Friday, March 26, 2010

Nawaz Sharif betrays democracy

Daily Times
ISLAMABAD: A day before the proposed 18th Amendment package was all set to be tabled before the parliament for approval, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) took a U-turn that created a virtual deadlock in the country’s politics.

Knowing that the Parliamentary Reforms Committee has included its proposals regarding the appointment of judges and admitting that renaming of the NWFP was not a major issue, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif backtracked at the 11th hour in his press conference on Thursday, demanding that a “consensus” be made before presenting the package in parliament.

When some key members of his own party went on record in admitting that everything was settled and there was no hurdle in placing the package for approval, the sudden change in the stance of the PML-N created confusion in the political circles.

Some observers believe that this turn was at the behest of some quarters and the PML-N chief adhered to “some phone calls” he received just before his press conference.

Inside circles within the PML-N confided to Daily Times that this sudden move took many within the party by surprise since all issues apart from the renaming of the NWFP had been settled by the committee amicably.

Postponed: Minutes after Nawaz’s press conference, representatives of the government announced the postponement of the proposed joint session of parliament where President Asif Ali Zardari was supposed to deliver his 3rd address on the start of the new parliamentary year.

In his press conference, Nawaz denied that any agreement had been reached on the issue of the judges in the committee, and said his party had reservations over the proposed package.

Judges’ appointment: He said the issue of the judges’ appointment and the renaming of the NWFP had not yet been settled with the government, adding that judges should not be appointed on the basis of favouritism but through a transparent mechanism which ensures protection of the judiciary, and input from the government, the opposition and parliament.

A consultative meeting of the PML-N, chaired by Nawaz, was held at the Punjab House to discuss the proposed 18th Amendment bill and the issue of renaming of the NWFP before the press conference.

The PML-N chief demanded the government come up with complete consensus before tabling the amendment package in parliament.

He was of the view that President Zardari should address the joint session of parliament after a complete consensus on amendment package is developed and the differences are removed.

When asked whether his press conference was meant to create hurdles in the scheduled presidential address, Nawaz said his party wanted the president to fulfil his constitutional obligation, but only after getting a complete consensus on the 18th Amendment package

NWFP schools’ closure

The shortage of teachers has forced the closure of 367 government-run primary schools for girls and boys across the NWFP, more than 30 of them in Peshawar alone. As a result, over 36,700 students are now out of school, most of them in remote areas where there is no option of taking admission in another school.

The problem lies not in the shortage of teachers per se, but in the fact that the teachers in most of the now-closed schools, which were located in far-flung areas, managed to obtain transfers to other schools of their choice — mainly located in urban areas. The director of the Education Reforms Unit told this newspaper that security concerns and transport problems discourage teachers from working in remote areas. Furthermore, teachers in urban areas receive more attractive allowances.

This is an unacceptable state of affairs. The number of educational institutions, primary schools in particular, in the NWFP has always been far from adequate. The situation plummeted in recent years when the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and other militant outfits put schools, particularly those for girls, in their crosshairs. With this threat having been reduced to some extent, it is now essential that schools stay open and, indeed, try to increase the numbers of admissions.
That people want their children to have access to education is evident from the fact that the schools now closed remained functional for many years after their establishment, and were staffed by teachers appointed by the Elementary and Secondary Education department — teachers who have now abandoned their positions and left thousands of students in the lurch. The matter merits urgent attention by the authorities: education is not just a constitutional right but also plays a critical role in lifting people out of poverty and darkness. Proper education is also crucial to ensuring that anarchic elements never, in future, find the province conducive to their activities.

Blast on Bara Road in Peshawar kills four

PESHAWAR: Four people were killed and 25 injured when a powerful bomb exploded near the Bara Qadeem checkpost close to a market on the Bara Road on Thursday. Eight of the injured were children playing near the site of the blast.
Peshawar Cantonment Circle SP Tauseef Haider told this correspondent that the explosion took place just after an FC convoy had passed through the area.
Local people said it was a suicide attack. One of them named Rehman told reporters he had seen three people coming from the Bara side of the Khyber Agency. Two of them returned and the third was near the market when the blast took place.
But a bomb disposal official said the blast was caused by a time-bomb which appeared to have been placed on a table near a music centre in the market.

Karzai brother a concern in Kandahar campaign

WASHINGTON- Pentagon war planners see the controversial leadership role of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's half-brother in Kandahar as a challenge to their campaign to win over the city, officials said on Friday.
Ahmad Wali Karzai, the head of Kandahar's provincial council and one of the most powerful men in the south, has long been under scrutiny because of reports linking him to Afghanistan's entrenched heroin and opium trade and the CIA. He denies the charges and the U.S. spy agency would neither confirm nor deny any ties.
At a congressional hearing in December, Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the United States had problems with the president's half-brother but his dominant presence has taken on added importance for Washington now that efforts to win "hearts and minds" in Kandahar are beginning.
The campaign to gradually retake full control of Afghanistan's second-largest city will test U.S. President Barack Obama's strategy for reversing Taliban momentum after more than eight years of war."He's a challenge they're trying to work through over there," a senior U.S. military official said of the role played by Ahmad Wali Karzai.Another U.S. defence official said the United States has been pressing Karzai to limit his half-brother's role in Kandahar, asserting that the controversy further undercut efforts to establish his government's credibility in the city, known as the birthplace of the Taliban."Karzai's protecting him," the defence official said of the president's half-brother. "It has been a giant thorn in our side and terrible for the credibility of the government."


President Karzai has long been dogged by accusations that members of his family are involved in drugs, undermining Western support, but he says he has seen no evidence of wrongdoing by his brother.General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said earlier this week that he envisions a gradual campaign in Kandahar aimed at delivering security and governance, as opposed to one big military assault.McChrystal has not given a timeline for the operation but told reporters last week in Kabul that troops would be at full force for Kandahar operations by the early summer.
The senior U.S. military official said preliminary talks with tribal leaders from Kandahar have begun, laying the groundwork for a larger number of troops later.
"You've got to work the population hard," the official said, referring to McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy, which puts an emphasis on securing population centers over killing Taliban fighters.The official said each phase of the campaign would take a "considerable amount of time."
U.S. military and civilian leaders have stepped up pressure on Karzai in recent weeks to do more to combat corruption, suggesting Washington is increasingly concerned that Kabul's inaction undercut the campaign against the Taliban."There have been some actions taken to remove corrupt individuals and there's no question that there need to be more," U.S. General David Petraeus, whose Central Command oversees wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, told a Senate hearing this week without identifying anyone by name.Kandahar served as the spiritual seat of power for reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar before the militants were ousted from Afghanistan by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001.Militants have since made substantial gains in the area.