlin rigging of the presidential election in Russia earlier this year. Launched in May, the project offered voters a chance to choose from 50 candidates, a number that was whittled down to the 12 most popular in September.

No living figures were included in the list. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the chronicler of the gulag, was added after his death in August but attracted few votes.

Each shortlisted figure was presented by an expert in regular programmes on the state-controlled Rossiya television channel. Organisers of the project denied accusations of manipulating the vote, saying that, on the contrary, Communist sympathisers had attempted to skew results in favour of Lenin and Stalin. The project was briefly halted in July when it became clear the online polling system did not prevent lobby groups placing multiple votes.

Commentators said that, despite claims of organised voting, Stalin’s high rating reflected popular sentiment.

An estimated 1.1 million people were sentenced to death during the Soviet leader’s great terror, often on trumped-up charges. Millions more perished in labour camps or died of starvation.

But many Russians believe Stalin was a hero who launched industrialisation and saved the country from Nazi takeover in the second world war. He was presented on Name of Russia by Valentin Varennikov, a general, who said: “We became a great country because we were led by Stalin.”

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Wednesday, December 31, 2008 09:20 AM

[RIGHT][B]Wednesday
Muharram 02,1430
December 31, 2008[/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]A slight improvement[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

THE IMF’s balance-of-payments support and the government’s macroeconomic stabilisation policies might have mitigated the ‘sense of crisis’ seizing the nation in recent months. But these haven’t lessened anxiety among ordinary people and investors as the economy remains fragile, and vulnerable to internal and external shocks. For this very reason, the State Bank of Pakistan in its first quarterly (July to September) report has warned the government against ‘complacency’, urging it to carry on with prudent policies to regain stability and meet economic challenges.

The first IMF loan tranche of $3bn means that the risk of default on sovereign foreign loan obligations has receded and the foreign-currency stocks have improved. The sharp cut in energy and food subsidies and development spending under the stabilisation plan and improved tax revenue collection so far have helped slash fiscal deficit to one per cent of GDP during the first quarter from 1.5 per cent a year earlier. The decline in global commodity prices, particularly of oil, is expected to moderate the country’s import bill growth. It will eventually narrow down the current account gap from last year’s 8.4 per cent and curb inflationary expectations in the economy. The freefall of the rupee has stopped and the currency has regained some of the ground lost on the back of falling foreign-currency reserves and speculations of a possible sovereign default. The relatively better performance of kharif crops and the expected bumper wheat output is likely to ease supply side pressures. Together, these factors paint a much better picture of the economy now than a month ago in spite of the downward revision of GDP growth projections.

However, although any further deterioration in macroeconomic indicators appears to have been arrested, the difficult international economic and financial environment still poses many challenges to the economy. Globally, the slowdown in demand can hurt the country’s manufactured exports and neutralise the positive impact of reduced commodity prices on the current account deficit. Also, the international financial crunch can further clip Pakistan’s ability to tap international capital markets and attract foreign investment, impacting upon its foreign exchange reserves and forcing the government to borrow from commercial banks to finance the fiscal deficit. Domestically, the failure of the government to ensure the pass-through of decline in global prices to consumers, the elimination of energy subsidies and depreciation in the rupee value means that inflation will breach its target by a wide margin. Large-scale manufacturing has already shown negative growth due to slowing demand and the months-long energy crunch. So despite the easing of risks, the economy continues to be threatened by internal and external factors. The imbalances are still quite large and require sustained efforts towards resolution. Without these, the growth outlook will remain gloomy.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Will BD change its ways?[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

ALTHOUGH elections in Bangladesh have produced a landslide victory for Hasina Wajed’s Awami League-led alliance, political stability in this country of 140 million is by no means assured. No doubt there have been many positive elements in how the elections were conducted. Polling was peaceful and the revised electoral rolls have not been challenged. Turnout was good — 70 per cent, as reported. The Awami League’s massive majority in parliament should lead to the formation of a strong government that is not easy to destabilise. But elections are only one of the pillars of democracy that facilitate participatory governance. They are not an end in themselves. Going by the conduct of their election campaign and the past record of the two major parties, no radical change seems to be in the offing. Although populist issues were taken up at the hustings — corruption, terrorism and inflation — the rhetoric had a familiar ring. Moreover, there were no indications that past animosities are to be bygones and the earlier pattern will not be revived of the losing party spending its entire term in the opposition trying to disrupt the ruling party. Even before the results were announced officially on Tuesday, supporters of Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party had begun to warn that they would challenge the fairness of the polls. If Bangladesh were to revert to the negative pattern of politics of 1991-2006, the country would once again become ungovernable and no problems would be solved.

One hopes that this time the major parties will act with greater responsibility. The military that determined the course of events since early 2007 has mercifully stayed away from the limelight. It wielded power from behind the scenes allowing a government of technocrats to run the day-to-day administration. Of course the army was under pressure from the aid donors to return the country to democracy at the earliest. The emergency has been lifted and the corruption charges that were levelled against the two leaders and had kept them in prison for a year have not been used as a pretext to edge them out of politics altogether. But wisdom demands that the two begums of Bangladesh should not test the military’s patience at a time when the army in Third World countries is not shy of taking the reins of power. The two leaders have a political lesson before them: in 1990 they could dislodge an army strongman by joining hands and working together — the only time they did so.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Rethinking zoos[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

WILD animals, if they are bred in captivity or made captive through some cruel stroke of fate, ought to be given sanctuary. They need to live in an environment that at least resembles their natural habitat. They can be a source of awe and wonderment for the onlooker but must never be treated as a means of amusement. But visit any zoo in Pakistan and you will see exotic species living — if you can call it that — in cages or concrete enclosures, listless or driven to neurosis, biting off their own tails, pacing about repetitively and plucking plumage in an involuntary frenzy. That is because they are seriously unwell, for the conditions they must endure are enough to drive any living creature insane. Animals in our zoos are poked and prodded by visitors who exemplify all that is callous about this country. Mental well-being aside, zoo animals are also neglected physically by apathetic, incompetent or resource-strapped authorities. Little surprise then that the mortality rate in Pakistan’s zoos is unacceptably high. We should hang our heads in shame because we have failed miserably in catering to the needs of the non-human animals entrusted to our care. Anyone who cages an animal should pause for a second and think how it would feel if the same were done to him or her.

Given our track record, Pakistan does not deserve zoos of any sort, public or private. If the photograph of the leopard languishing in Karachi’s Korangi-Landhi zoo that appeared in this paper a few weeks ago did not break the hearts of all right-thinking people then we have stopped being human. Cognitive skills may differ but animals feel trauma just like we do. What we have in this country are freak shows, not zoos where endangered animals are protected or bred for the propagation of the species. When animals die in our zoos we import replacements, as if they were spare parts, and the cycle of cruelty continues. The choice is clear: we should either run zoos the way they should be or not at all. There can be no middle ground.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - European Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

Church vandalism

Irish Examiner[/B][/CENTER]

Human tolerance is clearly finite... The Reverend David Crooks, the rector of the Church of Ireland in Newtowncunning-ham, Co Donegal, realised the ineptness of his Christmas message when he denounced as vermin the vandals who trashed his church on the night before Christmas.

Earlier in the year, other vandals broke into the church through a rear door and stole a safe. This time they wrenched the doors off and threw them over a hedge. The culprits should “get a birch where it hurts”, the Reverend Crooks said. One senses that he would give a whole new meaning to the term ‘turning the other cheek’. The exasperation of people at such vandalism and antisocial behaviour is thoroughly understandable and it is time that society took a serious look at the whole issue. All too often people no longer even complain to An Garda Síochána about vandalism, because they consider it pointless.

The gardaí, on the other hand, are exasperated because nothing seems to happen when they apprehend the culprits. If they are brought before the courts, they are let go with a mere figurative tap on the wrists, whereas a few lashes of the birch might leave a lasting impression on their warped minds at any rate. The lives of many people are being blighted by antisocial behaviour. Recently, when some young people were vandalising the home of Aidan O’Kane in Dublin, he gave chase and ended up being shot dead.

The media has been focusing on the banks and the health service, but vandalism and other forms of antisocial behaviour are just as important, because these can have such a devastating impact on the lives of people.

Many people believe that a decline in disciplinary standards can be traced back to the ending of corporal punishment in schools. That is probably a bit simplistic because the abuse of corporal punishment led to a great many problems itself, but the figurative pendulum has now swung too far in the other direction.

In places like Singapore, where the birch is still in vogue, they don’t have these vandalism problems. All too often vandalism is simply the mindless behaviour of louts deriving vicarious pleasure from destruction. If they were rewarded with the birch and the humiliation that goes with it, they might not think their actions were quite so ‘cool’.

Of course, this should be done in a properly regulated and appropriate manner. The problem is acute and it is time such issues were considered and debated seriously. — (Dec 30)

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Plight of women in Swat[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Khurshid Khan[/B][/CENTER]

THE current situation in Swat is such that any sign of peace in the valley has been washed away. The people are living through the most miserable phase of its history. No doubt, the valley has witnessed invasions, turbulence and chaos from the time of Alexander’s invasion in 327 BC to the formation of Swat state in 1917.

However, at least in living memory the present chaos engendered by militancy has no parallel. It has adversely affected the physical and cultural environment, the economy, tourism, trade, governance and social life in the valley.

Unfortunately, in all this, women have been the worst sufferers. The militants’ obscurant version of Islam begins and ends with womenfolk. According to their belief, women are the source of all sins. A cleric while delivering the Friday sermon in Marghazar village was heard telling his flock, “My fellow Muslims, listen! The prices of daily commodities are rising because women abandon their homes and loiter about in the markets.”

In fact, the Fazlullah-led militants have announced a complete ban on female education from Jan 15, 2008 on FM radio. Some days ago, they announced that no government or private educational institution would be allowed to enrol girls and that all schools and colleges should stop educating them by Jan 15. Schools found violating this ban would be blown up. Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan somewhat modified the announcement saying that schools would remain closed until an Islamic curriculum was devised for imparting education to girls.

Parents and students have lost hope of schools reopening in this volatile atmosphere. The militants have usually been seen to follow up on their words and, despite the army’s presence, there have been no signs of the restoration of peace and harmony.

The militants have bombed or torched more than 100 girls’ schools and colleges to forcibly stop 80,000 girls from going to school in the district. There were 10 high schools, four higher secondary schools and four degree-awarding colleges and a network of primary schools across the district for girls and women, besides a postgraduate institution for young men and women to study at the master’s level.

Against the culture of keeping womenfolk away from development, the rulers of Swat state (1917-1969) encouraged female literacy, the first step on the way to progress, by establishing girls’ schools and colleges. The valley had the highest female literacy rate as compared to neighbouring districts.

After the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, their repressive activities started getting support in the Pakhtun areas of Pakistan along the Durand Line. Swat is among the more recent victims of Talibanisation. The secular nature of Swati society is slowly and gradually leaning towards extremism.

The clergy first started speaking against girls’ and women’s education through unauthorised FM radios and at public gatherings. But as they got more emboldened, they attempted to stall female education — and eliminate the presence of girls and women in the market — through fiercer means including bomb blasts. Many schools have been destroyed in this way.

Then they turned their wrath on women doctors and the female nursing staff in hospitals warning them to observe strict purdah, confine themselves only to wards for women and not to attend calls on their cellphones. The medical superintendent of a group of hospitals complied with the order and circulated a notice to the entire female staff telling them to do as they had been told. Women patients and visitors were also advised to conform to Taliban instructions.

Militants also ordered the segregation of students at the Saidu Medical College, telling the principal to keep away women students from research labs after a certain time. Meanwhile, another college refused to take in women because of the continuous threats of the militants from 2007 onwards. Militants regularly monitor hospitals and colleges. In fact, working women and those attending school or college, or going to the doctor or in the marketplace are given a bad character by the militants.

Indiscriminate mortar shelling has hit houses and killed and injured civilians. In these, the toll for women casualties has been higher since they are more often at home, while unannounced road obstructions or curfews have made sudden medical emergencies, especially among pregnant women, difficult to be attended to. As a consequence women have lost their newborns as they have not been able to make it to the hospital in time. Besides, with their men also casualties of militancy, many of them are losing breadwinners in the family.

The threatened closure of educational institutions has proved to be the last nail in the coffin. The mindset of the militants — who routinely resort to the violation of fundamental rights in order to accomplish their goal — is clear and their misused and illegal authority has led them to establish a state within a state. Swat is not a no-man’s-land and is very much an integral part of the country. By tradition its inhabitants are not religious bigots. In fact, society in Swat is more civilised and accommodating of opinions than the rest of the Pakhtun belt. Islamabad should understand that and break its silence to take assertive action against the militants if it does not want Talibanisation to engulf the area and paralyse the entire structure of society.

Where are all the international and national human rights organisations and women rights groups? They must raise a collective voice against this victimisation of Swati women and girls. It is also time for the media to take drastic steps to highlight the current lot of Swati women whose repressive treatment should also serve as a wake-up call for women parliamentarians to take an active part in rescuing them from the spread of a venomous culture.

[email]udyana64@yahoo.com[/email]

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]Small is beautiful[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

By Arifa Akbar[/B] [/CENTER][/LEFT]

FOR the past decade, Britain’s biggest museums have relied on blockbuster exhibitions featuring numerous well-loved masterpieces to draw in visitors and shore up attendance figures.

But now, the director of a leading art gallery is urging galleries to rethink the way in which major shows are staged by offering up a single work of art rather than the usual rooms crammed full of gilt-framed Monets, Turners and Caravaggios.

Sir Nicholas Penny, the director of the National Gallery in London, who has previously criticised the growth of blockbuster exhibitions that offer up major artists, is now advocating recession austerity for 2009 with major exhibitions consisting of a single work of art.

In some cases, he says, numerous images shown together, such as in some exhibitions focusing on religious works, it could be off-putting. “There’s something comical about having a line-up of the Virgin and Child. It’s not a beauty competition. These religious works of art would gain from being shown in isolation, because it re-emphasises their sacred purpose,” he said.

This policy could also be one of the ways to bypass the gloom of recession which will bring with it a reduced ability for gallery directors to buy new works or pay for expensive loans from abroad with which to stage exhibitions.

He favours new ways of staging exhibitions, especially in the present economic climate, with rising transport and insurance costs in loaning works of art. There is increasing competition for the number of exhibitions and the opportunity to have them. He would like to stage one or two picture exhibitions in the future.

Visitors, he thinks, might better appreciate a work of art if it was hung in this singular way. One example was a special exhibition currently at the gallery, consisting of two works by Titian which have been brought down from the National Galleries of Scotland as part of a fundraising campaign.

The show had not only attracted extraordinary crowds but public attendance had lasted longer, with visitors standing in front of the paintings for considerable lengths of time, sketching the works or debating their merits.

It was a ‘two picture exhibition’, just two works in one room, and it was a major event which drew incredible numbers of people. It is about learning to look at one picture and that is what people did, they stood for a long time and looked, puzzled over it, drew it, argued about it.

Next year, a single, large-scale installation by Kieholtz, Hoerengracht, will go on show alongside an exhibition of religious sculptures from Spain, called The Sacred Made Real which Sir Nicholas says would be “sparsely displayed”, as well as works by Picasso in February.

Sir Nicholas believes one of the most successful episodes in the history of the gallery had been its “single picture” shows during and after the Second World War.

“The smaller pictures were coming back from storage to the National and people had been starved of paintings. Only one masterpiece would come back at a time and be shown. This was the most famous episode for the gallery,” he said.

[B]— The Independent[/B]

Princess Royal Thursday, January 01, 2009 02:11 PM

[RIGHT][B]Thursday
Muharram 03, 1430
January 01, 2009 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Looking back & ahead[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

IT was a deeply troubling year on most counts. The euphoria surrounding the February elections proved to be short-lived as the administration in Islamabad slipped into stasis and political manoeuvring overtook governance on the list of priorities. A dismayed nation could only watch as the government of the day floundered as it tried to cope with the myriad challenges facing the country. Asif Zardari’s PPP reneged on its pledge to restore the judges ousted by Gen Musharraf and the Muslim League led by the Sharif brothers tried to play the spoiler to the best of the party’s ability. The nation was ill served by this wrangling at a time when inflation was pushing millions more into poverty and the country’s image abroad was taking a battering. The calibre of those at the helm came to be questioned when it became all too apparent that things were getting worse, not better. In many ways, 2008 encapsulated the downfall of hope in a country that had suffered dictatorship and sham democracy since 1999 but was in ecstatic mode in February. One square meal a day was taken beyond the reach of the poorest and children were pulled out of schools because their lower-middle-class parents could no longer afford the fees.

Militancy wracked the country and suicide bombers shed innocent blood along with their own. But significant gains were achieved after Mr Musharraf relinquished the office he had clung on to for far too long. Pakistan’s military under Gen Kayani became single-minded in the fight against the Taliban, perhaps because it was not distracted by politics. The government too lent sharp focus to this clear and present danger, the enemy within that is tearing Pakistan apart. The militants were hit badly, in Bajaur in particular, and seemed to be on the retreat in some areas. They still act with impunity but are hitting soft targets for the most part, possibly out of desperation. There is no doubt that this government is committed to tackling the Taliban. The army too is ready. What is needed to make the stand against militancy unified is for the opposition to come on board in unequivocal fashion. The religious right is not the only problem. At least one mainstream party also needs to make its position clear.

As the new year dawns, the primary talking point will naturally be the ongoing tension in relations with India. For the time being, however, it seems that saner voices have prevailed and the clouds of war have lifted perceptibly. The country’s economy too is doing marginally better and it can only be hoped that it will stage a major recovery sooner than later. Despair will get us nowhere at this critical stage. We need to think positively, within the realm of realism, and our leaders must act in similar fashion.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Khyber operation[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

AS with operations elsewhere, Operation Here I Come in Khyber Agency raises more questions than it answers. The one answer we do have is that the state has finally decided to act against militants threatening the convoys travelling on the Peshawar-Torkham highway laden with supplies for American and allied forces in Afghanistan. Tariq Hayat, administrator of the Khyber Agency, has identified two areas of focus: Jamrud, a stamping ground for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, and Landi Kotal, a den of kidnappers, criminals and militants. In doing so the government hopes to clear a highway that will remain a vital supply route even if alternatives are found in Central Asia. Now to the questions. Has the government learned any lessons from other areas in northern Pakistan where it has unsuccessfully tried to use paramilitary forces to clear and hold areas against militants? The statement by Mr Hayat that “we will arrest militants and criminals, demolish their houses and hideouts” is admirable but doesn’t explain the government’s strategy for defeating clever, battle-hardened militants. However, working in the government’s favour in Khyber are reports which suggest that the militants’ presence in Jamrud and Landi Kotal is not as strong as in, say, Swat. Let us hope that the combination of lessons learned and lighter resistance will yield more success this time. But why has action only been promised in these two parts of Khyber Agency? What about Bara, where Mangal Bagh and his cohorts terrorise the local population and practise their own brand of vigilantism in the name of Islam?

The attacks on the convoys have admittedly put enormous pressure on the government, but surely this piecemeal, selective policy of taking on the militants will not yield any meaningful long-term results. Landi Kotal is a prime example of how local criminal elements, petty warlords and the Taliban mix readily. Excluding action against militants who currently do not pose a direct threat to the Americans, such as in Bara, does not mean they will not in the near future, while attacking militants who are focusing on the Americans will ensure they turn on Pakistanis. And, finally, does the government have the appetite to see the fight through to the bitter end? Mr Hayat has vowed not to talk to the militants and to continue the operation “till we achieve our objectives”. We hope he is right and that the operation will continue until all of Khyber is secure.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]No end to confrontation[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

THE politics of confrontation has its uses: it helps divert attention from issues. Respect for the system before the party can take a backseat and stay there until the confrontation is fully played out. People, too, can amuse themselves with the media circus around, jockeying and jostling. But the latest bout of political wrestling in Punjab shows why confrontation defeats its purpose by hurting everyone involved.

This three-way fight is a direct result of the delicate balance of power in the province. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his team are after the city district governments and other local bodies headed by the PML-Q essentially to muster the support his government needs to survive without the PPP. The

Q-League mayors and other local representatives see their political careers coming to a premature end if they give in to official pressure, and Governor Salmaan Taseer and at least a section in the PPP view the clash between the two sides as a godsend opportunity for cobbling together some sort of an anti-Sharif alliance.

To win the argument, it appears that the three sides are not averse to indulging in half-truths and employing only partially valid legal and constitutional tools. While the Sharif camp exploits incomplete and selective audit reports to condemn local governments headed by rivals, the latter invoke a much-amended and quite loose Local Government Ordinance to protest interference and intervention by the government. Governor Taseer and his supporters, too, do not have the full force of law and constitution behind them to justify any machinations on their part. As their respective efforts to gain an upper hand intensify, the confrontation between the three parties is fast becoming a dead heat featuring desperate runners. But their competition threatens to derail democracy in the province and indeed at the centre. No matter who ends up winning, it will be a Pyrrhic victory, at the expense of the fragile democratic dispensation.

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

Ceasefire in tatters

The Pennisula[/B][/CENTER]

Israel’s Gaza offensive is spinning out of control on many fronts. The horrific TV images of dead and wounded Gazans are inflaming Arab public opinion and weakening Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. From Lebanon to Iran, Israel’s adversaries used the assault to marshal crowds out onto the streets for noisy demonstrations. And among regional allies there was also discontent: Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called the air assault a “crime against humanity”.

Hamas, which survived several past Israeli assassination sprees against its leaders and whose rule in Gaza has been absolute since it routed Abbas’ secular Fatah faction there in 2007, sounds undeterred. Hamas is in firm control and commands thousands of armed men. It is unlikely to be brought down by force, short of Israel reoccupying the territory.

The air strikes raised the prospect of an escalation of violence that could scuttle any hopes the incoming Obama administration harboured of forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. There is little doubt, however, that if the situation escalates, it could hand yet another crisis to Obama, who will already be inheriting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an unstable situation in Pakistan. The … proposal to hold an Arab summit is meeting some resistance. Judging by past summits, Arab states are unlikely to fulfil popular aspirations, especially if that would bring them into conflict with Israel and US.—(Dec 29)

[CENTER][B]A year without Benazir

Khaleej Times[/B][/CENTER]

Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on Dec 27, last year, deprived Pakistan of a leader with a charismatic appeal at home and wide international recognition.

Rarely before in its history has the nation needed [a] leader of her calibre, vision and popular allegiance more than it does today to steer it from the gravest crises it is presently facing….

When she returned to Pakistan on Oct 18, 2007 after about eight years of exile, she received a magnificent reception from hundreds and thousands of ecstatic people … [S]he popped out of her vehicle on the fateful day to wave to the ecstatic crowd. She could not be faulted for doing that because public acclamation is the elixir that spurs charismatic leaders to pursue their mission with still greater zeal. In her death, and earlier in public speeches, Benazir has left some clear messages to her party and people in general, and in particular to her spouse who took up the gauntlet. One: the challenges posed by the dictator needed extraordinary courage, irrespective of personal risks. Two: the tide of democracy, independence of judiciary, rule of law and social justice could no longer be reversed. Three: the gravity of the problems could not be resolved by a single individual or party, and required a collective leadership to confront them squarely.

She even went to the extent of saying she would align with other national leaders, like Nawaz Sharif, to rule the country even if her party won [a] two-thirds majority in the election.—(Dec 27)

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]India must fight its own war[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Muhammad Ali Siddiqi[/B][/CENTER]

WHAT happens when — not if — terrorists strike India again? Is the world going to see a repeat of the scenarios in 2002 and in the aftermath of the Mumbai attack? There is a terrorist attack on some Indian city; within hours New Delhi blames Pakistan; Islamabad swears it is not involved. There is war talk, especially on the Indian side. The western media seems to encourage India to ‘teach Pakistan’ a lesson; then friendly governments work behind the scenes to counsel restraint. ‘Friendly governments’ are unlikely to be friendly this time.

In 2002, following the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament building in December 2001, India massed troops on Pakistan’s border. As Pakistan also mobilised its troops, more than half a million men armed with the most lethal weapons were locked in a scary eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation for months along a border that stretched from the hot and humid Rann of Kutch marshes to Siachen’s icy heights. Gradually, tempers cooled. But we know now how an Indian general deployed his division beyond the red line in violation of the Indian general headquarters’ orders, and how this was detected not by the Indian high command but by the Americans with the help of satellite imagery.

The anxiety which America showed in 2002 to end the confrontation was for obvious reasons: the Taliban had just been defeated in November 2001, and Islamabad had started re-enacting its role as a front line ally. George Bush, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Tony Blair and Hu Jintao were active behind the scenes and counselled restraint, and finally a thaw began. A.B. Vajpayee, the BJP leader who was then India’s prime minister and had rushed the troops to Pakistan’s borders, retraced his steps. In January 2004 he visited Islamabad and agreed to begin ‘a composite dialogue’.

The first two weeks of December this year were different, for the Americans and the world did not show the same anxiety which they did in 2002 to avoid a war. One only had to listen to the speeches made on Dec 1 when president-elect Barack Obama unveiled his cabinet team to realise the extent of anger against Pakistan among American leaders.

Obama briefly reviewed the world situation, spoke of his resolve to work for peace in the Middle East, referred to Afghanistan, but even the rhetorical and time-worn reference to America’s desire to see peaceful relations between Pakistan and India was missing. While India got full sympathy from Obama and Hillary Clinton on the Mumbai carnage, there was no mention of Pakistan at all as an ally in the war on terror. They had held Pakistan guilty.

Conclusion: when there is another terror attack in India, there will be no one to counsel restraint, and India most probably will be left to itself to think whether a military adventure against Pakistan will be worth its while. Ultimately it is Pakistan’s conventional strength, rather than nuclear deterrent, which India takes into account, for Indian generals know very well Pakistan will not give them a walkover. There will be a price to pay.

There is only one way in which Pakistan can tackle the aftermath of the next terror attack in India: Islamabad must genuinely convince the world of its innocence, because Pakistan itself is being cannibalised by terror. There is no need to do some ‘explaining’ to New Delhi because of its rigid attitude. We know, for instance, that the vast majority of the Samjhauta Express casualties were Pakistani, but New Delhi and the Indian media had begun blaming this country within hours of the attack on the train. The problem is basically with our diplomacy, for we have failed to present to the world our side of the picture — i.e. the truth.

It is Pakistan not India which has suffered hundreds of terror attacks, and the trauma suffered by the Indian people in the Mumbai attack pales in comparison with the dozens of greater tragedies the terrorists have inflicted on this country. The two attacks on Benazir’s processions, the firebombing of Islamabad Marriott and the blast at the Eid congregation to kill Sherpao come to mind immediately. The world knows this but the truth doesn’t sink in, thanks to the western media.

Asking Pakistan and India to cooperate is great naiveté. Given their adversarial relationship they are unlikely to cooperate, and the joint anti-terror mechanism agreed to at Havana between Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh is a non-starter.

The next terrorist attack on Indian soil is merely a question of time. Pakistan’s diplomatic corps must be ready to face the storm on its own. Briefly, Pakistan must tell the world that India must fight its own war on terror. Pakistan is doing this on its own; why does New Delhi shirk its responsibility and take comfort in blaming Islamabad? India is like a crying baby which wants the whole house to itself. Why can’t it fight its own war on terror, instead of going on its knees and begging the world to rush to its help? When terrorists attack, Pakistan doesn’t cry.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Bangladesh: a vote for reform[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Tahmima Anam[/B][/CENTER]

SOMETHING spectacular happened in a small corner of the world on Monday. After two years of military-backed rule, a free, fair, incident-free election was held in Bangladesh, with decisive results: a record voter turnout routed the incumbent party in favour of a secular, progressive alliance.

“Two ladies” is the phrase commonly attached to the leaders of Bangladesh’s main political parties: Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League – both women, one the widow of a former president, the other the daughter of Sheikh Mujib, leader of the independence movement and first prime minister of Bangladesh.

But lumping the leaders together and calling them the “two ladies” is not just misogynistic and patronising but seriously misleading. There is a real difference between the parties, one that is not only crucial to understanding the internal politics of Bangladesh, but also sheds light on the rise and fall of religious fundamentalism in the world’s second largest Muslim nation.

The BNP were at the helm of power in the last electoral cycle. During this time, Khaleda Zia promoted cronies to high positions of power, corrupted the courts with political appointments, and oversaw the theft of government funds on an unprecedented level. In 2007, the party orchestrated a coordinated effort to rig the elections, leading to the army’s intervention and two years of military-backed rule.

In this election, which was held on Monday with the results announced on Tuesday, the BNP allied itself with the Jamaat-i-Islami and conducted a campaign of fear-mongering, with slogans decrying the corruption of religious values and predicting a threat to Islam through foreign influence. By contrast, the Awami League ran a campaign that was purposefully secular and progressive. Though no stranger to allegations of corruption, the Awami League cleansed its party of much of the old guard. In the end, it campaigned on a platform of change, promising jobs and economic regeneration. The result was not only victory for the Awami League, but a near annihilation of the Jamaat-i-Islami.

There has been a lot of speculation of late about the direction — political and economic — Bangladesh will take. Will it succumb to Islamic fundamentalism, or will it remain a moderate Islamic country? Will it ever overcome the many obstacles to progress and turn the tide in its favour, or will it remain at the bottom of the charts and development indices, a nation on the brink of failure?

When I asked a prominent journalist why the Bangladeshi stock exchange hadn’t felt the effects of the global economic downturn, he said: “In order to be drunk, you first have to be invited to the party.” In this economic cycle — luckily, it turns out — Bangladesh wasn’t invited to the party. But the election results may mean the beginning of a new era of political reform and economic growth.

Bangladesh still has a long way to go. But after all the votes have been counted, this is what remains: in this poor country, where many people cannot read or write, where women are still subject to draconian social and economic realities, where natural disasters strike with brutal regularity, corruption and religious extremism were resolutely routed out.

People came by the millions to cast their votes because they knew that on this day, they would have their say. And speak they did, against a regime that had let them down once too many; against leaders who had refused to accept the responsibilities of their offices. Against all odds, Bangladesh is on the move.

[B]The writer is the author of A Golden Age.

— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Saturday, January 03, 2009 04:47 PM

[RIGHT][B]Saturday
Muharram 05, 1430
January 03, 2009[/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Taking stock[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

GIVEN our history, and in the absence of an extradition treaty, there can be no question of Pakistan handing over suspects who India believes were connected to the assault on Mumbai. That is simply not an option for a democratic government that is answerable to the people. The futility of pursuing such a course now seems to have become apparent to the US as well, with the Bush administration signalling that any and all accused should be prosecuted within Pakistan. This change of tack has naturally disappointed India. Every passing day also reinforces the impression that New Delhi is not sharing information directly with Islamabad but is instead acting through intermediaries such as the American FBI. Why this is so has not been explained to anyone’s satisfaction. Despite the mutual distrust, however, it is heartening to note that the clouds of war have lifted to a degree and both sides are refraining from upping the ante.

That said, there is an urgent need for Pakistan to decide on the path the country must choose from this point onwards. Reports in the US press that at least one alleged Lashkar-i-Taiba operative currently in Pakistani custody has confessed to his involvement in the Mumbai carnage have not been denied at the highest levels in Islamabad. Foot-dragging will get us nowhere, and we need to explain what headway, if any, has been made in our own investigations. Full disclosure, of course, cannot be expected in a matter as sensitive as the case in hand until every avenue of inquiry has been explored. A progress report, though, is the need of the hour. Otherwise Islamabad will not be in a position to counter criticism that facts are being withheld and we will continue to be deemed guilty until proven innocent. It is said that the US has passed on intercepts of telephone conversations between Lashkar-i-Taiba commanders and militants holed up in a hotel in Mumbai. Given Pakistan’s intelligence resources, it is within the realm of possibility to verify the authenticity or otherwise of these alleged communications. The sooner this is done, and the facts placed before the nation and the world, the better. And if any Lashkar-i-Taiba commander has admitted to his role in the carnage, that confession too should be acknowledged. New Delhi, for its part, needs to provide Islamabad with the ‘evidence’ it claims to have found linking the Lashkar-i-Taiba to the deadly assault.

There will be no loss of face if it turns out that Pakistanis were among the militants who attacked Mumbai. Egged on by India, much of the world believes that anyway. We need to act decisively against militants and terrorists operating from Pakistani soil, not on account of pressure exerted by India or America but because therein lies our own salvation. The enemy within is a far greater threat than any external foe.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Intelligence coordination[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

REPORTS that a National Counter-terrorism Authority (NCA) is to be set up by the government with the express purpose of improving coordination among the various agencies dealing with counter-terrorism issues should be greeted with cautious optimism. At the level of operations, one of the obvious impediments in the business of counter-terrorism is that the different agencies do not ‘talk’ to each other in an effective way. Given that terrorists have demonstrated their presence across the length and breadth of the country and are understood to have excellent lines of communication, no one agency can be expected to be omniscient. For example, if a terrorist plot is hatched in Fata, the ‘assets’ are assembled in Punjab and the attack occurs in Karachi, the FIA, ISI, IB and provincial intelligence-gathering agencies may catch a whiff of different stages of such a plot — but individually may not have enough information to connect the dots. If the NCA can improve the likelihood of timely action against terrorists, it will mark a real turning point in the state’s fight against terrorism.

However, the NCA faces some daunting hurdles. First is the nature of governance in this country. When a problem is identified, the government of the day often responds by adding yet another layer of bureaucracy and setting up yet another organisation to deal with it. Oftentimes the government’s ‘solution’ is neither well thought out nor properly implemented. A body such as the NCA has great potential, but its best-laid plans will come to nought if the stakeholders, the various intelligence agencies, are not fully on board. The nature of counter-terrorism is such that secrecy is paramount, and the world over agencies involved in such activities are loath to share information with an ever-widening circle of professional and political stakeholders.

Then there is the problem of political interference. Ramping up Pakistan’s counter-terrorism capabilities requires a professional approach with key appointments made on the basis of merit. If the NCA is stuffed with political appointees, it may actually cause more harm than good to counter-terrorism efforts nationally. Finally, there is the issue of resources. While the NCA is being conceptualised as a coordination agency, it will nevertheless need equipment and trained personnel that are not readily available in Pakistan. This is where our allies in the war against terrorism must help. Instead of harping on the fact that Pakistan doesn’t ‘do enough’ to fight terrorism, they must help us when we do try something new.

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[COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][B][U]Three decades of Sino-US ties[/U][/B][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER]

ON new year’s day America and China marked the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, with presidents George Bush and Hu Jintao eulogising the benefits the two powers have derived from America’s recognition of the world’s most populous nation on Jan 1, 1979. Despite “twists and turns”, China’s official news agency Xinhua said, their relationship had made “steady progress” because of the “concerted efforts made by the two sides”. Here, one cannot but recall the role played by Pakistan in bringing the two Cold War adversaries together, for it was from Nathiagali that Henry Kissinger flew on a secret mission to Beijing to probe the possibility of a rapprochement between the two countries. In one of his books Richard Nixon, then in the White House, gives a detailed account of how the two Pacific Rim powers came together and how his secretary of state ran all the way from his office to give the president the glad tidings of the right response from Beijing.

“It was here” [in the White House],” Nixon wrote “that I received what Henry Kissinger described as the most important communication to an American president since the end of World War II. I had been sitting in this same chair catching on some of my reading material after a state dinner that evening. It was almost eleven o’clock. Henry [Kissinger] burst into my room. He was breathless. He must have run all the way over to the residence from his West Wing Office. He handed me a message. It was Chou En-lai’s invitation to visit China, which he had sent through President Yahya Khan of Pakistan. As Chou put it later it was a message from a head, through a head to a head.” Sino-American relations have had a positive impact on the world, especially South and Southeast Asia. China has given up the military option vis-à-vis Taiwan, while in the aftermath of the Mumbai attack the views of Beijing and Washington have converged on the need to defuse tension in South Asia.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - Bangladesh Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

Good start to a new year

The Bangladesh Today[/B][/CENTER]

FOR Bangladeshis the new year of 2009 starts with a bang. We have had our elections, we have voted our candidates to parliament and we have provided a massive majority to the AL to form an effective government. The nature, the direction and tone of that parliament and government has been already set by the premier-to-be Sheikh Hasina in her press conference on Dec 31, 2007 where she spelled out the broad and general principles on how the AL intends to conduct parliament and governance for the next five years.

The issues are all contained in the AL election manifesto and have been well publicised during the election campaign and therefore, need not be gone into here but what needs to be understood is the tenor, the trend of how AL and Sheikh Hasina view Bangladesh as it is today and as they desire to see it after five years of their government. In the words of Sheikh Hasina, “This win is for good governance against misrule, peace in opposition to terrorism and secular democracy as opposed to communalism.”

If the AL can effectively mobilise national resources to achieve the goals set out by Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh would indeed have changed, for the better, beyond recognition…. If, on the other hand, these goals cannot be achieved at all because of AL’s detraction from its guiding principles … Bangladesh would be far worse off than it ever was.

As citizens it is our bounden responsibility to see to it that the AL is helped along its way to achieving these goals…. We need to support it and nurture it and we can only do that if we all together respect whatever laws we have, keep our individual desires, needs, greed and ambitions within bounds and work hard — without all these, no one, not the AL not the BNP, not the 300 MPs can make Bangladesh a prosperous nation.

But the AL, for its part, has also got to understand that our support is qualified by its adherence to its manifesto and its publicly announced guiding principles because it is on this that we have elected them to government.

If they detract, support will diminish; if they detract further, support will vanish and if they throw them overboard, there will be resistance, conflict and overthrow. The year 2009 has started with good omens; let’s all see the year end on an equally good feeling, with hope and enthusiasm. — (Jan 02)

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Alienation of the Baloch[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Murtaza Razvi[/B][/CENTER]

YET another official inauguration of the Gwadar seaport last month — this time by the Balochistan chief minister — will not allay the misgivings of the people of the province whose sense of deprivation runs much deeper than the deep, blue sea.

What is really needed is a truth and reconciliation commission, comprising public representatives (elected and unelected) from the province and the federation, to probe into the roots of alienation of the people of Balochistan from the national mainstream.

Balochistan is physically the largest and, ironically, the poorest and the richest of the provinces given its economic deprivation and the wealth of its natural resources, respectively. While Balochistan has been wholeheartedly sharing its wealth with the rest of the country, it has been burdened with a very unfair share of the poverty prevailing in Pakistan.

Thorny issues as to why the people of this province are so alienated from the national mainstream need to be identified, analysed and resolved with a consensus among all stakeholders. Home to significant multi-ethnic communities that include the Baloch, the Hazaras, the Pakhtuns and the Brahvis, with a sizable sprinkling of Punjabis and Urdu speakers, Balochistan in microcosm reflects the greater diversity of the macrocosm that is Pakistan. Like the rest of Pakistan, it is also dogged by decades of bad governance, tribal feuds and a clash between the old and the new. These are factors which in turn define who gets what, when, how and at whose expense. If left in its present state of unravelling, Balochistan is nothing short of a disaster waiting to happen.

The list of injustices meted out to the province and its people is long and harrowing. The state has literally waged wars on this federating unit to make it fall in line with Rawalpindi and Islamabad. There is little that trickles down to the people from whatever rental fees the federal government pays to the all-mighty sardars from whose lands the government extracts minerals, oil and gas. The royalties given to the provincial government barely meet its running expenses, with the result that there is little left for annual development programmes. In the current fiscal year the amount stands at zero. And nobody cares.

The coastal belt of Makran, as the emerging scene of the new great game owing to the location of the Gwadar seaport there, is very different from the provinces’ hinterland which has been cohabited mainly by Baloch and Pashtun tribes for centuries. The Makran region is almost entirely inhabited by the Baloch, without any history of a tribal, sardari system behind them. Society is based on egalitarianism, and respect for all, regardless of their social or economic status, is an ingrained social value. The Baloch of Makran take pride not in their history of war amongst tribesmen and conquests of one another’s territories but in sharing the high moral values of equality among all individuals, of respecting the other person’s privacy, and practising cooperation among communities as opposed to competition. This should have been a ready constituency for democratic governance, one that can take root easily without being diverted by vested and opposing feudal interests, and accountable only to the electorate. But this has not happened for several reasons, due mainly to the way the federal government has treated the province over the decades.

The traditionally ruling feudal-mullah duo at the provincial level also ensured that only a subsistence level, if any, funding reached Makran, because it had nothing to gain from the empowerment of the people there (as indeed elsewhere). The sardars meanwhile ran their personal fiefdoms in their respective domains, raising private armies and taking turns to side with or oppose successive federal governments to settle scores with rival clans. The Marris, the Mengals and the Bugtis, all have played such games over the years.

At critical junctures in the past, too, they even ganged up on Islamabad but such solidarity in their ranks pleading for the rights of the Baloch has been short-lived. What is different today is the all-pervasive feeling of a Balochistani nationalism; it has never been this widespread, shared and owned by ordinary people across the province. There is now talk among various nationalist groups of seeking justice for Balochistanis, an all-inclusive term applied to all residents of the province, and not just the Baloch. That some of the old names and faces of Baloch sardars are part of this popular new movement is not a coincidence but a coming together of disparate forces that derive their legitimacy from popular sentiment.

Thus, it can be argued that the alienation of Balochistanis is near complete. The February 2008 election results and subsequent decisions taken by elected MPs also help make the reading of the emerging picture clear. While nationalist and most Islamist parties boycotted the polls, the incumbent PML-Q (backed by Islamabad) emerged as the largest party with 17 seats out of the total 51 that were contested; the right-wing MMA got just seven because many religious-minded voters heeded the boycott call; the PPP grabbed seven, the ANP two, the BNP five, while 10 independent candidates made it into the provincial assembly.

But the public sentiment of anger and alienation was so strong that despite their respective party positions on issues concerning Balochistan, all MPAs were unanimous in condemning the killing of the nationalist leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti, and demanding that President Pervez Musharraf be impeached and brought to book for initiating military action in the province. This ‘uprising’ of the elected House mirrored the province’s resolve vis-à-vis the centre. Baloch nationalists, who boycotted the election, showed only a lukewarm response to Mr Zardari’s post-election apology to the people of Balochistan, as his PPP formed a new government at the centre. They said they would judge the PPP chief on what he did as opposed to what he said.

Nearly a year down the road, kidnappings, bombings and attacks on targets seen as representing the state and its apparatus have continued. The present provincial government is as ineffective as its predecessors, and Islamabad’s promise of righting the wrongs done to Balochistan has remained just that. Democracy has changed little for the people of Balochistan in everyday terms; they cannot be expected to be happy with self-promoting and cosmetic development projects such as setting up a medical college named after Benazir Bhutto!

Unless a truth and reconciliation commission is formed and all stakeholders are brought to a negotiating table to resolve the many issues Balochistan is suffering from, the province’s integration into the national mainstream will remain a distant cry.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Guantanamo inmates[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Patrick Wintour[/B][/CENTER]

THE British government is pressing other European countries to take a common position on resettling inmates from Guantanamo Bay detention centre, but will not take any more terrorist suspects released from the jail by Barack Obama’s administration.

The US president-elect has promised to close Guantanamo Bay within two years and it was reported last week that America is asking as many as 100 countries to take some of the released suspects.

Germany is considering taking some under strict conditions, and Portugal has offered to take some too, but the Spanish and Dutch have already said they will not be taking any. Germany and France have called for a common European position.

The UK’s Foreign Office said on Thursday: “We have made it clear that we think Guantanamo Bay should be closed. We recognise the legal, technical and other difficulties, and that the US will require assistance from allies and partners to make this happen.”

But a spokeswoman insisted Britain would not be taking any more suspects. “The Foreign Office is not pushing for a deal to allow other Guantanamo terror suspects into the UK,” she said, adding there had been no approach from the US. Guantanamo has held about 750 prisoners since 2002, most captured during military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. It currently holds 255 prisoners, including 50 already found “not guilty” who cannot be repatriated for fear of persecution.

It is thought as many as 150 remaining inmates will be returned to their homelands. Another 50 suspects are likely to be tried, possibly in specialist US courts.

Britain, through the Foreign Office and the Lord Chancellor’s Department, put extensive private pressure on President George Bush to close Guantanamo, but had to settle for securing the release of British nationals and residents. Britain has already taken charge of nine detainees who are British nationals and four British residents. Two remaining former British residents, Binyam Mohamed and Shaker Aamer, have yet to be released.

Obama has proposed that instead of trying to prosecute men through military commissions proposed by Bush, suspects should be taken to the US and prosecuted before terror law courts, overseen by civilian judges with specialist backgrounds.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Monday, January 05, 2009 02:49 PM

[RIGHT][B]Monday
Muharram 07, 1430
January 05, 2009 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkRed"][SIZE="4"]No time to waste[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

ATTACKS by militants in Balochistan continued even after the September 2008 ceasefire announced by three nationalist outfits. But the frequency of bomb blasts and rocket attacks did decrease post-September and there was less loss of life over the last four months of a particularly violent year. Earlier, in a gesture of goodwill by the new government, military operations in Balochistan were scaled down and some security checkpoints dismantled. The PPP’s February 2008 public apology for the “the atrocities and injustices committed” in Balochistan was also a welcome development. Clearly, some gains were made in the troubled province but there is a danger now that these could be reversed in the absence of a lasting political solution. The Baloch Republican Army, which along with the Balochistan Liberation Army and the Baloch Liberation Front was a party to the temporary truce, has reportedly pulled out of the ceasefire announced unilaterally by the three outlawed organisations. On Friday it claimed responsibility for an attack on a Quetta-bound train that left more than a dozen injured. Other incidents of violence also took place in the province the same day.

On Sept 3 last year the federal information minister told the media that “Our government has repeatedly stressed that violence is not the answer to the problems of Balochistan, which are essentially political in nature.” This assessment is spot on but pacific words alone will not deliver the goods. True, some federal funds have been released to Balochistan and the province’s overdraft with the State Bank has been converted into a soft loan, a move that will result in significant annual savings. But a lot more needs to be done. For instance, the government has failed to deliver on its promise to promote provincial autonomy and give the federating units greater control over their resources by abolishing the concurrent legislative list. Then there is the lingering question mark over the National Finance Commission award, which Balochistan feels should take into account factors other than population. Among other common grievances is the allegation that questionable domiciles allow individuals from other provinces to secure jobs that, in accordance with the provincial quotas in state-run organisations, should go to people who are genuinely from Balochistan.

Development work on a large scale remains the most pressing need, however. Balochistan cannot be pulled out of backwardness and grinding poverty without job creation and widespread infrastructure development. A more prosperous Balochistan could also keep outside forces at bay. The province needs schools, vocational training institutes, hospitals and basic healthcare facilities. Such investment is required on an urgent basis if the general discontent in the province, and the menace of militancy, is to be addressed meaningfully. Development projects were naturally difficult to initiate when the insurgency was raging but Balochistan is far more stable now. There is no time to waste.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Wrong politics[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

ON Friday, as Mian Nawaz Sharif was in Faisalabad to get political mileage out of protest demonstrations taking place there against electricity shutdowns, President Asif Zardari was hosting Sheikh Rashid Ahmed in Islamabad. The two events give us some idea of how politics in the country has moved since the PPP came to power after the February 2008 elections. The PPP has in these 10 months concentrated much of its energies on wooing the so-called power players. Meanwhile, the PML-N has ‘appeared’ to be a party that has taken up causes that link it directly or more strongly to the common man’s everyday aspirations. It is not difficult to predict that a pat on the back from Sheikh Rashid will not boost President Zardari’s and his party’s standing among Pakistanis at the moment. To the contrary, the frustration with the government is likely to grow.

Until recently, the PML-N was considered to be a party of the so-called establishment. The party may be on its way to reclaiming its old position as a safer option for the establishment. In the meantime, it is missing no opportunity to side with the people on the streets, especially in the all-important Punjab province. Industrial workers in Faisalabad and lawyers marching in Lahore were once the PPP’s strength. We don’t need a poll to find out that they are disappointed with the performance of the government under Mr Zardari. If anything, the support base this time is narrowing much faster than was the case during the last two PPP governments. So entangled is the party in its effort to consolidate its hold on power and so unable is it to shrug off the legacy of Gen Pervez Musharraf that it appears to have totally run out of ideas of how to keep its pro-people image intact, or to react effectively to the doings of Mian Nawaz Sharif and his supporters. It may learn to its horror that securing a majority in the Senate is no guarantee for a firm hold on power once the battle for hearts and minds is lost. Mr Sharif’s declaration of an all-out war on the PPP, something which could well be in the offing, would be another matter altogether. A crowd may be applauding him for his clever approach to politics. However, the din is drowning those voices that are advocating the current incumbents be allowed their full term in Islamabad if democracy is to be made strong and resilient.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]The human factor[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

PERHAPS in the absence of a transplant of the soul the next best thing would be impenetrable honesty in charity vis-à-vis impoverished renal patients. The federal health minister’s recent claim of supporting cadaver transplantation initiatives with the establishment of a fund that will provide aid for transplant and post-transplant care to needy patients and help root out the ‘kidney bazaar’ heralds a new beginning for many beleaguered lives. If examples are in order then few can deny that the Karachi-based Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation is a model of altruism — the evidence lies in its efforts that have made the organ trade practically negligible in the city. The government would do well to emulate the SIUT’s efforts in other parts of the country, especially in Punjab which is the hub of this nefarious trade.

While the proposal to set up a fund for impoverished renal patients is more than welcome, the government must also have in place monitoring mechanisms that curtail bribery and employ discreet means to judge the neediness of a candidate as human dignity must be held supreme. So far the mantra of philanthropy that binds health institutions and the government to the human condition and its tender trappings has, perhaps inadvertently, done little to protect a person’s dignity. How precisely does an individual ‘prove’ his destitution without stripping himself of all sense of integrity? Secondly, will the proposed fund take care of hidden charges, such as the bed fee, that exist despite pledges of free-of-cost, state-of-the-art treatment? This is where ‘charity’-based institutions should be forced to take a softer line — provide free treatment, ban all hidden costs to prevent corruption in their staff and refrain from demanding ‘proof’ as a prerequisite for treatment. This is not to pour scorn on the intentions of the government and charity organisations but to emphasise that more than any law, it is aggressive campaigns that instil the idea of cadaver transfers, the promotion of voluntary donations and sensitive treatment of renal patients in our collective psyche. These will go a long way in making the organ trade a thing of the past.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - North American Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

Bush’s healthcare legacy

The New York Times[/B][/CENTER]

THIS page has criticised the Bush administration’s weak performance on many important healthcare matters: its failure to address the problem of millions of uninsured Americans or stem the rising costs of healthcare, its refusal to expand eligibility for the State Children’s Health Insurance Programme, its devious manoeuvres to cut Medicaid spending, its support of unjustified subsidies for private health plans, to name a few.

It is only fair to note that President Bush can also lay claim to some signal achievements in healthcare — achievements that we urge president-elect Barack Obama to continue and develop further.

As we have argued in the past, Mr Bush deserves high praise for significantly increasing American support for the global effort to control Aids. We were pleased that Congress has now authorised even more money than Mr Bush proposed: almost $50bn to fight Aids, malaria and tuberculosis around the world over the next five years. But there is little doubt that the president has played a key role in providing drug treatments or supportive care to millions of patients who would otherwise have gone untended.

It is a remarkable record for the leader of a party that had been reluctant in the Reagan era to deal with a disease whose victims at the time in this country were primarily gay men and injection drug users.

Equally remarkable was Mr Bush’s decision to push through a costly new prescription drug benefit under the Medicare programme for older Americans despite stout opposition in his party to government-run healthcare. It was the largest expansion of Medicare in decades and it dragged the programme, at long last, into the modern medical era, in which drugs are a cornerstone of treatment.

… Less heralded was the Bush administration’s willingness to grant Massachusetts a Medicaid waiver to redeploy federal funds to help start a universal health insurance programme. The programme took the controversial step of requiring all citizens to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, precisely the sort of government mandate that drives many conservatives wild. By many measures it is off to a promising start and could become a model for other states or the federal government.

Another substantial health achievement came in the form of bricks and mortar, through the president’s vigorous support of community health clinics…. [But] Mr Bush has done almost nothing to shore up the public insurance programmes, notably Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Programme, that provide the bulk of the clinics’ funding through the patients they cover.

That is another reminder that despite these solid achievements, the country needs to do a lot more. It needs full-fledged healthcare reform that will improve the quality of medical care, reduce its overall cost and provide insurance for everyone, at affordable prices. — (Jan 3)

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]The shoe is on the other foot[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

By Zafar Masud[/B][/CENTER]

CALL them Ducati 271 or Bush shoes, the choice is yours. What is really
interesting is that ever since an Iraqi journalist hurled them at the American president during his press conference in Baghdad on Dec 14, the incident has caught the fancy of the European and American media with unprecedented passion for what would otherwise have simply been brushed aside as a mishap owing to ill humour, or bad manners if you will.

Whether that turns Muntazer al-Zaidi into a hero remains arguable and many people, including ordinary folks like this writer, tend to believe that the now shoeless journalist had, during that gathering, needed neither to express the one nor the other in full public view and before television cameras.

The venerable New York Times was so thrilled at what it qualifies as the humiliation of its favourite enemy George W. Bush that it has run columns and columns since the incident, analysing the psychological, historical, religious and intellectual significance of shoe-throwing in the Arab and Muslim cultures. In a separate story the paper even suggested the occurrence could have inadvertently helped a flagging footwear industry in Turkey take the great leap forward to international commercial success.

According to NYT again the Turkish firm has employed an additional staff of 100 workers to cope with surging demands and sales are soaring with 95,000 pairs ordered by a European importer alone. The owner, the paper makes it a point to drive home the ponderous scientific detail, was amazed by the aerodynamics of his wares, albeit they failed to attain their objective. Which brings us to the intended target once again.

Footage (no pun, honest!) run again and again on important TV networks essentially shows a bemused and surprisingly agile President Bush, to give him credit, ducking twice and deftly, successfully avoiding the projectiles each time. Then he has the sense of humour to remark, “All I can report is that it is a size 10.”

European and American intellectuals and journalists, those who are convinced shoe-throwing is a grave, though highly eloquent, affront in the eastern tradition, are not desisting from repeating the point in their writings and utterances ever since, and seem to believe the American president deserved this.

What on earth can explain, you wonder, the West’s fascination with an alien phenomenon that totally escapes its comprehension?

Our infallibly trustworthy sage, Count André de la Roche, happens to be in Paris at the moment. All that remains to be done in his beloved Sancerrois countryside these bleak, brief winter days, he complains, is sit before a roaring fire and read, while listening to Haydn’s string compositions. This is something he can do with greater pleasure in his Parisian flat with a view of the Eiffel Tower from his library window as bonus. He was glad to wax eloquent on this cothurnus tragi-comedy for the benefit of Dawn’s readers:

“If you ask these people whether they themselves would throw shoes at someone they do not like, they won’t answer you. But look deeper into their eyes and you have the answer all written large there. ‘Throw my shows at someone? Are you crazy? I am a civilised person for heaven’s sake! But if the Iraqi journalist did that, I understand him and I sympathise with him’.

“There you are! This sort of condescending is the key to the entire enigma. The western intellectual who is denying you the eye contact is, deep down, a neo-imperialist, although he doesn’t know it. He has this paternalistic approach towards the people from the Middle East and Africa. Not towards the Asians, by the way, whom he considers his rivals and whom he fears.

“If two people are having an argument whether it is day or night and this same intellectual is asked to arbitrate, he will pull a curtain over the window to block the blazing sunshine from view and check out first which one of the adversaries is in his eye socially, economically and ethnically disadvantaged. Truth belongs to him and not to the other guy who thinks it is daytime, according to the lights of our arbitrator.

“This is called relativism. When the Americans turned this nonsense into their religion in the 1970s, we the Europeans, in our arrogance of being the inheritors of the legacies of Newton, Copernicus, Descartes, Galileo, Kant and Goethe, had made fun of them. Truth has no relatives, we had said, and two plus two makes four … always has and always will.

“But then, we had rejected junk food, gay parades, baggy jeans, graffiti and rap music too. Today we are great consumers of all that as well as of relativism. The American tsunami will drown us all, until it runs down the gutter-hole where it belongs. For the moment, what Muntazer al-Zaidi did would be qualified as bad manners if we did that but from our US-imported relativist, patronising point of view, it is alright for an Iraqi to behave that way.

“The shoe is literally on the other foot!”

[B]The writer is a journalist based in Paris.[/B]

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]Getting ‘Bangalored’[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

By Keya Acharya[/B][/CENTER]

THE term ‘getting Bangalored,’ or having jobs outsourced from the West to this international IT hub, looks set to acquire another connotation — this time of professionals being fired right there.

The Union of Information Technology Enabled Services (UNITES) Professionals, India anticipates at least 50,000 job losses in the first half of the new year, owing to the global recession.

Ever since United States majors like General Electric and American Express shifted their back office processing operations to India in 1994-96, the world’s major corporations, from the airlines to banking industries, resorted to business process outsourcing (BPO) to this country, raising jobs from 553,000 in 2007 to the current 1.6 million jobs.

Tight labour markets in the US and Europe, linguistic capabilities, reliable and cheaper telephonic communication and operational costs together with a government setup that encouraged foreign direct investment with tax sops, have been major factors in the growth of India’s BPO sector.

India’s information technology enabled services (ITES) sector has been growing at a steady 30 percent rate over the past few years and overall sales in 2007-2008 stood at $52bn. But the slowdown in the US and European markets has led to sudden job losses that have raised new labour issues.

UNITES, created in 2005 with active support from the global Switzerland-based Union Network International (UNI), grew with this new and huge workforce and has been raising important questions about working conditions, gender discrimination, sexual harassment and employee rights.

Fifty per cent of UNITES members are from Bangalore, pointing to the city’s large concentration of India’s entire BPO sector, higher than the world’s emerging BPO centres in South Africa, Philippines, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

But the industry’s economic links to the US and Britain’s recessions have played havoc on the local scene, with at least 10,000 jobs in the industry being lost between September 2008 and December 2008. Others, mostly junior level executives, have taken salary cuts ranging from 25 per cent to as high as 75 per cent.

UNITES general secretary, Karthik Shekhar, a computer engineer, says the prediction of another 50,000 job losses has been estimated from the uncertainty of US president-elect Barack Obama’s new policy on outsourcing, the bail packages by the British government and financial institutions which may result in conditions being imposed on local jobs.

Shekhar also says the country’s lax laws and “the red carpet treatment extended by our government to foreign companies” are aiding these institutions to lay off workers without due benefits, and with insensitive handling.

UNITES members, Shekhar illustrates as example, have in some cases, discovered they had been ‘sacked’ when their entry-swipe cards stopped working abruptly or were given two hours’ notice to leave their workplaces.

India lacks laws on severance rights for workers in the IT sector. “There is no talking between parties here in India... companies, including multinationals who behave differently elsewhere, just refuse here,’’ says Shekhar.

UNITES faces opposition from the IT-industry’s National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) which represents only the companies or ‘employers’ and sees UNITES as a potential threat, given India’s history of confrontation between trade-unions and employer-companies.

A NASSCOM statement says that the association, after “research and interaction is not in favour” of the prediction of huge job losses in the wake of the downturn in the United States and other developed countries.

[B]— IPS News[/B]

Princess Royal Tuesday, January 06, 2009 08:58 AM

[RIGHT][B]Tuesday
Muharram 08, 1430
January 06, 2009[/B][/RIGHT]

[CENTER][B][U][COLOR="DarkRed"][SIZE="4"]The Indian conundrum[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Shahid Javed Burki[/B][/CENTER]

FOR the past several decades, in fact going back to the early days of its existence as an independent state, Pakistan has not used trade and economic relations with the world outside as determinants of economic change and development.

This is unfortunate. As several countries in East Asia demonstrated so vividly, trade can play an important role in producing growth and in changing the structure of the economy.

Other types of economic relations with the world also matter. Among them are foreign capital flows and the involvement of diasporas in the development of the homeland. All three aspects of international economic relations are important for Pakistan if it is to emerge from the difficult economic situation it faces today and if it is to set the economy on the trajectory of long-term growth. If economics is to be the main reason for international relations, Pakistan must begin with the countries in its immediate neighbourhood. Of all the countries with which Pakistan shares borders, India matters the most.

This approach of not building strong economic relations with neighbouring countries was adopted soon after Pakistan gained independence. It has remained that way for more than six decades, and it once again threatens to affect how the country develops its economy. If Islamabad is to concentrate on economic development as the main focus of the government’s attention, it should adopt a very different approach towards India, its neighbour, compared to the one into which it is drifting because of the force of long-established habits.

There is a default position into which Pakistan retreats whenever relations with India become difficult. This needs to change. The change must also come in India which has its own default position of blaming Pakistan for many of its problems.

Pakistan has allowed its international economic relations to be determined by its strategic imperatives, the foremost of which was to protect itself from the perceived Indian threat. That initially the Indians and their government wished Pakistan ill was demonstrated by a number of measures adopted by New Delhi as Pakistan, a new political state, was struggling.

The government of Jawaharlal Nehru blocked the release of the funds owed to Pakistan by Britain in return for the war effort mounted by British India. The series of agreements that led to the creation of Pakistan, an independent state for the Muslims of British India, included apportioning British funds between the successor states of India and Pakistan. Once India and Pakistan became independent, New Delhi, that controlled the funds, refused to disburse them and give Pakistan its share. Even Mahatma Gandhi’s intervention did not persuade Nehru to adopt a gentler approach towards its sister state.

The authorities in Karachi, Pakistan’s first capital, drew the obvious conclusion: that the government headed by Nehru in India wished to strangle its neighbour at birth. This was in 1947-48 when Pakistan needed a great deal of support to establish an independent and functioning economy.

The impression that that may have been the Indian intention was further strengthened when two years later, in 1949, New Delhi suspended all trade with Pakistan. The reason for that move was the decision taken by Pakistan not to devalue its currency with respect to the US dollar. That was done by all countries that belonged to the British Commonwealth, including India. Pakistan refused to follow, believing (I think correctly) that given the demand for jute, its most important export, a lowering of its price through devaluation would not help the economy.

In retrospect it seems odd that a decision with respect to the rate of exchange for the domestic economy would be resented so much by a neighbouring country as to bring to a complete halt all trade. But that is what happened.

The Indian decision to apply such severe sanctions on Pakistan was to have significant consequences for the development of the country’s economy. For decades a succession of governments neglected the sector of agriculture in order to concentrate on the development of an industrial base. The policymakers in Karachi felt that they needed to have the new economy of Pakistan self-sufficient in most items of everyday consumption. Previously these were imported from India. With the need to move quickly, Pakistan, unlike India, gave space to the private initiative to develop the industrial sector. India had put the public sector on the commanding heights of the economy.

The Indians also took an aggressive approach towards the use of the waters of the Indus River system in the two Punjabs. Since they controlled a number of canal headworks, they could block the flow of water to the irrigation system that served Pakistan. In the early 1950s when the Indians threatened to divert water for their own use, Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister, threatened war.

This problem was resolved a decade later when President Ayub Khan signed the Indus Waters Treaty with Prime Minister Nehru in 1960. The treaty resulted in the division of the tributaries of the Indus between India and Pakistan, with the Indians given the use of the eastern rivers (Beas, Ravi and Sutlej), while Pakistan was left with the Indus itself as well as Jhelum and Chenab.

One important consequence of the preoccupation with India and the perceived existential threat from the neighbour was to bring the military centre-stage of Pakistani politics. As President Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military leader maintained, only the military could take care of the country’s strategic interests. This perception was to be the basis of the military’s repeated intervention in the political system.

The military’s involvement in politics had a number of consequences for the development of the economy. Two of these are worth underscoring. First, it diverted a significant amount of the government’s resources towards defence. With the military claiming such a large share in public funds, not enough was left for economic and social development. Second, with the military intervening regularly, Pakistan opted for extreme centralisation in the style of governance it adopted. This put Islamabad in a commanding situation. The interests of the provinces were often neglected. This slowed economic progress.

Poor relations with India, therefore, pushed Pakistan in the direction in which it should not have gone. Looking at India from the prism of economics rather than that of national security would introduce a different set of dynamics to economic decision-making. Bringing about this reorientation requires both the exercise of political will and the education of the citizenry. n

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Cuban revolution at fifty[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Gwynne Dyer[/B][/CENTER]

I HAVE learned one thing from my various visits to Cuba over the years, and that is not to predict the demise of the regime. I did that sometimes in the past, if only to offer a bit of hope to various despairing individuals who thought that a visiting foreigner might know more about their future than they did themselves. But the brothers Castro are still there and they have just celebrated the 50th anniversary of their revolution.

Nevertheless, change may be lurking around the corner at last, for Barack Obama represents the greatest danger that the regime has faced since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of its subsidies 17 years ago. The survival of the regime is due in large part to the unremitting hostility of the United States, which lets it appeal to Cubans’ patriotism, and to the trade embargo that gives it an excuse for its economic failures.

Obama is clever enough to understand that the best way to kill the communist regime in Cuba is with kindness, and he has no domestic political debts that would keep him from acting on that insight. In particular, he owes nothing to the Cuban exile establishment in Florida, which mostly voted for Bush.

He could start right away by ending the rule that allows Cuban-Americans to visit their families on the island only once every three years, and limits their remittances to $300 every four months. Even within the Cuban exile community in the United States those restrictions are controversial, as it is hard to see how they hurt the Cuban regime.

Once the question of where to send the remaining Guantanamo detainees has been resolved, Obama could close the base down entirely. Indeed, he could give the land back to Cuba as a free gesture, since it has no economic or strategic value to the United States. That would seriously undermine the communist regime’s argument that the United States is an implacable enemy that Cubans must confront with discipline and solidarity.

Then he could get to work on the ridiculous embargo on trade and travel to Cuba. The sanctions have been written into law in recent years, so he would need Congress’s assent to remove them. But if he got it, all the mechanisms of control built up by Fidel Castro over the past fifty years would probably begin to crumble.

The real question is: what happens then? The last time the fall of the Castro regime seemed likely, a couple of years after the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991, I went to Cuba in the guise of a tourist (there’s nothing like having a baby along to make you look innocent) and talked to a great many people informally.

Most of them expected the regime to fall soon, and a majority (though not an overwhelming majority) welcomed the prospect. However, they were all frightened of what might come next, for two reasons. One was the fact that at least 10 per cent of the Cuban population — over a million people — were true communist believers, and they were armed to the teeth. Would they let their dream die without fighting to save it?

The other was that the exiles would come back from Miami and take over. Their money would let them buy up everything of value, and those who had endured decades of poverty under Castro would stay poor and marginalised. Even the few good things about “socialist” Cuba, like the healthcare system, would be destroyed.

Well, my last trip to Cuba was less than two years ago, and things had changed. The poverty, the oppression and the despair were the same, but the true believers who would kill and die to save the revolution were noticeably scarcer.

This visit was part of a project in which various western embassies, thinking that Fidel Castro’s illness might mean that big changes were on the way, brought in “experts” to talk to the Cuban elite about how things were done in democratic countries. It was pretty pointless work, frankly, but it did offer unusual access to the apparatchiks who really run the show in Cuba.

Most of the officials were about what you’d expect: loyal, fully institutionalised servants of the regime. But very few of them were passionate ideologues who would launch and fight a civil war to save it. Generational turnover had done its work, and these were just people who were glad to have their jobs and the few privileges that came with them.

Generational turnover has been at work in Miami, too. Fifty years on, the original generation of Cuban refugees is gradually giving way to an American-born generation who still care about the country, of course, but are much less interested in going back and re-creating the Cuba of the 1950s. n

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Let the buyer beware[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Amber Darr[/B][/CENTER]

IN the 17th century in England a man named Chandelor purchased from a man named Lopus a certain stone for the princely sum of one hundred pounds. The stone was reputed to have magical healing powers.

Soon after the purchase, however, Chandelor discovered that the stone had no powers whatsoever, let alone magical healing ones. Outraged, Chandelor took Lopus to court.

Before the court, Lopus dispassionately explained that although he had affirmed that the stone had healing powers, he had not warranted that it did. The court accepted Lopus’ argument. And while Lopus was allowed to keep the money, Chandelor was left merely with a stern warning: caveat emptor — let the buyer beware!

This warning resounded in the ears of consumers throughout Britain and the Empire until Britain enacted the Sale of Goods Act, 1893. This law provided some respite to consumers: a buyer could now examine goods supplied to him by the seller and reject these if they were not in accordance with the contract between them.

In certain circumstances, the buyer could cancel the contract and in others sue the seller for damages. Britain’s colonies and dominions welcomed this law and adopted it without much variation. In 1930, the Government of India followed suit and enacted the Sale of Goods Act, 1930. Post independence, Pakistan enacted the Federal Laws (Revision and Declaration) Act, 1951, under which it adopted a number of Indian laws. The Sale of Goods Act, 1930 was one of these.

For the next several decades, even as the nature of goods and services evolved, the rights of the Pakistani consumer remained dormant at 1950 levels. There was a ray of hope in 1985, when Pakistan adopted the newly formulated UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection. Adoption of the guidelines however did not automatically translate into progress in consumer rights within the country. It took Pakistan another 10 years to enact the first consumer protection law. Since then several more laws have been enacted on this subject. Has the enactment of these laws improved the lot of the Pakistani consumer compared to that of the hapless Chandelor?

The first consumer protection law enacted in Pakistan was the Islamabad Consumer Protection Act 1995. This was followed by the NWFP Consumer Protection Act 1997, the Balochistan Consumer Protection Act 2003 and the Punjab Consumer Protection Act 2005. Ironically, Sindh, home to Karachi, the economic hub of the country, to date remains without a consumer protection law. In 2004, Sindh had experimented with consumer rights by promulgating a Consumer Protection Ordinance, which would lapse in four months unless it was re-promulgated or converted into an act. The Sindh ordinance has since lapsed. From then onwards, other than paying occasional lip service to the protection of consumer rights, Sindh has allowed this matter to slide.

The striking feature of the Pakistani consumer protection laws is that these are provincial rather than federal laws. The reason for this is constitutional: according to Article 142 of the Constitution, for an item listed on the Federal Legislative List, only parliament has the power to legislate, for an item listed in the Concurrent Legislative List either parliament or the provincial assemblies may legislate and for an item not listed in either list, only the provincial assemblies may legislate.

Consumer protection is not listed in either list, therefore only the provincial assemblies are competent to legislate on this topic. While this has the advantage of enabling the provinces to make laws more suited to their specific conditions it has the inherent disadvantage of allowing the possibility of disparity on this issue across the country.

True to Murphy’s Law, the consumer protection laws are disparate: while the Islamabad, NWFP and Balochistan laws condemn “unfair trade practices”, the Punjab law allows claims on the basis of “deficiencies” and “defects”; while the Punjab law allows claims to be brought in respect of medical and legal services, the Islamabad, NWFP and Balochistan laws leave these out of their ambit; while the NWFP, Balochistan and Punjab laws place explicit and specific obligations on manufacturers the Islamabad law does not.

Consequently, the protection provided to consumers in Pakistan is, at best, uneven and a consumer travelling from one province to another does not know what protection he is likely to be entitled to should he purchase a product or avail of a service.

More disturbing than this disparity is the incompatibility of these laws with universally recognised principles of consumer protection detailed in the UN Guidelines. The most glaring instance of this is in the key area of availability of effective consumer redress. The NWFP, Balochistan and Punjab laws in Pakistan prove extremely inadequate on this count firstly because they presume a literate and sophisticated consumer who is aware of his rights, secondly because they mire him in procedural rules and thirdly because they purport to penalise him for bringing a vexatious claim.

The Islamabad Act had stipulated a simpler mechanism, which utilised the existing courts rather than setting up parallel ones. None of the later laws however followed this model.

The guidelines also mandate the protection of the economic interests of consumers by controlling restrictive and abusive trade practices. The Competition Ordinance, 2007 addresses some of these issues by seeking to check the creation of monopolies and cartels, prohibiting agreements that lessen market competition, and preventing deceptive market practices. The Competition Commission established in pursuance of this ordinance has already taken steps to check market abuses in a number of areas.

Given however that the actions of the commission have been challenged in the courts and that the ordinance itself is beset with constitutional as well as economic anomalies, it is too early to comment on their effectiveness.

The examination of these laws underscores Pakistan’s failure to foster a strong, coherent and uniform consumer protection policy. As a result, the Pakistani consumer, despite being made the subject of multiple laws, remains little better off than the unfortunate Chandelor.

Successive governments have relegated consumer rights to the backburner, not realising—or perhaps realising only well—that in promoting these rights they will be securing the welfare of the common man and strengthening the nascent foothold of democracy in the country. The PPP in its election manifesto had vowed that if elected it would reverse the order of priorities so that social policy objectives drive economic policy. It may consider taking the first step in this direction by setting out to provide meaningful protection to consumers. n

[B]The writer is a barrister.[/B]

[email]amber.darr@gmail.com[/email]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES : Sindhi Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

Generation capacity or funds?

Ibrat[/B] [/CENTER]

A MEETING presided over by President Asif Ali Zardari has sanctioned the release of Rs7.5bn for power generation. It is claimed that by the end of January 2,700 MW of electricity will be generated. This decision … will help overcome the power crisis … to some extent…. But the … solution would be a temporary one and the power crisis could resurface.

It has become crystal clear that the power shortage in the country is not accidental. In fact power plants were not generating sufficient electricity and this led to the crisis. If they were generating 11,000 MW of electricity, the power needs of the country could be easily met. The meeting observed that the problem was not of generation capacity but the shortage of funds.

The implications of the energy crisis for the economy are huge. Owing to the acute shortage of electricity, the industrial sector particularly the textile industry, has suffered a lot.

The situation demands a review of independent power plants. … Despite being a private sector company, the KESC depends on the government. When such organisations run on a profit they continue production without sharing any profit with the government. But when there are outstanding dues, they suspend supply or stop production. … These private companies indulge in blackmailing the people and government and cause heavy losses to the economy….

The people have every right to know how the willfulness of a company is causing heavy losses to the public and the overall economy, and creating a crisis. In the process of considering the interests of all stakeholders, particularly the people and industry, all national resources should be galvanised on a war footing. — (Jan 3)

[B]— Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi[/B]

Princess Royal Thursday, January 08, 2009 01:17 PM

[RIGHT][B]Thursday
Muharram 10, 1430
January 08, 2009 [/B][/RIGHT]
[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]
A new start[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

GIVEN the enormity of the problem, the road ahead is bound to be rocky and fraught with danger. But a new start seems to have been made in Pakistan’s tenuous and often stormy relationship with Afghanistan, and that is a huge positive in itself. The civilian set-up in Islamabad has managed to open up new lines of communication with Kabul, a move that bodes well for the fight against militancy which needs coordinated effort if it is to be successful. The acrimony that marred relations with our neighbour to the west started dissipating soon after Mr Musharraf vacated the presidency, a confirmation perhaps of reports that the bad blood between him and Mr Karzai may have been rooted more in a clash of personalities rather than national interests. That may be so, but the turning point came when the army started showing greater honesty of purpose under a new chief of staff who was quick to distance himself from politics. Unlike Gen Musharraf, Gen Kayani did not need to keep the bogey of terrorism alive to win favours from the West. Instead, acting on the directives of the government, the army became single-minded in its pursuit of the Taliban. This change of tack naturally went down well with Kabul. Mr Musharraf’s double-game of ‘tackling’ militancy and letting it flourish at the same time was obvious to all: to civil society in Pakistan as well as the leadership in Afghanistan. Things are different now.

Presidents Asif Zardari and Hamid Karzai took the changed relationship to a higher plane on Tuesday when they committed themselves and their countries to full cooperation in the fight against the mutual enemy, the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Afghan and Pakistani foreign ministers also signed a declaration calling for a “new visionary chapter” in relations between the two countries. That said, rapprochement between Islamabad and Kabul may not go down well with some other regional actors who could make it a point to try and derail the peace train.

The danger is self-evident and Kabul would do well not to play into the hands of third parties.

The Karzai-Zardari talks came on the heels of a visit to Kabul by Gen Parvez Kayani. A top US commander in Afghanistan has since confirmed that Pakistani and Nato troops are sharing intelligence in Operation Lionheart, which aims to quell insurgency on both sides of the Durand Line through action in Bajaur and Kunar. Cross-border infiltration from Pakistan is also on the decline, he said, as are Taliban attacks on allied troops. Whether this is on account of a winter lull or because the Taliban’s capacity has taken a hit in recent months remains to be seen. In any case, Pakistan and Afghanistan seem to have realised that they cannot go it alone.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Political intrigue in AJK[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

FOR a region that figures so prominently in Pakistan’s national imagination, the goings-on in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly barely registered on the national radar. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan was unseated by a forward bloc of his ruling Muslim Conference that linked up with opposition parties, including the People’s Party of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (the local PPP). The vote in the 49-seat assembly was denounced by Sardar Attique, who accused the federal government in Islamabad of orchestrating his ouster. However, the truth is more complex. The prime minister’s downfall began when he alienated a faction of the MC supported by Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan, former prime minister and president of AJK. The complaints of the MC rebels read like a typical political chargesheet: corruption, inefficiency, arbitrary decision-making, sidelining the cabinet, spending too much time away from the capital, etc. Were it not for the rebel group, Sardar Attique’s government, which had a comfortable majority in the AJK assembly, would have faced no threat.

Yet it is also apparent that the no-confidence vote succeeded because the PPAJK, which has seven seats, supported it. In the end, the 25 votes (32 including the PPAJK) mustered by Mr Attique’s opponents were numerically enough in the 49-seat assembly, but it was the PPAJK’s addition that had a galvanising effect on the opposition. Aware of the PPAJK’s role, the pro-Attique camp lashed out on Jan 4 against unnamed federal ministers for attempting to “topple the elected Muslim Conference government through horse trading, coercion and inducement”. The rivalry between the

MC and the PPAJK, the two largest parties in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, is old, but intensified in 2006 when the Musharraf regime supported the MC and helped it capture a majority in the July election.

The regime is also believed to have encouraged a split in the PPAJK, which came to pass when Barrister Sultan Mahmood set up the People’s Muslim League and won four seats in the election. Since the election the PPAJK regularly vowed to bring down the ‘corrupt regime’ of the MC, something it has now helped achieve — although another faction of the MC will still head the government. All of this may seem par for the course in Pakistani politics. But with a democratic dispensation in Islamabad, the extent of the federal government’s influence on AJK politics needs to be questioned as well as whether or not this is aiding liberal politics in Kashmir.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]ISI speaks up[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

THE head of the Inter-Services Intelligence appears to have said all the right things in a rather candid interview with a German magazine. What Gen Pasha divulged should come as music to anyone interested in democracy in Pakistan and peace in South Asia. His remarks showed a clear understanding of the issues involved. That he took his orders from the president; that terrorism was the real enemy; and that there should be no war in the region are the right noises that were made. Given this nation’s history and scepticism with the army’s role in politics, on the face of it, what the ISI chief has said is refreshing. His stated willingness to go to India to help out with the Mumbai siege probe, if the government so decides, is also welcome. It is an indication that the army, for now, is only interested in its professional duties and not playing backdoor politics.

There will be some who may find faults with the ISI chief talking to the media or saying that he reported to the president as opposed to the prime minister, as the law of the land prescribes, but that’s nitpicking, really. Who else but the ISI should at all times have a good sense of reality? As the constitution stands today after Gen Musharraf’s tinkering with it the president is the pinnacle of state power for all practical purposes. That both the president and the prime minister represent the same governing party is a blessing that must be counted; there are no differences between the head of state and the head of government which in the past has been the cause of derailing the democratic process. Nothing that Gen Pasha said in his interview contradicts the government’s stated policy. Perhaps the exercise was meant to put a human face to the much maligned institution that he heads. Whether one interview where he sometimes used “accent-free” German to articulate his position is enough, or more will be needed, will become clearer in the days to come.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

Reckless war

The Jordan Times[/B][/CENTER]

BESIDES the unprecedented scale of death and destruction, the ruthless Israeli aggression on Gaza has triggered a massive humanitarian crisis. The rate of civilians killed by the Israeli air, sea and land bombardments is 40 to 50 per cent of the total number of the casualties.

This high level of civilian fatalities proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Israeli war machine is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

When this high figure of dead civilians is added to the picture of starvation, lack of water, medicine, bombardment of hospitals, schools, houses and other civilian infrastructure, the picture that emerges is one of a large-scale humanitarian crisis that, despite its size, seems to go unnoticed by the outside world.

... Effective international intervention is desperately needed. Killing 40 people sheltering in a school, or tens of worshippers praying in a mosque is no attack on “military” objectives. It is heinous crime, genocide, pure and simple.... — (Jan 7)
[CENTER][B]
Wise budget

Oman Tribune[/B][/CENTER]

…THE Sultanate’s 2009 budget has been presented after a necessary revision owing to the wild fluctuation of oil prices internationally. What is remarkable about the functioning of those charged with implementing the budget is that they are willing to go back to the drawing board in the event of a major upheaval.…

... [T]he would-be critic should look around Oman and begin counting the ... projects ... launched and ... downsized or abandoned over the past five months ... [he] would find none. ... [A] number of [Oman’s] neighbouring countries… have been hit hard.... Oman is at times described as “laid back” but this criticism is not justified because it is due to this very cautious approach ... that Oman can claim that it would be able to minimise the impact of the global financial meltdown on itself. It is a matter of record that most countries ... are not able to meet the budgetary targets.... It is a matter of record too that Oman has consistently been able to meet its budgetary commitments.... — (Jan 5)

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]Karbala and the spirit of unity[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

By Asha’ar Rehman[/B][/CENTER]

HUSAIN’S example keeps the spirits and heads high and the battles running. Pakistani newspapers stand testament to the Imam’s presence in all spheres of life and to his quality of uniting people around a cause that may initially have had the support of a few dozen souls.

For the crowd has grown in size and spread all over ever since a handful of committed souls took on the regime in the battle at Karbala, providing us with the most powerful metaphor against oppression.

There are more mentions of Karbala in the Pakistani discourse than any other event in history and the metaphor is used to describe all kinds of struggles — from a campaign against unreasonable or oppressive local authorities to a fight with national and international despots. The president of the country takes solace in the Husaini ideal as he presses his credentials as the heir to a legacy that is founded on the ultimate human sacrifice, of life. The lawyers’ movement is described by someone as the Husaini Qafela or caravan, the distress a Pakistani is faced with in everyday life is sought to be relieved by calling to mind the hardships the most revered of all came across in Karbala around 1,400 years ago, the reports about the alleged efforts to stop the flow of water to Pakistan are greeted with calls for invoking a Karbala-like spirit to fight these designs.

If this is not universal enough, we have rallying cries that woo the faithful to throw their weight behind the biggest identified cause of today: that of defeating the world power that has dared to undertake a conquest of land in and around Karbala on charges as flimsy as flimsy can be.

This is a selection of only a few random allusions to the Imam and the grand precedent he set at Karbala. A more detailed study would show innumerable other instances from present-day life where we lean on Imam Husain whenever we are pitted against the odds. Yet, the tendency is to long nostalgically about a past of greater harmony, a past of greater tolerance in society… a past free of television debates of now that boast one scholar each from ‘either school of thought’. The lament about the present is not without reason and even people not so old routinely talk about times that were so much better.

The old-timers are particularly perturbed by the brand of harmony being flaunted at public forums these days. Invariably, the narrative takes us to the period before this type of tokenism took such deep root in society that finding an anti-thesis to it became difficult. The youngsters who have grown up in times of rampant sectarianism listen to these repeated reminders about how things once had been with wonder, as if it was another country.

It is not that joint ceremonies have gone totally out of vogue. There are still gatherings, specially in Muharram, which draw people from all ‘schools’, but surely, the cultural lines are becoming more pronounced with the passage of time. Obviously, the need is for someone to emerge and speak for everyone around, relying on a common charter that brings people closer.

When, some 78 years ago, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the famous translator of the Holy Quran into English, addressed a Yaum-i-Ashur majlis in London, his topic was the universal acceptance of Hazrat Imam Husain’s sacrifice. The observations he made on May 31, 1931 are still valid for those laying a claim to the common legacy.Mr Ali began by speaking of “sorrow as a bond of union” and concluded his speech by highlighting that Husain’s example not only brought Muslims together but also held special attraction for non-Muslims. He said: “The martyr bears witness, and the witness redeems what would otherwise be called failure. It so happened with Husain. For all were touched by the story of his martyrdom... And Muharram has still the power to unite the different schools of thought in Islam, and make a powerful appeal to non-Muslims also.”

The need is to go beyond the officially-convened meetings of ulema of “all shades” for ensuring peace in Muharram. This is a moment of reflection for all those who can and who must preach unity over and above the duty they may feel towards representing their school.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Gazprom turns tables on West[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Mark Almond[/B] [/CENTER]

RUSSIA’S energy giant, Gazprom, is at the heart of a new cold war pitting the Kremlin against Washington. In the old Cold War, Soviet gas still flowed west at the height of rows between Reagan and Brezhnev — but post-communist Russia is proving less pliant than the “evil empire”.

Gazprom is at the heart of modern Russia. Its former chairman is the country’s president, and many key executives work part-time in the Kremlin. It is, above all, not only Russia’s biggest company but the world’s biggest energy supplier. Back in the sleepy Brezhnev days it was run like your local gas board with as much geopolitical significance. Now the West’s fear is that Gazprom is beginning to play a role like that of America’s oil companies or BP in the days when the West’s energy interests determined who ran countries such as Iran.

Gazprom’s dispute with Ukraine is multilayered. The West prefers to focus on the strategic significance of Russia’s desolate neighbour, while the Russians put money first. It makes sense for Washington to see the issue solely in great power terms because America doesn’t depend on Gazprom like the EU.

Last month, in the dying days of the Bush administration, Kiev signed a “strategic partnership” with Washington. Keeping Russia hemmed in is why Ukraine matters to America. Apart from its status as a geopolitical pawn, Ukraine is little more than a pipeline route for Gazprom’s exports.Washington’s indignation about a Russian energy oligarch sitting in the Kremlin does not extend to Ukraine’s energy oligarch, Yulia Tymoshenko, sitting as prime minister in Kiev. Qualifying as a market economy used to be about buying cheap and selling dear, but now politics trumps economics in western estimations.

Although its EU allies pay around $500 per unit, Washington wants Gazprom to subsidise the anti-Russian coalition government in Kiev by charging the poor Ukrainians only $175. Gazprom’s response is market economics red in tooth and claw.

The West wanted Russia to be a market economy, but Russia never asked how countries become market economies. Is a political-economic juggernaut like Gazprom just a relic of the Soviet days? Didn’t so-called chartered companies — monopolies in effect — like the East India or Hudson Bay companies play a huge role in the development of Britain’s model market economy? Without their protected profits and ability to call on the government in London to back up their trading practices with power, would Britain’s economy have taken off 300 years ago?

This spat at the gas tap has hit Western Europe, but the region is yesterday’s growth market so far as Gazprom is concerned. Apart from Britain, where the blinkered market-makers set free by Tony Blair failed to anticipate demand, let alone invest to meet it, there are no new importers from Russia in the EU.

New pipelines via the Baltic to Germany and through the Balkans to Italy are primarily to cut out the risk of destitute ex-communist states “doing a Ukraine” and siphoning off unpaid gas while demanding their rich EU partners stick up for them in Moscow.

Gazprom is looking for new clients, and US policy helps. American sanctions on Iran suit Russia well; Washington has pressed Turkey not to buy gas from Iran, so Gazprom offers the alternative. Chaos in Afghanistan has hit the prospect of a pipeline from Turkmenistan to India — which, with Japan and above all China, is tomorrow’s market for Gazprom. While Western Europe sweats over whether to pressure Ukraine to pay so Russian gas can flow, or to fight Washington’s new cold war by proxy, Moscow is building new routes east and south. Medvedev announced a new pipeline to China on entering the Kremlin.

Western triumphalists marked Russia down for inevitable decline. Certainly so long as Yeltsin let his crony capitalists plunder the country and deposit the loot in London and New York, pessimism was justified. Now, however, Russia’s capitalist crew are not fly-by-night asset-strippers but ruthless capitalist politician-businessmen of the sort Britain used to produce.

Gazprom’s executives are the 21st-century equivalent of Britain’s 18th-century pioneers of unscrupulous national power and wealth. Suddenly, yesterday’s proponents of the unbridled free market have discovered a distaste for the brute realities of supply and demand. Rather like poker players who have won all the chips on the table, western states recognise that the odds will turn sharply against them, so they insist on the economic equivalent of a whist drive. But will the hard young men running Gazprom take up this granny’s game?

[B]The writer is a history lecturer at Oriel College, Oxford University.

— The Guardian, London[/B]

irfanuetian Thursday, January 08, 2009 04:15 PM

well done bro... u hav edone agreat job.......its quiet informing for us......;)

dr.atifrana Thursday, January 08, 2009 04:33 PM

Good work bro
 
Dear, thats good, we will be looking for material on global trade linkages from ur part.

Princess Royal Saturday, January 10, 2009 06:50 PM

[RIGHT][B]Saturday
Muharram 12, 1430
January 10, 2009[/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkRed"][SIZE="4"]Belated resolution[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

THE Security Council has finally acted — and that hardly deserves three cheers. With the US, that under the circumstances deserves to be called Israel’s patron saint, abstaining, the world body’s executive arm passed on Thursday a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. This came 13 days after Israel launched its blitz. By the time the vote was taken, the number of dead, mostly Palestinian civilians, had climbed to 800, with over 3,000 wounded. Calling for a “full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza”, the resolution took note of the humanitarian disaster in the Strip and called for the opening of all border crossings. At the time of writing, neither Hamas nor Tel Aviv had accepted it. The US helped draft the resolution, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained why her country had abstained, saying it was waiting to see the outcome of Egyptian mediation. The diplomats at the UN council were disappointed because the American abstention meant less pressure on Israel to heed the call. It is interesting to note that Rice talked to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert four to five times, and diplomatic circles say President Bush changed his mind at the last minute and decided to abstain.

The Security Council’s procrastination in passing a resolution has enabled Israel to continue killing a large number of civilians. On Friday, Israel attacked 30 targets in Gaza, and flattened a five-storey building, killing seven people, including an infant. Earlier, once again with a view to hitting a large group of Palestinian civilians, Israel shelled a UN school where refugees had sheltered, slaughtering 42 civilians, and on Thursday it fired on people fleeing their homes, leaving 24 dead. The Red Cross has also complained that Israel has been firing at ambulances and aid workers. This is in keeping with the Israeli government’s lust for Palestinian blood — Deir Yassin, Jenin and, in Lebanon, Sabra-Chatila, Qana I and Qana II.

Rice now wants the Palestinian Authority to govern the Gaza Strip. This view is open to debate since the Hamas dispensation was voted to power in both Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed Ismail Haniye as prime minister, even though he enjoyed the assembly’s majority, and nominated Salam Fayyad, an independent, in his place. By a decree, Abbas did away with the need for the prime minister to obtain a vote of confidence from the House. A ceasefire is only a step towards halting the present slaughter. A durable peace in the land will be possible only when Israel accepts UN resolutions 242 and 338 and follows up on the Oslo process. Without the emergence of a sovereign Palestinian state, the region will continue to see bloodshed and turmoil.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Kasab and Durrani[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

MAKING a mountain out of every molehill appears to be the federal government’s speciality. The confirmation that Ajmal Kasab is Pakistani should not have created a controversy; Kasab’s nationality was an open secret and as early as Dec 12 this paper published a detailed account of a meeting with an elderly man in Faridkot who claimed to be Kasab’s father. But the bungled announcement, subsequent denials and then confirmations, and the sacking of National Security Adviser Mehmud Durrani shone a spotlight on the disarray at the apex of decision-making. What can be gleaned from the news thus far is this: the intelligence agencies confirmed to the government that Kasab is a Pakistani; the decision about when and how to announce Kasab’s nationality was left to the government; and the government was preparing to make an announcement when Dawn News broke the story of official confirmation of Kasab’s nationality. What happened next is a classic tale of bumbling officialdom, culminating in Prime Minister Gilani summarily firing Gen (retd) Durrani.

The incident has raised fresh questions about the government’s ability to keep its top officials on the same page at the same time. Once Kasab’s nationality had been determined, why did the government not chalk out a clear plan for making an announcement and share it with every official likely to face questions from the media? And once Mehmud Durrani pre-empted the government and shared the information on Kasab with the media, what was to be gained by dismissing him on the spot? In principle, the prime minister has every right to dismiss anyone in his government who has lost his confidence. But it is odd to fire the national security adviser for causing ‘embarrassment’ to the PM by stating the truth. In doing so, Mr Gilani has sent an unfortunate signal that the messenger is more important than the message. Surely the focus should have been on demonstrating Pakistan’s seriousness to the outside world in investigating local links to the Mumbai attacks. Instead, the big story became petty score-settling at the expense of the national interest. The sensible thing to have done was to quickly arrange a press conference on the Kasab information and punish the national security adviser for his indiscretion at a later date. Unfortunately, the failure of good sense has led to the inevitable: frenzied speculation about rifts between the president and the PM and between the security establishment and the government.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Yet another inferno[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

THE new year in Karachi has begun on a tragic note as approximately 40 people — a large number of them children — have died in a blaze that ripped through a North Karachi slum in the wee hours of Friday morning. More than 25 have been injured and dozens of hutments, home to over 200 people, were engulfed by the raging flames. The death toll could rise as hospital sources claim that more than half of the wounded are critical. As scores writhe in pain and grief, the provincial health minister has served up a familiar excuse — he believes that the fire was sparked by a power wire that fell on the huts. Regardless of the fact that more than half of the metropolis’s population lives in slums, government officials are surprisingly unmindful of the planning hazards that surround such shanty towns. This particular settlement, for example, is enclosed by three larger buildings; therefore, police officials believe that the number of casualties mounted because the sole escape route was blocked by the inferno.

The past is, regrettably, always another country as once again relevant departments seem to have paid negligible heed to the dismal figures of frequent fires in 2008 when over 200 major and minor incidents were reported. Meanwhile, what is even more lamentable is the fact that unless an incident involves a high-profile life or area, investigations throw up very little by way of identifying the triggers and then providing adequate compensation to both survivors and bereaved families. Perhaps, this catastrophe can become the catalyst for the elected dispensation to activate health and safety bodies to implement stringent measures that prevent fires, supervise relevant inquiries and make town planners and nazims accountable for such large-scale destruction. Last but not least, it is imperative that such a body oversee emergency services such as fire brigades, bomb disposal squads and ambulances as their abysmal performance and lack of expertise often turns a minor incident into a widespread calamity. Unless a definite accountability mechanism is put in place, Karachi will remain besieged by tragedies that can be prevented.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - Sri Lankan Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

Dissent is an act of faith

Daily Mirror[/B][/CENTER]

THE elements that raised their weapons [at] Lasantha Wickrematunge last morning, belie all interpretations of democracy that we as a society believed in.

The bullets that were fired on him not only deny us the faith we had [in] democracy in general and personal freedoms in particular, but also play with our ability to relate to simple truths we held as sacred.

For a country that has gone through the worst in human history, yesterday’s brutal attack is ... a sad reflection of our society’s inability to tolerate political dissent. Lasantha’s journalism was such that he made many enemies from all divides of society.

He knew the danger to his life in his attempt to uphold truth and justice but was determined to carry out what he believed was his duty towards both journalism and the country. He believed in the strength of an aware society to fight social injustice and dedicated his life to such. He just didn’t bargain for the weaknesses of that same society....

No country that lays siege to its media can hope to progress or ever hold its head high in dignity. Coming barely days following the attack on an electronic media institution, Lasantha’s killing poses a serious threat to society as a whole, and raises ... question[s] [about] how secure it is for any of us anymore.

His killing must deserve our condemnation not merely because it denied a journalist his right to an opinion, but more because it denied the people their right to know. These are not the workings of a society even close to democracy, leave alone [on the] path to progress.

It is an undeniable truth that Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous locations for journalists to operate in. The level of killings, abductions, threats and intimidations to journalists is a sad manifestation of how intolerable we have become, as a society, to opposing views. The long-term consequences of such intolerance cannot be condoned by any right thinking people, because therein lies the degradation of society as a whole, and the threat to every citizen.

No amount of condemnation, official or otherwise, can compensate for the inhumanity that made this killing possible. And it is not only the cruelty of the killing and the inhumanity of the process that led to the death that we must condemn. It is the very elements of a social system that allows for such deaths to take place and also provides refuge to the culprits of such heinous crimes that we must find a means to end.

The government must be mindful of the danger that such insecure societies provide to its own profile in the international arena. Unless and until the government launches an investigation and provides answers to the questions raised, its own ability to govern would be left open to debate. Such a scenario is ... undesirable....

If dissent, as they say, is an act of faith in a democracy then it failed both Lasantha the journalist and us as a people, miserably yesterday. The cowardly act lay bare the fragility of the democracy we believed we could find refuge in and the vulnerability of anyone attempting change.

Ironically, nothing will contribute to the threat to all our freedoms more than our apathy towards such a system and provide strength for it to prevail. Every society that watches in mere disdain and the political or social entities that refuse to remedy this great injustice to humanity take upon themselves the responsibility of removing the very faith ... place[d] on truth and justice; both elements that Lasantha Wickrematunge attempted very hard to uphold and paid a heavy price for… — (Jan 9)

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Citizens, Sepa and sewage[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Naeem Sadiq[/B][/CENTER]

“KARACHI’s sewage disposal problem is a reality which cuts across sectors, affecting the whole city’s health, environmental quality and development,” — Arif Hasan

Imagine for a moment that each time you pull the lever of your toilet flush, the contents flow down and spread around the periphery of your house.

In a few months, you are likely to end up with a large, nauseating sewage pond that is home to germs and deadly disease. How many of us are aware that we are, perhaps inadvertently, guilty of such misconduct? Each time we use the flush, and the untreated sewage waste makes its way to the Indian Ocean, we become party to the crime of creating a sprawling gutter around our city.

Karachi dumps over 370 million gallons of raw untreated sewage daily into the sea, turning its coasts into cesspools of rancid water and latent pandemics. Laden with E.coli and harmful chemicals, the toxic waste is destroying coastal and marine habitats. It also causes skin ailments, gastroenteritis and urinary tract infections to the general public especially those living near the seaside, besides posing a serious threat to the livelihood of fisherfolk and to tourism.

Connecting people’s homes to clean piped water and to sewers for environment-friendly waste disposal — often referred to as ‘the sanitary revolution’ — is seen as the most important medical milestone since 1840. Many considered it to be more significant than the invention of antibiotics, vaccinations or the discovery of the structure of DNA. However, after over 60 long years, we have neither clean water in our pipes nor a safe disposal mechanism for our sewage. How far are we from achieving the ‘sanitary revolution’ and what are we doing to make it happen?

The three available sewage treatment plants — STP, 1, 2 and 3 — intended to treat Karachi’s 430 million gallons of sewage, have the limited capacity to treat just about 150 million gallons per day. With STP 2 no longer working and STPs 1 and 3 handling only 60 MGD, we are left with over 370 million gallons of homegrown, untreated waste that makes its way into the Indian Ocean every day. A new treatment plant, STP 4, has been under discussion and in the pipeline for many years.

However, there is a bright chance that, like thousands of our ghost schools, this project too might become yet another ghost initiative and fail to see the light of the day. The reason is simple: 365 acres of the 465 acres of land allocated for this project have already been granted to private parties and that too on a 30-year lease, leaving about 100 acres, which is not adequate for a new treatment plant.Thus, a crucial need of the city and its first step in the journey to a ‘sanitary revolution’ may have been pushed back by another 30 years. Clearly, the government’s mafia-like desire to acquire and distribute land far exceeds its concerns for the fundamental development needs of the city.

Needless to say, the Sindh government is blessed with an agency called the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) and a provincial minister for environment. The agency has been established to ensure protection of the environment and to take action against those who violate prescribed environmental rules and standards.

Meanwhile, the treatment of the city sewage is the responsibility of the city government. To dump it in the ocean is unlawful and a violation of the government’s national environmental quality standards (NEQS). It is therefore mandatory that Sepa not remain silent and use its authority to put an end to the crime of 370 million gallons of daily environmental pollution.

If Sepa is perceived as exercising firm authority over state-sponsored pollution, it stands a far stronger chance to control hundreds of lethal, pollutant-producing industries that do not meet the NEQS. Therefore, the time to think more seriously about the final destination of our flushed contents is, undoubtedly now.

[email]naeemsadiq@gmail.com[/email]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Recycling chain collapses[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Tania Branigan[/B][/CENTER]

THE scrap trader was immovable, despite Wu Wenxiu’s pleas. She would pay one yuan — roughly 10 GB pence — for a kilogram of plastic. Around the corner in Shi Yuhai’s yard, the offer was no better. Wu shrugged his shoulders and began to heave bags from his tricycle on to the scales. “One kuai [yuan] here, one kuai there — everywhere’s the same these days. This industry has broken down,” he grumbled.

Wu is one of 160,000 collectors in Beijing who make a living from the detritus of urban life — plastic sheeting, office printouts, bottles, radiators and scraps of cardboard. Recycling has become a global industry and China is the largest importer of the world’s waste materials. Then came the slump.

“It’s a canary in the coalmine: it’s the front and back end of industry,” said Adam Minter, who runs the Shanghai Scrap blog and specialises in the metal trade. “Until about eight weeks ago, for example, the entire [US] west coast paper market was sent to China and most of it was sent south. It was processed and made into packaging for products that then shipped back to the US ... But when US consumer demand dropped off, that broke the cycle.”

Across the scrap trade, prices have halved or worse in a matter of months. Each link in the chain is disintegrating, from factories to scrapyards to collectors such as Wu, 56, a former farmer who now plans to return to Hubei province.

Official media reported that four-fifths of China’s recycling units had closed and that millions will eventually be left without employment.

Dongxiaokou, on the outskirts of Beijing, is a village composed of scrap: blocks of crushed metal are stacked in a tower, heaps of plastic bottles glint in the sunshine and piles of newspapers and rags fill yards. But the merchants all have the same story — they have lost tens of thousands of pounds in a few months, wiping out years of hard work.

Shi puffed on a cigarette as he counted out notes for Wu. “I’ve been in this business for 15 years and it’s been bad before, but never this severe. Everyone’s lost a huge amount of money and some can’t sell their stock,” he said. “Usually we sell to factories and they recycle them into plastic chips. But the price of chips has dropped so it’s had a knock-on effect on us.”

This area deals in domestic waste rather than imports, but Shi said every part of the industry had been affected.

Beijing dealers have taken a particularly hard hit. They stockpiled large quantities of recyclables because prices were soaring, but as the market began to soften, the Olympic security clampdown prevented trucks from entering the capital. The merchants could only watch as the value of their holdings plummeted.

“In a good year we can earn about 50,000 yuan but this year we lost 200,000,” said Gong Rongchuan, 45, whose yard lies across the rutted alley from Shi’s. “We came here more than 10 years ago and at the beginning we collected ourselves. Then we managed to start the business. We were too poor to get loans but we managed to borrow 100,000-200,000 from friends and relatives and we work from morning to night every day. But we haven’t paid them all back because of our losses.”

Minter says the predicament is typical. “People would borrow money from relatives and buy a container of scrap and then throw all that money back in and reinvest it. Great if it goes up — but the moment it starts slipping, especially if it’s slipping 20-30 per cent, you’re finished,” he said.

Gong said: “Once we have sold all this stock we’ll leave. My son’s sorting it because we can’t afford workers any more. We haven’t figured out what to do next. We have seven people in the family and only 2.5-3 mu [roughly 0.2 hectares] of farmland. It’s too many people and too little land, so even if we go home there’s not much we can do. We have both old and young to support.”

Like 80 per cent of the merchants in this area, she comes from a single county, Gushi, in impoverished Henan province. “One of the officials came up here and cried when he saw how bad business was,” said another trader from Gushi.

The effects can be felt across China. Most of Gong’s customers were plastics recyclers in Wen’an, Hebei, where by one estimate 93 per cent of income depends on the trade. Some are already bankrupt. Wen’an Dongdu Jiacheng Recycling Resources is clinging on.

But Miss Han, a materials buyer, said all but three of the 26 production line workers had been sent home for the new year holiday more than a month early. There is no longer demand for plastic granules from nearby companies such as Hongkai Plastic Products, which made items such as bicycle handlebars. Its owner, Mr Zheng, has sent 20 workers home. “My factory was hit by the economic crisis — it’s been closed for two months already,” he said. “We usually sell our products to a dealer and most of his business is exports. He didn’t give us any more orders.”

At a factory down the road, the response to queries was more brusque. “We’ve already gone bust,” said a man, and hung up.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Sunday, January 11, 2009 01:11 PM

[RIGHT][B]Sunday
Muharram 13, 1430
January 11, 2009 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkRed"][SIZE="4"]Obama and Pakistan[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

SENATOR Biden came to Pakistan as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but his real significance is that he will soon be sworn in as vice president of the United States. The visit threw up the usual platitudes about democracy and development, and Pakistan reciprocated by handing out a pro forma medal. Yet, the thrust of American diplomacy is clear: the key to the stability and security of Afghanistan lies in Pakistan’s border areas, and Pakistan needs to do more to help the Americans. There are at

least three things the Obama administration will want from Pakistan: one, eliminate the sanctuaries of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Fata; two, clamp down on the cross-border movement of militants; and, three, secure the supply routes of American and international troops in Afghanistan running through Pakistan. Whatever America may offer Pakistan in terms of non-military aid, acting as an interlocutor between Pakistan and India on terrorism and Kashmir and propping up Pakistan’s battered international image, the results on the Pak-Afghan border will be the prism through which the Americans judge their relationship with Pakistan. And with Obama expected to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, the scrutiny will be intense.

However, with every new administration there is a window of opportunity to recalibrate relationships. While an Obama administration will be no less compromising in the pursuit of American interests in the region, it

may bring a more nuanced understanding to the table than the Bush administration. President-elect Obama has already connected the dots: the ‘solution’ to the Afghan ‘problem’ lies in a regional approach that incorporates Pakistan’s strategic interests. Our interests, as defined by the security establishment led by the Pakistan Army, lie in a stable, peaceful and friendly Afghanistan which will allow the army to focus on what it considers its primary task, defending the eastern border against the Indian armed forces.

There is no obvious way to square the American and Pakistani interests, which is perhaps why the Bush-Musharraf-Karzai era failed to bring peace to Afghanistan and what has led to the recent spate of drone attacks in Fata. A starting point, however, could be to go beyond the ‘transactional’ relationship between the US and Pakistan. The $1.5bn a year from the Biden-Kerry-Lugar bill; RoZ legislation that enhances Pakistan’s access to US textile and other markets; expanding USAID missions in Pakistan; focusing aid on health, education, law enforcement and justice programmes; using the Friends of Pakistan forum to coordinate international assistance — these are just a few of the many suggestions already made by think tanks and analysts. Choices exist; the next few months will make it clear if the Obama administration prefers the stick or the carrot when it comes to Pakistan.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Terror in Lahore[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

FIVE blasts in quick succession in Lahore on Friday night added to the chill in the air. The first four explosions took place around the Al Falah building, formerly housing a cinema house which has been converted into a venue for holding stage plays. The fifth blast came soon afterwards and the apparent target this time was the Tamaseel Theatre at Mozang Chungi. With two of the busiest parts of the city hit, the panic spread fast. Thankfully the damage was contained since the two theatres happened to be closed at the time of the explosions because of Muharram. Nonetheless Lahore’s residents were once again reminded of the terrors that may be brewing in their midst and the damage the terrorists are capable of causing. One year ago, on Jan 10, a suicide bomber struck at the GPO square close to the Lahore High Court killing 25, mostly policemen. Even more powerful attacks followed in March in one of which the terrorists aimed to and almost succeeded in destroying the Federal Investigation Agency offices on Temple Road. In a recent incident on Dec 24, a woman was killed in a car bomb explosion in the Government Officers’ Residence-II.

Friday’s blasts were, however, readily linked to another series that has been played out at the so-called cultural venues of Lahore, with the suspicion being that these were the handiwork of a local group of prudes. In early October last year, three bombs went off in Garhi Shahu inside fruit juice corners frequented by boys and girls. In November, just when everyone was about to celebrate the peaceful holding of the World Performing Arts Festival, the show was hit by blasts on its penultimate day. Mercifully, large-scale damage was avoided and the organisers, in a show of courage, went ahead with the closing ceremony the following evening. A similarly heartening resolve has been shown by a producer scheduled to stage a play at Al Falah. But the official response leaves much to be desired. It is as if the officials are out trying to take credit for the ‘mildness’ of the terrorists’ effort. Let’s hope that this is for public consumption only and back in their thinking rooms, the officials are in receipt of the real message that these ‘trial bangs’ bring. The fear will stay unless and until, beyond the convenient catching of a suspect or two; there is a swoop on terror in earnest.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Polio: time to begin afresh[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

THAT as many as 118 cases of polio virus were reported in 2008, a year in which we were supposed to qualify for a polio-free status, carries its own irony. Against this backdrop, the resolve voiced at a meeting of federal and provincial health ministers the other day in Islamabad to intensify efforts to root out the menace can only be viewed as timely. Rhetoric being the hallmark of officialdom, it is understandable that many would prefer to wait and see how much of this resolve will actually translate into action, for only action and not mere words can bring about a positive change. After all, the official oratory was not much different when the country had first missed the target in 2000. One can remind the naysayer of the fact that in the five-year period after missing the bus, there was a meaningful reduction in polio cases which recorded an all-time low in 2005. Unfortunately, complacency crept in just when the authorities needed to go for the final push to break the barrier.

Apart from an all too apparent streak of complacency, the authorities would do well to keep an eye on certain other factors in the equation. The national immunisation coverage, as one official put it recently, is not more than 40 per cent and in urgent need of expansion. A somewhat confused hierarchy in the presence of multiple stakeholders is another issue that needs to be sorted out in order to ensure a smooth and accountable campaign. The chain of transmission that begins in Afghanistan and runs across Pakistan owing in large measure to the outward migration of refugees is another major factor behind the resurgent virus. It is getting worse because of the wave of militancy in the Frontier province where it is becoming increasingly impossible for immunisation and surveillance teams to conduct meaningful activities. It is not surprising that of the 118 cases reported last year, 52 related to the NWFP. It is only by taking a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach at the policy level and sustained efforts on the ground that the country can hope to get out of the existing rut.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - Indian Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

The Economic Times

The Shillong Times

Grim TV serials[/B][/CENTER]

EVER wondered why the characters in Indian TV serials have been having a tougher time than usual as they struggle from one crisis to the next? ...

The rationale for the angst on the small screen could be that if viewers feel what’s happening in reel life is much grimmer than what they have to put up with, they could even adjust to the real world. The markets may be very volatile, the GDP growth-rate projection may be periodically revised downwards….

However, that is nothing compared with the plight of a female protagonist in one of the TV serials who is told that her husband will be executed for killing a colleague unless she gets a letter granting forgiveness from the mother of the victim.

And who, after doing the needful, is separated from the spouse by a smiling villainess and who then has to admit the only child to a hospital for an emergency operation for which there is no money. Whew!

And just when you wonder whether things can get worse, they do…. All of which makes your head spin in a way the sensex can’t.… A year-end poll, conducted by TNS Gallup International, has just told us that India is among the world’s 10 most optimistic nations, with 42 per cent of its population expecting that the economy will get better in the year which has just begun.

It could be that the grimness of Indian TV serials gives viewers a feeling that real life just can’t be all that bad. — (Jan 8)

[B][CENTER]Hard talk[/CENTER][/B]

SINCE the terrorist attack in Mumbai … India has been talking tough…. Pakistan has understandably stood its guard denying its role in spreading terror and refusing to crack down on terrorist outfits on its soil. … Manmohan Singh has … made it clear that India is convinced of Pakistan’s complicity in exporting terror to India. He has timed his offensive well. In early December, his government had accused the ISI … of involvement…. But at that time it could not produce any evidence…. On this occasion, India is armed with solid evidence…. The sophistication and precision of the Mumbai offensive should convince Pakistan and other international powers that Islamabad’s state apparatus was engaged in the foul operations. It goes against Prime Minister Singh’s earlier statement that Pakistan is a victim of terror rather than its sponsor. … What is surprising is that there has been no reaction in Washington.

It is difficult to tell what kind of evidence can condemn Pakistan as a sponsor of global terror. Undoubtedly, the ISI and also a section of Pakistan’s army had a hand in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

The US has not deplored the act. The evidence gathered by the UN was not sufficient to force Pakistan to clamp down…. Pakistan’s strategic interests still converge with those of the US. At one time, Islamabad could get away with using terror against neighbours as a state policy because of US protection. … Delhi, however, cannot just relent in its verbal offensive. — (Jan 9)

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Darwin’s year: time to reflect[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Q. Isa Daudpota[/B] [/CENTER]

CHARLES Darwin was kind enough to publish his great work On the Origin of Species when he was exactly 50 years old. That will allow us to celebrate his 200th birthday anniversary and the sesquicentennial of the book this year.

His work’s scientific, philosophical and social implications are revolutionary. Today all true scientists accept his theory of evolution as fundamental to the understanding of life on earth. It underpins all modern biological and medical sciences and helps view life as a unified system based on rather simple yet profound rules.

The biggest ever Charles Darwin exhibition ([url]www.tinyurl.com/aysymz[/url]) will run until mid April in London. Not all is lost if you cannot get to it as much exists on the Internet that can help remove the misconceptions that many Pakistanis have about the theory, starting with this website and its excellent links. Several new books will appear as will documentaries and TV programmes that will reach our shores if there is enough demand.

Among the important recent audio-visual presentations worth showing in Pakistan is the seven-part TV series Evolution prepared by the US Public Broadcasting Service. The accompanying book with the same title by Carl Zimmer is also useful for a better understanding of the theory. Supplement these with a study of the PBS website on evolution ([url]www.tinyurl.com/783wm8[/url]) which has a wealth of material, in text and video, for students and teachers.

What if one wants to visit one of our own museums to learn about evolution? One would naturally turn to our Museum of Natural History in Islamabad. I, in fact, visited it about four years ago when asked to review the design of a planned extension to the building. Sadly the building, set in the idyllic green surroundings of the Shakarparian hills, is poorly designed and constructed.

During the visit I walked to the lowest level. This is where the museum explicitly shows how the evolution of life took place on earth. You enter the moderately sized room with its four walls painted to show quite nicely the story of life. Starting on the right one sees in almost seamless progression the appearance of primitive life forms in water, moving on to fish, reptiles, amphibians, land-based animals, primates and then early humanoids, the hunter-gatherers, finally getting to modern humans. This brings one back to the door where one began the journey. If you stand in the middle and turn around you see the panorama of life before you. A good teacher of biology could keep a class occupied for several hours in this room alone.

One wonders how many teachers in Pakistan would, however, notice the white pillar from floor to roof, over one foot wide, that separates the pictures of the hordes of apes from the hunting humanoids. (Nowhere else in this room are the different life forms shown separated from other groups.) More importantly, will the teacher on noticing this anomaly, point it to the students and discuss it? A clear discussion on this issue alone could lead to a much better understanding of biology (and life generally) than a year of learning facts that fail to unify the subject.

I gathered a number of museum staff nearby to ask their opinion about why the museum chose to separate the apes from the humanoids, given that after Darwin it was generally accepted that human are primates, i.e. closely related to monkeys and apes. Most remained quiet. One said, in true bureaucratic fashion, that I would need to contact the director who designed the room. Another said that if the connection was shown the museum would be burned down by religious fanatics. The museum’s stagnant website, perhaps reflecting this attitude, has no mention of Darwin or evolution. Instead, it should be the main institute explaining and displaying artifacts of natural history on the foundations laid by scientific Darwinian ideas.

Then there are people like Harun Yahya, the prolific Turkish writer, whose slick books fill our bookshops and unambiguously oppose Darwin. I once saw a room full of talented Pakistani school students at a space camp being shown a movie about creationism produced by Yahya’s outfit. This phenomenon is not particular to Pakistan or the Muslim world. In America about 55 per cent of adults held a tentative view about evolution for the last decade. A third of adults firmly rejected the theory; only 14 per cent thought of it as ‘definitely true’. Only scientific education, formal and informal, can overcome this bias. Nature, the premier science magazine, offers 15 examples ([url]www.tinyurl.com/a3n4nh[/url]) from over the past decade or so to illustrate the breadth, depth and power of evolutionary thinking that poses a serious challenge to ideas of people like Yahya.

For the Semitic religions to have relevance in today’s modern world, there has to be acceptance that the rules of nature apply to materials, bodies, energy and the environment, and explain the creation of the immense variety of species and their evolution. That they may arise from a single or a small number of basic primal organisms and transform due to mutations and natural selection was explained thoroughly by Darwin.

Darwin and his great work provided a revolutionary break from the past by placing humans as part of the evolving flux of life. He did what Copernicus managed in the 16th century by displacing Earth from its central position in the universe to being a mere planet moving around a rather ordinary star obeying physical laws that were formalised later by Newton. It should have taught us modesty.

Darwin is right up there with Newton in the greatness league. He, unlike his fellow Englishman, was a wise, modest gentleman. A befitting tribute to Darwin in this anniversary year would be a greater understanding of his ideas and perhaps this could lead to revolutionary changes in our own thinking.

[B]The author is a physicist and environmentalist.[/B]

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[B] [U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]‘Designer babies’ raise ethical questions[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Ben Quinn[/B][/CENTER]

THE birth of the first British baby genetically screened before conception to be free of a breast cancer gene was hailed on Thursday as a breakthrough by doctors but raised fresh questions about the ethics of creating so-called designer babies.

The baby girl grew from an embryo screened to ensure that it did not contain the faulty BRCA1 gene, which would have meant she had a 50-85 per cent of developing breast cancer. While mother and daughter were said by a spokesman at University College hospital, London, to be doing “very well” following the birth last week, medical experts and those involved in cancer research were considering the implications.

Paul Serhal, medical director of the assisted conception unit at the hospital, said: “This little girl will not face the spectre of developing this genetic form of breast cancer or ovarian cancer in her adult life.”

In June the mother, then 27, told how she decided to undergo the screening process after seeing all her husband’s female relatives suffer the disease. The woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said at the time: “We felt that, if there was a possibility of eliminating this for our children, then that was a route we had to go down.”

The technique, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), has already been used in the UK to free babies of inherited disorders such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease. But breast cancer is different because it does not inevitably affect a child from birth.

Permission to carry out PGD for breast cancer had to be obtained from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority by the London clinic which performed the procedure.

Dr Sarah Cant, policy manager at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said the decision to screen embryos to see whether they have a faulty breast cancer gene was a complex and very personal issue. Kath McLachlan, a clinical nurse specialist at the charity Breast Cancer Care, said it would give those carrying the faulty BRCA1 gene “another option” to consider when starting a family.

She said: “While the selection of an embryo through PGD can reduce a person’s risk of developing breast cancer, the procedure cannot prevent a non-genetic form of the disease in later life.”

Doctors at the private clinic at University College hospital conducted tests on 11 embryos by removing just one cell from each when they were three days old. Six embryos were found to carry the defective BRCA1 gene. Two embryos which were free of the gene were implanted, resulting in a single pregnancy. Faulty genes are responsible for between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of the 44,000 cases of breast cancer that occur in the UK each year.

As the debate about the ethics involved in the procedure was renewed, the main objection from critics remains the charge that it opens the door to the creation of babies for parents who may want their offspring to be top of the class, excel in sport, and have hair, eyes and other physical characteristics that into a particular family’s wish list.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Monday, January 12, 2009 03:19 PM

[RIGHT][B]Monday
Muharram 14, 1430
January 12, 2009[/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Oil policy flaws[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

THE new petroleum policy, as enunciated by the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet on Friday, leaves much to be desired. On the face of it, it may seem that the oil marketing companies (OMCs) and petroleum dealers have successfully held the government hostage. Artificial shortages of petroleum products ‘created’ in Punjab and the Frontier in recent weeks left consumers flabbergasted and helpless in equal measure. Much to the public’s disappointment, the government seems to have buckled under pressure now — or has it? Perhaps not, as it sheepishly admits that it has been pocketing an amount upwards of Rs50bn over the past six weeks through the petroleum development levy and sales tax on petroleum products as global oil prices tumbled, not sharing the sum thus pocketed with the OMCs and petroleum dealers. Hence, in the words of the finance ministry officials, “The government is now ethically bound to raise the [profit] margins of the OMCs and dealers after the decline in international crude oil prices.” It all sounds like a bad joke, and a cruel one at that given the spiralling inflation. One would be justified in wondering whose side the government is on.

It is equally disappointing that the Oil and Gas Development Corporation (OGDC), which is one of the few public sector entities that have not seen their accounts go in the red, should dictate a policy whereby the government is called upon to invite foreign investors on amazingly high rates of return, with tax exemptions, to undertake new explorations. The OGDC is fairly qualified; there’s no dearth of technical expertise or funds to do the needful itself, it can be argued. Why then take the more expensive option of relying on foreign expertise? If there is a technical need to do so, i.e. the OGDC does not possess the required advanced technology; this should be debated in parliament before going ahead with the luxurious proposal. Foreign investment on most favourable terms should be attracted only in areas where the country most desperately needs it; many experts believe oil and gas exploration does not qualify on that criterion.

As for petroleum prices, the government has to restrict its own profit-taking and that of the OMCs and dealers if it is to retain its credibility with the people who voted it into office, hoping for some economic relief to trickle down to them. Close to a year in office, the government still has no coherent economic policy or a recovery plan on which the people can pin their hopes. Borrowing from international monetary institutions on high commercial rates may be a short-term need; it cannot be viewed as a long-term action plan. The people deserve a break and they want it now.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Whither dialogue?[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

AFTER blowing hot and cold in the weeks following the Mumbai disaster, Pakistan has expressed regret at the Indian decision to freeze the composite dialogue process. The Indian foreign minister had earlier termed the suspension of the dialogue as a “pause”. One hopes that these signify at best differences of a semantic nature and both sides understand the importance of sustaining the composite dialogue they had launched in 2004. It is, therefore, encouraging that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has now declared his government’s “unwavering commitment to the dialogue process”. But in the same breath he has resorted to finger-pointing to hold India responsible for bringing the two countries to square one in terms of confidence-building measures. Given the vitriolic exchanges between the two governments in recent weeks, the need of the hour is for them to moderate their tone to improve the political climate in South Asia if the peace process is to be revived.

Both sides, one can presume, understand the importance of negotiating their disputes. But it is a pity that leaders on both sides have allowed political expediencies to determine the course of events. Mr Gilani has identified the factors that have led to the impasse as “Indian blame game, media vilification campaign and warmongering”. Incidentally, Pakistan has not been lagging behind in reciprocating with an eye for an eye in this unfortunate exercise. If the prime minister means business and wants to pave the way to revive the peace process, he should first work earnestly to put an end to the war of words that has devastated the atmospherics in the region. This would call for a tacit understanding with India requiring both governments to stop playing to the gallery and refraining from negotiating in the glare of media publicity.

There is no doubt that confidence-building measures are fundamental to a stable relationship between India and Pakistan. In the cacophony of the war hysteria that came in the wake of Mumbai many events of a significant nature — that can, in fact, be described as confidence-building — have been overshadowed. On new year’s day, Islamabad and New Delhi exchanged their lists of nuclear installations and facilities as has been the practice for the last many years. The two sides have been issuing visas — though the number of travellers has declined given the tension, the bus service between them continues and trade across the LoC has not been halted. Shouldn’t we be focusing on this?

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Police encounters in Punjab[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

THERE is sibling rivalry between crime and punishment where both continuously try to outsmart the other. Crime thrives on cracks in the system of punishments while, frustrated by their own failure, punitive mechanisms sometimes jump the gun. In Punjab, such readiness to skip legal and judicial procedures and to inflict a deadly lesson on the law-breakers appears to be normal. Only recently, three robbers were killed in a police encounter in a Lahore locality; just before that three others were gunned down by the police in Sialkot. According to the provincial police’s own figures, 66 alleged criminals were killed in 2008 in 42 police encounters in Lahore alone. Almost 75 per cent of these killings took place while the province was under the current administration’s watchful rule.

In fact, one hopes that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s administration is not attempting to match previous ‘achievements’ on this score. During his party’s previous stint in power between 1997 and 1999 more than 850 suspected criminals were killed in what human rights activists then called extra-judicial killings. Between then and now, the law and order situation may have deteriorated so much and our trust in the justice system eroded so completely that voices against encounter killings are still feeble, and few and far between. In fact, there seems to be a certain acceptance of the practice in society as a quick-fix to many a social evil. Official endorsement, like the one that came some days ago from a senior police official in Punjab, only boosts such acts. The press quoted the official as saying that the government would give ‘shields’ to citizens who ‘kill’ criminals. That such incitements can lead to mob violence, translated as proxy encounters, appears an insignificant aspect to the proponents of this type of raw and ready justice. The government can do better by removing gaping holes in the system of punishments instead of jumping over them and encouraging others to do the same. Encounters will fail to deter crime. What we need are sweeping police and judicial reforms in the province to do the job.

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[B] [COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]OTHER VOICES - North American Press[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]
Mental illness and the public

The Toronto Star[/B] [/CENTER]

THE Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) will be in the news later this week in a court case involving violence in the workplace. But behind that there’s a much larger — and more positive — story. The hospital is modernising medical treatment for psychiatric patients and… trying to transform how we all treat them as human beings. That means patients will be involved in decisions about their treatment, there will be fewer locked doors, and restraints (physical or chemical) will… be a last resort.

Any incidents of violence against a patient, nurse or other staff member — such as the cases where nurses were injured, resulting in charges against CAMH under Ontario’s occupational safety law — are deplorable and ought to be preventable. But those incidents shouldn’t derail Canada’s largest psychiatric facility from the right course. CAMH must do what it can to prevent violence, but locking people up isn’t the way. It is welcome, then, that hospital staff unions say they agree on that point. But they also say not enough is being done to train workers, provide safety devices …or conduct serious reviews….

In an environment where restraints have been standard practice, it is understandable that staff would be nervous about reducing them. But CAMH says it has reduced the use of restraints by 67 per cent over the last three years without an increase in violence. And research from jurisdictions that have gone even further shows an actual reduction in staff injuries. Yet recent statements and ad campaigns by CAMH workers and their unions have hyped “escalating violence” at the hospital. Unions take such steps to gain public attention and more leverage in their internal discussions with management over working conditions…. That’s why it’s so important that this week’s court case be kept in context. CAMH treats 22,000 patients a year. Only about 3,600 require a stay in the hospital, and fewer than three per cent of them display any aggression to others.

For its part, the hospital should do more to explain the changes to its staff…. It isn’t just staff who need to embrace the new methods. Better treatment for people with mental illness requires a cultural shift in the general public. ….Right now, most psychiatric patients at the hospital must use communal showers. Their rooms don’t even have cupboards for clothes. Society wouldn’t tolerate such facilities for patients with any other type of disease. Someone going for psychiatric treatment ought to be afforded the same respect and care…other illnesses have long received. Happily, CAMH is in the midst of revitalising…. …Doors open to the surrounding community will replace a troubling history of isolation. But it’s one thing to say: “Let them out.” Then what? Will businesses hire psychiatric patients? Will residents welcome them to the neighbourhood? ….The stigma of mental illness can be as debilitating as the disease itself. ….”We’re trying to open the door,” physician-in-chief… says about CAMH’s transformative agenda. That will require us all to think differently. — (Jan 6)

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Teachers as intellectuals[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui[/B] [/CENTER]

‘THERE have been no major revolutions in modern history without intellectuals; conversely there has been no major counterrevolutionary movement without intellectuals.’ —Edward Said

What makes an intellectual? Can teachers be considered as intellectuals? What role can they play to bring a change in society?

These are some relevant questions to be discussed in the fast-changing national and international scenarios. A number of scholars, including Antonio Gramsci, Julien Benda, Edward Said and Ali Shariati, have tried to define the nature, status and role of intellectuals in society.

It was Gramsci who first focused on the significant role of intellectuals and devoted a chapter for this discussion in his book The Prison Notebooks which is an early critique of the notion of hegemony. Gramsci considers everybody an intellectual but there is a section of people who, because of their social status, are able to perform their role. He divides intellectuals into two groups: the traditional intellectuals and the organic intellectuals.

Teachers, like priests, are included in the group of traditional intellectuals. Contrary to traditional intellectuals are organic intellectuals who work for the interests of different classes and enterprises. Gramsci considers social space as an important factor for intellectuals. This social status gives them an opportunity to bring a change in society by improving the existing social conditions.Ali Shariati defines an intellectual as one “who is conscious of his ‘humanistic status’ in a specific social and historical time and space”. This notion of an intellectual is closer to that of Gramsci who suggests that anybody has the potential to become an intellectual. Ali Shariati, who himself was a university teacher, believes that a teacher is potentially an intellectual who can have an impact on the thought patterns of the young generation and contribute towards social improvement. Edward Said in his book Representations of the Intellectuals refers to Julien Benda, widely known for his book The Betrayal of the Intellectuals, “who believes in a tiny band of super-gifted and morally endowed philosopher-kings who constitute the human conscience”. This view of intellectuals is narrow and skewed towards morality. In his definition, the role of intellectuals appears to be more abstract and idealistic. This notion of intellectuals entails a readiness for all kinds of sacrifices including crucifixion.

A point common to these scholars is their own practice as intellectuals. Gramsci, whose brilliance could have qualified him for any lucrative job, opted to be a journalist simply because working as one would give him more space to work and have an impact on minds. Because of his provocative political writings, he was sent to jail for 10 years where he breathed his last.Edward Said, a university professor, led a very active life as a teacher and intellectual, challenging a number of prevailing stereotypes and inviting scathing criticism in return. His book Orientalism critically analyses and challenges the artificially created basis of ‘positional superiority’. His allegiance to the Palestinian cause brought him criticism from different quarters but he paid the price for the sake of his ideals.

Ali Shariati, who hailed from Iran, influenced a large number of students. He was such a popular teacher that his classes ran into hundreds of students. His popularity was a source of disturbance for Iran’s dictatorial forces under the Shah. Finally prevented from teaching, he left for London where he was found dead in his flat in mysterious circumstances.

Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educationist and activist, considered teaching a political act. He challenged the ‘banking concept of knowledge’ and advocated the need of critical pedagogy. He not only professed the ideas of critical pedagogy but in fact practised critical literacy with the aim of improving the fate of the masses. Freire was also imprisoned by the government for his ideas. These are some contemporary examples of intellectuals who had an interest in education and who sought to practise their ideas and paid a price for them.

Is teaching a political act as claimed by Freire? Should teachers be striving for a change in society? There has been a growing realisation that education, like knowledge, is directly linked to power, and teachers, as central actors in the process of education, are involved in a political act. Education cannot be confined to neutral and objective conditions. Edward Said rightly suggests that, “Politics is everywhere; there can be no escape into the realms of pure art and thought or, for that matter, into the realms of disinterested objectivity or transcendental theory.”

The contemporary scenario of education, largely controlled by corporate organisations, in a direct or indirect manner, would promote a neutral, value-free, and apolitical version of education where the teachers’ role is reduced to that of a mechanical worker’s. Ironically, intellect and intellectuals, by default, are associated with the dominant paradigm of the West. The need for local intellectuals is to understand their own people, milieu, and culture, and to be seen to practise what they profess. Importing foreign educational theories and trying to implant them in local conditions without any sensitivity towards the indigenous environment cannot improve social conditions.

Ali Shariati emphasises this indigenous perspective by suggesting, “A real intellectual is one who knows his society, is aware of its problems, can determine its fate, is knowledgeable about its past and who can decide about himself.” To bring a qualitative social change into our society we need teachers who can think out of the box, believe in education as a transforming force, and, again, practise what they profess. Given the neo-liberal version of education this role is becoming extremely challenging.

The writer is director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics and the author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

Email: [email]shahidksiddiqui@yahoo.com[/email]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"] ‘We are all Hamas now’[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Ben Lynfield [/B][/CENTER]

EVEN if Israel wins on the battlefield or in the diplomatic corridors it is already paying the price of its Gaza onslaught in intensified hatred in the hearts of its Palestinian neighbours in the West Bank. The campaign also appears to be increasing public scepticism about the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s chosen path of negotiations as the way to establish an independent state alongside Israel.

The diplomacy championed by Mr Abbas has for years been difficult to sell to Palestinians because it has brought little or no relief from occupation or improvement in their daily lives, only the expansion of Israeli settlements. This existing frustration — which helped Hamas defeat Mr Abbas’s Fatah movement in the 2006 elections — is now combined with popular anger and dismay at the carnage among fellow Palestinians in Gaza.

Palestinian Authority security forces are keeping a tight lid on protests, preventing confrontations with Israeli troops and arresting anyone raising Hamas banners at rallies. But displays of identification with the beleaguered Gazans are everywhere. Nine-year-old green-kerchiefed Girl Scouts, their foreheads marked with the word Gaza in red ink, were among those who marched through the main al-Manara square in a protest. They held up pictures of bandaged toddlers, and dozens of demonstrators chanted, “With blood and spirit, we will redeem you, O Gaza”.

Leaders of Fatah, which lost control of Gaza to Hamas fighters in June 2007, are torn between their own hopes that Hamas, which they view as a usurper and agent of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan, is defeated, and the people’s anger over the Israeli campaign. There is a great deal at stake for them. “If Hamas is victorious and the Israelis raise the white flag there will be a problem in the West Bank, more people will support Hamas, and the Arab regimes will have problems too,” said Ziad Abu Ein, the deputy minister of prisoner affairs and a veteran of 13 years in Israeli prisons.

Bassem Khoury, the president of the Palestinian Federation of Industries, launched the PA-supported National Palestinian Campaign to Relieve Gaza by holding up a picture from the al-Ayyam daily newspaper showing the head of a Palestinian girl buried in the rubble of an Israeli attack. “This is unbelievable,” he said. “How will this help the Israelis? It only generates more recruits for Hamas.”

Unlike the people, who seem less concerned as yet with apportioning Palestinian blame, some Fatah leaders are calling for national unity with accusing Hamas of causing the suffering in Gaza. Tawfik al-Tirawi, an adviser to Mr Abbas and a former security chief, said: “The political leadership that miscalculated has brought catastrophe on itself and its people.”

Palestinians in the West Bank have their own long-standing grievances against Israel: the ongoing occupation, checkpoints Israel says are needed for security but that hamper their movement, often humiliate them and paralyse economic life, the expropriation of Palestinian land, and the threat of Israeli army incursion or arrest. The images from Gaza are being layered onto a collective memory of being expelled at Israel’s creation in 1948.

[B]— © The Independent[/B]

Princess Royal Tuesday, January 13, 2009 02:16 PM

[RIGHT][B]Tuesday
Muharram 15, 1430
January 13, 2009[/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkRed"][SIZE="4"]Deadly artillery[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

IT is not a propaganda stunt; it is not coming from Hamas or an anti-Semitic group: it has come from a respected human rights body. On Sunday, the Human Rights Watch said the Israeli war machine was using artillery shells containing the incendiary white phosphorus agent on population centres in Gaza. The white phosphorus agent causes the skin to burn and sets off fire. The HRW said its workers “witnessed hours of artillery bombardment” containing white phosphorus on the Jabaliya refugee centre in northern Gaza. Already the overwhelming majority of the nearly 900 Palestinians killed during the current Israeli offensive consists of women and children and only adds to the series of war crimes the Israelis have committed over decades of conflict with the Palestinian people. Yet, as ever, Israel is likely to go scot-free. More menacingly, since neither Israel nor Hamas has accepted the UN ceasefire resolution, Israel will probably continue the massacre, with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert having the audacity to impart a moral tone to the butchery by speaking of “patience, determination and effort” to finish the job.

According to observers of the Middle Eastern scene, the Olmert government is likely to end the slaughter before Barack Obama takes office on Jan 20. It now remains to be seen whether America’s charismatic president-elect lives up to the hopes pinned on him. So far his utterances on the Palestinian question have not inspired much confidence, for he has refrained from censuring Israel and constantly spoken of ‘violence’ in Gaza. It has not occurred to him that the cause of the unending bloodshed in the holy land is Israel’s refusal to vacate the occupied territories so that the Palestinian people could have a state of their own on their ancestral soil. In fact, his interview with an American channel the other day puts paid to hopes for a serious effort on the part of the Democratic administration to break the deadlock. Even though he promised swift action on the Middle East conflict, he said, disappointingly, that the policies pursued by the Clinton and Bush administrations constituted the “general approach” of American policy to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This in effect means the two-state solution will remain a theory.What the president-elect should note is the rising wave of anger against America’s pro-Israel policies in the Islamic world and in America’s own Muslim community. By and large American Muslims had kept away from anti-government rallies, focusing on their business and professional interests. But the Gaza terror has led to their massive participation in rallies against their government’s silence on Israel’s war crimes. Worldwide, it is the Taliban who will get more converts to their extremist philosophy.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Rampaging militants[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

ONE look at the weekend’s headlines from Fata and northern Pakistan is enough to dissolve any lingering new year cheer. In Mohmand Agency, several check posts and a fort were attacked; in Hangu, sectarian warfare in the wake of Ashura claimed the lives of dozens; in South Waziristan, an additional political agent was kidnapped; in Bajaur Agency, militants severed the ears of five members of the Khar peace committee; and in Swat, an ANP leader’s home was attacked, yet another girls’ school was torched and a Sharia court ordered the lashing of two alleged drug addicts. While the signs of the state’s disappearing sovereignty are ubiquitous, those of a concerted state fight-back are harder to discern. In fact, at every level of the state’s response there is cause for concern. Zoom out to the macro level: eight months since civilian dispensations assumed power in Islamabad and the NWFP their anti-militancy policy is still unclear. The ANP-led government in the NWFP has flip-flopped, first calling for a peace dialogue, then calling in the armed forces, and then calling for a dialogue again. In Islamabad, the PPP-led government chalked out a three-pronged approach that emphasised development and peace talks with reconcilable militants and military action against irreconcilable elements. However, the government has yet to clarify which militants fall in which category and where the policy has been implemented.

For its part, the Pakistan Army has thus far escaped serious scrutiny of its tactics in Fata and northern Pakistan. Media centres set up by PR departments paint a picture of slow and steady progress but independent reports suggest otherwise. For example, in Swat the lack of a tribal structure and the sheer brutality of the militants has terrorised the local population and denied the state a local partner in its counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism actions, whereas in Bajaur local help has been more forthcoming. Such differences on the ground, and the different origins of the fighting in places like Hangu (sectarian), require different anti-militancy strategies. Worse, the Pakistan Army’s whack-a-mole strategy of fighting the militants in only certain areas at any given time may actually be playing into the enemy’s hands. While the militants have access to an array of weapons and communication systems, their resources cannot match the Pakistan state’s. Were the militants to be engaged across the region simultaneously, they could quickly find themselves stretched thin and unable to mount a serious response. The militancy problem is undoubtedly complex, but without fresh political and military thinking it will only grow worse.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]A sense of relief[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B] [/CENTER]

THOSE who still cherish ethical values in medical practice will receive with relief the report that a bill seeking crucial changes in the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Ordinance has been withdrawn from the National Assembly’s standing committee. The fact is that had the amendments been introduced they would have nullified the ethos of the law on transplantation. The underlying idea of the ordinance was to ban the trafficking in human organs and commercialisation of transplantation surgery that was bringing Pakistan such a bad name. The proposed amendments sought seemingly technical changes in definitions, allowed donation by non-blood relatives in case of an emergency on payment of compensation and provided for 10 per cent transplantation surgery in a hospital to be earmarked for foreigners. These changes would have opened the floodgates of the unbridled sale of human organs that had attracted foreigners with end-stage kidney failure to Pakistan to purchase organs from impoverished people. The doctors and vendors who supported this unethical practice in the pre-ordinance days on so-called humanitarian grounds deliberately chose to turn a blind eye to its profiteering, exploitative and anti-social aspects.

The ordinance, that was promulgated in September 2007 after a vigorous campaign spearheaded by the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation, did produce a beneficial impact in several ways. According to the administrator of the Human Organ Transplantation Authority, the new law helped check kidney tourism considerably and the number of foreign recipients came down from 1,500 a year in 2007 to a negligible number in 2008. At least Pakistan now does not have to suffer the ignominy of being branded a centre of organ trade in international circles. Moreover, it is time society learnt to uphold the worth and esteem of a person without making monetary gain the key equation in every human relationship. This especially holds true for the health sector as medical professionals deal with issues of life and death which present them with the opportunity of exploiting an ill person’s desperation. But accessible healthcare is also the birthright of every citizen which a physician worth his salt should strive to provide.

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

Kawish

North Karachi disaster[/B][/CENTER]

… KARACHIITES have witnessed many fire incidents … but the havoc created by the fire that broke out on Thursday night and that claimed over 42 lives made … history. The causes of the fire could not be ascertained…. [A]nd it has left a number of unanswered questions….

Considering the divergent opinions of officials and elected representatives … a multidimensional probe is in order. The statement of a Sindh government official that some inmates gathered around the fire due to the extreme cold, and one’s shawl caught fire which then proceeded to engulf the entire shanty settlement is odd. How could this burn to the ground within hours the entire settlement leaving no escape route?

Another official believes that the fire was sparked by a power wire that fell on the huts. This version also seems lame as this would still leave options for escape and not result in the high number of deaths. Some circles are discovering similarities with the fire incident at Tahir Plaza, where chemical was used.

The possibility of a deliberate attempt to set the settlement on fire cannot be ruled out as the land on which the squatters lived was valuable and might have been under the watch of the city’s powerful land mafia. There was a dispute and the mafia wanted to get it vacated. This should also be investigated. Lands and plots are vacated at the behest of the land mafia. Such a gang could have been operating here.

Probes of earlier incidents were closed with the traditional ‘findings” and excuses that the fire was the result of the falling of electrical wiring or was accidental. There seems little hope that this incident will be thoroughly probed and go beyond the traditional findings of short circuit or accident.

Providing compensation and alternate plots to the victims is laudable, as announced by the government. But there is a dire need to find the real causes which resulted in the death of 42 people and that cannot be compensated. Further, if there is a mafia behind it, it will continue to work and we will witness more such incidents. Therefore a multidimensional probe must be undertaken to expose and punish the culprits. — (Jan 10)

[B]— Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi[/B]

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]The quest for recognition[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

By Jehanzeb Raja[/B][/CENTER]

IN close proximity to two emerging global powers Pakistan’s location has made its role important to the geopolitics of the region. Post 9/11 and during the Cold War, Pakistan chose to side with the US-led strategic vision, irrespective of the changing dynamics of the region.

The question is: did Pakistan’s quest for recognition bear fruit or did it damage its image and prestige as a nation? The answer is plain for all to see.

Emerging powers seek to attain recognition through economic strength, democratic values, equitable business practices and justice. Negative asymmetries to gain temporary influence and control may beckon in the short term but their use over the long term causes untold miseries. Pakistan’s (twice-failed) experiment in Afghanistan to win strategic depth may have resulted in short-term economic respite. But its actions here were myopic when considered in the light of national unity and cohesion as a federation. Siachen and Pakistan’s Kashmir policy to enervate Indian military strength and economy may have been the only option in the balance of power game. But when viewed in the light of our own attrition and economic collapse, most apparent now in the Fata operations and the Baloch unrest, these appear to have been disastrous to say the least.

The formulation of military strategy has to be in sync with the geopolitical and strategic environment and should take in all aspects of economic, diplomatic and internal factors to maximise potential. The military has always dominated other state organs to enforce its strategic vision on vacillating civilian governments, who took more of an interest in internal power struggles rather than concentrate on external factors. This has proved to be to the detriment of the country’s interests.

The military strategy in Indian-administered Kashmir was to sustain the insurgency at a low boil to keep Indian forces committed there. The logic of bleeding the Indian Army and the results of this effort have been flawed. India’s economy is booming and its budget many times our own. The might of the USSR collapsed when its military expenditures could not keep pace with relentless US military innovations and technology, resulting in the loss of power and prestige.In the 1990s, the country was again fed with exaggerated threats from India, in retaliation for Pakistan’s support to the Kashmir insurgency. The Kargil adventure was engineered to reverse our failing policy, to regenerate our clout and to influence outside players. The political leaders at the time lacked a true understanding of the repercussions of our failure to achieve objectives, even if there were any. To this day we do not know what our objectives were in Kargil and what we achieved as a consequence of this misadventure.

The environment was never conducive to such military action. We were in a precarious state of economic default, our support to the Taliban-led government in Afghanistan faced reverses as the West wanted its ouster. Post 9/11, what were seen as freedom struggles have been labelled as terrorist movements. Dr Qadeer Khan and his network have been exposed for indulging in nuclear technology proliferation involving rogue states accused of sponsoring terrorism. All this including the lack of coordination within the government apparatus and ostensibly the military has resulted in a state of affairs that has not only isolated Pakistan internationally, but propelled it to join the ranks of those believed to be sponsoring terrorism.

With the world seeing Pakistan as an irresponsible, failing state, one which could also flaunt its nuclear capability in a reckless manner to pursue the goals of influence and power, is it surprising that our international image should have suffered so much?

The sudden U-turn on the policy of support for the Taliban was the result of the dire economic crisis and the fallout of Kargil and other misadventures rather than a pragmatic, well-thought-out strategy by the last military-led government. The fact that Pakistan was yet again being bailed out by the US, despite its irresponsible nature, was more out of consideration for its use as a staging ground for the assault on Afghanistan, than its worth as a military partner. No doubt, Pakistan saw this as another opportunity to control and influence the Pakhtuns in Afghanistan, in order to regain its political clout and bargain for a share in the Karzai-led government. However, our so-called strategists had not bargained for the influence of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Fata and the NWFP, where the government lost authority as it accepted the growing Islamic influence. The negative fallout was the rise of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and homegrown insurgency.

It is tragic that the priority given to Pakistan’s defence needs has been at the cost of ignoring other organs of the state that could have been strengthened to achieve a more balanced and pragmatic vision, especially with regard to dispute resolution. The US has chalked out its own strategic vision with regard to the world in general and South Asia in particular. Pakistan needs to identify its core interests in its quest for survival vis-à-vis India in this unipolar world. It is about time that we reappraised our foreign and defence policy in more realistic terms to come closer to the objective of cohesion in national objectives.

Princess Royal Wednesday, January 14, 2009 03:34 PM

[RIGHT][B]Wednesday
Muharram 16, 1430
January 14, 2009 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Provincial rights[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

THE MQM’s constitution amendment bill filed with the National Assembly Secretariat on Monday has zeroed in on a critical area of the constitution: the balance of power between the centre and the provinces. If there is agreement among politicians of all stripes on anything, it is that the centre controls too much and the provinces too little, but 36 years since the constitution was enacted in April 1973 the issue has yet to be resolved to the satisfaction of the provinces. Most contentious is the Concurrent Legislative List in the Fourth Schedule of the constitution which detractors claim was meant to be abolished 10 years after the constitution was enacted and the legislative powers contained therein handed over exclusively to the provinces. The Zia coup ended any hope of that happening, given the preference of dictators to bypass the provinces, but neither were the civilian governments of the ’90s able to move forward on the issue. At present, every major party in parliament — the PPP, PML-N, PML-Q, MQM and ANP — has promised in its election manifesto to enhance provincial rights. In his very first speech from the floor of the National Assembly Prime Minister Gilani announced his government’s intention to abolish the Concurrent List.

Yet, the abolition of a list alone will not end the provinces’ unhappiness with the status quo. Some parties, such as the MQM and ANP, appear to want a bare-bones centre, while others, such as the PML-Q, would want the centre to retain more than defence, foreign affairs and currency. Meanwhile, Sindh may emphasise provincial control over revenue generated in each province while Balochistan may emphasise control over mineral reserves and land. Squaring all these party and provincial differences will not be easy, and will require more than depositing rival bills in parliament. A meaningful way forward would be to convene a broad-based inter-provincial committee that could thoroughly debate the issue and make recommendations to parliament. And it must be acknowledged that it is not the constitution that is deficient in every way, but its implementation in certain aspects. The Council of Common Interests, a constitutional body, has the potential to address some centre-province issues but it is dormant body that governments vow to activate but somehow never do.

To belabour a point frequently made in these columns, many of Pakistan’s problems stem from a lack of an institutional approach to governance. Setting the rules and then ensuring that the organs of the state comply with them is a two-stage process. First, the rules themselves must be thoroughly debated, an agreement developed and then framed clearly and coherently. Second, the implementation of the rules must be pursued vigorously and uniformly. Constitutional arrangements throw up vexing problems the world over, but an unsystematic approach to them guarantees never-ending unhappiness.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Banning Indian channels[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

EMOTIONS are running high but irrational acts need not be countered by gestures of the same ilk. The rabidly right-wing Maharashtra Navnirman Sena led by Raj Thackeray may have imposed a ‘ban’ in Mumbai on books written by Pakistani authors. It may have burnt CDs featuring Pakistani musicians and warned film producers to not cast actors from the other side of Wagah. The administration of Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace and Trident hotels may have announced to the world that their establishments will no longer accommodate Pakistani guests. The Indian home minister, P. Chidambaram, may have threatened to isolate us globally by snapping business, transport and tourism links with Pakistan. The good cop, bad cop game being played out by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the conciliatory end of things and the likes of Chidambaram and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee on the other may also be in poor taste. Be that as it may, there is no reason for Pakistan to react in like manner for it can serve no constructive purpose.

A case in point is Monday’s proposal by the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting that Indian television channels be banned in Pakistan. To what end? Citizens of Pakistan don’t buy into the Indian propaganda anyway, so how will such a ban check the spread of misinformation? Then there are other factors to be considered. Indian channels that are geared towards entertainment generally provide just that — entertainment — and are watched by people here who find that sort of fare enjoyable. The Indian news channels may be biased in their presentation of the facts but what is wrong about us being able to access substandard reporting? There is no harm in a quarrel, however serious, to lend an ear to the other side’s point of view, however flawed it might be. And for those who take a hard-line view on relations with India, a case can be made that knowing your ‘enemy’ can only be beneficial.

Media-related, cultural, sporting and other people-to-people contacts must not be sacrificed at the altar of nationalistic fervour. True, the blame for the rapid deterioration of relations on the apolitical level rests largely with India. But the people of the subcontinent have everything to lose if they stop speaking to and listening to each other and travelling across the border. Only with regular people-to-people contact will Pakistanis and Indians come to appreciate once again that they have much in common, including the shared enemy that is terrorism.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Neglect of historical relics[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

THE fate of Thatta’s historical Makli necropolis, a World Heritage Site as listed by Unesco, reportedly hangs in the balance once again as the high and mighty of the neighbourhood stand accused of digging through its precincts. The alleged violation came to light three months ago, and the archaeology department was able to persuade the Thatta district authorities to conduct a new demarcation survey to delineate the necropolis protected under the Antiquities Act, 1975. A fresh media report now indicates that strings may have been pulled and the survey thwarted. As irony would have it, the alleged violator is none other than the family of the Sindh culture and tourism minister, Ms Sassui Palijo. While the minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, the claim has yet to be vindicated by a government survey.

The state of neglect of tourism and of the so-called protected historical sites across the country does not paint a flattering picture. Even the ace monuments not located in the backwaters, for instance those that give the city of Lahore its historical charm, are not much in a shape to write home about. The Buddhist remains at Taxila are badly off in terms of their upkeep; those in the Swat Valley are faring far worse. The local Taliban engaged in militancy in the valley blew up a historical Buddha statue carved out of a rock by the scenic roadside along the river to all but oblivion two years ago. The fate of the remains at Butkarra near Mingora, dating back to the 2nd century BC and the two rather well-stocked museums with Buddhist-era relics at Saidu Sharif and Chakdara is unknown. Back in Sindh, Moenjodaro, too, is a victim of complete apathy on the part of the authorities concerned. Given the state of affairs, if it were not for the faithful many historical mosques might have also met with similar official disregard. While many other Muslim countries embrace and jealously guard the relics of their past, Islamic or pre-Islamic, Pakistan unfortunately lags far behind in this respect.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - European Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

Economic naivety

Cyprus Mail[/B][/CENTER]

BICKERING about the economy has resumed, with opposition party DISY accusing the government of doing very little to tackle the looming crisis and making a mess of its forecasts. The government’s response was that it had contingency plans … if and when the need arose.

Finance Minister Charilos Stavrakis on Friday said scare-mongering was making the situation worse at a time when business confidence was low. He said we need positive talk that will boost confidence and encourage businesses to invest in new enterprises. Under the circumstances it was incredibly naïve to claim that Cyprus would not be affected by the global crisis…. Late last year, Stavrakis boasted that our economy was going against the tide…. He modified this view a few weeks later, conceding that it could be mildly affected by the economic downturn, but this did not stop him from preparing a 2009 budget based on the assumption that the economy would perform as well as the previous year and that the rate of growth would be 3.5 per cent.

It is just not enough for the finance minister to declare that he is optimistic about this year’s prospects…. As the world financial system was on the verge of total collapse, Stavrakis was declaring that Cyprus could emerge unscathed, only later admitting the blatantly obvious. His budget for 2009 indicated that he was in denial about the looming recession…. When he was challenged about his ultra-optimistic approach, he responded that ways would be found to finance the ‘social welfare’ spending…. As nothing has changed drastically since September, how did the government get its figures so wrong? Was it cooking the figures in order to justify President Christofias’ increased welfare spending which under the circumstances was abjectly irresponsible? How would this largesse be funded when … all tax revenues will be down this year — tourism arrivals will be significantly down, consumption will drop (lower VAT receipts) and property sales are set to stagnate. Add to this the exorbitant interest rates being charged by the banks….

All this suggests that the government is at a loss…. Every few weeks it seems to be changing its plans and forecasts…. At a time of economic uncertainty and looming recession, it is not ministerial wishful thinking that will reassure the business community, but the belief that the government is in control of things…. The government has failed conclusively in this respect.… it is not learning from its mistakes, as the decision to spend more than 100 million euros on army tanks this year shows.... — (Jan 11)

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]A connection with the past[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Niilofur Farrukh[/B][/CENTER]

AT a time when we pursue ‘connectivity’ with vigour and single-mindedness, it is amazing to see how grandparents live almost beyond the range of communication in most nuclear families.

The few short hours spent with them as a Sunday ritual or even an odd annual Eid for those who live in different towns or countries has transformed this link between generations into a mere exchange of pleasantries. Within just a few decades Pakistan’s rapidly urbanising society has begun to lose the vital threads that bind generations, dialogue and family memories being among them.

The term ‘generation gap’ that explains the chasms created by time and the identity of family members with different educational and social experiences in the 21st century has to take into account the physical distance between family members located in cities in several continents. This distance that is exacerbated by the priorities of other cultures stretches beyond the miles of separation. It has left us poorer in many ways.

As a teenager in the late 1960s I once read a story that caused surprise and dismay among those my age and older. It was about how old people’s homes were gaining popularity among couples in the UK as they were no longer able to accommodate or support their elderly parents. Living separately, the grandparents often needed permission to visit grandchildren and their presents and affection were indulgences not readily permitted in a society undergoing a generational disconnect.

Almost five decades later, Pakistan too has its version of the nuclear family in which grandchildren are often deprived of a feeling of emotional and familial connectedness that only grandparents have the capacity and patience to impart. Many grandparents feel this rupture is widened by the technology-driven change that divides the 21st century human race between users of computer/cell-phone/ipod and ‘the rest’.

The 80-plus generation is often bewildered by the speed of technological change while the computer kids have no time to reflect on how ‘the rest’ have contributed to the history of inventions leading up to this digital age. So for this ‘gap’ to disappear we must wait for technology to be viewed for what it really is, a mere tool to access knowledge, before the focus can shift to the generators of knowledge, whose unfamiliarity with the digital means of knowledge-dissemination has not in any way hampered their intellectual robustness.

Ageism too has bred attitudes leading to social exclusion. While senior citizens may be given retirement privileges in developed countries they also tend to get ghettoised in special homes and geriatric wards. An obsession with de-aging drugs and surgical procedures has created a society that perceives old age as a disease to be cured and not a stage of life that should be allowed to come full circle with dignity.

The recognition of contribution and continuity lies at the centre of vitalising multiple generations within a society. Starting from the smallest social unit of a community — the family — grandparents can be valued for their unique position as the keepers of family culture and civilisational wisdom.

Ali Shariati, the Iranian thinker/scholar, in an article on the Martyrs of Karbala explains how ‘martyrdom’ leaves behind two vital legacies, blood and message. Both the symbolic and factual message and sacrifice that created Pakistan has been lost in the agenda of political compromise for six decades. This makes the personal experiences and motivation of the ‘independence’ generation even more critical. Needless to say this should go beyond the token coverage on television and the print media of national events.

In Pakistan, a country born out of resistance to oppressive colonialism and violent partition, these largely unheard narratives of the life-changing trauma of displacement and the generosity of those who received the newcomers in their new homeland were incorporated in textbooks and archives. The truth of this enriched collective memory can be a catalyst for understanding why millions of people from villagers to nawabs, intellectuals to artisans were so committed to freedom and historical change at the risk of losing material wealth and ancestral links.

While watching Obama’s victory speech and the spark of hope it lit in a nation’s eyes, one thought of the fervor that Jinnah’s words inspired. Surely the people must have felt the same palpable optimism in their future as a free people.

The texturally rich diversity of Pakistan’s culture faces the danger of conforming to urbanisation, although grandmothers as the cultural activists of every family have traditionally shouldered the responsibility of keeping knowledge alive in the consciousness of every generation. Reinforced through language, rituals and cuisine, continuity had been zealously maintained by them.

A part of this cultural memory are the writings of dissident women icons of previous generations like Ismat Chughtai and Quratulain Hyder who introduced their own brand of indigenous literature that critiqued retrogressive tradition while strengthening the essence of civilisation. Iqbal’s cathartic Shikwa and Jawab-i-Shikwa, too, need the closer attention of the generation of this new century that seeks social and religious direction. These creative interventions are important to emphasise the non-linearity of history which is not enslaved by tradition but can respond freely to issues.

For as long as we seek wisdom, which is defined as the combination of experience and knowledge with the power to apply it critically and with sagacity, it can never be ‘the end of history’ for us in Pakistan. The strands of the past continue to touch our lives through their potency and relevance. Every civilisation articulates itself through a partnership of generations committed to recognising the best in humanity and nurturing it with renewed energy.

[email]asnaclay06@yahoo.com[/email]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]UK’s disappointing role[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Simon Tisdall[/B][/CENTER]

CRITICISM that Britain is not doing enough to halt the violence in Gaza grows in volume the longer that the fighting continues. Anti-war activists and others demand “unequivocal condemnation” of Israel, an arms embargo and swingeing sanctions. British Jews demonstrate for and against Israel’s actions. And British Muslims warn that the government’s perceived insouciance over Palestinian deaths is enabling extremists “to spread their message”.

On the face of it, all this is a bit over-cooked. Britain no longer holds a mandate to govern the historical territory of Palestine. It cannot enforce a ceasefire or impose a settlement. If any single country now wields that sort of power, it is the US.

Defenders of Britain’s approach claim the government is doing all it can. It backed an immediate ceasefire on the day Operation Cast Lead was launched in December, they say, and has regularly repeated that demand. Through the EU, Britain also condemned Israel’s “disproportionate” use of force. Britain has been engaged throughout, at the UN and elsewhere. What is more, its clear and consistent position has been recognised as such by the Palestinian leadership and by Arab states.

There are two problems with this defence. One is that the spectre of a cornered civilian population torn to bits by modern army ordnance constitutes a deep assault on people’s moral senses, whatever the stated reason for it. From this viewpoint, government has an overriding moral duty to intercede to stop the daily slaughter.

The second is more political. A series of apparently tough, resolute statements by the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, his foreign secretary, David Miliband, and others has given the impression, perhaps accidently, that Britain has more leverage than is actually the case.

On December 29, two days into the Israeli assault, Brown said he was “deeply concerned”, told Hamas to stop firing rockets, and urged Israel to meet its “humanitarian obligations”. His exhortations were totally ignored.

On January 4, Brown said the crisis had reached a “dangerous moment” and for the first time personally called for an “immediate ceasefire”. On January 6, Brown’s dangerous moment became the “darkest moment”; Gaza was facing a “humanitarian crisis”, he said. On January 9, he urged the world to build on the UN’s ceasefire resolution. But each intervention was greeted with more gunfire and rockets — the Gaza equivalent of a giant raspberry.

In a speech last year, seen as defining his tenure, Miliband warned Britain must be cautious about its capacity to change the world. “But while we have less influence than we might hope, we have more than we might fear,” he said.

As the blood flows and the outrage grows, critics say Britain is not only not doing enough — but has failed to use the not inconsiderable levers of powers that, by its own estimation, it still retains. Post-imperial decline does not fully explain this omission. And nor is it all the government’s fault. It may have more to do with a collective failure of national confidence to act.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Thursday, January 15, 2009 08:10 AM

[RIGHT][B]Thursday
Muharram 17, 1430
January 15, 2009 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Climate change[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

WHEN Dr R.K. Pachauri speaks it would be folly not to listen. The eminent scientist heads the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which proved some two years ago that climate change induced by human activity is an undeniable fact, not just a theory. The IPCC, along with former US vice-president Al Gore, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later that year. Speaking in Islamabad on Tuesday at a South Asia regional conference on climate change, Dr Pachauri warned that Pakistan will be among the countries hit hardest by global warming. If greenhouse-gas emissions are not curtailed, dwindling water supplies and higher sea temperatures will leave the agricultural and fisheries sectors reeling, while rising sea levels could flood the coastline, displacing millions of people. Other experts have predicted in recent years that an increase in glacial melt will initially produce flooding and ultimately, when the glaciers are gone, severe drought. The result: acute food and water shortages, loss of livelihood and an increased potential for conflict over shrinking resources. In short, the country, its people and its economy could be crippled.

Unfortunately there is little that Pakistan can do on its own to prevent the changes in climate that are already evident in our country and across the planet. We produce a mere 0.4 per cent or so of the greenhouse gases emitted annually worldwide and yet Pakistan ranks 12th in the list of countries that will bear the brunt of climate change. Cutting our emission levels is an admirable goal but it will be of little use unless the big polluters do likewise and in far greater measure. As such our focus has to be on mitigation measures that can help the country control to an extent the damage inflicted by global warming.

For instance, the cultivation of crops grown traditionally in a particular area may not be feasible in the future due to changing weather or soil conditions. To counter such disruptions in cropping patterns and agricultural seasons, research can be initiated to develop cultivars or to identify other crops that can cope with the altered conditions. A concerted effort must be made to conserve water, especially in agriculture which is by far the biggest consumer. Irrigation canals have to be lined — and if possible covered — water-efficient farming techniques need to be adopted and projects launched to help store rainwater. Pakistan’s healthcare services are dismal anyway but demands on the system will increase manifold as climate change brings with it greater disease and affliction. And as the weather becomes ever more erratic, increasing the frequency of cyclones and storms, the need for efficient warning and disaster-management systems will become even more urgent than it is today. Hopefully the world will mend its ways and check climate change. But we must be prepared for the worst.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]US diplomacy and Pakistan[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

GIVEN her credentials, Senator Clinton’s confirmation hearing wasn’t going to be a baptism of fire. The hearing was more relevant from the point of view of what hints Ms Clinton would drop about how an Obama administration’s foreign policy would differ from President Bush’s. Unsurprisingly, Ms Clinton was short on specifics — those will become apparent in the weeks and months ahead. Yet, from a Pakistani perspective, there were several clues about what lies ahead. First, a healthy dose of realism: Pakistan does not lie at the centre of the American universe. The coverage of the hearing in all major American newspapers — The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor — did not lead with Afghanistan or Pakistan. Instead, Iran, Syria, North Korea and the Israel-Palestine issue dominated the news. For Pakistan it is important to remember that the country is only one, albeit an important, piece in the global jigsaw puzzle that the American diplomatic corps led by Ms Clinton will need to assess and assemble. A precondition for successful statecraft is to have the right perspective of the global pecking order.

However, the comments Ms Clinton did make on Afghanistan and Pakistan reinforced the bipartisan assessment in the US that the Pak-Afghan border is ground zero in the war against militancy. “Pakistan and Afghanistan are definitively the front line of our global counter-terrorism efforts,” Ms Clinton said. Parsing her comments on Pakistan, it is clear that at least in the short term an Obama White House and a Clinton Foggy Bottom will not be likely to deviate from the Bush administration’s recent policy. Drone attacks will likely continue in Fata, military action inside Afghanistan will step up and firefights along the Pak-Afghan border are likely to increase as America sends more troops to Afghanistan. The good news is that key players in America are not in favour of a purely military approach to Pakistan. John Kerry, the next chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will lend his name to the proposed Biden-Lugar legislation; Joseph Biden will of course be the next vice-president; and John Podesta, Obama’s transition chief, is president of the Centre for American Progress, which endorsed a broader relationship with Pakistan in a recent report. And Ms Clinton is hardly a gung-ho figure. Expect her to not take a back seat to the defence department.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]The call of conscience[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

IN a posthumously published editorial, Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of Sri Lanka’s The Sunday Leader, who was assassinated last week, wrote, “No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism.” Mr Wickrematunge’s words proved prophetic. What is more he placed his head on the block knowing its implications in a country where forces preaching violence have gained ascendancy and a seemingly democratic government cannot tolerate criticism. It was a calculated risk he took at a time when the risks were never greater. Why? He explained, “There is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.” And unfortunately for those with a conscience that is how risky the world of journalism has now become as was demonstrated by the fate that befell the Sunday Leader’s editor, whose killers have still to be traced.

Conditions in Pakistan are no better. The country stands at a woeful ranking of 152nd (out of 173) in the 2008 index prepared by Reporters Without Frontiers and was dubbed a “highly dangerous black zone”. According to the International Federation of Journalists, 12 media persons died in the line of duty in Pakistan in the year preceding World Press Freedom Day in May 2008. But as Mr Wickrematunge observed, the call of conscience can be a powerful force in guiding journalists. The latter owe it to their readers to expose vested interests which use all the force and terrorism at their command, even state machinery, to achieve selfish and narrow gains. Thus alone can journalists ensure that the truth is not subverted. In an age when, thanks to advanced communication technologies, the forces of democratic freedom have emerged as a strong deterrent to autocratic and unaccountable governments, the brunt of the risk has been borne by media practitioners who have become personally vulnerable. Isn’t it easier to eliminate individuals than institutions? That holds particularly true for societies that have been brutalised by conflict — be they in Sri Lanka (since 1983) or Pakistan (since 1979).

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

The Egyptian Gazette

Gulf News

Cotton growers’ woes[/B][/CENTER]

FOR many years, Egypt occupied a prestigious position in the world cotton market, because of the unique quality of its long staple cotton, known as ‘King Cotton’. Egypt’s production of cotton and related products ... has suffered dreadfully because of the terrible negligence of the different concerned bodies.

The Ministry of Agriculture has been discouraging cotton farmers by refraining from purchasing their crops for long weeks every season and not agreeing on a purchasing price before the cultivation season starts. The result is that fewer and fewer feddans are being cultivated with cotton. Meanwhile, the Egyptian trade offices abroad don’t seem to be working hard to promote Egyptian cotton.... Another problem is that the goods produced by these factories are not of a high enough quality ... while the huge customs duties being imposed on imported cotton make these goods very expensive for local consumers. ...The government should either encourage the cultivation of long staple cotton for export …or encourage farmers to cultivate the lower quality short staple cotton for the local factories, so they can manufacture their goods at reasonable prices.…— (Jan 12)

[B][CENTER]Israel’s war crimes[/CENTER][/B]

SHORTLY after the United Nations Security Council passed its resolution to end the war on Gaza, Israel attacked a house in the ravaged city, killing a family of six. And despite the resolution’s call to resume aid to the Strip, relief agencies are yet to be allowed to do their job by the Israeli army. ...So who would hold Israel accountable? Who could force the Olmert government to stop the massacres? Obviously nobody. Finally, the UN agencies working in Gaza and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told us what we knew all along. Israel is violating international law and “deliberately” obstructing relief efforts.

It is a good step to start to tell the truth, even after more than 770 people were killed —half of them women and children massacred in their homes or in UN shelters. But again, are the UN and the ICRC willing to hold Israel accountable for such war crimes?

For two weeks, international politics have failed the innocents in Gaza and inter-Arab disputes left Gazans alone in the face of the state-of-the-art US-made Israeli mass killing machine.

…The UN … and the ICRC have a moral responsibility to at least try to bring the Israeli war criminals to justice. — (Jan 9)

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]A way out of the crisis: The energy crunch — II[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Sartaj Aziz[/B][/CENTER]

THE first part of the article published yesterday examined the causes of Pakistan’s energy crunch and indicated the need for short- and medium-term measures to overcome the crisis. What these would entail is discussed in detail below. We first focus on the short-term measures:

1) The quickest, though fiscally difficult, way to reduce load-shedding is to resolve the “circular debt problem” on a priority basis. With the decline in oil prices, this drain on budget has declined but the past amounts payable to oil companies, Pepco, gas companies and Wapda, should be settled as early as possible to clean the books. The payments should also be linked to higher capacity utilisation to ensure that Wapda and private thermal stations increase their generation to at least 10,000 MW, which together with 2,500 MW from hydel generation should be adequate to meet the projected winter demand of about 12,500 MW in 2008-09.

2) Many new power generation and power conservation projects have been identified but their implementation is behind schedule and costs relatively high. These include a) additions of rented and barge mounted power plants (950 MW); b) new IPP’s thermal plants under installation (375 MW); c) quick rehabilitation of Wapda’s power plants (200 MW); and energy conservation and loss reduction measures (980 MW)

The capital cost of about 1,500 MW of new plants is reported to be $3bn. That means about $2,000 per MW, which is twice as large as the cost of IPP projects in the 1990s and three times the cost of many Wapda power plants. By adding such expensive electricity to the system at Rs12-14 per unit, more electricity will be added but will not be affordable.

3) Similarly, the agreement to import 1,000 MW electricity from Iran has been discussed for some time, but it is difficult to determine its implementation deadline.

4) The manner in which the burden of load-shedding has been spread between different categories of users leaves much to be desired. As additional electricity becomes available, the load-shedding schedule should reflect very clear and transparent priorities, in consultation with all the stakeholders.

5) As long as electricity shortage continues, further increments in tariff should be avoided. GST should not be re-imposed and a cap on withholding tax on electricity maintained. With reduction in oil prices and proposed conservation measures, the unit cost of electricity generation should come down.

Given below are measures to be taken in the medium term:

i) In the next three to five years, all gas-based and inefficient Wapda plants should be replaced by new and more efficient combined cycle plants. Many of the old plants are running on gas but since they are inefficient, they produce only 60 to 70 per cent as much electricity as a new and more efficient plant will produce with the same quantity of gas. This will not only reduce the cost per unit but also be more cost-effective than setting up a new power plant at a new location in the public or private sector.

ii) The distribution companies should also be provided adequate resources to modernise the overloaded transmission and distribution system. The required investment can be recovered in less than three years through savings in transmission losses.

iii) The longer term solution of the energy crisis will be to restore the hydro-thermal mix to 60:40 or at least 50:50 in the next five years. The Water Accord of 1991 had opened the way for constructing many dams to store water and generate electricity. But the continuing controversy over the Kalabagh Dam became a major obstacle. Surprisingly, even many smaller and non-controversial hydroelectric projects have been delayed without any justification. The hydel projects in the pipeline include the following: Neelum Jhelum (969 MW), Tarbela Fourth Extension (960 MW), Suki Kinari (840 MW), Munda Dam (700 MW), Khan Dubar (130 MW), Allai (126 MW) and Jinnah Hydro (96 MW).

Some of these were recently presented to the World Bank for technical and financial support, but to fast-track these projects it will be necessary to announce a fixed tariff at which any private power producer can sell hydroelectricity to the system. Urgent negotiations are also needed with experienced Chinese authorities to finance and implement some of these hydroelectric projects.

iv) The programmes and initiatives listed above would be difficult to plan and implement, without major institutional and administrative improvement in the energy sector to upgrade implementation capacity. Wapda and its thermal arm, the Gencos, Pepco and KESC must be given full autonomy to prepare, market and construct new projects, as it did in the 1960s and 1970s when it undertook the massive Indus Basin Works, under the supervision of its own autonomous governing bodies. These organisations also need the best available technical expertise and competence to meet the energy challenge of the future. Drastic reduction in Wapda’s capacity due to micro management by the ministries concerned is one of the main reasons why its proposals made in 2003-2006 to expand the generating capacity could not be implemented.

v) The natural resources of Pakistan are not just limited to water and gas. Coal is also available. Thar has one of the largest deposits of coal in the world. The coal at Thar is not of high quality but it is locally and abundantly available. Tapping of this resource would greatly reduce the dependence on imported energy. The Thar coal can be cleaned and the sulphur reduced so that it can be burnt in conventional coal power plants and also converted into gas. Coal gasification is a slightly more expensive process, but the gas from coal is a proven and cleaner technology. The Chinese had prepared a feasibility report in 2005 to produce 3,000 MW at 5.8 cents per unit, but the project could not move forward because they were offered only 5.3 cents.

vi) There are also many possibilities of regional cooperation in building gas and oil pipelines. These include the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline; the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline; an oil, gas and electricity corridor from Gwadar to Western China, the import of 1,000 MW electricity from Ragun hydro station in Tajikistan for which an agreement was signed by me in March 1992 at the rate of 3.3 cents per unit.

Regional energy cooperation can greatly facilitate the objective of national energy security, because it will not only reduce the cost of energy, but also attract international financing.

vii) Internationally, much greater attention is being paid to new and renewable sources of energy such as wind power and solar energy. Pakistan should enhance its capacity to follow research in these fields and promote much greater use of renewable energy for light, heating, agriculture and small scale enterprises.

Concluded

[B]The writer is a former finance minister.[/B]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Guantanamo challenge[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Suzanne Goldenberg[/B][/CENTER]

BARACK Obama has seven days after he enters the White House before the looming war crimes trial of a former child soldier will force the new president to demonstrate his resolve to swiftly shut the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Omar Khadr is among the handful of 240 or so detainees whose face and story are widely known. The Canadian was 15 when he was held in Afghanistan. Footage of Khadr weeping under interrogation and calling for his mother emerged last summer. To allow his trial to go ahead on Jan 26 would be seen as endorsing the prosecution of a child soldier and the Bush administration’s discredited system of military tribunals, human rights organisations said.

“I cannot believe that the Obama administration really wants its legacy to be that the first thing it did was put on trial a child soldier,” said Lieutenant-Commander Bill Kuebler, Khadr’s military lawyer.

Halting the military tribunals would be the first concrete action dismantling the legal regime put in place by President Bush that allowed the rendition, torture and indefinite detention of Al Qaeda suspects.

Obama aides said on Monday that he intends to issue an executive order closing the camp, possibly on his first day as president. But the aides gave no timeline and Obama has ruled out a closure in his first 100 days.

A number of lawyers for detainees believe closing Guantanamo could take up to a year.

The Obama camp’s hopes of making headway on case reviews before Jan 20 were frustrated by the failure of the Bush administration and the Pentagon to turn over detainee records. Obama’s relatively late selection of his intelligence team, which he wanted involved in the reviews, meant further delays.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Friday, January 16, 2009 01:53 PM

[RIGHT][B]Friday
Muharram 18, 1430
January 16, 2009 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Denial of human rights[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

IT was a year that can be neither condemned wholesale nor praised outright where human rights were concerned. While some improvement was seen in 2008, the balance tilted largely in favour of the unacceptable. True, some progress was made year-on-year, but it should be considered that a military dictator called the shots in 2007. It stood to reason that the outlook of elected politicians would be less draconian than that of a general who usurped power through a military coup. But what was actually achieved in 2008 fell far short of the enviable. One possible reason was that the new government fell victim to stasis early on in its tenure. It remained locked in political intrigue and failed to address the concerns of the people. Then there were the problems it inherited: rampant militancy, worsening law and order, economic instability, soaring inflation and growing underemployment. In short, the government couldn’t cope and the need to uphold human rights fell by the wayside for the most part.

First the positives, for the list is short. Protest was permitted, as one would expect in a democracy. There were no direct attempts to silence the media and freedom of expression, which had been muffled by the 2007 emergency, was allowed freer rein. Yet the government could not protect journalists from murderous non-state actors, and there were accusations too of officials harassing media persons. In a welcome move, the government admitted that the list of the ‘disappeared’ still ran to more than 1,000 persons. But as the latest World Report published by Human Rights Watch points out, “negligible progress [was made] in resolving cases and recovering victims”.

Human Rights Watch also questions the independence of the judiciary in Pakistan, which by extension has a bearing on access to justice, a basic right. There was no let-up in 2008 in violence against women and young girls. In a shameful move, a senator who had justified honour killings and a legislator who stood accused of presiding over a jirga that ordered the handing over of five girls to settle a dispute “were elevated to Pakistan’s cabinet by President Zardari”. Meanwhile, the state stood helpless as militants in

Swat and the tribal areas stripped women of fundamental rights, and denied both boys and girls the right to an education of their own choice. Military operations and US strikes in the tribal belt claimed civilian lives and resulted in the mass displacement of residents. Discriminatory laws remained on the books and religious minorities continued to be targeted with impunity. Reports of torture by security agencies remained all too routine. Promises were made that death sentences would be commuted to life imprisonment but nothing came of that pledge. Clearly, 2008 was not a banner year for human rights in Pakistan.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]The misbegotten war[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

AS the clock winds down on the Bush administration, allies have begun to publicly speak about deficiencies in the US campaign to fight the rise of terrorism and militancy. The latest critique has come from David Miliband, the UK foreign secretary, who has written in the Guardian that, “The idea of a ‘war on terror’ gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. The reality is that the motivations and identities of terrorist groups are disparate.” But not only has the West wrongly identified the enemy, it has also got the strategy to fight it wrong so far. Quoting Gen Petraeus, Mr Miliband argues that those fighting terror cannot “kill their way out of the problems”. We could not agree more. Nowhere is the failure more evident than in this part of the world. Whatever the deficiencies of the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan, the country is on the edge of a precipice because of the failure of the promised nation-building process. Blaming Pakistan for not doing more to help cannot hide the fact that the original error was not of our making.

Yet, we must be careful to not sound like apologists when reviewing the Pakistani state’s response to the terrorism threat, be it on the Pak-Afghan border, within Pakistan or even India. Consider the Mumbai attacks and Ajmal Kasab. No state can be expected to guarantee that some of its citizens won’t go astray — that would make redundant law enforcement and the judicial process — but can any honest assessment of Pakistan’s attempts to shut down terrorism networks claim we have done anything more than the bare minimum? We have not. Yet, as Mr Miliband has pointed out, the issue today is to understand how terrorism and militancy can be fought most effectively. This clearly requires some pragmatism, something the UK foreign secretary has spelled out in the case of Pakistan: “Resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders.” Old rivalries, be they between Pakistan and India or Afghanistan and Pakistan, are being fought with new forms of terrorism and militancy in the region. Ignoring the cause of violence will ensure no one wins in the long term.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Power of proof[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

IN an age where a nation stands besieged by human bombs, street crimes, fanaticism, to name just a few of its myriad hazards, it is indeed abominable that victims fall by the wayside as mere statistics. The primary reason appears to be that the evidence and the crime scene remain perishable. As pointed out in a report carried by this newspaper, the country’s police have a pathetic record of managing crime scenes — the foundation of any investigation. The report maintains that the pattern is unaffected by the fact that numerous police officers have undergone foreign training for crime scene supervision. National crime annals are replete with countless, and historic, incidents which prove that a country gripped by bloodshed and mayhem continues to flounder in the first step towards not only accountability and justice but also deterrence. Take the case of the Liaquat Bagh crime scene — where Benazir Bhutto was killed along with numerous others — that was hosed down shortly after the catastrophe.

Given the fraught times we live in, it is tragic that not a single university in the country offers a degree in forensics studies. Also, there is an absence of an inventory of evidence. Meanwhile, evidence itself is not the property of a particular authority and is randomly taken away by the agencies. We can hardly wait for more bloodbaths to teach us lessons that should have been long learnt. Other than revamping the police training curriculum, it is imperative that immediate steps are taken to strengthen the presently inadequate apparatus. For instance, the Sindh Forensics Science Laboratory is the sole facility with one chemical laboratory for medico-legal investigations in the entire province and not a single forensics service exists in Balochistan. Not only are these home to antiquated machinery, there are few to man them and their inquiries are often mired in controversy — underpaid personnel are bribed to produce tampered results. The need for airtight investigation is the greatest call of our times and the home department must implement instant measures to monitor corruption and overhaul present institutions whereby sanctity of evidence becomes intrinsic to our police culture.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - Bangladesh Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

The Bangladesh Today

Uplift programmes[/B][/CENTER]

THE last six months of the emergency regime had been a disaster as far as the economy of the country is concerned. One sign of the economy coming to a near standstill is the extremely poor implementation of the Annual

Development Programme which stands at a mere 18 per cent halfway through the financial year, as revealed by the finance minister of the newly formed Awami League government.

Non-performing and non-implementable ADPs are nothing new for Bangladesh. Every government, each year unveils a massive ADP, most of which never see the light of day and remain what they are — basically pieces of paper bound up in files of the finance and planning ministry. This year things are even worse because the emergency had made the entire government machinery and bureaucracy far too cumbersome and unresponsive to be anything other than ‘worst’. So, the AL government has to firstly sort out the entire ‘machinery’ before even thinking about the ADPs and their implementation.

There is no gainsaying the fact that government spending in the form of ADPs has a considerable impact on the economy because they generate a huge number of economic activities…. These large numbers of people then spend the money they earn in ‘consumption’ of goods and services and they also save some of their earnings. The entire process of government spending thus ‘fuels’ the economy. If that process is disrupted, the economy is too and this is particularly applicable to countries … like Bangladesh.

Typically, governments in developing economics increase their spending through systems such as ADPs and ensure that such programmes are implemented particularly during ‘times of trouble’ such as we are facing now because of various reasons. This is to ensure that the engine of economy keeps functioning, that people find employment and that people have money to spend on goods and services which many other people provide. The prime minister has, therefore, appropriately zoomed in on the ADP and has demanded maximum implementation, that is, as far as possible within the remaining six months or so of the current financial year.

In implementing the ADPs, the government however, has to decide on the priorities correctly. Obviously, infrastructure development is important but equally important is the development of all those things which go to support agriculture…. So, a balance between agricultural development and infrastructural development has to be made. — (Jan 15)

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]The right to freedom[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Dr Riffat Hassan[/B][/CENTER]

THE Quran is deeply concerned about liberating human beings from every kind of bondage.

Recognising the human tendency toward dictatorship and despotism, the Quran says with clarity and emphasis in Surah 3: 79: “It is not conceivable that a human being unto whom God had granted revelation, and a sound judgment, and prophethood, should thereafter have said unto people, ‘Worship me beside God’; but rather (did he exhort them), ‘Become men of God by spreading the knowledge of the divine writ, and by your own deep study (thereof).’”

The institution of human slavery is, of course, extremely important in the context of human freedom. Slavery was widely prevalent in the Arab world at the time of the advent of Islam and the Arab economy was based on it. Not only did the Quran insist that slaves be treated in a just and humane way, it continually urged the freeing of slaves. By laying down, in Surah 47:4 that prisoners of war were to be set free, “either by an act of grace or against ransom,” the Quran virtually abolished slavery since the majority of slaves — both men and women — were prisoners of war. Because the Quran does not state explicitly that slavery is abolished, it does not follow that it is to be continued, particularly in view of the numerous ways in which the Quran seeks to eliminate this absolute evil. A book which does not give a king or a prophet the right to command absolute obedience from other human beings could not possibly sanction slavery in any sense of the word. The greatest guarantee of personal freedom for a Muslim lies in the Quranic decree that no one other than God can limit human freedom and in the statement that “Judgment (as to what is right and what is wrong) rests with God alone” (12: 40) . As pointed out by an eminent Pakistani jurist, Khalid Ishaque, “The Quran gives to responsible dissent the status of a fundamental right. In exercise of their powers, therefore, neither the legislature nor the executive can demand unquestioning obedience... The Prophet (PBUH), even though he was the recipient of divine revelation, was required to consult Muslims in public affairs. Allah addressing the Prophet says: “...and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs. And... when thou art resolved, then put thy trust in Allah.”

Since the principle of mutual consultation, shura, is binding, it is a Muslim’s fundamental right, as well as responsibility, to participate in as many aspects of community life as possible. The Quranic proclamation in Surah 2:256, “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith”, guarantees freedom of religion and worship. This means that, according to the Quran, non-Muslims living in Muslim territories have the freedom to follow their own faith and traditions without fear or harassment.

A number of Quranic passages state clearly that the responsibility of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is to communicate the message of God and not to compel anyone to believe. The right to exercise free choice in matters of belief is unambiguously endorsed by the Quran, which also states clearly that God will judge human beings not on the basis of what they profess but on the basis of their belief and righteous conduct, as indicated in Surah 2:62 which states: “Verily, those who have attained faith (in this divine writ) as well as those who follow the Jewish faith and the Christian, and the Sabian — all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds — shall have their reward with their Sustainer: and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.”

The Quran recognises the right to religious freedom not only in the case of other believers in God, but also in the case of non-believers in God (if they are not aggressing against Muslims). The right to freedom includes the right to be free to tell the truth. The Quranic term for truth is “Haq” which is also one of God’s most important attributes.

Standing up for the truth is a right and a responsibility which a Muslim may not disclaim even in the face of the greatest danger or difficulty (Surah 4:135). While the Quran commands the believers to testify to the truth, it also instructs society not to harm persons so testifying (Surah 2:282).

[B]The writer is a scholar of Islam and Iqbal, teaching at the University of Louisville, US.[/B]

[email]rshass01@gwise.louisville.edu[/email]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Current rescues not enough[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Patrick Wintour & Heather Stewar[/B][/CENTER]

FRESH efforts to stave off recession were unveiled this week when the UK cabinet agreed to release £20bn to ease Britain’s frozen credit lines. At the same time, Ben Bernanke, the US Federal Reserve chairman, used a speech in London to warn that not enough was being done to ease global problems.

The two moves underline the extent to which policy makers on either side of the Atlantic recognise that banks have been saved from collapse but have not been restored to proper functioning.

Bernanke, in London for talks with UK premier Gordon Brown, said American banks may need a further injection of capital. The fiscal package planned by incoming president Barack Obama would provide a “significant boost” to the US economy but the government had to do more to stabilise the financial system. “Fiscal actions are unlikely to promote a lasting recovery unless they are accompanied by strong measures to further stabilise and strengthen the financial system.”

In an important moment for Brown on the world stage, the German cabinet has backed a £50bn fiscal expansion package, weeks after the British prime minister urged a united effort across major economies. The German move deprives UK Opposition Conservative leader David Cameron of a potential ally in his argument that the solution to the crisis lies in monetary rather than fiscal solutions.

Cameron is preparing to denounce the Brown administration’s latest move, the credit guarantee scheme. Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, is proposing £10bn of government guarantees for viable small and medium-sized enterprises, and has reached an agreement with the banks that the £10bn — mainly to provide working capital — will unlock another £10bn of bank credit for larger and riskier businesses. The government credit will be available to firms with up to £500m in annual turnover.

Officials said the banks have given undertakings that they will be able to expand credit as a result of the government’s intervention. Typically defaults can run at 5-10 per cent, so the scheme could cost government up to £1bn. The scheme has been under negotiation for weeks with Lady Vadera, the business minister, leading talks with the banks. The main extra element of the scheme will focus on providing working capital, but there will also be an expansion of the loan guarantee scheme, export credit guarantees and announcements on credit insurance.

A further announcement, possibly next week, will be made by the Treasury on expanding the mortgage markets and providing loans to large businesses.

Mandelson said the plans would be “really effective” and target “genuine business needs”.The Conservatives want a “bigger, bolder, simpler” £50bn scheme to get credit flowing to all businesses. They insist their scheme would be self-financing, and claim ministers have exaggerated the cost of it for political reasons.

Bernanke, speaking at the London School of Economics, painted a gloomy picture for 2009, admitting that even with concerted action from the White House and the Fed, there would be little improvement in the economy until later this year. Asked when he expected to see an end to the spate of job losses in the US, with more than 500,000 workers laid off in December, he said he hoped that by “late in 2009” it would be possible to put “a stop to the bleeding”.

Hank Paulson, the outgoing US treasury secretary, has already injected around $250bn into America’s financial institutions, but the Fed chairman said with asset prices still falling and billions of dollars of toxic securities stuck on banks’ balance sheets, “more capital injections and guarantees may become necessary”.

Options included the US treasury buying toxic assets, or separating them off into a “bad bank”.

Bernanke may be seeking to influence Obama’s economic advisers about how to deploy the next $350bn of the rescue fund approved in October. Democrats have advocated aid to homeowners, but the Fed chief’s comments suggest he is more concerned about the supply of credit to companies and households.

He said the Fed still had plenty of ammunition available and would act “aggressively” to promote a recovery.

Bernanke’s call for more support for the banks came as the World Economic Forum singled out the impact of bailouts on governments’ deteriorating finances as the biggest risk to the world economy in 2009.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Saturday, January 17, 2009 11:43 AM

[RIGHT][B]Saturday
Muharram 19, 1430
January 17, 2009[/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkRed"][SIZE="4"]Crackdown on militancy[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

THERE are several ways to interpret the latest actions against the Jamaatud Dawa. A sceptical interpretation would emphasise the severe diplomatic pressure Pakistan has been under in recent days and take note of the fact that the Saudi intelligence chief was in Pakistan the day before the details of the post-Mumbai crackdown were made public. From this point of view, the pressure on the Jamaatud Dawa is not serious or long-term and will abate once the world’s attention is diverted. The more positive interpretation would be that forging a consensus in the Pakistani state apparatus to go after militant networks is a delicate process and that now, finally, some eight weeks since the Mumbai attacks, everyone is on the same page and the mission is to shut down militant networks in Pakistan once and for all. The events of the days ahead will make it clear whether it is the former or the latter interpretation which is true — or, indeed, if the truth is somewhere in between. In the best-case scenario, Pakistan will shut down all visible signs of militant networks; cut off their sources of funding; and arrest and prosecute militant leaders.

More difficult, especially for India, will be to exercise the patience to wait and see if Pakistan is sincere in its fight against terrorists operating from its soil. In recent days there has been a concerted campaign across the border to step up the rhetoric against Pakistan. This is unfortunate, though perhaps not hard to explain. No doubt some in New Delhi, and in other capitals, will look at Thursday’s announcement of the sweep against the Jamaatud Dawa and wonder why those actions were not announced immediately after the UN added the organisation and some of its leaders to a terrorist watch list. Yet, New Delhi’s sometimes harsh tone has been part of the problem. It is very difficult for a government on either side of the border to appear to be caving in to pressure from the other, so whenever inflammatory rhetoric emanates from India, Pakistan is likely to baulk at doing what is in the interest of everyone in the region.

By the same token, the Pakistan state must understand that going soft on terror, the perceived status quo, is no longer acceptable. It need look no further than Saudi Arabia to know in which direction the wind is blowing internationally. The Saudi government is believed to have sent a clear message to Pakistan: Mumbai-style attacks are unacceptable and Pakistan needs to move firmly against militant groups. The folly of a Faustian bargain with militants — whereby they are left alone if they do not attack the state in which they reside — is now clear to everyone. Pakistan has never benefited from the jihadi groups and never will. It is time the state accepts that reality.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Fiddling as Gaza burns[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

AS though slaughtering scores of men, women and children on a daily basis were not enough, Israeli forces are now ruthlessly directing their offensive at Gaza’s future as well. Nearly 1,100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli bombing in the three weeks since the present round of conflict began. Now the invading Israeli army is targeting infrastructure and facilities that have provided some relief to Gaza’s besieged people. On Thursday Israel shelled the UN headquarters supplying thousands of pounds of food and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. This is a crime that has evoked a hail of condemnation from international quarters because the world body has become a victim. Its implications are grave. It demonstrates Israel’s contempt for the international organisation that alone holds some hope for the traumatised population of Gaza. While world leaders fiddle as Gaza burns, more attention needs to be paid to what UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has termed a “dire humanitarian crisis” that has reached an “unbearable point”.

The world has still to focus on the people — especially the children — of Gaza. Israel’s ever-tightening 18-month blockade on what it declared as “hostile territory” had already been taking a heavy toll when the shelling began on Dec 27. Now hospitals and schools are being hit. Power transmission has been interrupted and water is in short supply. With food stocks being decimated, hunger and starvation appear to be round the corner. How will all this affect the psyche of the Palestinian children trapped in this besieged area? If their future is at stake, also at risk is the future of peace in the Middle East. Can children who have witnessed the trauma of the last three weeks in Gaza ever grow up to be peace-loving citizens and strive for a tolerant, conflict-free society?

It is time for the peace brokers to respond immediately to Gaza’s tragedy. The need of the hour is for western powers perceived as friends of Israel to get the latter to rein in its bellicosity and to exercise restraint. Israel’s strategy of excessive retaliation to Hamas’s pinpricks — 1,100 Palestinian deaths as against 13 Israelis at the last count — has not helped it achieve its war goals. It has only worsened the crisis. The Arab world’s reaction, while vociferous, has not been adequate in practical terms either. Should not Cairo, that plays the interlocutor seeking for a way out of the impasse, also consider opening the Rafah crossing to allow relief to flow to the Gazans?

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][CENTER]All hands on deck? [/CENTER][/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B]

ARRIVING at a consensus will be critical if the 17th Amendment is to be repealed. The changes sought by the major parties may differ but the bottom line is that the constitution cannot be amended without a two-thirds majority. As such it is necessary not to quibble and to instead focus on the one provision of the 17th Amendment that poses the greatest danger to the parliamentary form of government: to wit, Gen Musharraf’s resurrection of Article 58-2(b). True, some other provisions of the 17th Amendment are less than savoury, such as the legal cover given to Musharraf’s actions since 1999. But to become obsessed with the sins of a man who is no longer relevant, or to seek redress for the personal grievances of those he overthrew, is tantamount to missing the point altogether. Then there is the fact that there are certain positive aspects of the 17th Amendment, such as the restoration of the joint electorate and a significant increase in reserved seats for women, that ought not to be discarded in the housekeeping exercise. This is the time to look forward, not ponder on the past. All those who want democracy to prosper need to zero in on relegating Article 58-2(b) to the dustbin of history. The power to appoint the services chiefs must also revert to the prime minister.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani rightly stressed the need for a consensus bill vis-à-vis the 17th Amendment. His party will have a hard time, however, convincing other players that the PPP is genuinely on board. For one thing, why hasn’t the ruling party taken the lead in repealing the 17th Amendment since it came to power? If the PPP believes in the supremacy of parliament, why does the presidency call the shots? What we have now, for all intents and purposes, is a presidential form of government. Consider too that the PPP has reneged on a number of promises since it came to power. The chief justice deposed by Gen Musharraf was not restored, the concurrent list has not been abolished and the death penalty is still on the books. The nation expects honesty of purpose.

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]OTHER VOICES - Sri Lankan Press[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

Low level of election violence

Daily Mirror[/B][/CENTER]

AMID disconcerting news that the people of this country are constantly treated to these days comes the encouraging report of the leading election monitoring organisation PAFFREL that election violence in ... two provinces remains at an all-time low. Presenting its first interim report on the ongoing Central and North Western provinces’ election campaign conducted by political parties in the fray, its head Kingsley Rodrigo says that only five instances of election-related violence have been reported within the two weeks following the closing of nominations.

PAFFREL executive director cites the voters’ lack of interest in these prematurely declared elections as one of the reasons for reduced instances of violence. He nevertheless anticipates a change in the situation as the day of elections draws closer. It is indeed the wish of all peace-loving people of this country that the present state of peace and tranquillity will be maintained throughout enabling the conduct of a free and fair election. It is the duty of all concerned to lend their maximum support and cooperation in achieving this objective.

The major part of the responsibility rests on the politicians and political parties. All political parties, of course, declare their commitment to conducting a free and fair election devoid of violence and malpractices. But their actions, more often than not, run counter to these commitments. The acrimonious comments they make and unfounded personal and political accusations they level against one another from political platforms cause anger, hatred and resentment. They often seem to get overwhelmed by their own verbal exuberance when they address their ardent and cheering party supporters. They throw to the winds the advice given even by Ven Mahanayake Theras to guard their tongues as they speak from political platforms.

Another feature that causes much conflict among parties is the political conversions that are regularly reported in the media. Most of these conversions seem to be unethical like much maligned religious conversions. Most of these party somersaults are the result of various inducements offered to the converted. Jobs, positions and other favours are freely offered to desert their parties. Among the converted are also persons sidelined by their original parties for their wrongdoing.

There are, of course, some who change parties through genuine political convictions. People have every right to shift their affiliations from one party to another and this right should not be interfered with. There could well be a fair percentage of genuine party deserters among the 5,000 UNP members in the Kandy District who, according to Minister Dallas Alahapperuma, are to join the UPFA on Sunday. This group, he says, includes 25 Pradeshiya Sabha members. It is hoped that this expected mass defection will not give rise to conflicts or clashes.

Obviously, the police in these provinces will have to play their role impartially and effectively in maintaining the present level of peace. It is their responsibility to enforce the law in close collaboration with the election commissioner who has issued instructions to ensure a free and fair election. — (Jan 16)

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Europe divided over Gaza[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Shada Islam[/B][/CENTER]

THE European Union’s failure to mediate a Middle East truce or clinch a long-term settlement of the energy dispute between Russia and Ukraine have meant a difficult and embarrassing start to the new year for the 27-nation bloc.

While Europe’s foreign policy shortcomings are not new, the disarray in European ranks as regards the Middle East is particularly galling at a time when the new US administration is expected to demand a stronger EU role in the region.

Policymakers in Brussels insist that the EU’s impotence as regards ending the Israel-Arab conflict or securing a long-term solution to chronic Russia-Ukraine tensions will be corrected once the bloc’s new treaty, which foresees the appointment of a first-ever foreign minister, is in force. But others argue that while the new treaty will help clear up some confusion on how the EU deals with the rest of the world — and the rest of the world deals with Europe — much will depend on the personality of the future foreign minister and the back-up he receives from European capitals and his own staff. The picture is not rosy for the moment. Disarray in EU ranks meant that as Israel multiplied its attacks on Gaza last week, the EU was struggling unsuccessfully to forge a united front on the issue. In the end, it was a question of too many cooks spoiling the broth, with several European ministers and parliamentarians vying for the spotlight as they arrived in the Middle East to lobby for peace.

At one stage, Israeli President Shimon Peres had an array of European interlocutors, including three EU foreign ministers, the EU external relations commissioner and the EU’s foreign policy chief. In addition, French President Nicolas Sarkozy — whose country handed over the EU presidency to the Czech Republic on Jan 1 — was in the area working on a high-profile solution to the conflict.

As the crisis continues, with over 1,000 Palestinians already dead, the often confused EU response has exposed the bloc’s difficulty in being taken seriously as a political heavyweight. This is especially true in the Middle East which many EU policymakers see as Europe’s backyard and where the Union has spent millions of euros over the years in development and humanitarian aid. Most Arab countries and Israel also have special trade relations with the EU, allowing their products tariff-free or reduced-duty entry into European markets. But try as they might, Europe has failed to make a serious political impact in the region.

One key reason is that Israel has consistently criticised Europe’s Middle East policy as being too pro-Palestinian. Seeking to improve relations with Israel, EU governments agreed last year to upgrade relations with the country. But those moves have now been put on ice because of EU anger at Israel’s breach of international humanitarian law in Gaza.

EU policymakers say they are hopeful that the expected entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty later this year will help salvage Europe’s credibility in foreign policy. The new set of rules foresees a permanent president of the European Council, instead of the current six-monthly rotation between the 27-member states ranging from tiny Malta and Luxembourg to heavyweights Germany, France and the UK. It also introduces an EU foreign minister, which supporters of the treaty say will put an end to the merry-go-round in foreign policy. However, the new treaty will only be an improvement. The job description of both the foreign minister and the EU president are clear-cut to avoid bickering between the two. Much will also depend on the personality of the top EU officials.

Many EU observers point out the discrepancy between the high-profile Sarkozy-led French presidency and the current Czech one and say it is imperative that the EU is led by politicians from big countries in order to be effective. This, in turn, has prompted suggestions that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair should be given the job of EU president and that the future foreign minister should also be a powerful and high-profile personality from a bigger EU state

EU policymakers are also watching carefully as thousands of Europeans — including Muslims — take to the streets daily to protest against the Israeli offensive in Gaza. In Spain, much to Israel’s anger, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero participated in one of the demonstrations and called for an immediate ceasefire.

French President Sarkozy has warned that his country would not tolerate violence between Muslim and Jewish communities because of the ongoing conflict. The admonition came after a burning car was rammed into the gates of a synagogue in Toulouse late Monday evening. France has the EU’s largest Muslim and its largest Jewish communities, and tensions have risen since Israel’s military reaction to Hamas-sponsored rocket attacks began.

There is concern not only about the increase in violence between European Muslims and Jews but also fears that the war could further radicalise Muslims in Europe. “There is a feeling of helplessness, hopelessness and powerlessness among Britain’s Muslims in the context of Gaza, British Justice Minister Shahid Malik told Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “The sense of grievance and injustice is both profoundly acute and obviously profoundly unhealthy,” he added.

Meanwhile, EU relations with both Russia and Ukraine have taken a battering as the two countries lock horns over the delivery of gas to eastern and western Europe. The EU imports a fifth of its gas from Russia via Ukraine. The crisis has highlighted its vulnerability to disruption and sparked renewed debate about diversifying supplies.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso has called the situation “unacceptable and incredible” and said the EU executive would advise the bloc’s firms to sue Russian and Ukrainian energy companies unless gas supplies were restored quickly. Both Moscow and Kiev seem to be betting, however, that at least for the moment, Europe’s bark is stronger than its bite.

[B]The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.[/B]

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]Future of web news[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

By Peter Preston[/B][/CENTER]

IT must be the future — the most feted, most dynamically charged news website of the lot. Eight million unique users, a 448 per cent annual growth rate and awards showering down. Want to raise another $25m, even in these straitened times? Certainly, madam. Venture capitalists duly oblige.

Your Huffington Post, just four years old, is already worth $100m. Here’s one sort of journalism that can shrug off recession, surely? Tina Brown with her ultra-competitive, somewhat derivative, Daily Beast is already turning a wheeze into a formula.

And that formula — from Arianna Huffington to Lady Harry Evans (aka Tina Brown) — seems suitably promising. No more tonnes of paper newspapers and heavy lorries; no more futile costs. Here’s the web standing proud and unencumbered, giving you the basic news you need in a neat, edited package that moves swiftly into blogged opinion. Huffington calls this her search for truth. Jaundiced readers of American newspapers would call it a long overdue reaction to too many po-faced balancing acts in monopoly papers afraid to express any opinion.

A TNS Media Intelligence analysis quoted in Advertising Age last week puts Huffington Post revenue between January and August last year at a mere $302,000 or so. It’s no secret that, at best, Huffington’s enterprise was only occasionally profitable, in an election year during which US liberals flocked to the site. The web news wunderkinds have just the same difficulty as boring old print: they can’t turn what they have into worthwhile money. And the deeper the recession goes, the worse their predicament will become.

Take a closer look at where the lifeblood news on which they comment comes from. Huffington Post provides a long source list, including an impressive roll call of bloggers, but the basic facts and developments come from 40-plus newspapers and broadcasting station newsrooms catalogued as providers (including the Guardian, Times and Independent in the UK). And there’s the rub.

The Huffington Post has about 50 staff, most of them technical and production hands. It would like more reporters of its own, of course, but (unlike Brown’s Beast) doesn’t attempt to pay its big bloggers a cent. Honour and glory stand in for a cheque. As the founder of the Guardian C.P. Scott never said (in schoolboy parody): Comment is free, but facts are expensive.

The medium-term weakness of all the bright new websites, in short, is that they need grist as well as glitz. But that basic commodity has to be jackdawed together day by day. They can’t afford to uncover it for themselves. They have to skate over the surface of commenting on other people’s work.

The death of the newspaper, as tremulously foretold? OK then, so where’s the beef? There ought to be plenty of room for accommodation along Huffington’s golden road into the future but she also needs to make money first. And the curse of the new is much like the curse of the old: have bright, fashionable product and huge audience. Now, will somebody please pay me a living wage?

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Sunday, January 18, 2009 05:46 PM

[RIGHT][B]Sunday
Muharram 20, 1430
January 18, 2009 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]A legacy of disaster[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

IT is perhaps unfair to rail against George W. Bush for he was merely a pawn in the hands of the neocon establishment that has ruled America since 2000. It was the likes of Dick Cheney, Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, all leading lights of The Project for the New American Century which promotes US imperialism and total control of the world’s energy resources, who called the shots in those bleak years. Some years ago, before 9/11, the manifesto of the Project for the New American Century even justified the deliberate creation of circumstances that would allow America to attack worldwide. But still, if only in name, George Bush was the president of the United States at a time when that country embarked on a global offensive against an amorphous enemy called terrorism. It was none other than George Bush who authorised the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians in a war based on lies. It was George Bush who justified torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. It was George Bush who felt it was kosher to bomb an ally such as Pakistan. Like other gung-ho Republicans before him, it was George Bush who mollycoddled a military dictator who drove Pakistan into the ground while under the influence of a toxic cocktail in which ego and ignorance were mixed in equal parts.

America will see the formal authorisation of a revolution on Tuesday, when a black man will become president of the United States of America. Yet, despite all the idealism and multiculturism at his disposal, Barack Obama will not change the world. His colour in itself means that he must tread softly, as if walking on eggshells, careful not to offend. The liberals who voted for him include millions of American Jews, and as such Obama cannot be expected to open America’s eyes to the reality of Palestine. It has often been said that great statesmen don’t just respond to public opinion, they change it. There is no indication yet that Barack Obama will reshape America’s distorted view of the world. Going by his statements so far, it seems his administration will continue to justify the status quo. He either believes the untruths or is apprehensive about taking a strong line on the historical injustice that is Israel.

A black man at the helm will not change America. Barack Obama will not disown his country’s imperialist designs, for to do that would damage his patriotic credentials in a country as insular as the US. America imposes itself on the world, it is not part of it. This is so because it sees itself as a superior entity in any given situation. Obama can’t change that perception. And we certainly cannot.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Indifference of legislators[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

MUST the prime minister have to remind the legislators of their duty? Not all of them are new to the job; several MNAs have been elected many times and must know their responsibility. As a sovereign body the National Assembly not only enacts laws, it serves as a watchdog on government functioning. These tasks must be performed with the seriousness and sanctity they deserve — which unfortunately does not seem to be the case. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has started attending the question hour regularly, but his presence has not served to persuade the ruling party MNAs and others to be a little less trivial. As a report in this paper revealed the other day, MNAs during an Assembly session talked among themselves, paying scant attention to the question-answer session even though the prime minister was present. In fact, on Friday the deputy speaker had to snub an MNA by asking him to keep the pitch of his voice low. Even though he was sitting on a back bench, his constant talk disturbed the others and was symptomatic of the legislators’ nonchalance. All this in addition to the low attendance that characterises Assembly sessions, leading to frequent adjournments because of lack of quorum.

The MNAs’ attitude betrays a shocking indifference to the overriding need for building democratic institutions and strengthening parliament. Since independence, heads of state and army chiefs have sacked democratic governments and dismissed elected parliaments. Between 1977 and 1999, five national assemblies were dissolved, and if we add to this the number of provincial assemblies, then the number of houses that fell victim to military takeovers or Article 58-2(b) goes up to 25 or so. The dissolution was followed in each case by the trial and conviction of a large number of legislators for political reasons. The task before the MNAs now is to build the edifice of democracy brick by brick so that non-democratic forces do not get another chance to sabotage democracy. All parties agree that the 17th Amendment should be done away with so that the constitution’s parliamentary character is restored. But that would mean only half the job, for the real challenge is to consolidate democratic values in and outside the Assembly and make parliament a policymaking body that, besides being the sole determinant of national interests, represents the people’s sovereignty. However, the conduct of most of our legislators in this regard does not inspire much hope.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Punjab’s urea crisis[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

A CROP of anger is being sown in Punjab’s fields of despair. Wheat farmers across the province are flustered and frustrated over their failure to get as much urea fertiliser as their crop requires. Reports of angry protests over the shortage of the fertiliser as well as photographs showing farmers standing in long queues to get it refuse to go away from the inside pages of newspapers. If, in the coming days and weeks, the supply and distribution of urea remain as bad as now, protests can turn ugly and the queues give way to major quarrels.

The Punjab government seems to be aware of the dangers, although the response it has come up with to ward them off is certainly inadequate. On Thursday, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif set up a committee to monitor and report on the supply and delivery of fertiliser. For desperate farmers who need five million bags of urea as quickly as possible, this is like telling a hungry child that a suitable diet for him is being mulled over. The urgency of the situation should not be lost on the government, and a handful of over-occupied politicians and bureaucrats meeting and issuing memos can hardly resolve the problem. Mr Sharif would do well to take some concrete steps like cutting the red tape and removing administrative and logistic bottlenecks to expedite the inland arrival and distribution of urea that has already landed in enough quantity at the country’s ports to fulfil local needs. He can certainly arrange the emergency transportation of the fertiliser if he is serious about tackling the problem which otherwise runs the risk of becoming a crisis that Mr Sharif himself acknowledges can reduce Punjab’s wheat output by as much as 30 per cent.

Such a drastic decrease in wheat yield will drag down the whole economy with it and will require huge and costly imports. But, as seen in previous years, imports do not ease supply constraints after local wheat production falls short of the target. That wheat shortages have had dangerous political fallouts goes without saying. Anyone mindful of such fallouts should know better than writing memos and holding meetings.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - Indian Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

The Times of India

Star of Mysore

Don’t gag the media[/B][/CENTER]

…THE amendments to the Cable Television Network (Regulations) Act proposed by the I&B ministry in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks aims to put in place extensive restrictions on live coverage of crisis situations. This would prevent news broadcasters from showing any live telecast during emergency situations other than a government-authorised feed.

There were undoubtedly mistakes made during the coverage of the Mumbai terror attacks. The transcripts of calls made by the terrorists have revealed that their handlers in Pakistan, who were watching Indian news channels, kept them informed…. There is an urgent need to work out regulations for live coverage, especially of terror incidents…. But the government is also to blame for the chaos during the coverage of 26/11. There were no clear guidelines issued either by the defence forces or local authorities to television channels. Basic rules like keeping away journalists and the public from the site of action were not enforced….

… Following 26/11, the news broadcasters association has come up with its own ‘emergency protocol’. Now it should sit down with government representatives to draft an acceptable code of conduct for coverage of emergency situations…. (Jan 16)

[B][CENTER]The protection bill[/CENTER][/B]

THE Karnataka Legislative Assembly and Council are taking up … [the] Karnataka Prohibition of Violence Against and Damage to Property in Medicare Service Institutions Bill. … But … what about medicare personnel when they step out of hospital? Who or what will protect them there?

The bill is indeed important keeping in mind that it will curtail the violent behaviour of patients’ relatives or of a mob that causes inconvenience to other patients in the hospital....

Now if the bill states that the same protective laws be applied to a doctor who is off-duty then it is going to lead to misuse. … [W]hat if a doctor has a small argument with a non-medicare personnel which leads to a scuffle? Does that mean that the other person can be … jail[ed] … and fined … while the doctor gets away with a minor charge? This is not fair….

… [N]o person or property can be protected by merely enacting laws. Effective implementation is required. So [the matter] is finally in the hands of a strong and committed police and an efficient judicial system. If these two bodies are not robust, then culprits will always find ways to bypass the law and wreak havoc on other people’s lives. — (Jan 15)

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Safety of nuclear assets[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Anwar Syed[/B][/CENTER]

COMMENTATORS in Pakistan refer to its nuclear assets much too often and needlessly. They speak of Pakistan and India as “nuclear armed” neighbours or rivals.

This they do in spite of the fact that the entire world is aware not only of the hostility between these two countries but also that both of them possess nuclear weapons and a nuclear war in this region is not beyond the realm of possibility. Pakistani officials have felt it necessary to assure visiting foreign dignitaries that these weapons are in safe hands beyond the reach of militants and terrorists.

It may be said that these assurances are needless, for no major power has called upon Pakistan to prove to the world’s satisfaction that its nuclear assets are secure. But it is a fact also that governments and think tanks in North America and Europe have periodically expressed concern that these assets might not be secure.

Some Pakistani observers are inclined to interpret this concern as an indication of the western powers’ unwillingness to countenance a Muslim nation’s possession of nuclear weapons, emanating from their generalised disapproval of Islam both as a doctrine and a guide to conduct. This interpretation may have an element of truth, but it cannot be the main explanation of the western powers’ reservations in this regard.

The apprehension that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons might fall into the wrong hands is based on the hard fact that the ‘wrong hands’ — fanatics, militants, terrorists — do exist in this country in substantial numbers and they are doing their work. It may not be likely that they will come to power through the electoral process or otherwise seize the government. But sceptics worry also that an anti-western coalition of forces — not only the Taliban and the likes of them but also those who are sympathetic to their ideological persuasion and mission — may come to power and feel free to use the weapons under its control to the western powers’ detriment.

According to some reports, there have been indications on the part of an Islamic party that the Islamic parties in the country could be considered trustworthy guardians of its nuclear weapons if they came to power. These assurances may not be entirely credible in view of the fact that these parties have never condemned the death and destruction that the Taliban and other Islamic militants have been visiting upon this country.In my reckoning, however, it is most improbable that any radical group, Islamic or other, will take control of the government in Pakistan in the foreseeable future. Western worries concerning the security of its nuclear assets are therefore misplaced. They are based upon hypothetical calculations of that which is conceivable, not that which is probable.

It may be true that officials concerned in the American administration prepare contingency plans for immobilising, or taking control of, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the event that anti-western radicals do take power in that country. That does not mean that the occasion for these plans to be implemented will ever arise. It should be noted also that the disposition of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and their security are related to their location and the identity of those who know it.

Pakistan embarked upon a nuclear programme around 1973 and openly became a maker of nuclear weapons in May 1998. It may already have built a small number of warheads by this time. Their production is believed to have been an ongoing operation since then.The places where the US and Russia have stored their nuclear weapons are known and their security is ensured by the erection of insurmountable physical barriers and by controlling access to the sites. In Pakistan these weapons are made secure by the maintenance of strict secrecy regarding their locations. It was said at the time that President Ghulam Ishaq Khan personally supervised and directed the country’s nuclear programme. But one cannot say how much of the specifics of production and storage of weapons he knew.

Gen Pervez Musharraf established a National Command and Control Authority, consisting of some 10 members with the president and the prime minister as chairman and vice-chairman respectively, to supervise Pakistan’s nuclear programme in its various facets. But it is unlikely that all of its members know where the weapons are stored.

It is to be noted that the bombs are not stacked anywhere as completed units, their components are assembled and placed in their casings, with coded switches installed, ready to be mounted on delivery vehicles and fired. The production of a bomb consists of several different processes, each of them housed in a location (usually an army unit) known only to those responsible for carrying it out.

Those who manage one of these processes do not know where and how the other processes are going on. The components produced at these various stations are transported to a central place where they are put together. Each bomb has to have a fissile core and non-nuclear materials. The fissile core is stored in a vault by itself, apart from the other materials. This core is to be placed at the bottom of the heap in the bomb, and a coded off-on switch is installed. The weapon is then ready to be placed on a delivery vehicle and sent away. No one other than the army chief and a couple of others knows the changing location of either the components or the finished product.

It follows that a nuclear weapon is not something that a thief can put in his pocket and walk away with, or even load it on a truck and drive off. The weapons cannot really go into the wrong hands unless their custodians, the army chief and some of his top deputies, are willing to let this happen, I cannot think of any reason why the head of the Pakistan Army and his associates would be willing to transfer nuclear weapons to any outsiders. The greater likelihood is that they would want to be the ones who decide when, where and against whom these weapons are to be deployed. In the making of these choices even the president and the prime minister may have to take the back seat.

[B]The writer, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, is a visiting professor at the Lahore School of Economics.[/B]

[email]anwars@lahoreschool.edu.pk[/email]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]War on plastic bags[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Randeep Ramesh[/B][/CENTER]

THE global battle against plastic took a draconian turn on Friday when officials in Delhi announced that the penalty for carrying a polythene shopping bag would be five years in prison.

Officials in India’s capital have decided that the only way to stem the rising tide of rubbish is to completely outlaw the plastic shopping bag. According to the official note, the “use, storage and sale” of plastic bags of any kind or thickness will be banned.

The new guideline means that customers, shopkeepers, hoteliers and hospital staff face a 100,000 rupee fine and possible jail time for using non-biodegradable bags. Delhi has been steadily filling up with plastic bags in recent years as the economy has boomed and western-style shopping malls have sprung up in the city.

There are no reliable figures on bag use, but environmentalists say more than 10 million are used in the capital every day. To begin with the ban will be lightly enforced, giving people time to switch to jute, cotton, recycled-paper and compostable bags.

Officials said that it would be up to the court to decide on how harsh a sentence an offender might face. “Delhi has a population of 16 million which means we cannot enforce [the new law] overnight,” said JK Dadoo, Delhi’s top environment official.

“But we want people to understand that they will not get away with [using plastic bags]. If they choose to defy the law repeatedly then the court has the measures necessary to fit.”

Civil servants said that punitive measures were needed after a law prohibiting all but the thinnest plastic bags — with sides no thicker than 0.04mm — was ignored. Environmentalists said these bags were too expensive as they were not made in India, and called for an injunction against all polythene.

Green groups welcomed the tough new measures . Shop-owners had long complained that no viable alternatives exist in India for plastic bags. However the authorities appeared to have been swayed by green groups, who pointed out used plastic bags were clogging drains, creating breeding grounds for malaria and dengue fever.

There is ample evidence that prohibition can work: poor countries such as Rwanda, Bhutan, Bangladesh all have bans.

The first targets in Delhi will be the industrial units that manufacture the plastic bags in the capital, which officials say will be closed down.

Bangladesh was the first country to ban plastic bags in 2002 amid worries that they were blocking drains during the monsoon. Taiwan, Australia, Rwanda and Singapore have since moved to ban, discourage or promote reuse of plastic bags, hundreds of billions of which are handed out free each year.

Towns and cities in India, the US and UK have followed. Denmark and Ireland have both experimented with taxing plastic bags. Dublin said the tax, imposed in 2002, had reduced usage by more than 95 per cent.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Monday, January 19, 2009 07:23 PM

[RIGHT][B]Monday
Muharram 21, 1430
January 19, 2009[/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][SIZE="4"][COLOR="DarkRed"]Education policy[/COLOR][/SIZE][/CENTER][/U][/B]

THE Pakistan Coalition for Education and Action Aid have done well to draw the government’s attention to the need for prompt action to finalise the education policy it has been working on since 2005. The problems that beset the education sector have been discussed ad nauseam. It is therefore strange that the education ministry has yet to finalise a new policy. The 2008 draft was presented in February and one of the reasons given for initiating the reform process in 2005 was that “new international challenges like Millennium Development Goals and Dakar Education For All principles as well as globalisation have gained greater momentum” and are compelling reasons for revision in policy. With the ministry dragging its feet on input from other stakeholders — especially civil society — it will not be surprising if, by the time the final draft is announced, the authorities are overtaken by many events again. One cannot question the importance of a participatory process which in the final analysis is as important as the policy itself, as pointed out by the author of the 2006 White Paper. An inclusive approach is essential to ensure the cooperation of all stakeholders on whom depends the successful implementation of any policy. But the process cannot go on endlessly as that would prove to be unproductive too. The need is to strike a balance between the time given to the dialogue and the finalisation of the policy. Failure to do so implies a lack of commitment on the part of policymakers.

The 2009 draft drawn up with the help of a Canadian consultant sponsored by Unesco gives an excellent assessment of the flaws in Pakistan’s education system. It starts with the problems of inaccessibility, inequity, gender challenge, rural-urban divide, poor quality and resource constraints, and goes on to groan about the contradictions between the private and public sectors in education. It calls for a paradigm shift in the approach to education — a move from the policy objective of serving the interests of policymakers to one benefiting the students. All this is commendable but without spelling out what the interests of the students are perceived to be, one can only expect a confusing document to emerge with every stakeholder giving his/her own interpretation of what the education goals are. Similarly, the policy speaks in sweeping terms of the ‘implementation gap’, that has been the bane of every programme conceived in this country. One cannot be certain that it will be overcome in this case either. One reason why the best of policies have run aground when it comes to implementation is pervasive corruption. Yet the policy puts emphasis on resource mobilisation without addressing adequately the problem of corruption. Will it prove to be successful?

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[B][U][SIZE="4"][COLOR="darkred"]Well below average[/COLOR][/SIZE][/U][/B][/CENTER]

A UN report has projected that Pakistan’s economic growth will fall to 3.8 per cent during the calendar year 2009 due to political uncertainties, poor law and order conditions and persisting energy shortages. The UN growth projection for Pakistan, as it appears in the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2009 report, remains well below the average growth forecast of 6.4 per cent for the South Asian region — down from last year’s robust average of seven per cent in spite of a slowdown in many regional economies. But even the measly increase in Pakistan’s domestic gross product over the next 12 months looks enviable in view of the contraction in the domestic and global demand in spite of a substantial reduction in international commodity prices over the past few months.

Global demand is suffering because of the widespread and massive financial crisis followed by economic recession in the rich countries that bought the bulk of the world’s exports. The economy in Pakistan, on the other hand, is being allowed to ‘cool down’ deliberately by raising the cost of bank credit to fight runaway inflation — a consequence of the loose monetary policy pursued by the previous government to push consumption-led growth, as well as the rise in the global food and energy prices over the last couple of years.While it is necessary to slow down domestic demand to maintain price stability and ease pressures on the country’s foreign-currency reserves and its currency, it is equally important to protect existing jobs and create new ones to prevent further increase in poverty and head off mass social unrest. But that requires the Pakistan economy to grow at a sustainable rate of at least eight per cent a year, something that appears near impossible over the next several years given the difficult economic conditions as well as infrastructure constraints, including energy and water shortages affecting industrial and farm productivity. If we don’t invest in power generation, water storages, soil fertility, rail and road communications and so on now, tomorrow’s generations will suffer for years to come — in much the same way as we are suffering as a result of the lack of adequate investment in infrastructure in the 1990s and early 2000s. The government’s economic managers perhaps don’t realise the importance and urgency of investing in the development of infrastructure. Otherwise they might have cut the government’s current expenditure, already up by above eight per cent, to bridge the fiscal deficit rather than axing development spending by a hefty 65 per cent at the cost of the people and their economy.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Where quacks flourish[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U][/B][/CENTER]

EFFECTUAL governance is essential to providing an adequate healthcare system in any country — management is key. It is the responsibility of the Pakistani government to scale up the quantity and quality of its health services for the population. However, it is distressful to note that cases of negligence abound. One such case that was brought to attention recently pertained to a female health worker who posed as a gynaecologist. Her handling of an emergency caesarean section case resulted in the death of a patient in 2006. The health worker has been convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison. This raises questions about the abundance of unqualified doctors in Pakistan which exacerbates the problem of an already abysmal state of affairs in the health sector. It would be impossible to isolate factors such as lower fees, lack of knowledge and easier access for the poor from the answer to why the business of quacks is flourishing.

Training constitutes a significant factor in what kind of doctors the country will produce. The Pakistan Medical and Dental Council has a vital role to play in this. Its goal is to lay down the minimum standards for the basic qualifications and post-graduation for doctors. The Council also lays down the necessary qualifications and experience for the appointment of the various categories of teachers in the medical/dental colleges in Pakistan. The question that must be addressed is why so many quacks are able to operate all over the country especially in areas where there is widespread poverty and illiteracy. This calls for a crackdown on such ‘medical practitioners’. The government needs to have a monitoring mechanism. It should act as a watchdog and set up regulatory bodies in every district to ensure that the population has access to qualified doctors and medical personnel. Along with monetary issues, a lack of awareness is a major cause why people are compelled to visit unqualified doctors. The onus is on the government to have health workers spread awareness and to establish proper health facilities in all rural and urban areas at subsidised rates. The health ministry should make it a top priority to save the lives of many who are vulnerable and unaware.

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]OTHER VOICES - North American Press[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

But who will drive them?

The New York Times[/B][/CENTER]

THE cornucopia of hybrid and electric vehicles showcased at the North American International Auto Show this week suggests that the nation’s automakers — domestic and transplanted — have finally acknowledged the need to deliver the fuel-efficient cars and trucks for a future of expensive gas and increasing environmental pressures.

But a big obstacle remains to the greening of American drivers: the price tag. With gas prices likely to remain low as consumers grapple with recession, drivers are going to need extra motivation to swap their gas gluttons for the novel, environmentally friendly cars and trucks.

If the incoming Obama administration is serious about its commitment to boost the fuel efficiency of the American fleet, it must put in place a mix of policies, beyond tightening fuel-economy standards for carmakers, to steer drivers to the new cars.

The price of Ford’s new hybrid Fusion sedan, estimated to travel a whopping 41 miles per gallon in the city, is expected to start at more than $27,000. The Volt, General Motors’s high-profile plug-in car, could cost as much as $40,000. There are cheaper paths to environmental virtue: the Toyota Prius starts at only $22,000. And Honda’s Insight hybrid — to go on sale later this year — is expected to cost less.

Still, with gas below $2 a gallon and recession-ravaged consumers hanging tight to their wallets, even the cheaper hybrids have to compete with cars that run on boring old internal combustion engines. The Prius was the flavour of the month when gas prices soared to $4. But in December, Prius sales plummeted 45 per cent compared with the same month a year earlier — more than the 36 per cent drop in all car sales.

Do the math. At $1.66 a gallon, the average gas price assumed in the government’s 2009 energy guide, a hybrid Toyota Camry would only save the average driver about $250 a year in gas, compared with the regular Camry. But the hybrid costs $7,000 more.

A hefty gas tax would, of course, produce a strong incentive for drivers to switch to more fuel-efficient cars. But confronting a staggering economy, the Obama administration would be right to look for other options in the immediate future. The modest tax rebates offered to jump-start sales of hybrids and plug-ins starting in 2005 already have been phased out for the more popular models made by Honda and Toyota — and are slated to disappear entirely at the end of next year.

These rebates could be extended and increased. Ideally, they would be available to buyers of any car that achieved big improvements in energy efficiency, not just hi-tech vehicles. Another, more aggressive option floated last year by Alan Blinder, an economist at Princeton, would be for the government to buy up the most polluting and gas-hogging clunkers from American drivers and scrap them. That is an idea that has been tested in several states.

These ideas would fit neatly into an economic stimulus strategy, the Obama administration’s effort to save Detroit’s carmakers and its stated environmental objectives. Just hoping that American drivers will buy the fuel-efficient cars that the government wants Detroit to make is likely to achieve little. — (Jan 17)

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]The South Asian stand[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Rakesh Mani[/B][/CENTER]

WE are now gripped by a solemn fear that the terrorist atrocity on India’s financial capital can trigger new furies across the arc of the subcontinent.

If the terrorists wanted a mobilisation of troops to the India-Pakistan border and a diversion from the pressure applied on them in Pakistan’s northwest areas, they will soon have their way if the region allows itself to be taken over by nationalist fervour.

Across the world, Indians are outraged by what they see as Pakistan’s alleged complicity. But it might well be that the terrorists, though Pakistanis, were not state-sponsored. It is a difficult fact for many Indians to accept, but the Pakistani state seems to have largely exited this ‘business’.

The fact that India held peaceful elections in Jammu & Kashmir with massive voter turnout points to this. The electoral success would not have been possible if Islamabad had sent in extremists and militants, as New Delhi believes it is wont to do.

Yes, Mumbai’s terrorists may not be state-sponsored agents but, as with other terrorists, they are indeed society-sponsored. For various reasons, Pakistan has become the global epicentre of Islamic terrorism — a problem that has serious security implications for not just India, but for Pakistan itself.

Still, we cannot afford war. It will be political and financial suicide.

Politically, launching targeted strikes against the militants’ facilities will give rise to increased public support for Pakistan’s fiery mullahs and pose a dangerous threat to the country’s stability. Economically, the prohibitive price of battle will hit hard at India’s booming economy and Pakistan’s crumbling one.

Escalating tensions need to be defused swiftly. Now more than ever, we need real statesmen to step up to the plate and act with maturity, restraint and vision. We need a realisation that India and Pakistan are in this together, one cannot succeed while the other falters. Along with a shared history and culture, we now have a shared enemy.

The only real beneficiaries of this are the right-wing religious parties. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accuses the ruling Congress party of being soft on terror. “Fight Terror. Vote BJP,” they say. Can we feign shock if an embittered India votes to sacrifice its pluralism for the sake of its security in the coming elections?

And who benefits the most from Hindu nationalists sweeping to power in India but the Islamists in Pakistan? It gives them justification as the defenders of faith. The two complete each other’s constituencies, they thrive on each other. But if we can knock them out on one side of the Wagah border, we can take the ground out from beneath their feet on the other.

But here it is the failure of Pakistan’s intellectual and social elites. Sipping cocktails comfortably in New York and London, they bemoan the government and old mindsets. But in Karachi, they won’t ever set a bold example. Back home, it’s easier to follow the rigidly conservative social diktats. Social freedoms are better exercised abroad.

They’re educated and modernised, but won’t speak out against anti-Indian rants and hard-line religious doctrine. So from the pluralist, tolerant Islam that was once the case, the country is now held captive to a puritanical version of the faith that is constantly policed by those who believe themselves to be rightly guided. Growing up with this rigid doctrine, young, ordinary Pakistanis are readily subordinating the love of the state to religiously inspired visions.

A crisis is the perfect opportunity for solutions; even radical solutions. So we cannot let this crisis go to waste. It must be used to curb a dangerous national obsession with faith, and to arrange an economic marriage in South Asia. Ultimately, this economic marriage is what will bring long-term peace and prosperity in the region. Businesses must open up across the border. When times are less tense, permits must flow for industries and investments. The impacts on the economy and on the people’s psyches will be huge.

Soon, South Asia’s businessmen will become the region’s most ardent diplomats. They will exert every pressure on their governments to avoid conflict, because conflict will hurt their commercial interests. Perhaps in the long term, the region will become one economic bloc, and share a common market and currency, along with a common culture. Divisions can break down in the face of economic cooperation.

The world has woken up to India’s economic potential. India is being courted as never before. Why should Pakistan, whose people have so much in common with Indians, not do the same? Getting riled up by old prejudices arrests us — Pakistan can only gain from an economic marriage of convenience with India. For Pakistan’s sake, and the world’s, let’s hope that wedding bells are round the corner.

[B]The writer is a New York-based writer.[/B]

[email]rakesh.mani@gmail.com[/email]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]Israel’s war refuseniks[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Chris McGreal[/B][/CENTER]

THE Israeli military has told the press there is so much support for the assault on Gaza that more soldiers have turned up to fight than have been called up for what the local media is characterising as a “righteous war”. But the fact remains that an increasing number of Israeli men of fighting age, almost all of whom are military reservists, are refusing to serve the occupation.

One resisters’ organisation, Courage to Refuse, published a newspaper advert condemning the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians and calling on soldiers to refuse to fight in Gaza. “The brutal, unprecedented violence in Gaza is shocking. The false hope that this kind of violence will bring security to Israelis is all the more dangerous. We cannot stand aside while hundreds of civilians are being butchered by the IDF [Israel Defence Force],” it said.

But it is not clear how many have refused to go to Gaza, because the army is sending people home, quietly. So far, only one reservist has been jailed for refusing to fight. No’em Levna, a first lieutenant in the Israeli army, was sent to a military prison for 14 days. “Killing innocent civilians cannot be justified,” he said. “Nothing justifies this kind of killing. It is Israeli arrogance based on logic. It’s saying, ‘if we hit more, everything will be okay’. But the hatred and anger we are planting in Gaza will rebound on us.”

Ben Mocha, who refused to go to Gaza, is hardly a pacifist or anti-Israeli. He grew up in a Jewish orthodox family, attended a religious school, and served full-time in one of Israel’s elite combat parachute units.

He says he joined the Israeli army believing he would be fighting “terror organisations”. He found himself suppressing Palestinian aspirations for freedom and putting down protests of Palestinian farmers “against the incontinent theft of their lands”. He also saw abuses, such as Israeli troops sending Palestinian women and children into houses to ensure they were not booby-trapped, and using civilians as human shields.

“I am not a pacifist. I recognise the necessity of Israel to have a strong defensive army but I’m no longer going to play a part in 40 years of occupation. I told the army I will report for training so that I can always be ready to defend Israel, but attacking Gaza and perpetuating occupation is not defending Israel.”

That is not a popular view in a country where worship of the military begins in school and many political leaders are former generals. But the war is likely to strengthen the resisters once Israelis can reflect on the scale of the killing.

In 2003, the army sent Yoni Ben Artzi to prison for 18 months for declaring himself a conscientious objector. Ben Artzi, the nephew of Binyamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister expected to return to power in the next general election, was called before a “conscience committee”, made up just of military officers. It said he was not a pacifist — on the remarkable grounds that his persistent resistance to the army was evidence of the qualities of a soldier.

He spent longer in jail than any other refusenik, but recently the military has preferred to pretend simply that dissenters don’t exist — as hundreds of soldiers and reservists signed petitions refusing to enforce the occupation.

The government was particularly embarrassed when 27 pilots said they would no longer carry out killings of Palestinian leaders in Gaza, and when a group of elite commandos refused to serve in the occupied territories.

Still that remains a minority view. “Some of my comrades from the army don’t like what I’m thinking. Some said they don’t agree but they support my right to say it. But now, with the war, they say I’m giving my unit a bad reputation,” said Ben Mocha.

He is disturbed that most of the Israeli public and much of the media is blind to the fact that hundreds of Palestinians have been cut to pieces by Israeli fire power. “In the long run, it’s not a war of defence. We are creating a thousand suicide bombers for the future from the brothers of the dead, the sons of the dead ... in the long term, we are creating more terror.”

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]

Princess Royal Tuesday, January 27, 2009 04:26 PM

[RIGHT][B]Tuesday
Muharram 29, 1430
January 27, 2009 [/B][/RIGHT]

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkRed"][SIZE="4"]No easy solution[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

THE news from Swat and Muridke is the latest evidence that militancy and terrorism are a hydra that defies an easy solution. Begin with Swat. Both the armed forces and the militants are changing tactics as fighting escalates. At the moment, the militants are in the ascendant and pressing ahead with the enforcement of their version of the Sharia. The Tehrik-i-Taliban have now demanded that some 50 prominent local political figures appear before a ‘court’ to answer what will presumably be ‘charges’ of ‘opposing’ Islam, i.e. the Swati Taliban. The charade is of course little more than a thinly veiled death threat. Given the disastrous security situation in the area, the Pakistan Army claims it has developed a “new strategy” to fight the militants which involves beefing up the troops in Swat and going after militants hiding among the locals and using them as human shields. Meanwhile, in Muridke the Punjab government has taken over the Jamaatud Dawa’s headquarters and appointed an administrator to oversee the welfare operations run by the group, including schools and hospitals.

Muridke, with its pro-poor face, and Swat, with its uninhibited, brutal militants, represent the two ends of the militancy spectrum in Pakistan. The tactics for uprooting the Jamaatud Dawa/Lashkar-i-Taiba in Punjab and the TTP in Swat must therefore necessarily be different. However, there are at least two commonalities between the two very different battles.

First, no military or law enforcement action will be successful without full political support. In Swat, the TTP has successfully cowed the politicians and across the political divide there are voices questioning whether the state should use force to reassert its writ. While there can be no purely military solution to militancy, the politicians must not be bullied into appeasement. Today the TTP has a hit list of prominent Swatis; what’s to stop them from issuing another list of politicians from Peshawar or the NWFP or even Islamabad? In fact, appeasing the TTP in Swat today virtually guarantees the militants will spread their tentacles further afield in Pakistan. The same goes for the Jamaatud Dawa. If the provincial and federal governments do not work together to ensure the group is shut down for good, in all likelihood it will re-emerge later in a new form, and perhaps with an even more virulent ideology. Second, a winning counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism strategy has to focus on the welfare of local populations. The Jamaatud Dawa’s welfare network must be absorbed by the state and its beneficiaries continue to get the services. Similarly, in Swat the terrorised locals must be looked after and shielded from attack. Militancy will only be defeated when the population sees the state as a protector and ally, and not as part of the problem.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]As the economy worsens[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

FOR the first time since 1991, Britain is “officially” in recession. It joins other major European economies on this side of the Atlantic and the United States on the other, as well as Asian economic giants like China and Japan. Everybody, save Prime Minister Gordon Brown, saw it coming. As a modern economy integrated so deeply with the global economy, Britain could not remain insulated from whatever was going on just across its borders. Even the most protected countries have started feeling the pressure. The country’s gross domestic product contracted by 1.5 per cent in the final quarter of 2008 to December, the biggest fall in GDP since 1980, compared with the previous three-month period when it contracted by 0.6 per cent. The slowdown has forced Mr Brown to plead for “renewed international help”. The opposition Conservative Party feels the nation is “running the risk” of being forced to go to the International Monetary Fund to prop up the economy, a comment the ruling Labour rejects as “‘irresponsible”.

While Mr Brown might be using “every weapon at our disposal” to fight the economic crisis, the global economic meltdown triggered by financial crisis in the United States is not going to go away before putting hundreds of thousands of people out of job worldwide and thousands of companies out of business. The repercussions of the global crisis for Pakistan could be far more serious than anticipated by our finance managers, who had until recently been insisting that we remain unexposed to the impact of this recession.

As much as our economy depends on foreign inflows in the form of investment and assistance, remittances and exports revenues to support our balance-of-payments account, the situation in Pakistan is likely to worsen — sooner than later. Foreign capital inflows have almost dried up in spite of the IMF’s approval of our macroeconomic policies, exports are sluggish and factories closing down, people are losing jobs, and workers from the Middle East and elsewhere are returning home causing fears of substantial reduction in remittances in the next six months. The recession in Britain, which is home to around 800,000 Pakistanis, can exacerbate our deteriorating economic conditions. But some expect the recessionary pressures in Britain to also force the richer Pakistani expatriates living there to invest in Pakistan’s economy. It is a reflection of our times that we are reduced to searching for such silver linings in the dark clouds.

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[B][CENTER][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]BBC and Gaza appeal[/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/B][/CENTER]

THE BBC argues that it cannot compromise on its commitment to impartiality. Its director general has voiced the concern that the corporation cannot be seen “as taking a political stance on an ongoing story”. But this is precisely what the BBC has done, unwittingly or otherwise, with its refusal to air an emergency appeal to raise funds for the war-ravaged residents of the Gaza Strip. Compassion in the face of acute distress is grounded not in political considerations but the morality of what it is to be human. The logic behind the ill-advised move — described variously as “weak-minded”, “feeble” or “untenable” — has rightly been slated in the British media and roundly criticised by members of the UK government. The Independent went so far as to accuse the BBC of spinelessness, of moral cowardice perhaps, implying that the broadcaster’s actions were rooted not so much in journalistic ethics but a fear of offending the Israeli government.

The BBC’s argument that it is unsure whether the funds raised will reach civilians has also been dismissed with contempt for the most part. The Disasters Emergency Committee, which issued the appeal, is an umbrella group of 13 reputable charitable organisations with proven track records of delivering aid to those who need it most sorely. As for the BBC’s claim that the corporation had previously refused to air aid appeals for Lebanon and Afghanistan, The Independent pointed out the DEC was not involved in those campaigns. The paper adds: “the fact that a committee of 13 aid agencies is able to agree [on] an appeal ought to be testimony to the degree of consensus that the humanitarian crisis is above politics.”

It remains to be seen if the BBC will change its stance. But distasteful as it is, the decision not to air the appeal might have generated more publicity — and much-needed funds for Gaza — than what might have been possible had the BBC done the right thing at the outset. The corporation’s deeply flawed reasoning has unleashed a storm of protest which will, hopefully, translate into increased contributions to a cause that is more than just.

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

Kawish

War of words[/B][/CENTER]

THERE are hopes that a war of words between the PPP and PML-N which has been going on for the past few months will come to an end following a meeting between Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and President Asif Ali Zardari. Though the meeting is reported to have failed to yield a positive result, progress has been reported. At this … meeting at President House, both the leading political parties which have been issuing fiery statements on … the implementation of the Charter of Democracy and the Murree Declaration … agreed to continue the political dialogue. War does not start with arms but with words. …Therefore, politicians who know the art of using words properly emerge victorious…. It is unfortunate that in our country there has been much … misuse of words…. After the installation of the present democratic government, a confrontation between the two major parties led to a new polarisation.

In this war of words, first the lower cadre and later the top leadership was involved and the situation became tense and serious. It is important that both parties check their rank and file where some unwise elements are engaged to heat up the atmosphere and push it to a point of no-return.

History is witness to this. …Before time runs out … they should be united and stand up against the undemocratic forces so that these may not harm … democracy. Both parties, in the race to gain political mileage, forgot that democracy is more important than any other issue. After … years of dictatorship when an elected government has the opportunity, why have they pushed the situation towards confrontation, proving the allegation of non-political forces that politicians are ineligible to run the affairs of the country?

The PPP and PML-N have agreed not to issue controversial statements. This should also be implemented. Whoever violates this … would be counted on the side of anti-democratic forces. In fact, this ‘ceasefire’ between the two sides is a big achievement because it will open many avenues for reconciliation.

The PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif was on record that he would not be party to efforts to destabilise the PPP government. Likewise President Asif Ali Zardari had reiterated [his willingness] to cooperate for the stability of the PML-N government in Punjab. Practically speaking, they failed to act on their words.

Now these leaders along with their political ‘army’ should go back to the position where they were before the beginning of the confrontation. This is in the best interest of democracy. — (Jan 25)

[B]Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi.[/B]

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[B][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"][U]The threat to ME peace[/U][/SIZE][/COLOR]

By Mustafa Malik[/B][/CENTER]

THE Obama administration should build on the Israeli and Hamas ceasefires to promote a durable truce between them but realise that Hamas’s survival in the Gaza war has unravelled the basis of the current peace process.

Of the nearly 1,200 Palestinians killed in the war, only about 300 were Hamas fighters. And despite the havoc the Israelis wreaked on Gaza’s infrastructure and economy, they have failed to achieve their main goals: to “topple Hamas” and stop its missiles. Meanwhile, Arab states invited Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal to a summit in Qatar to discuss the Israeli invasion. Responding to Meshaal’s call for a boycott of Israel, Qatar and Mauritania have suspended trade relations with the Jewish state.

The Israeli invasion has sidelined Fatah, the secular Palestinian organisation that the Islamist Hamas has expelled from Gaza and now rules the West Bank. “This is the first time in its history that [Fatah] is neither leading nor participating in the conflict against Israel,” Qadourah Fares, a former member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told England’s Guardian newspaper.

“The Palestinian people are fighting the occupation, while Fatah is playing the role of the spectator.” Given the growing Palestinian antipathy for Fatah, it may well be that Hamas will replace it as the vanguard of the Palestinian independence movement.Hamas wouldn’t settle for a disarmed Palestine within its pre-1967 borders or renounce the Palestinian refugees’ demand for their return to Israel from where they were driven out in 1948, as Fatah would. Someday somebody will have to work out a peace model that would enable the Palestinians and Jews to share the holy land as they had for centuries before the establishment of the ethnically cleansed Israel. One doesn’t know when and at what cost in terms of the blood spilled.

As an Islamist movement, Hamas is also part of the regional struggle against foreign domination. The Gaza war has bolstered that struggle, which was galvanised by the Afghan-Soviet war of the 1980s. The Soviets’ defeat at the hands of Afghan Mujahideen was “a Eureka moment” for the Islamists, Khurshid Ahmed, a Pakistani Islamic intellectual and politician, told me in Islamabad in October 1989. If Muslim militants could roll back the world’s largest conventional military power, he said, they could one day end the American-Israeli hegemony in West Asia. During research trips in 1991, 1995 and 2007 some of my Islamist interviewees in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates echoed his assessment.

The Arab and Muslim quest for a strategy to challenge Israeli and American domination of the Middle East began right after the Six-Day War of 1967. Israel had defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. That drove home to Arabs and Muslims that their postcolonial states could not free Palestine from Israeli occupation or throw off American tutelage over other Muslim societies. A clue to effective “anti-hegemonic” struggle was revealed by the 1983 suicide attack on US military barracks in Lebanon. A single blast by an Islamist militant, which killed 241 American troops, forced the Reagan administration to call off its military intervention in that country.

A string of subsequent Muslim guerrilla successes seemed to confirm the belief that Islamist militants could overcome non-Muslim domination. Among those successes: the expulsion of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon by Hezbollah in 2000, abandonment of US bases in Saudi Arabia in the wake of 9/11, Israel’s retreat from Gaza under Hamas fire in 2005 and Israel’s failure to defeat Hezbollah in the Second Lebanon War of 2006.

People don’t have organic ties to artificially created postcolonial states, which make up most of the Middle East. They have a deeper sense of belonging to their religious and ethnic communities and the urge to fight and die defending them. The Iraqi state’s army of 400,000 crumbled within days of the 2003 US invasion, but Shia and Sunni Islamic guerrillas have forced the world’s only superpower to plan for a retreat from Iraq.

Lebanon has a 61,000-strong army, 60 per cent of it Shia. And the Lebanese state lost all its many military encounters with Israel and no longer has the will to engage the Jewish state militarily. Yet, as mentioned, a couple of thousands of Shia Islamic militants under the Hezbollah banner rolled back the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon and faced down the invading Israeli force in the Second Lebanon War.

The Palestinians’ is the mother of all Muslim anti-hegemonic movements. The passing of the leadership of that struggle to the Islamist Hamas will not only change the goals of the Palestinian struggle but also reinforce Islamist domination of the Muslim anti-hegemonic movements elsewhere.

Successful anti-hegemonic movements have often been propelled by religious upsurge. The American Revolution was spurred by the First Great Awakening (1730-1770). In my native Indian subcontinent, the epic struggle for independent from British colonial rule followed the Khilafat-Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-1924), fuelled by Islamic and Hindu religious fervour. I suspect that US-Israeli hegemony in the Middle East will eventually be eroded by Islamist movements. Among them Hamas which has been chastened by the Gaza war.

[B]The writer is a Washington-based columnist.[/B]

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[B][U][COLOR="darkred"][SIZE="4"]New way of protest[/SIZE][/COLOR][/U]

By Jason Burke[/B][/CENTER]

IN one week’s time, in a supermarket somewhere in or around Paris, a couple of dozen young French activists are going to choose an aisle, unfold tables, put on some music and, taking what they want from the shelves, start a little picnic.

The group “L’Appel et la Pioche” (The call and the pick axe) will have struck again — fruit and veg, dairy or the fish counter will have been transformed into a flash protest against global capitalism, rampant consumerism, bank bail-outs, poor housing, expensive food, profit margins and pretty much everything else that is wrong in the world.

The “supermarket picnic” will go on for as long as it can — before the security guards throw the activists out or the police arrive. Shoppers will be invited to join in, either bringing what they want from the shelves or just taking something lifted lightly from among the crisps, sweets or quality fruit already on the tables.

“L’Appel et la Pioche” have struck four times so far and have no intention of stopping what they claim is a highly effective new way of protesting. “Everyone is bored with demonstrations. And handing out tracts at 6am at a market is neither effective nor fun,” said Leila Chaibi, 26, the leader of the group.

Linked to a new left-wing political party committed to a renewal of politics and activism, Chaibi’s group represents more than just a radical fringe and has been gaining nationwide attention.

A veteran of fights to get pay and better conditions for young people doing work experience, Chaibi claims to represent millions of young Frenchmen and women who feel betrayed by the system.

“We played the game and worked hard and got a good education because we were told we would get a flat and a job at the end of it. But it wasn’t true,” said Victor, 34, another member of the group. “We have huge difficulty getting a proper job and a decent apartment.”

Chaibi, who works on short-term contracts in public relations and is currently looking for work, told the Observer that the group’s aspirations were limited. “I am not asking for thousands and thousands of euros a month as a salary or a vast five-room apartment. Just something decent.”

In recent years, the problems of France’s “Generation Y” or “babylosers” have made headlines. As with many other European societies, after decades of growth, this is the first set of young people for centuries who are likely to have standards of living lower than their parents.

According to recent research, in 1973, only six per cent of recent university leavers were unemployed, currently the rate is 25-30 per cent; salaries have stagnated for 20 years while property prices have doubled or trebled; in 1970, salaries for 50-year-olds were only 15 per cent higher than those for workers aged 30, the gap now is 40 per cent. The young are also likely to be hard hit by the economic crisis.

New ways of working mean new ways of demonstrating, too. So far reactions have been good, the group claims. In one supermarket in a suburb of Paris, the activists say they got a spontaneous round of applause from the checkout workers. Elsewhere, security guards have been “friendly”. Everywhere in France, the problem of a weakening “pouvoir d’achat” — the buying power of static wages — is a cause for resentment.

With the French Socialist party in disarray, alternative forms of political protest on the left, particularly a breakaway communist faction led by charismatic postman Olivier Besancenot, have made inroads.

[B]— The Guardian, London[/B]


05:47 AM (GMT +5)

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