Friday, November 19, 2010

US tanks head for Afghanistan

The US is sending battle tanks to Afghanistan for the first time in the nine-year war against the Taliban, the Washington Post reported today.

Citing unnamed officers and defence officials, the paper said General David Petraeus, the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, approved the move last month.

"The deployment of a company of M1 Abrams tanks, which will be fielded by the marines in the country's south-west, will allow ground forces to target insurgents from a greater distance – and with more of a lethal punch – than is possible from any other US military vehicle," the Post said.

The initial deployment called for 16 tanks to be used in parts of Helmand province, where marines and Taliban guerrillas were fighting, the paper said.

The 68-tonne tanks are propelled by a jet engine and equipped with a 120mm main gun that can destroy a house more than a mile away.

US forces are engaged in an intense campaign around Kandahar in the south, the Taliban heartland. US and Nato aircraft have dropped more bombs and fired more missiles in October (1,000 in total) than in any single month since 2001. In the districts around Kandahar, soldiers from the army's 101st airborne division have destroyed dozens of homes that were thought to be booby-trapped, and they increased the use of high-explosive line charges – a weapon used only sparingly in the past – to blast through minefields.

A US officer familiar with the decision said the tanks would be used initially in parts of northern Helmand province, where the marines have been engaged in intense fighting against Taliban fighters typically armed with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs.

The initial deployment calls for about 16 tanks, but the overall number and area of operations could expand depending on needs, an officer told the Post. "The tanks bring awe, shock and firepower," the officer said. "It's pretty significant

Obama arrives in Portugal to meet with NATO allies

After the Asia trip, the president aims to show Europeans that their concerns are also a top priority. The focus for the weekend: the Afghan war.

President Obama arrived here this morning for two days of meetings with NATO allies as they craft a new plan for the war in Afghanistan and seek a new mission statement that will keep them relevant in the 21st century.

After a lengthy trip to expand American trade opportunities in Asia last week, Obama turned around immediately for a trip to reassure friends in Europe that their shared security and economic concerns are also a top priority. The focus for the weekend is forming the NATO plan to begin turning security responsibility for Afghanistan over to local forces this year, a long-term process that Obama now acknowledges will probably last into 2014.

At the same time, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will meet with the allies to talk about cooperating on a missile defense shield for Europe. The idea was previously too distasteful for Russia to discuss in such an international forum, but warming relations between Obama and Medvedev helped to pave the way.

Power ship to supply electricity-starved Pakistan

The world's largest ship-based power plant has arrived off the Pakistani coast to try to mitigate the country's chronic electricity shortages, a company official said Friday.

The new supply still won't come close to ending electricity shortages that plague Pakistan, increasing widespread public frustration with the U.S.-allied government as it struggles to contain the Taliban insurgency.

The ship, which burns furnace oil, will generate about 230 megawatts for the national power grid, said Asad Mahmood, a spokesman for the vessel's Turkish owner Karkey Karadeniz Electrik. The owner has a five-year contract with the Pakistani national power company.

Now anchored off the southern port city Karachi, the Kaya Bey will begin feeding into the national grid within four weeks after a dedication ceremony Sunday, Mahmood said.

Still, the ship's contribution will only make a dent in the overall power crisis. Pakistan's energy demands outstrip supply by an estimated 5,000 MW, thanks to lack of investment, soaring usage and a crumbling electricity generation infrastructure that heavily relies on hydropower.

Power outages last up to 16 hours per day in some areas and damage industrial growth. The suffering is worst in summer, when the temperatures soar but power cuts mean fans and air conditioners won't work.

Saudi Arabia: Journalist Sentenced to Public Lashing

Saudi authorities should overturn a sentence of 50 lashes and two months in prison for a journalist who wrote about public anger over electricity cuts, Human Rights Watch said today.

On October 26, 2010, the General Court in Qubba in northern Saudi Arabia imposed the sentence on Fahd al-Jukhaidib, Qubba correspondent for Al-Jazira, a daily national newspaper. He was charged with "incitement to gather in front of the electricity company" for reporting that citizens had been gathering to protest. He has appealed the verdict and remains at liberty.

"King Abdullah has encouraged citizens to voice their legitimate concerns," said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. "But apparently those who do can expect a public lashing and a prison term."

Al-Jukhaidib's article describing the difficulties Qubba residents were experiencing as a result of frequent power cuts was published in Al-Jazira on September 7, 2008. The article, "Qubba Residents Gather to Demand Electricity," did not include a call for action but described the protest and the protesters' concerns:

Hundreds of citizens gathered in front of an electricity station in Qubba demanding that the company supply electricity in the town of Qubba. Repeated outages had caused damage to electrical appliances in houses and material losses for commercial business, and led to the declaration of an emergency situation for sick persons, in particular children and the elderly with asthma.

The verdict against al-Jukhaidib specifies that he is to receive 25 of the lashes in public in front of the electricity company. Al-Jukhaidib told Human Rights Watch that during his trial, 45 residents testified about the damages and losses they had incurred over the past 15 years because of the lack of a stable power supply, and about how managers of the electricity company had ignored their calls for improved service.

The Culture and Information Ministry, which is responsible for adjudicating complaints arising from publications, did not intervene because the Qubba prosecutor had classified the complaint from the electricity company against al-Jukhaidib as a "security" case of incitement. Al-Jukhaidib is principal of a local high school for boys as well as a journalist.

Al-Jukhaidib said the judge did not specify provisions of statutory law or of Islamic Sharia law prohibiting instigating or participating in public gatherings, or writing about them. Saudi Arabia does not have a penal code.

The government prohibits all public gatherings of a protest nature as a matter of policy. But there are no laws regulating this prohibition, and instigating a demonstration or writing about a public gathering are not recognizable criminal offenses. Judges have discretion in classifying any act as a crime and in setting punishments.

International law guarantees the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of expression. Saudi Arabia is one of only about 30 states worldwide that have not yet ratified the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, where those rights are codified. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also affirms these rights. In April 2009, Saudi Arabia became the first Arab country to ratify the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which in articles 24.f. and 32 guarantees the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of opinion and expression, and the right to impart news to others by any means.

In November 2007, Judge Ibrahim Husni of the Summary Court in Buraida, north of Riyadh, sentenced Professor Abdullah al-Hamid and his brother ‘Isa al-Hamid, two well-known advocates of political reform, to four months and six months in prison, respectively. The Investigation and Public Prosecution Department had charged the brothers with instigating a public demonstration. Judge Husni's verdict said the brothers should be punished because their actions could have led to acts forbidden in Islam.

"One wonders what the judge who convicted al-Jukhaidib considered the greater ignominy: a public gathering to demand electricity, or publicizing the gathering in the media," Wilcke said. "Free assembly and expression are both hallmarks of open, accountable societies, but they are in short supply in a country as repressive as Saudi Arabia."

Immigrant worker abuse in Middle East condemned by human rights group

International human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has implored Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to make more effort to protect its immigrant workers, after shocking stories emerged about the abuse of three domestic workers.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, HRW said that it had received allegations from a maid in Kuwait whose employer drove nails into her body, a maid in Saudi Arabia who had 24 nails forced into her body, and a maid in Jordan who had been both beaten and forced to swallow nails.

The watchdog said the stories implied a “broader pattern of abuse”, and that the goverments of the three countries needed to create a stronger legal framework to protect their foreign workers.

"The wanton brutality alleged in these cases is shocking, but reports of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and labour exploitation such as non-payment of wages are nothing new,'' said Nisha Varia, a senior women's rights researcher at HRW.
Many domestic workers in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait come from Asia, Africa and other countries in the Middle East in the hope of receiving higher salaries. Because employers in Middle East countries often act as workers' "sponsors" however, they exert extreme power over their staff. Employers can prevent workers changing jobs or leaving the country, and often withold salaries for years.

Several accounts of extreme abuse have made worldwide news in the past year. In August, a Sri Lankan housemaid in Saudi Arabia claimed that her employer had forced over 20 nails into her arms, legs and forehead, while an Indonesian maid has been in hospital in Saudi Arabia since November 8 after being beaten by her employer.

Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said he wants an "all-out diplomatic effort" to investigate the Indonesian maid's torture.

Ms Varia said that foreign domestic workers often found it very difficult to report abuse. "These workers are often isolated in private homes, and have problems speaking the language or understanding their legal rights. On top of this, if they do report abuse, they are likely to be treated as immigration offenders and detained or deported before the abuse is properly investigated.

"Employers or authorities also often respond to accusations by making counter-accusations, such as accusing a maid of adultery if she reports sexual abuse. The workers need to earn money, and they see making a report as too risky until they return home."

According to statistics recently published by campaign website Migrant Rights, a migrant worker commits suicide or attempts to on average every 2.5 days in Kuwait.

Several acts have been passed in recent years to try and improve immigrant workers' rights, but human rights campaigners say that the rules are difficult to enforce.

Fatima Gomar, editor of Migrant Rights, said: "In the Middle East, cases of migrant workers' abuse, even if it is severe, usually end without any charges being brought up against local employers who continue to act with impunity."

So far, Bahrain is the only country in the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) to have begun the process of abolishing the sponsorship system - though many of the changes made so far do not apply to domestic migrant workers.

Firing at Ahmedi worship place in Lahore; no casualties

Unknown assailants opened fire at an Ahmedi worship place in Lahore’s Mughalpura area, DawnNews reported.

The gunmen, however, managed to escape after security guards deputed at the worship place opened retaliatory fire.

No casualties were reported in the incident.

Police said the worship place was attacked by four to five assailants and that the firing lasted for a few minutes.

The attackers were using small weapons, police said, adding that empty bullet casings had been recovered from the site.

Ahmedis, a religious minority in Pakistan, have been targeted by militants in the past. In May 2010, at least 93 people were killed when militants attacked two Ahmedi worship places in Lahore.

Barack Obama coming to Kokomo

Indonesian maid body found in Saudi Arabia's dumptser

Indonesia demanded an investigation Friday into reports that a domestic worker was allegedly killed by her employer in Saudi Arabia and thrown into dumpster — the second case of maid abuse to emerge this week.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was speaking to reporters after a Cabinet meeting called to discuss the need to protect hundreds of thousands of migrants who flock to the Middle East in search of work.

Too many, human rights groups say, face slavery-like conditions, torture, sexual abuse and even death.

Indonesian Minister of Labor Muhaimin Iskandar said an embassy team was dispatched to the Saudi town of Abha to look into allegations the 36-year-old maid, Kikim Komalasari, had been killed by her bosses.

Her neck was slashed and she had severe cuts to the rest of her body, he said.

"It's shocking to hear this ... it's beyond inhumane," Yudhoyono said, adding, however, he was encouraged so far by the Saudi government's quick response. "I'm hopeful the perpetrators will be punished according to law."

The report came as a team of Indonesian officials headed to the Mideast to seek justice and medical help for another maid, Sumiati binti Salan Mustapa, who has been hospitalized in the Saudi city of Medina since Nov. 8.

The 23-year-old's employers allegedly burned her, broke her middle finger and cut her lips with scissors.

Earlier this week, New York-based group Human Rights Watch urged Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait to do more to protect domestic workers in their countries, saying a string of allegations point to a "broader pattern of abuse."

They were responding to reports that a Sri Lankan maid working in Jordan had been forced to swallow nails. Another maid employed in Kuwait claimed her employer drove nails into her body.

"The wanton brutality alleged in these cases is shocking," said Nisha Varia, senior women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, which called on authorities to investigate claims promptly and bring those responsible to justice.
Islamic and Muslum nations call themselves "civilized". This is how they treat all the women. They only know how to abuse a woman to the point of death. I wonder who in their right mind would even think of going to a country like this to work when you know that there is a very strong possibility of being severely abused or even killed

Peace brings little hope to Swat orphans

The Express Tribune

Around 2,000 children orphaned in Swat during the operation against the terrorists face an uncertain future as there is no one to take charge.
There is no one to help these children meet their essential needs besides saving them from unscrupulous elements of society.
Children and women are the most vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and violence.
According to a survey more than 2,000 children lost one or both of their parent in bomb blasts by the terrorists and in cross firing between the army and the extremists. A larger number of children were traumatised who witnessed the violence and fled their broken homes to save their lives from the war.
Now that peace has been restored the orphans are suffering from not only privations of being without a guardian but also psychological and social difficulties the impact of which may be acute in the short-term but will undermine long-term mental health and psychosocial well being of the affected children.

Such traumatised children are completely ignored by the government authorities though some philanthropic organisations like Khpal Kor Foundation are in the field. Khpal Kor Foundation is the only orphanage providing free lodging, boarding and education of modern standard to the orphans.

Mohammad Ali, director of the Foundation, told the Express Tribune: “During the insurgency, ratio of the orphan children multiplied and more than 2,000 children were orphaned in the war; we accommodated 50 boys which number has now increased to 200; now we don’t have enough space.”

Talking about girls, he said, “Presently, no such organisation is working for girls who are more vulnerable, to harm. We are opening an orphanage for the girls of modern standard, where they will get lodging, boarding and education free of cost. Construction work is in progress but alone we cannot construct such a huge building. Government and other organisations will have to give a helping hand,” he said.

“We tried a lot for an appointment with the Chief Minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to brief him about the current situation of orphan children, particularly about girls and also about our planning in this regard but he could not spare time yet,” he added.

UNICEF has initiated a project activity to provide psycho-social support to the traumatised children of the Khpal Kor Foundation. Imran Khan, who is the coordinator of the project, told the Express Tribune, “When we admitted these war-affected orphan children they used to scream on nights; some fainted every now and then and were very much weak in studies; so we hired psychologists who properly identified their complaints, and referred them for counselling. “We are now giving them psycho-social treatment through recreational programmes. Another aim is to adjust them in the local private schools free of cost in which we are successful to a great extent,” he said.

Naila Zeb, a psychologist working in the same project told the Express Tribune, “The war-affected children are prone to fear of things like darkness while many hesitate to move into society. They feel that any time a crisis can occur, then these children have educational problems and cannot concentrate properly; some of them have undergone behavioural changes — they get very much aggressive, especially children from age 11 to 15.”

Regarding their psychological treatment she said, “We have proper mechanism for these children as one-to-one counselling sessions or group session are conducted, group activities like drawings and story writing for the identification of problems and their solution are carried. We are also encouraging them to take part in social activities, involve them with friends, engage them in healthy activities to enhance their mood and they are also encouraged with rewards to boost their self esteem.”

According to Dr Zeb a lot of children are getting better and improving towards normalcy. “Many of them are getting normal who are now taking part in social activities and games, their grades in education have also improved, but they need long-term psycho-social support as psychological issues are not overcome in short term.”

The number of war-affected traumatised orphan children is very high in Swat valley but for them only a few non-governmental organizations are active who have less space and limited resources. Government and UN organisations need to step forward .

'Pakistan will not take dictations in war on terror'

Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Amir Haider Hoti said Pakistan will not take dictations in the war on terror.

During a visit to wounded soldiers in a Peshawar hospital, the chief minister said “No one has any right to dictate to us regarding the operation in North Waziristan, as it is an internal matter.”

He confirmed that action would be taken in all those areas where the writ of the government is challenged.

Hoti further stressed that the provincial government is taking all possible steps to safely recover the abducted vice chancellor

'Pakistan will not take dictations in war on terror'

Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Amir Haider Hoti said Pakistan will not take dictations in the war on terror.

During a visit to wounded soldiers in a Peshawar hospital, the chief minister said “No one has any right to dictate to us regarding the operation in North Waziristan, as it is an internal matter.”

He confirmed that action would be taken in all those areas where the writ of the government is challenged.

Hoti further stressed that the provincial government is taking all possible steps to safely recover the abducted vice chancellor