Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Saudi women in new driving protest

Two Saudi women said they drove their cars on Wednesday in a new protest against a ban on women driving in the conservative Muslim kingdom.
Their actions came in response to a call on the Internet for women in Riyadh to get behind the wheel, after a show of defiance on Friday in which 42 women took to the road.
Azza Shamassi, in her thirties, said she had driven her car Wednesday, just as she has done "every day since last Friday", despite a harassing message stuck to the windscreen of her car.
The handwritten note read "Plz do not drive" on one side and carried an insult on the other, witnesses said.
"This threat will not stop me," Shamassi said.
Sara al-Khalidi also said she has been driving since Friday's protest, saying she had driven again on Wednesday before being stopped by a traffic policeman, who told her that police were looking for her and that she should drive home without stopping.
She said that "people encourage me when they've seen me driving these last few days".
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both expressed support for Saudi women who wish to drive.
No law forbids women from driving in Saudi Arabia but a religious edict stipulates that women must be driven by a male chauffeur or family member.

Obama to Announce First Phase of Troop Withdrawal in Afghanistan

President Barack Obama is set to announce on Wednesday the first phase of a withdrawal from Afghanistan that could see up to 10,000 U.S. soldiers leave the country by the end of the year.

Defense officials have been quoted as saying that President Obama will call for an initial withdrawal of 5,000 troops, followed by an additional 5,000 by the end of 2011.

But White House Spokesman Jay Carney warned against media speculation on Tuesday, saying the president will explain how he will implement the strategy he outlined in December 2009 on drawing down American troops.

Obama announced the July start for the withdrawal in December 2009, when he presented his overall strategy for Afghanistan at the U.S. military academy at West Point, New York.

In his Wednesday night speech at the White House, President Obama is also expected to reaffirm the U.S. and NATO commitment to completely transfer security responsibilities to Afghan forces by 2014. The United States currently has about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday the president has to take into account sustainability at home, both in Congress and among the American public, as well as conditions on the ground in Afghanistan.

Gates acknowledged concerns in the United States about Afghanistan, saying the American people are "tired of a decade of war." He noted there are "a lot of reservations" in Congress about the war and the level of U.S. commitment.

Gates spoke Tuesday at the State Department, before heading to the White House with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for consultations with the president about Afghanistan.

White House spokesman Carney said the president has remained focused on achieving his objectives in Afghanistan. He noted, however, that Obama's objectives there do not require defeating the Taliban, but rather "reversing the momentum," which he says the military has been achieving.

Five million Pakistanis at risk from floods, says U.N.

Up to five million people in Pakistan are at risk from floods this year, partly due to poor reconstruction and the inadequate rehabilitation of survivors who are still reeling from last year's epic deluge, the U.N. said on Wednesday.

Monsoon floods began roaring through Pakistan in late July last year, leaving one-fifth of the country -- an area the size of Italy -- underwater, disrupting the lives of more than 18 million people.

The government and aid organisations were criticized for being too slow to respond while the military, seen as a far more efficient institution, took the lead in relief operations.

As Pakistan braces itself again for its annual monsoon season -- which runs from late June to early September -- the U.N. says authorities and the aid community have learnt lessons and are better prepared -- even for the worst case scenario.

"Since the beginning of March, we have been in close contact with the government to make sure response is up and running and that we are better prepared this year," said Manuel Bessler, head of the U.N. emergencies office (OCHA) in Pakistan.

"The most anticipated scenario is two million affectees and the worst case scenario is five million. We are prepared for these two scenarios," he told AlertNet by phone from Islamabad.

Last year's flooding -- which went on for almost three months and wiped out villages from the far north to the deep south of the country -- is considered to be one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent times. Around 11 million people were left homeless, 2,000 were killed, infrastructure such as bridges and roads washed away and millions of acres of crops destroyed.


Based on forecasts from the Pakistan Meteorological Department, this year's monsoons are, in general, likely to be 10 percent below normal.

But despite this, millions could be hit by floods, partly because infrastructure such as dykes and embankments were "weak" and could have been strengthened better, said Bessler, who heads the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

A lack of funds has meant that some communities have not been able to adequately reconstruct their homes or regain financial income after losing their livelihoods as farmers, making them more susceptible this year.

The U.N. last year appealed to the world for almost $2 billion -- the biggest appeal ever launched by the body for any humanitarian emergency -- to help survivors. Yet, 30 percent of the appeal remains unfunded almost one year on.

"The vulnerabilities are higher this year than last year," he said. "This a because of poor timing and a lack of funding which has meant that perhaps, things were not be done to the level they could have been."

Also, environmental conditions such as increased snow melt in mountainous areas was leading to high water levels in rivers, while ground water levels were already high after last year's deluge, reducing its absorption capacity.

Bessler said the humanitarian community were prepositioning relief items --- tents, water and sanitation equipment and filling up warehouses with food items, as well as establishing coordination structures with authorities at federal and provincial levels.

"The monsoon will happen -- its just a question how big and if external assistance is needed by Pakistan," he said.

"We have to be ready because this would be a major failure if the government and humanitarian community have not learnt the lessons from last year's experience."

Bahrain rights activists jailed for life
Military court finds eight campaigners guilty of plotting coup during protests in Sunni-ruled kingdom
Eight Bahraini rights activists have been given life sentences by a military court, which found them guilty of plotting a coup against the government during two months of unrest that rattled the country earlier this year.

Another 13 demonstrators were given sentences of between two to 15 years, as the government attempts to crush dissent that has erupted in the tiny kingdom in February following popular uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world.

The verdicts were immediately condemned by rights groups who said all those found guilty had been campaigning to end discrimination at the hands of the Sunni dynasty. Almost all activists who took to the streets of Manama in February and March were Shia Muslims, who make up 70% of Bahrain's population, but feel largely disenfranchised.

Bahrain's ruling dynasty had instead claimed that the men were part of a "sedition ring", backed by Iran and Hezbollah, who were trying to topple the regime.

Among those given life sentences were leading members of opposition political groups. Leading rights activist Adbul Hadi al-Khawaja, whose daughters Zainab and Maryam are prominent members of the Bahrain human rights movement, was one of those condemned to life in prison. Zainab was reportedly removed from the courtroom after protesting against the sentence

Among those who received lesser sentences was Ibrahim Sharif, a secular leftist Sunni, who was accused by a state-run newspaper of having links to "a foreign country" – a veiled reference to Iran.

The Guardian spoke to Sharif at the former focal point of the rights demonstrations in Manama in February where he said he was the only prominent member of the Sunni community to be campaigning more openly for equal rights for the kingdom's majority Shia base.

"Things have to change here, or else the country will suffer and the kingdom could be imperilled," he said at the time, standing in Pearl roundabout, a landmark in the central city that was later demolished under government orders.

As verdicts were read in a military court this morning, members of the public gallery chanted "solidarity, solidarity, we shall overthrow the regime". Bahraini security officers were congratulating each other inside the courthouse, according to bystanders present.

The trials were held despite the government pronouncing the end of three months of martial law earlier this month, which had given the exclusively Sunni security forces extra powers of detention and arrest.

Activists called for protesters to again take to the streets in Manama on Wednesday in defiance of the verdicts and the government, which has vowed to continue a crackdown on dissent. Up to 30 doctors and nurses from key city hospitals were last week also put on trial accused of subversion and if using government facilities for political purposes.

Clinton Adds Her Voice in Support of Saudi Women

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s advocacy for women’s rights – as First Lady, Senator and now Secretary of State – is well known. And yet she found herself facing criticism for not being outspoken enough on one issue: Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving.

In a series of letters and statements this month, a coalition of Saudi activists has pressed Mrs. Clinton to use the State Department’s bully pulpit to support its campaign against the kingdom’s ban, expressing disappointment earlier Tuesday that she had not yet spoken out. Then she did.
“What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right,” Mrs. Clinton said, when asked about the criticism at an appearance with Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and their Japanese counterparts at the State Department. Of the women’s campaign, she added, “I am moved by it, and I support them.”

The campaign — waged largely online inside Saudi Arabia — called on women to drive in collective protest last Friday, an event that appeared to draw a much smaller number than organizers had hoped.

On the day of the protest, Mrs. Clinton did discuss the matter by telephone with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, though the State Department’s spokeswomen, Victoria Nuland, declined to detail the conversation. She said Monday that while Mrs. Clinton’s advocacy for women speaks for itself, there were times for “quiet diplomacy.”

(Ms. Nuland made her own views clear, though, in a briefing last week: “I can’t imagine, personally, what it would be like not to be able to drive a car.”)

Quiet diplomacy did not mollify the coalition, called Saudi Women for driving. “For the United States’ top diplomat to make no public statement about such developments sends exactly the wrong message to the Saudi government and, more importantly, to the women of Saudi Arabia,” the group said in a statement earlier on Tuesday.

Even when she did speak out, though, Mrs. Clinton did so gingerly, seemingly wary of creating a new diplomatic rift in the already strained relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. She emphasized that the protesters were acting on their own initiative, not that of the United States, underlining the kingdom’s suspicion of foreign influence, especially Western influence.

“I know there is an active debate in Saudi Arabia on a range of social issues,” she said. “For our part, we will continue in private and in public to urge all governments to address issues of discrimination and to ensure that women have the equal opportunity to fulfill their own God-given potential. But I want to, again, underscore and emphasize that this is not about the United States. It’s not about what any of us on the outside say. It is about the women themselves and their right to raise their concerns with their own government.”

Benazir Bhutto's 58th birthday celebrated in Larkana

Pakistan People’s Party Chairperson and former Prime Minister Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s 58th birthday was on Tuesday celebrated at Garhi Khuda Bux on Tuesday with a large number of party leaders and activists visiting and laying floral wreaths at graves of the Bhutto family members at their family graveyard.

CM Syed Qaim Ali Shah, provincial ministers, activists and supporters paid rich tribute to Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. They also recited the Holy Quran and offered Fateha.

Talking to journalists on this occasion, Syed Qaim Ali Shah remarked that Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto rendered her life for the restoration of democracy in the country. “Today’s democratic government is the result of great sacrifice rendered by her,” he added.

He said that we are implementing the reconciliation policy throughout the country as wished by the slain leader, adding warned that some elements were bent upon derailing the democratic government. But, they will not succeed in their nefarious designed, resolved.

To a question, CM said law and order situation in Sindh had now improved. He maintained that no major incidents of crime were reported from the big cities Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas Division, Shikarpur, Khairpur and Larkana Districts in recent days.

Regarding the peace situation in Karachi, Mr. Shah said that some killings based on personal enmities were, however, being reported in Karachi. If, there is no peace in Karachi then, how people are coming there.

Sindh Chief Minister claimed that law and order situation in Karachi was much better now. He said he will present report about the law and order situation in Sindh Assembly soon.

He conceded that some people had expressed reservations on recent house counting process for census in Sindh province but said: “I will not comment further on this issue till the final report of Census Commissioner of Sindh is prepared.”

Qaim Ali Shah said there were 29 sensitive points on safety embankment and work was underway to strengthen them and the same will be completed by end of this month.

On the occasion Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and other leaders also visited the blood donor camps in Garhi Khuda Bux Bhutto.

Meanwhile, Speaker Sindh Assembly Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, Deputy Speaker Sindh Assembly Ms. Shehla Raza, U.S Council General, Spokesman of Aiwan Saddar Islamabad Farhat-ul-llah Babar, Sindh Chief Secretary Abdul Subhan Memon, PPP leader Kursheed Junejo, Advisor to CM Sarfaraz

Rajar, Education Minister Pir Mazhar-ul- Haq, Minister for Works and Services Manzoor Hussain Wasan, PPP Leader Dr. Shafaqat Soomro, Ameen Shaikh, Dr. Sakina Gaad and other leaders and workers laid floral wreaths.

DCO Larkana Abdul Aleem Lashari, RPO Sukkur Syed Zulfiqar Shah, DIG Larkana Dr. Sain Rakhio Mirani, DPO Larkana Mazhar Nawaz Shaikh also laid floral wreaths on the Mazar of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

Nawaz on a mission to destroy institutions

Former Federal Minister Senator Dr. Babar Awan has blamed that Quaid Pakistan Muslim League (N) Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif was on a mission to destroy country’s institution but his Party has become alone.
Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif has adopted a new way to hitch conspiracy against national institutions and he is using his Party elected representative against institutions, he said this while talking to media men outside the Parliament house on Wednesday.
It has become habit of Quaid PML-N to create clash between institution and he had also harmed Chief Justice, Army Chief and the President during his regime, he said. Criticizing national institutions would be harmful for Pakistan, Babar said.
He also expressed disappointment over the behavior of Former Premier. PPP, he claimed, is playing its role to strengthen the institutions. We have never adopted a way to create anarchy among institutions, he said.
Answering to a question, the senator said that some army Generals were involved in judicial murder of late Former Premier Zulifqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto had taken no action against them because we don't believe in politics of revenge.
He said that the remarks delivered by the President against Quaid PML-N was hundred percent right. He advised PML-N to mend its way and not to criticize national institutions openly. The elections campaign launched by PML-N has harmed Kashmir because, he said adding, the upcoming elections would also decide the fate of PML-N in Lahore.

Nawaz’s acrobatics

Over these days, Mian Nawaz Sharif, the supremo of his own PML faction, is showing himself in a very combative mood, roaring like a bull in a china shop, huffing and puffing madly, challenging each and all to a confrontation. A lion has flung into the arena, he growls and fumes he would put all in their right places. Spare he would none whoever be it, thunders this proven paper tiger, seemingly sharing as well the Indians’ overriding hunger to demolish the Pakistani military and the Americans’ driving thirst to reduce the Pakistani army into an orderly of the American warlords and the ISI into a shoeshine boy of their CIA. But pare down his mad ravings against the military, and his whole contrivance boils down essentially to a personal grouse and vindictiveness against a military general who he himself had brought up to head the army and latterly crowned additionally with the cap of the chief of the joint chiefs of staff committee to be the country’s top soldier, deeming him to be a safe bet for his rule. Yet he toppled him in a coup, and now he wants his head at any cost. Pervez Musharraf he says had violated the constitution and yet he was presented the guard of honour at the presidency on his departure. But what he conveniently glosses over is that it was the same general with whom he had cut an ignoble deal to seek reprieve and hit the comfortable foreign shores to escape the rigours of imprisonment and jailed life.But then he is no Nelson Mandela, a universally acclaimed leader of tremendous stature and a consummate statesman of sterling qualities, who bore with the torture of his White jailors for nearly thirty years of incarceration but refused to bow down or leave the country for the sake of his people’s cause. And when released, he refused to surrender to his personal grouses and grudges, rejected scornfully taking the cudgels against his erstwhile White tormentors and stood up bravely for his nation’s unity and cohesion. But Nawaz is no statesman. He is just a small man with a small mind, though having inebriating pretences of tallness, no lesser promoted in him by a bevy of “fawning” media people. He is not the one wise enough to know the stupidity of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. He even wouldn’t know what it really means. For, he is no Recep Tayyip Erdogan, either. When Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party romped home in the 2000 national election, the Turkish generals were averse to it and the judiciary too was opposed to it for its Islamic religious credentials, even though moderate. Yet instead of getting into confrontation with them and returning their provocations with provocations, he focused single-mindedly on the betterment of his people’s lot with far-reaching economic reforms, sagacious administrative measures and a vibrant foreign policy. The resultant people power on his back has not only driven his party into office for the third term but has enfeebled cripplingly the domineering generals and the overbearing judiciary of the constitutional court. But then Nawaz is not even Hugo Chavez, the West’s much-reviled president of Venezuela. When in a CIA-engineered coup, in 2000, he was ousted, the people braving military tanks and soldiers stormed into the presidential office, physically threw out the proxy the coup-makers had installed in his place, and in less than 47 hours reinstated Chavez to his post. But when Nawaz was ousted, no streets burst out with people’s protest. Rather, there was a widespread sense of public relief. There were, instead, celebrations, though truthfully mostly by his opponents. The people at large were nonetheless wholly apathetic to his ouster. And they indeed had no reason to mourn as he had spent away the whole capital of his “heavy mandate” in beefing up his own political muscle and acquiring all the trappings of an authoritarian rule, including an attempt to be the nation’s lifelong Ameerul Momneen, a law unto himself. Not in alleviating the people’s depressing lot.No wonder, he is now talking to an empty street. He is promising moon. But his ugly past is too discouraging and too dissuading. His wholesale sallies against the military and the agencies are warming up no street hearts, though the people want both to work hard professionally in the best martial traditions to become the defenders of the nation truly and give them a real sense of security and safety.

Nawaz sold out Kashmir to Vajpayee: Musharraf

APML head and former President Pervez Musharraf has alleged that Nawaz Sharif sold out Kashmir during the visit of Indian premier Vajpayee to Lahore as there was no mention of Kashmir in the Lahore Declaration.

In a telephone address to a gathering here Saturday, Musharraf said the Kargil expedition had revived the Kashmir issue. He said the Kashmir problem was near to its solution during his stint as president as he had made serious efforts for it.

Musharraf said the PPP and the PML-N each had ruled Pakistan for 10 years but failed to deliver. He said it was surprising that now they were asking for the third term from the public without showing any performance. He said they had nothing to their credit to win the coming elections.

He lambasted the Punjab government and claimed that they had left Rs87 billion in the kitty of the Punjab government but the pathetic performance and mismanagement by Shahbaz Sharif had left the province in Rs430 billion debt. He claimed the PPP had done enough politics and now was the time to improve its governance. He said the PPP-led government should focus on resolving public problems including unemployment, poverty and loadshedding.

APML spokesman Fawad Chaudhry said people still remembered the golden era of Pervez Musharraf. He claimed that nobody could stop Musharraf from coming to Pakistan. He said the Punjab government used police to stop people from Musharraf s address.

`Maulvi` Nawaz`s mindset being defeated: Zardari

The thinking of “Maulvi” Nawaz Sharif is being defeated, said President Asif Ali Zardari while addressing a public meeting here on Tuesday to mark Benazir Bhutto’s birth anniversary.
He asked who is Maulvi Nawaz Sharif to hate generals and love soldiers? He said this is the thinking of a blacksmith. “Learn from me, meet me in private or make me your teacher,” Zardari advised Nawaz. About Nawaz, the president further said, “he is pitting us against the military, but we will not fight. Today he is criticising the Army.”

The president said there is no difference between the thinking of Nawaz and Mulla Umar. He further said as many as 35,000 “of my children” were martyred, but he is saying that it was not “our war”. He said if change took place he would again flee while “I will be left to be martyred.”

Zardari said Maulvi Nawaz is practising the politics of Zia. His thinking led to Benazir’s murder and now he was conducting a trial of Benazir’s grave. He said the British and Indian media do not show power breakdowns in their countries. Negative propaganda must be stopped, he said.

He said the time is not far off when intellectuals would replace actors on TV channels. He said the mindset of which Nawaz Sharif was a proponent was the real threat to the country. He said that Maulvi Nawaz Sharif wanted, to no avail, to pit the PPP against the Army, adding that no country could survive without its army.

He said that Nawaz was pained at the fact that, contrary to the mindset of his mentor (the late Gen Ziaul Haq), soldiers were laying down their lives and mothers losing their sons to terrorism in garrison mosques in fighting against the mindset which has killed thousands of our people, including Shaheed Benazir Bhutto

The president said that whenever he said that he knew who killed Benazir, he always meant that it was a mindset that targeted the PPP chairperson. The president called upon the country’s political forces to play their due role in strengthening Pakistan’s institutions and refrain from inciting a clash of institutions.

“There is no single country in the world which survived or achieved progress after its institutions, including its army, were PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif for speaking against the institutions and said the jawans and officers of army were rendering sacrifices and giving their lives for the country and nation.

“He (Nawaz) wants the politics of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq,” he remarked and added that the mindset which took the life of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto is being defeated.” The President said some political actors were also disturbed over the government’s policy of reconciliation as “we allied with MQM, PML-Q and others” to strengthen democracy.

He said Nawaz’s was an approach of a blacksmith who lacked foresight. He said the blacksmith approach could not think of pre-empting rice of wheat shortage but he (Zardari) foresaw the global economic crisis and ordered Sindh to do the needful in advance to buy the grain in advance.

He said Nawaz had forgotten that they (the PPP) presented them the Punjab reign in return for nothing.

He said that he was kept in jail by Nawaz and Pervez Musharraf but he did not budge. On the contrary, Zardari said, Nawaz could not tolerate jail because he was scared of mosquitoes, adding that Nawaz would again flee the country and only we (PPP) would be there for sacrifices. Had Nawaz felt for the masses, he would not have gone into exile, Zardari added.

He went on to say that today Nawaz vainly wanted the PPP to clash with institutions, advising the later to learn something from them (PPP) if he had no other teacher.

He said Nawaz moved court against NRO to in vengeance, but they (PPP) never acted that way. On the contrary, we (PPP) compelled courts to re-open Bhutto case, and the PPP worker would never pick up weapon, he would rather lay down his life instead of fighting with institutions, he added.

He said he had forgiven Nawaz for implicating him in cases. He said Nawaz was worried about Senate elections and that’s why he was bursting out these days. The president said some political actors were also disturbed over the government’s policy of reconciliation as “we allied with MQM, PML-Q and others” to strengthen democracy.

President Zardari referring to the fight against militancy said it is our war as it has taken the lives of our 35,000 people including the personnel of armed forces. The President said the PPP-led government would strengthen all the national institutions including army and won’t let the democracy get hurt.

He said, “Our political opponents were afraid of our popularity and the expected majority in the Senate”. The President recalled that the PPP leadership was offered by former President Pervez Musharraf to form its own governments at the Center and four provinces, adding, “but we refused and joined hands with the PML-N to share power in the Centre and Punjab.”

He regretted that those who were used to getting two-third majority and the governments easily in the past are speaking against the army. The President said the PPP even without securing majority in the elections managed to form the government through its reconciliatory politics and friendly attitude towards other political forces.

“I was elected President with a majority vote,” he said and added the PPP-led government restored the 1973 Constitution through 18th and 19th Constitutional Amendments. President Zardari said he was neither afraid of political actors nor cares for headlines, adding, “but some political leaders give statements for tomorrow’s headlines.”

“Think about the country and tomorrow’s generation. Do not think of your Mills and farms,” the president remarked with reference to the PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif. President Zardari said the PPP leaders always worked for the country and the nation, adding, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave this country the nuclear programme, while Shaheed Benazir Bhutto gave the missile technology.

He said after the 1971 debacle Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave this nation a new spirit of living and strengthened the institutions, adding, “We are the followers of such a great leader.” The president paid rich tribute to Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and said she and her father had sacrificed their lives for the country and nation.

The president congratulated the people of Sindh for generously donating blood on the birth anniversary of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and said, “The blood donated today in Sindh is in such a quantity that it can be used by other provinces as well.” President Zardari said the donated blood is used for the people and personnel, who are fighting against militancy.

No difference between Mullah Omer and Nawaz’s mentality:Zardari

President Asif Ali Zardari said that PPP provided PML(N) chief Nawaz sharif the opportunity to govern in Punjab. Addressing a public gathering on BB’s birth anniversary at Nowdero on late Tuesday , he said that Nawaz sharif was criticizing the institutions which weekens the country.Referring to Nuclear explosion , He further said that Nawaz did this as he was compelled.President Zardari further said in a speech that there was no difference between the mentality of Mullah Omer and Nawaz Sharif.Zardari further said that He didn’t afraid of the Political actors.He acknowledged that there was electricity crisis in the the country ,yet Nobody asked whey this problem prevails .