Sunday, January 23, 2011

Veena Malik's Jokes Geo Tv

Liberation march in Tunis wants interim PM out

Workers stormed out of the state-run shipping company the other day. For decades, they had lived quietly in relative poverty as their bosses, all members of the former ruling party, drove luxury cars and owned mansions.

Only 10 days ago, the police would have suppressed this mini-uprising and arrested them. Now, it was a new order. Pumping their fists, the workers accused the company's chairman of embezzlement and demanded his resignation.

Across this nation, Tunisians are experiencing a blossoming of freedoms after a popular uprising ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali from power on Jan. 14, ending his autocratic rule

Yemeni woman activist arrested

Yemeni police have arrested a woman activist for leading anti-government protests, setting off a second day of street demonstrations.
Police used tear gas and batons to disperse hundreds of students, activists and lawmakers who demonstrated in the capital Sanaa to demand the release of Tawakul Abdel-Salam Karman, who was arrested early Sunday.
Interior Minster Mouthar al-Masri said on state television Sunday that people have the right to express their views but demonstrations, gatherings and marches should be staged within the boundaries of the law.
Karman is a senior member of the opposition Islamic fundamentalist Islah Party.

Veena Malik credits 'liberal Pak people' for her emergence as "hero"

Veena Malik, a Pakistani actress who faced conservative censure for appearing on an Indian reality TV show, has credited the "liberal people" of her country for her emergence as a "hero" after she defended herself on a news channel.

"Credit goes to all the liberal people of Pakistan. I have been receiving messages and phone calls from the fashion industry and other people from all walks of life, telling me that I am their hero. I had to come on television and defend myself because no one else was defending me," the Express Tribune quoted Veena, as saying in an exclusive interview.

When asked about what she achieved by participating in the Indian reality show, she candidly replied: "Before I went to "Bigg Boss," people showed videos of women being publicly beaten up by men to represent the condition of women in Pakistan. I showed the world that Pakistani women are not the ones that get beaten up; I showed that a Pakistani woman wears modern clothes at home and at the same time she can cook and serve others. The culture of Pakistan is not limited to wearing shalwar kameez and this changed the negative perceptions attached to Pakistani women."

If presented with an opportunity, Veena said, she would like to change the "double standards and hypocrisy" in Pakistan.

On being asked if Pakistan had to host "Bigg Boss" and she had to handle its affairs, who she would choose as its contestants, Veena named former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, politicians Sheikh Rashid, Jamsheed Dasti, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Shiv Sena[member], actresses Meera, Aishwarya Rai, Nargis, and pop artiste Britney Spears.

Talking about her future plans, she revealed: "I have a lot of offers from India, USA, UK and Australia. I am going to focus of television mainly and would do films only if I get good offers. I am not going to do some typical 'B' or 'C 'class Bollywood films."

In her message to the people of Pakistan, Veena said: "The youth is my hope. We have to open our minds and change things around us. I am sure the youth of my country will support me wherever I go. And wherever I go, I am going to represent the entertainment industry of my country."

Pakistan, blasphemy, and a tale of two women

For all the bad news coming out of Pakistan, you can’t help but admire the courage of two very different women who did what their political leaders failed to do — stood up to the religious right after the killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer over his call for changes to the country’s blasphemy laws.

One is Sherry Rehman, a politician from the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, who first proposed amendments to the laws. The other is actress Veena Malik, who challenged the clerical establishment for criticising her for appearing on Indian reality show Big Boss. I’m slightly uncomfortable about grouping the two together — the fact that both are Pakistani women does not make them any more similar than say, for example, two Pakistani men living in Rawalpindi or London. Yet at the same time, the idea that Pakistan can produce such different and outspoken women says a lot about the diversity and energy of a country which can be too easily written off as a failing state or bastion of the Islamist religious right.

Sherry Rehman is living as a virtual prisoner in her home in Karachi after being threatened over her support for amendments to the blasphemy laws. She has refused to leave the country for her own safety, nor indeed to accept the position adopted by her party leaders — that now is not the time to amend the laws. Their argument appears to be that trying to amend the laws now would just add more fuel to the fire after religious leaders defended Taseer’s killing and organised huge protests in favour of the current legal provisions.

“There’s never a right time,” Britain’s Guardian newspaper quoted her as saying. “Blasphemy cases are continually popping up, more horror stories from the ground. How do you ignore them?”

“We know from history that appeasement doesn’t pay. It only emboldens them,” said Rehman.

For background, here is the text of the original law introduced into the Indian Penal Code by British colonial rulers in 1860:

Section 295: Injuring or defiling place of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class:

“Whoever destroys, damages, or defiles a place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”

Here is the version of one of the added clauses which have caused so much acrimony in Pakistan, as amended in 1986 by Pakistan’s then military ruler, General Zia-ul-Haq:

Section 295-C: Use of derogatory remarks, etc, in respect of the Holy Prophet (pbuh)

“Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.”

The amendment loses any acknowledgement of intent. Yet intent is not only a fundamental part of any legal system but also an essential attribute of faith. Indeed when Britain abolished its own archaic blasphemy laws in 2008, and these were replaced with laws against inciting religious and racial hatred, the idea of intent was retained.

The row which caused Taseer’s death was about amending the Pakistani penal code to reintroduce the concept of intent and end the death penalty. It was never about repealing the laws, nor about allowing people to insult Islam or the prophet Muhammed.

That is the reasoned argument. The leaders of the religious right in Pakistan who have brought thousands out into the street in defence of Taseer’s killer would know that both the original colonial law and its amendment were man-made. They would know too, since they are also scholars, the significance of the meaning of intent. But reasoned argument does not work against street power.

Then there was Veena Malik, who according to the Express Tribune, became the first Pakistani woman to reach the top 10 trends on Twitter after she went on television to defend her performance on the Indian reality show. During a popular talk show , she talked back, or even over, her clerical detractors, and accordng to Pakistan newspaper reports, demanded to know why they were so ready to criticise her while failing to condemn suicide bombings or honour killings.

Even those who are probably not fans of reality television (and I’d count myself among them) praised her courage for speaking up at a time when so many have been silenced.

“Her response to the Mufti and the host, brought to the forefront the harassment women have to face that has conveniently been camouflaged as ‘honour and dignity’. But what really pushed me to write this blog was a question Veena asked Mufti Abdul Qawi: ‘Why am I being treated this way? Why am I being questioned? What is my fault, Mufti sahab? Because I am a woman? A soft target?’ wrote Sana Saleem at Dawn.

“I recall thinking at one point during the show, how Veena Malik did not represent me … But after watching her response to the slurs being hurled her way, I take it back. Veena Malik represents me and many, many women in this country who have been subjected to moral policing. In a country where rape is justified, murderers glorified and women threatened by fatwas, Veena speaks for me and many others.”

At the Express Tribune, blogger Saad Zuberi described her as “the only person in Pakistan’s ultra-holy green-tinted limelight right now who isn’t afraid to say it like it is.”

“She’s bold, honest and pretty straightforward, which is something I can’t say for many Pakistanis out there. Sad, I know, but true. We’re all busy being pathetic and jealous and confused, while this woman has, as a friend aptly pointed out, displayed something lacking from not only our so-called saviours but the country at large: balls.

Tunisian wind' sweeps through Arab regimes as protests erupt in Yemen

Tunisian-style protests erupted in Yemen over the weekend with thousands demanding the downfall of its autocratic president who has joined leaders from Algeria to Jordan in the crosshairs of a regional revolt.Pressure for regime change in the stagnant Arab dictatorships has shifted across the Middle East and North Africa since Tunisia's Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali fled in the face of demonstrations in Tunis on January 14.
Yemen police on Sunday arrested Tawakel Karman, a female Islamic activist, who had organised the 2,500-strong demonstration in the grounds of the University of Sanaa. A heavy police presence and an active role by the secret police thwarted attempts to move the demonstration to the streets of the capital.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen, has been in power, like Mr Ben Ali, for more than two decades. Like his Tunisian counterpart, his government has allowed grievances over lack of jobs and freedom to fester while presiding over corrupt systems.
Tunisian police meanwhile announced on Sunday that two former allies of Mr Ben Ali were placed under house arrest.
The news came as protesters in Tunis turned their focus on the interim administration of Mohammed Ghannouchi, the long serving prime minister who has promised to step down only when elections are held. The government faces another test of wills on Monday when the universities open for the first time as students are threatening to take over the classrooms.The "Tunisian wind" is also being felt throughout its neighbours.
The Egyptian presidential election in September – when President Hosni Mubarak faces re-election – will this week be a focus of protests.
Even reformist regimes have been forced to respond to demonstrations.
Jordan has suspended civil service cuts and raised salaries for the public sector. Kuwait has made a one off payment of 1,000 dinars (£2,200) to reflect the cost of rising prices.

'Godfather of Taliban' killed by kidnappers
The former Pakistani intelligence agent who is known as the godfather of the Taliban has been killed ten months after being kidnapped by Islamist militants.
Rebels in North Waziristan still hold the body of Col Imam, the code name of 67-year-old Sultan Amir Tarar, and are demanding the release of five associates in return, according to officials.
Tarar was seized in March in one of the most dangerous parts of Pakistan's tribal belt, along with Asad Qureshi, a British filmmaker, and Khalid Khawaja, another former spy officer.
The retired officer from Pakistan's ISI military intelligence service played a central role in forming the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion of 1979 and then nurtured the Taliban in the 1990s.
He has since been accused of being part of a rogue faction of ISI officers who have continued to support those making attacks on Nato troops.
While running CIA-funded training camps in the 1980s, he trained many of the country's top Mujahideen commanders.
Mullah Omar passed through one of his camps in 1985, nine years before he went on to lead the Taliban movement.
Col Imam was Pakistan's consul general in Herat when the Taliban swept to power in 1995 and he was said to have advised them in their assaults on Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul.
Mr Khawaja's body was found on a roadside in North Waziristan on April 30 with a note pinned to it saying he worked for the CIA and ISI.
Mr Qureshi, who had been making a documentary for Channel 4, was released in September.

Paris Haute Couture 2011 set to be busier than ever

On Monday, Paris will open its fashion floodgates to a host of international clients as the spring/summer 2011 Couture collections are shown.

Tunisia... Dream of Middle East democracy come true?

Pakistani girl 'electrocuted' in honour killing

A 20-year-old woman in Pakistan's Sindh province was electrocuted to death as punishment for eloping with a man, police said. The incident took place in a village near Musafirkhana town in Sindh province. Police said that Saima, of Basti Hakra, allegedly eloped with a man, Dilawar, who works in Karachi.Her parents brought her back from Karachi on Friday morning and electrocuted her at night after the village council, which mostly comprised of their relatives, ordered that she be executed, Express Tribune reported on Sunday.
Police got to know about the incident on Saturday when the woman's body was about to be buried. A police team reached the place and seized the body.
Saima’s relatives claimed that she had committed suicide by ingesting pesticides.
Police officer Babar Bakht Qureshi said the initial autopsy carried out by a lady doctor suggests that the victim had either been electrocuted or burnt through boiling water or both.

An uncertain Middle East

AWEEK AFTER Tunisia's popular revolution, the country's direction remains far from settled - and unrest in its Arab neighbors is rising. Seven people in Algeria and nine in Egypt have set themselves on fire, or attempted to, in imitation of the desperate man who triggered Tunisia's uprising. There were mass anti-government demonstrations in Jordan on Friday, and Egypt's opposition has called one for Tuesday. In Tunis protesters continue to march, demanding that former government ministers serving in an interim government step down. That administration has freed political prisoners and declared an end to censorship, but it has not yet agreed on a clear political strategy.

This remains a moment of great opportunity in the Middle East but also of danger. Tunisia could conceivably become the first Arab autocracy to carry out a largely peaceful transition to genuine democracy, following in the path of former dictatorships in Europe and Asia. Or, like some former Soviet republics, it could lapse back into corrupt authoritarianism. Egypt, Jordan and other Arab states could begin to open their political systems to secular democratic parties and civil society groups - or they could continue to repress or seek to buy off opponents, leaving Islamist movements as their only serious opposition.

The United States and its allies in Europe could have considerable influence on these outcomes. But so far their policies appear adrift. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a speech this month that correctly diagnosed "corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order." She called for "political reforms that will create the space young people are demanding, to participate in public affairs and have a meaningful role in the decisions that shape their lives." But what does that mean? Ms. Clinton didn't mention elections or democracy. When President Obama called Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday, he said that the United States supported "free and fair elections in Tunisia," but he didn't discuss Mr. Mubarak's own plan to hold an blatantly unfree presidential "election" this year. Nor is it clear what the administration intends to do to promote free elections in Tunisia, other than making public statements.

This situation demands a reshaping and an invigoration of the administration's Middle East policy. An immediate priority should be steps that encourage Tunisia's interim authorities to embrace genuine democracy. This must be done diplomatically, as Tunisians are suspicious of Western governments that supported the former dictatorship. But the United States and Europe can make clear that a democratic Tunisia will be rewarded with generous aid and trade programs, while those who seek to reimpose autocracy will be sanctioned. It can also offer technical advice to emerging democratic forces and insist on international monitoring of any elections.

In Egypt and other parts of the region, the administration should be pressing for tangible steps to open the political space that Ms. Clinton spoke of. That means allowing the free formation of secular political parties, removing restrictions on civil society groups and allowing peaceful public assembly. If necessary, the administration - or Congress - should link continued military and other foreign aid to such steps. The perils of the Middle East's autocratic stasis have now been vividly demonstrated. Why would the United States continue to fund that stagnant status quo?

Tunisian Protests Spread to Algeria, Yemen

Tennis' Best Dressed

'The King's Speech' is top film at producer awards

"The King's Speech" claimed the crown for best film at the Producers Guild of America Awards on Saturday, knocking off Golden Globes best drama winner and presumed Oscar front-runner "The Social Network."
The film also beat out nominees "127 Hours," "Black Swan," "Inception," "The Fighter," "The Kids Are All Right," "The Town," "Toy Story 3," and "True Grit."
The PGA awards, hosted by filmmaker Judd Apatow at the Beverly Hilton, are part of the steady stream of ceremonies leading up to the Academy Awards.
"The Social Network," which stars Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, appeared to be on the fast track to a best picture Oscar after dominating honors from top critics groups and winning the Golden Globe last week.
But Saturday's win solidified a spot as an Academy Award contender for "The King's Speech," which features Golden Globe best actor winner Colin Firth playing Queen Elizabeth II's father, George VI, as he tries to overcome a debilitating stammer.
The Producers Guild followed the lead of the Oscars last year and doubled its best-picture field to 10 movies.
In other PGA categories, Pixar's "Toy Story 3" won for best animated feature and the chronicle of modern education "Waiting for Superman" took top documentary honors.
On the television side, AMC's "Mad Men" won for best drama series for the third straight year, and ABC's "Modern Family" won best comedy, beating out previous two-time winner "30 Rock."HBO's "The Pacific" won for best TV movie or miniseries, and Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" won for top live entertainment or reality show.

Tunisians from provinces rally in capital

Tunisian police have placed two former allies of the ousted president under house arrest, the official news agency reported Sunday, as protesters kept up pressure on the caretaker government to lock the old guard out of power.
The crackdown against former cronies of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali marked the latest moves by the tenuous interim government to respond to an incessant groundswell of opposition to his old guard.
Tunisia's "Jasmine Revolution," which drove the iron-fisted Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, has sparked similar protests and civil disobedience across the Middle East and North Africa. Many observers are looking to see if Tunisians can complete their fervent push for democracy.
State news agency TAP said former Ben Ali allies Abdallah Kallel and Abdelaziz Ben Dhia have been placed under house arrest, and police are looking for a third man, Abdelwaheb Abdallah.
Kallel, the Senate president and a former government minister, was stopped from leaving the country after Ben Ali fled. A Geneva-based legal advocacy group, Trial, said torture was widespread in Tunisia while Kallel was interior minister in the early 1990s.
Ben Dhia is considered one of Ben Ali's most influential advisers, and Abdallah was a top political adviser to the former president who kept tabs on communication — notably on Tunisia's powerful state-run media.
Hundreds of protesters — many from Tunisia's provinces south of the capital — rallied in the capital, Tunis, to press on with their demands that holdovers of Ben Ali's repressive 23-year regime be kept out of power.
The demonstrators scattered throughout the capital — near the prime minister's office, and the finance and defense ministries, and a city office building — waving banners and photos of a young man who set himself on fire and triggering the uprising that ended Ben Ali's rule.
"Bouazizi gave his life for his country," read one banner honoring 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire in central Sidi Bouzid last month to protest harassment under Ben Ali.
The pilgrimage billed as the "Caravan of Freedom" left Saturday on a 320-kilometer (200-mile) trek to Tunis by car, truck and motorcycle from around Sidi Bouzid, protester Tahri Nabil said. Some hitchhiked or walked.
"We don't want Sidi Bouzid to continue to be marginalized like it was in the previous decades," said Nabil, a French language teacher who lives in the town of Menzel Bouzayane near Sidi Bouzid.
Weeks of public upheaval and the shooting deaths of some protesters by police on orders from Ben Ali's government helped send him fleeing to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14. Since then, demonstrators have led peaceful protests daily in Tunis to call on the caretaker government to rid itself of his old guard.
Some at the Tunis protest Sunday carried a makeshift coffin that was draped in a Tunisian flag — in a symbol of those who died as "martyrs" of the uprising.
Many marchers in the predominantly Muslim country chanted the line "There is no God but God, and the Martyr is God's Beloved" and some held aloft signs saying "Long live a Free Tunisia" and urging Ben Ali's former RCD party to be banned from power.
"We have gotten rid of the head of the snake but the tail is still alive — and we need to completely kill it," said protester Nizar Bouazziz, a 24-year-old student who said he walked to the rally from Sidi Bouzid.
"We are here to support our people and the revolution," he added. "We don't want to see one party gone and then another same oppressive party in its place. We want the Tunisians who have been forced into exile and who have good education and money to come back and invest in this country."
Weeks of public upheaval and the shooting deaths of some protesters by police on orders from Ben Ali's government helped send him fleeing. But daily peaceful protests have continued to try to force the old guard from power.
Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took that post in 1999 under Ben Ali and has kept it through the upheaval, has vowed to quit politics after upcoming elections. But he has insisted that he needs to stay on to shepherd Tunisia through a transition to democracy. Many other Cabinet members are also Ben Ali-era holdovers.

Afghan lawmakers drop Karzai court demand

Afghan lawmakers set aside a demand for President Hamid Karzai to scrap a controversial court probing election fraud on Sunday, paving the way for parliament to convene in three days after weeks of in-fighting.
Karzai on Saturday abandoned a decision to delay the opening of the assembly by a month, bowing to international and domestic pressure after lawmakers threatened to convene the assembly with or without him on January 23, as originally scheduled.
The standoff threw the government into chaos at a time when insurgent violence is at its worst since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban government by U.S-backed forces.
After marathon talks on Saturday, MPs said Karzai had offered to open parliament on Wednesday, but lawmakers also demanded that he abolish the special poll court that sparked the dispute.
It was set up by Karzai, ostensibly to ensure a speedy final check of complaints from the fraud-riddled September 18 election, but last week officials asked for more time to complete their probes.
Furious lawmakers slammed the court, its ruling and Karzai's granting of an extension as illegal, sparking the crisis.
But although Karzai has relented on the inauguration date, and hinted he might relinquish the court, on Sunday he said "no."
A majority of more than 200, from the 249 MPs in the lower house, hunkered down at Kabul's Intercontinental hotel, agreed on Sunday to set aside the issue of the court and to go ahead with the Wednesday inauguration, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.
Senior lawmaker Younus Qanuni argued MPs would be protected from the court by parliamentary immunity, and that they would raise the issue of the court's legality once in parliament.
The United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, was present at the hotel and had called for a "speedy" agreement to resolve the crisis.
"I know what the concerns of everyone are, and (at) the same time we are hoping that on the 26th as has been announced the parliament can be opened, but we are still working on it," he told reporters.
Afghanistan's Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Humayoun Azizi, had earlier told the lawmakers that Karzai would never scrap the special court, saying the presidential decree could not simply be overturned. "Now it's up to you to decide," he said.
Lawmakers said Karzai was also seeking a written guarantee that they would abide by the law and step aside if the justice system finds they stole votes. MPs were unimpressed.
"We cannot give him this as it will damage our dignity," said Qanuni. "We are not criminals so why should we give him this?"

State of the Union speech to focus on jobs: Obama

President Barack Obama said on Saturday he would use his annual State of the Union address to urge both parties to act to lift U.S. growth and create more jobs.
"My number one focus is going to be making sure that we are competitive, that we are growing, and we are creating jobs not just now but well into the future," he said in a video e-mailed to members of his Organizing for America grassroots movement.
Obama's speech on Tuesday to a joint session of the Congress will show how he plans to rise above the political gridlock that marked his first two years in the White House, shaping his 2012 re-election prospects.
[ For complete coverage of politics and policy, go to Yahoo! Politics ]

With unemployment at 9.4 percent, Obama said deficits and debt must be dealt with in a "responsible way," acknowledging the need to cut spending without undermining the country's gradual recovery.
"We're up to it, as long as we come together as a people - Republicans, Democrats, Independents - as long as we focus on what binds us together as a people," the Democratic president said.
Obama's approval ratings have improved in recent weeks, in part because Americans seem pleased with his decision to strike deals with Republicans to extend tax cuts and spur growth after his party's heavy losses in the November 2 elections.
Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and gained seats in the Senate.
But voters are also worried by the budget deficit and rising debt, and the White House has said fiscal discipline will be an important part of Obama's speech.
Republicans have called for $100 billion in cuts to government spending, and a bipartisan presidential debt commission has urged a bold overhaul of the U.S. tax code, alongside stiff curbs on federal spending.
The White House will lay out its full fiscal plans in an annual budget expected during the week of February 13. It has emphasized the need to make targeted choices that protect priorities like education, infrastructure investment and innovation.
Obama, whose video gave no details of measures to be outlined during his speech, has been pushing for ways to spur job creation and ease unemployment in the wake of his party's recent election defeat.
He stirred some Democratic opposition by agreeing with Republicans to extend Bush-era tax cuts, while making several key staffing choices that signaled a shift toward the political center.
On Friday, he named General Electric Co Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt as his top outside economic adviser in a bid to improve strained White House ties with big business.
Immelt, whose appointment was cheered by the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will chair a presidential council on competitiveness and jobs that is designed to encourage private investment and hiring.
"We're going to have to out-innovate, we're going to have to out-build, we're going to have to out-compete, we're going to have to out-educate other countries," Obama said.

Pakistan Red Crescent Society: Workers accused of corruption

The Express Tribune
Workers of a leading humanitarian organisation have been accused of nepotism during distribution of relief goods in Swat.
Addressing a press conference on Saturday in Swat Press Club, Mian Hassan Ahmad, representing Madyan near Swat, alleged that workers of Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) had “set new records for corruption”.
Ahmad claimed, “The organisation’s staff distributed relief packages on the basis of nepotism and favouritism and the deserving people were deprived.”
He alleged the workers, instead of distributing the tokens for relief provision among deserving people, sold them and pocketed the money.
“The workers openly sold each token from Rs3,000 to Rs8,000 while the package given [on showing the token] sells in the open market for Rs20,000. Those workers who refused to get involved were dismissed.”
Ahmad demanded the chairperson and donors of PRCS to take immediate steps against the corruption by investigating the matter and helping the helpless flood victims.

Swat rehabilitation: Robbed by the Taliban, denied by the banks.......

People, returning home from their self-imposed exile, came back to empty bank lockers in Swat.
The contents of bank lockers prior to the Maulana Fazlullah-led insurgency is estimated to be worth more than Rs100 million. Jewellery, prize bonds, precious metals, cash and other important documents were stored in these lockers, according to the Bank Lockers Association Swat.
During the military operation, when most people were away from their homes, nearly all the banks in the region were plundered by the Taliban, and the contents of lockers were no exception.
When people came back home in July, bank lockers users demanded access to the things they had left behind in the lockers. But the bank administrations refused to comply.
Even written appeals to the chief justice, the president, the prime minister, chief minister and governor State Bank of Pakistan bore no results, according to the association.
Haji Iqbal Mand, vice-president of the association, told The Express Tribune, “We had secure lockers in Habib Bank Limited (HBL), Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB) and United Bank Limited (UBL) before the displacement. We regularly paid the bank fee but after we returned and asked for our belongings, the banks refused. We don’t know where to go for help, we suffered a lot.”
Even though Allied Bank did pay a compensation of up to Rs700,000 to those who were able to prove the value of their belongings, other banks have not been so co-operative.
According to Iqbal Mand, the value of jewellery alone was Rs27.87 million in UBL, Rs42.62 million in HBL and Rs22.91 million in MCB.
“We have struggled enough, now we cannot stand by and accept the attitude of the banks’ staffs,” he said.
Zahoor, a resident of the Ghalegey area, said, “I had a locker in MCB, where I had kept about two kilograms of gold. The bank administration told me to fill-in a claim form when I went to them. But after I had submitted the documents they completely refused to reimburse me [for my losses].”
“Security forces have even recovered looted windows and doors, so why were they unable to recover the jewellery?” Zahoor said.
He added, “The banks were looted in front of thousands of people so it should be very easy to trace the culprits.”
Officials of the banks, when approached, refused to discuss the subject saying they first needed permission from their superiors.
Analysts say banks might not be liable for these losses because insurance coverage often does not extend over war.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd, 2011.

Pakistani Actress Slams Cleric for Criticism


A Pakistani actress castigated for appearing to cuddle with an Indian actor on a reality show lashed out at a Muslim cleric who had criticized her during a widely watched television exchange this week.

The unusual outburst, punctuated by tears, came at a sensitive time in a country where Islamic fundamentalism is spreading and liberals are increasingly afraid to express their views.

"What is your problem with me? You tell me your problem!" an angry Veena Malik asked the Muslim scholar, who accused her of insulting Islam.

Earlier this month, a liberal Pakistani governor was shot dead for opposing the country's harsh laws against blasphemy. In the aftermath, his killer was cheered as a hero among many in the public, shocking the country's small liberal establishment.Malik, 26, participated recently on Bigg Boss, an Indian version of "Big Brother." Clips of the show on the Internet include ones in which she appears cozy with Indian actor Ashmit Patel. Those scenes, and her involvement with a show in Pakistan's archrival India, prompted criticism online and on the air.

"You have insulted Pakistan and Islam," Mufti Abdul Qawi accused her on the Express TV channel talk show via a television link. The exchange first aired Friday and then again Saturday.

A furious Malik shot back, saying Qawi targeted her because she is a woman, reminding him that the Quran admonishes men not to stare at a woman's beauty beyond a first glance, and telling him there were bigger problems in Pakistan, including the alleged rape of children at mosques.

During the exchange, Qawi admitted he had not seen the clips of the show but had heard about it from others.

"What does your Islam say, mufti sir?" the actress asked. "You issue edicts on the basis of hearsay."

Malik said she had read the Quran and she knew what lines not to cross as a Muslim as well as an entertainer in South Asia. She pointed out that she never kissed Patel, for instance."I am a Muslim woman, and I know my limits," she said. The cleric seemed unable to respond to her flood of words.Malik's fierce outburst sparked a barrage of comments on Twitter. While some writers said they didn't agree with her and one called her a "porn star," others said she was brave for standing up to the Pakistani clerical establishment, especially when such an act can mean personal danger.

Wrote one supporter: "The only way to talk to these bloody clerics is to talk down to them. Veena Malik did just that, and how. Good for her!"

Veena wants Musharraf in Pak Bigg Boss

Actress Veena Malik has said that she want former President Pervez Musharraf to appear in a Pakistani version of Bigg Boss.
According to sources, Veena was asked in an interview about the contestants she would choose if Pakistan were to host the reality show.
“Former President Pervez Musharraf, former minister Sheikh Rashid, parliamentarian Jamsheed Dasti, Nargis, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Aishwarya Rai, actress Meera, Britney Spears and Indian extremist party Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray”, Veena said, naming her dream list of contestants.
Asked if she would repeat any contestant from Bigg Boss 4, she said, “Dolly Bindra. Even the very thought of this show is very funny. This could be hilarious.”
Veena said she had plenty of film offers but plans to focus on television for now.

Remote-controlled bomb kills cop, wounds three others in Peshawar

A remote-controlled bomb exploded near a police van in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar on Sunday, killing one constable and injuring three others, including a passer-by.

According to police, the blast took place when the police van was passing through the Sarband Bara Road in an area close to Khyber Agency, SAMAA TV reports.

Rescue teams reached the scene and shifted the dead and injured to Hayatabad Medical Complex in Peshawar.

Later, the police cordoned off the area and collected evidence from the site. The blast was caused by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) placed beside the road, the police said

'Red Shirts' rally in Thai capital

Thousands of Thai "Red Shirts" gathered in Bangkok on Sunday, police said, to mark eight months since a deadly military crackdown on their mass anti-government protest last year.
Wearing their trademark colour and singing the "Red in the Land" anthem, protesters waved banners reading "Liar State!" and held aloft pictures of their hero, fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Police said around 27,000 people joined the peaceful demonstration by the Reds, whose April and May rally last year calling for snap elections ended in clashes between troops and protesters that left more than 90 people dead.
Jatuporn Prompan, a prominent figure in the movement, said Red Shirts would continue to gather twice a month, calling for the release of many of their leaders, who are in prison on terrorism charges following the 2010 unrest.
He said the protest would continue until midnight but there would not be a telephone address from Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and lives abroad, having been sentenced in absentia to prison for corruption.
The controversial Thaksin, who draws support among the mainly poor and working class Red Shirts but is loathed by the urban elite, spoke to another demonstration earlier this month.
Jatuporn said the demonstrations' "style will be changed to make less trouble for people who live and work around the protest sites".
The rally began in the upmarket central shopping district of Ratchaprasong but later relocated to the Democracy Monument in the historic district -- the site of a deadly clash between protesters and authorities on April 10.
The move is part of an agreement with retailers, who had complained about a loss of business caused by the twice-monthly demonstrations.
In an open letter to Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva earlier this month, the Ratchaprasong Square Trade Association (RSTA) said 2,088 businesses lost 11 billion baht ($362 million) last year due to the mass rally, which attracted 100,000 people at its peak.
After the army crackdown in May, small bands of militant protesters set dozens of buildings ablaze across Bangkok, including Ratchaprasong's glitzy CentralWorld shopping mall.
The Red Shirt movement has shown increasing strength in recent months -- a rally earlier in January saw around 30,000 demonstrators in Bangkok.
Even before emergency rule -- which banned gatherings of more than five people -- was lifted in the capital last month, Red rallies in Bangkok had begun to regularly attract thousands.

Political uncertainty looms in Afghanistan as lawmakers' meeting ends

(CNN) -- Political uncertainty lingered in Afghanistan on Sunday after a meeting of elected members of the country's parliament ended with a decision to send a proposal back to President Hamid Karzai.

The proposed resolution sets parliament's inauguration for Wednesday and also would dissolve the special court established in December to probe hundreds of fraud allegations brought forward by losing candidates.
Karzai earlier rejected the proposal to dissolve the special court, lawmaker Baktash Siawash said. Karzai's office has not returned repeated calls from CNN for comment.
Members of parliament did not reach consensus over what to do if Karzai rejects the proposal again.
"What is clear is that if the president does not participate in the inauguration, it could create a huge political crisis that will seriously affect the government," parliament member Ahmad Behzad said.

Tunisia's Rural poor rally , seeking change

Tunisia's poor rural heartlands demonstrated in the capital on Sunday to demand that the revolution they started should now sweep the remnants of the fallen president's old guard from power.
A week after Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi took the reins of an interim coalition following the overthrow of veteran strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, he and other former loyalists of the feared ruling party face mounting pressure to step down.
For days, protesters have gathered at the premier's office in Tunis, limited in numbers but tolerated by a police force wary of its own fate after Ben Ali and enjoying wider support among a population that is unused to free political expression.
On Sunday, amid a weekend calm, hundreds of people who had been driven to the capital in a "caravan of freedom" surrounded Ghannouchi's building in central Tunis. Many were from Sidi Bouzid, the bleak central city where the "Jasmine Revolution" was sparked a month ago by one young man's suicide.
"We are marginalised. Our land is owned by the government. We have nothing," said Mahfouzi Chouki from near the city, which lies 300 km (200 miles) south of Tunis and a world away from the opulent coastal resorts favored by Ben Ali's rapacious elite.
Demonstrators said they would not let the legacy of Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself alight in protest at poverty and oppression, end with Ben Ali's flight to Saudi Arabia and the establishment of a government dominated by his lieutenants.
"The people want this government to fall," the chanted.
Amin Kahli, also from the Sidi Bouzid region, said he was honouring the memory not just of Bouazizi but of dozens who died facing down Ben Ali's armed police on the streets.
Kahli himself had lost a brother in the revolt, which stunned the world by felling an autocrat who had enjoyed solid backing from Western powers and fellow Arab leaders since he had eased out the first post-colonial president in 1987.
"My brother was leaving home for work when a sniper shot him in the chest," Kahli said. "He was only 21. I want justice for him and I want this government to fall."
Former members of Ben Ali's RCD ruling party retain key ministries, notably interior, defense and foreign affairs. Politicians from small opposition parties previously tolerated under Ben Ali were allowed to join the government in less vital posts, such as higher education and regional development.
Five such appointees quit the cabinet within a day of Ghannouchi forming it.
Tunisians' revolt has electrified millions across the Arab world who suffer similarly from high unemployment, rising prices and repressive rule, often by governments back by Western powers as a bulwark against radical Islam. Arab leaders have responded to such pressures by both concessions and police measures.
In Yemen, the poorest Arab state, hundreds of students demonstrated on Sunday after the arrest of a woman who had led previous protests demanding a Tunisian-style uprising.
In an emotional interview on state TV on Friday, Ghannouchi said he intended to retire from politics after organizing elections. But despite signs many Tunisians would like to see a return to calm, his words have failed to stem the protests.
Ghannouchi also sought to distance himself from the former leader. He vowed to track him down and promised compensation for the families of victims of human rights abuses.
Authorities have said they arrested 33 members of Ben Ali's family for crimes against the state but have only named one of them -- Imed Trabelsi, a nephew of Ben Ali's wife Leila.
"This revolt is not the Jasmine Revolution, because jasmine is a flower that anyone can just pick," said Mohamed Ali Zdini, a Tunisian who lives in Italy. "This revolution is more like an olive tree, because it has deep roots and no one can uproot it."
Sunday was the last of three days of national mourning declared by the Ghannouchi government for the victims of the unrest that convulsed Tunisia for several weeks.
Officials said on Saturday they would investigate the interior ministry's role in the deaths of protesters and revise laws to prevent the rise of another strongman. Police themselves demonstrated in Tunis on Saturday to declare their innocence of crimes against the people and to portray themselves as victims.
The interior minister has said 78 people had been killed since the start of the demonstrations in December, but the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights put the number at 117, including 70 killed by live fire.
The government said schools and universities would begin reopening from Monday and sporting events, also on hold since last week, would resume soon. A night curfew remains in place.
It has released political prisoners, set up commissions to investigate corruption and theft of state property during the Ben Ali era, and offered a blanket amnesty to all political groups, including Islamists whom Ben Ali had long demonized.

Pakistan over the edge

By Pamela Constable

At a fashionable plaza in this serene Pakistani capital, a few dozen people gather in the evenings at the spot where provincial governor Salman Taseer was gunned down on Jan. 4. More than the man, their candlelight vigils mourn the open debate and religious compassion that have been lost with the assassination of the outspoken liberal politician.

Fifteen miles away, in a working-class alley of Rawalpindi, thousands of people flock each day to the home of Mumtaz Qadri, the elite police guard who killed Taseer. Qadri is in jail now, but the site has become a shrine to what many Pakistanis see as his heroic act against a blasphemer who insulted their prophet. Someone has even put up posters of Qadri riding a white horse to heaven.

In the days since Taseer's death, Pakistan has become a different country. The veneer of Western democracy has been ripped away, the liberal elite has been cowed into silence, and the civilian government has beaten a hasty retreat from morality, authority and law. Islamic extremist groups, once dismissed as unable to win more than a few seats in Parliament, are filling the streets, with bearded acolytes waving flags and chanting like giddy crowds at a post-game victory rally.

Suddenly, a crucial U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism seems incapable of stopping a tide of intolerant and violent Islam at home - raising doubts about Pakistan's ability to play a constructive role in the war against the Taliban or to help the United States extricate its forces from Afghanistan, Pakistan's northern neighbor.

Qadri, who happily confessed to murdering the politician he was assigned to protect, has little chance of being convicted. Instead of suffering ostracism, he was greeted with handshakes and garlands by courthouse lawyers, who offered to defend him pro bono. The provincial court system, notorious for freeing radical Islamic leaders, is unlikely to condemn a national religious hero.

"There is no justice in our country for the common man, but Qadri's act against a blasphemer has made all Muslims feel stronger," a shopkeeper in Rawalpindi told me. "They can punish him, but what will they do with a million Qadris who have been born now?"

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, whose ruling coalition recently recovered from near-collapse, has reassured the restive Muslim masses that not a word of Pakistan's blasphemy law will be changed. One of the harshest such statutes in the Muslim world, it makes any purported slur against the prophet Muhammad - even a misinterpreted remark or a discarded Koran - grounds for execution.

Taseer had proposed softening the law. Another legislator who did the same has received death threats. The police, whose ranks produced the killer, seem duped or complicit. The army, caught between fighting the Taliban and courting public opinion, has remained prudently silent.

Pakistani commentators have expressed shock at the public lionization of Qadri and the demonization of Taseer, who did nothing worse than criticize the blasphemy law and commiserate with a Christian peasant woman who was sentenced to death under it. The atmosphere is so charged now that most clerics refused to officiate at Taseer's funeral, and the Christian woman's prison warden said he may not be able to protect her even from the guards.

For the past several years, a few voices have warned against the growth of religious hatred in Pakistan. Columnist Kamila Hyat described a "Talibanization of minds" creeping across the country, emboldening extremist groups and censoring debate. Physicist and activist Pervez Hoodbhuy decried the quashing of critical thought in Pakistani schools and the rote Koranic learning that shapes many young minds.

But in Friday sermons and at many levels of Pakistani society, one hears warnings about creeping Westernization, secular culture and forceful aggression against Islam by America and its allies. When Pope Benedict XVI called for a repeal of Pakistan's blasphemy law this month, some Muslim clerics decried it as part of the foreign conspiracy and said the pope was inviting attacks on minority Christians in Pakistan.

Some observers here say it is unfair to tar millions of Pakistani Muslims as extremists just because they feel strongly enough about the sacred nature of the prophet Muhammad to justify killing someone who insults him. What is needed, they say, is stronger national leaders who will uphold the laws - against blasphemy and murder alike. "This is an Islamic republic, and people feel very strongly about the blasphemy issue," said Hamid Mir, a leading television journalist here. "We have to respect that, but we also have to respect the law and the constitution, or we will be lost."

Others argue that a mind-set that finds spiritual justification for shooting a government official 26 times will also accept the public flogging of drunks, the beheading of policemen and the stoning of unmarried lovers - all hallmarks of the Taliban forces that swept through Pakistan's scenic Swat Valley two years ago.

Pakistan's army, a close partner of the U.S. military, ultimately drove the Taliban out of Swat after cementing public opinion in its favor. Now Washington is prodding army leaders here to extend their campaign to other insurgent-infested tribal areas.

But public opinion in Pakistan today is not what it was a year ago, and no one wants to risk igniting popular wrath. Not the nuclear-armed security establishment, which still sees Islamic militants as a useful tool to harass arch-rival India. Not the weak, unpopular government, saddled by a secular past and still reeling from the slaying of its most charismatic leader, Benazir Bhutto, three years ago.

In recent days I have listened to Islamic activists rant about the sanctity of the prophet and the evil of those who offend him or dare to question any tents of Islam. They even have a label for such dangerous subversives, which translates roughly as "ought to be killed."

But there is one conversation that haunts me in particular, an encounter I had with a young man on a flight between Islamabad and Karachi. He was neatly dressed and beardless, a recent science graduate on his way to a job interview. As I read through the morning papers and discarded them on the floor, I noticed him squirming.

"Madam, could you please pick up the papers?" he finally said. "The name of our prophet is on the front page, and it must not be on the ground."

I complied, and we spoke cordially about our respective religions. But when I asked about Taseer's murder, his tone changed. "They say he blasphemed against our prophet," the young man said solemnly. "If this is true, then it would be my duty as a Muslim to kill him, too."