Monday, July 18, 2011

Gen. Petraeus hands over command in Afghanistan

Gen. John Allen took over command of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan on Monday from Gen. David Petraeus, assuming responsibility as Afghanistan's international allies draw up exit plans from the nearly 10-year conflict.

Allen said that the drawdown of U.S. forces that started earlier this month and the transition of some areas to Afghan control this week does not mean that international forces are easing up in their campaign to defeat the Taliban insurgency.

"It is my intention to maintain the momentum of the campaign," Allen said at the handover ceremony in the Afghan capital. He said however, that he does not expect the fight to be easy.

"There will be tough days ahead. I have no illusions about the challenges ahead," he said.

U.S. officials have trumpeted success in reclaiming Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan and training Afghan security forces as signs that they are finally making progress toward peace in Afghanistan. But violent attacks have continued, including a number of high-profile assaults and assassinations in recent weeks.

On Monday morning, a bomb killed three international service members in the east, NATO said in a statement. It did not provide nationalities or further details. Most of the troops in the east are American.

At least 37 international forces have been killed so far this month in Afghanistan.

Allen, who was promoted to a four-star general shortly before the handover ceremony, takes over from Petraeus, who commanded international forces in Afghanistan for one year and is retiring from the military to become the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The ceremony came just hours after security forces in the capital killed the final attacker in the assassination of a close adviser to President Hamid Karzai.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack, in which two gunmen shot Karzai adviser Jan Mohammed Khan and a parliamentarian he was meeting with in his house.

The deaths were announced late Sunday night and one attacker was quickly killed, but fighting continued inside the house until early Monday morning as police tried to take out the remaining assailant who had barricaded himself in the house, police said. One police officer was killed, the Interior Ministry said.

The shooting and small explosions finally ended about 3 a.m. and reporters on the scene saw a body — presumably that of the final attacker — dragged out of the house on a plastic sheet. Afghan officials had originally said the attackers were wearing suicide vests but said Monday that this was incorrect and they were armed only with guns.

Pak singer Asma Latta rejects allegations of being an ‘Indian spy’

Renowned Pakistani singer Asma Latta has rejected the allegations of being a spy for India, saying she could never think to spy against the country that gifted her respect and popularity.

While addressing a press conference in Peshawar, Latta, Urdu and Pushto singer, termed the allegations as ‘baseless’ and ‘ridiculous’.

“I am a Pakistani citizen and belong to Vina city of Punjab. My parents are also permanent residents of this country,” the Nation quoted Latta, as saying.

She said ‘some people had started a vicious propaganda campaign against her and published some stories calling her a Hindu woman,’ adding that she was a Muslim woman.

Latta said some people who were against her popularity wanted to defame her through media but these people would not succeed in their mean tactics.

She said she was a peaceful Pakistani and had no links with any spy agency or terrorist outfit.

An Urdu newspaper recently published a news in which Asma Latta was accused of spying against Pakistan and having sensitive pictures of government installations in addition to Indian and US currency.

Iranian actress to judge at Avanca

Iranian actress Anna Nemati

has been selected to serve on the jury panel of the 2011 Avanca International Film Festival in Portugal.

Nemati who starred in movies such as Aaland Snow on the Hot Roof, is slated to be a jury member of Portugal's Avanca Film Festival, which will be held from July 19 to 24.

She will judge for the first time at this event in which a number of worldly renowned cineastes will participate, Mehr News Agency reported.

Furthermore, the award-winning Iranian filmmaker, Mehdi Rahmani, will also judge participating films during this annual event.

Rahmani also plans to hold a workshop, titled The Impact of Documentary Cinema on Fiction Films, during the event.

The workshop is scheduled to be accompanied by a retrospective look at his documentaries.

Established in 1977, the festival screens feature-length productions, documentaries, animations and experimental films every year.

World warns Pakistan to end polio by 2012 or face action

World health organizations have warned Pakistan eradicating polio by 2012 or face action, Geo News reported.

Sources told Geo news that the world health organizations such as WHO and UNICEF in a memo to the federal government censured Pakistan for not eradicating thus far the menace of polio besides they have also expressed their reservations on the way the anti-polio drives are conducted over here.

Sources said that the world health organizations could penalize by imposing different restrictions, which even included Pakistanis entry into the foreign countries.

National Cycling Race starts in Quetta

The National Level Road Race from Quetta to Ziarat has started here Monday. The race has been organsied by the Pakistan Cycling Federation (PCF) in collaboration with its Balochistan chapter, Geo News reported. Sixty-two cyclists will reach Ziarat after covering 122 km distance.

All the affiliated units of the PCF, four provinces, Army, WAPDA, Railways and Sui Southern Gas Company have prepared their teams for participation. All the teams reached Quetta on July 17.

Balochistan Sports Secretary Muhammad Saqib Aziz inaugurated the race while Mir Balochistan Sports Minister Shah Nawaz Mari is the chief guest at the closing ceremony.

Once again a PML-N lawmaker
PML-N MNA Anjum Aqeel

was finally arrested on Saturday, a day after his supporters, including his 15 relatives, mostly rogues and vagabonds, stormed the Kohsar police in Islamabad firing in the air and brandishing sophisticated weapons and got the lawmaker freed from the lock-up. As Aqeel found losing the support of his party, he decided to surrender but laid condition that he would not be handcuffed and kept in a private place in the capital with all facilities he is enjoying at home. This request was turned down and the Shalimar police took him in custody near F-7 Markaz when he was accompanied by the same hooligans riding in cars making a caravan. The N League MNA, facing the charges that he misappropriated about Rs6 billion in the National Police Foundation scam, now countenances accusation under the Anti-Terrorism Act and he and 86 of his accomplices, who include 20 relatives, have been indicted in the FIR. This is the same Anjum Aqeel who last year assaulted the Federal Government College at F-10/4, slapped senior teacher Prof Ahmad Khan for not giving admission to a boy who did not meet the merit requirements and his accompanying hooligans damaged the college’s property. This is not the first time that a legislator has brought embarrassment to the party. It is from this party that the maximum number of MNAs and MPAs were disqualified for contesting election non fake bachelor’s degree. In 2009, a party MNA Haji Pervez Khan from Rawalpindi had to resign when a party committee found him involved in a case of impersonation. The fraud came to light when his nephew was arrested from an examination hall while appearing in the BA examination in place of his uncle. Then came the resignation of MPA Shunaila Rana when a case of credit card theft and misuse was registered against her. The party was also left pocketing insult when it awarded a ticket to Naghma Mushtaq for the by-election for a Punjab Assembly seat from Multan to contest against the brother of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani only to lose heavily. Naghma had won the February 2008 elections on the PML-Q ticket and resigned from the assembly fearing possible disqualification for having a fake degree. At least 10 more MNAs and MPAs of Nawaz Sharif’s party have been found in such legal offences since 2008 elections and this is the highest number of lawmakers breaking the law by any party. Such offences make one believe that the party leadership has failed to inspire its legislators in learning a good political behaviour. This also poses a question if the party had taken proper care of the moral character of aspirants for the 2008 elections and awarded party tickets to those who were not sufficiently qualified to rise to political and democratic morality. What has transpired is that the party hardly scrutinizes antecedents of election contenders. Had Sharifs’ party sought applicants to produce bachelor’s degree for 2008 elections, it would have saved itself from much of the humiliation that came its way when courts disqualified them accepting their rivals’ petitions.

Words shared by Urdu, Hindu and Pakhtu to be published soon Work in progress on Hindko pronunciation dictionary

The work on a Hindko pronunciation dictionary and another publication having words shared by Hindko, Pashto and Urdu is in progress andthe research-based books would be published soon. A literary, cultural and social welfare organisation, Gandhara Hindko Board, office-bearers said this at a function held at the Civil Officers Mess which was presided overby the organisation chairman Ejaz Ahmad Qureshi and attended by literary andcultural figures along with industrialists and educationists. The function washeld to review the work done by the board in the first six months of the yearand discuss the task to be taken in hand by the end of the year. Senior Vice-Chairman of the board, Associate Prof Dr Adnan Gul, said an eminent Hindko research scholar and linguist, Prof Dr Elahi Bakhsh Awan was working on a Hindko pronunciation dictionary and another book that would have the words shared by Hindko, Pashto and Urdu. He said the books “Hindko Talafuz Lughat” and “Sarmaya-e-Ishtiraak” would prove to be a good addition to the Hindko literature. Vice-Chairman ofthe board, Dr Salahuddin, who also heads the Medical Wing of the organisation, said the Hindko language promotion work was greatly linked with the social service. He said free medical camps for the flood-hit people was great experience and suggested that the Gandhara Welfare Trust should be made moreactive. General Secretaryof the board, Mohammad Ziauddin, said the board had published 36 books so far along with holding several literary and cultural functions and carrying out social welfare activities. He said “Hindko Conference” held recently atAbbottabad was a great success as that helped the board to interact with severalwriters from Hazara division. Noted educationist Khwaja Mohammad Waseem said it was heartening to note that research-based Hindko publications tally was on the rise. He said anotherencouraging factor was the growing interest and involvement of the educatedsegment of the society in language promotion efforts. Representing thebusiness community, known industrialist Khalid Sultan Khwaja, commerce leaders Sharafat Ali Mubarik and Atif Haleem Jan extended all cooperation to the board. The gatheringwas also addressed by Ihsan Elahi, Adnan Zahoor Awan, Sikander Hayat, AhmadNadeem Awan, Farzana Maruf and others. The GandharaHindko Board Chairman Ejaz Ahmad Qureshi said that he felt honoured to head an organisationthat had accomplished a great task within short span of time and optimumresources under the leadership of Prof Dr Zahoor Awan (late). “I will leave no stone unturned in the development of the Hindko language as I cannot detach myselffrom Peshawar whose people gave me a lot of love and respect,” said the board chairman who also served as chief secretary of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, federal secretary for railways, environment and special secretary of the Cabinet Division while in the civil service.

China slams US ‘interference’ after Obama meets Dalai Lama

China accused the United States on Sunday of “grossly” interfering in its internal affairs and seriously damaging relations after President Barack Obama met exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the White House.

Obama met the Nobel Prize laureate for 45 minutes, praising him for embracing non-violence while reiterating that the United States did not support independence for Tibet.

China, which accuses the Dalai Lama of being a separatist who supports the use of violence to set up an independent Tibet, reacted swiftly, saying Obama’s meeting had had a “baneful” impact, and summoning a senior US diplomat in Beijing. “This action is a gross interference in China’s internal affairs, hurts the feelings of the Chinese people and damages Sino-US relations,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement released in the early hours of Sunday.

“The Dalai Lama has for a long time used the banner of religion to engage in anti-China splittist activities,” he added. “We demand the United States conscientiously handle China’s principled and just stance, immediately take steps to remove the baneful impact, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs and stop abetting in and supporting ‘Tibet independence’ anti-China splittist forces.”

In a separate statement carried on its website (, it said Vice Foreign Minister Cui “urgently summoned” Robert S. Wang, Charge d’Affaires at the US embassy in Beijing, to lodge China’s objections. “China expresses its strong indignation and resolute opposition,” the statement said. “Tibet is an inseparable part of China, and Tibetan issues are purely an internal matter for China. “Maintaining the continuous stable development of Sino-US ties requires hard work from both sides.”

The Dalai Lama denies China’s accusations, saying he wants a peaceful transition to true autonomy for the remote Himalayan region, which China has ruled with an iron fist since 1950, when Chinese troops marched in. A White House statement said the Dalai Lama told Obama he was not seeking independence for Tibet and hoped that “dialogue between his representatives and the Chinese government can soon resume”.

Obama’s meeting came at an extra sensitive moment for China, the United States’ biggest creditor, with leaders in Washington at odds over how to raise the $14.3 trillion US debt ceiling in time to avoid default. China holds more than $1 trillion in US Treasury debt and would be particularly exposed should Congress fail to reach a deal by Aug. 2. A US default could rocket up interest rates, sink the value of the US dollar and hurt the global economy.

Beijing’s relations with Washington, beset by issues from human rights to trade and US arms sales to Taiwan, had been improving after President Hu Jintao’s visit to the United States. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attends a regional security forum in Indonesia this week along with China’s foreign minister. She then visits the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen to meet China’s top diplomat, state councilor Dai Bingguo.

Obama’s meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader was his first in more than a year. “We should tell the US that if their president continues in this vein, the Chinese government will consider meeting with members of al Qaeda,” wrote “Waiting alone at home” on China’s popular Weibo microblogging site, in comments reflective of the broad anger users expressed at the meeting.

Obama stressed the “importance he attaches to building a US-China cooperative partnership”, the White House said. “The president reiterated his strong support for the preservation of the unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions of Tibet and the Tibetan people throughout the world,” spokesman Jay Carney said after the meeting.

“He underscored the importance of the protection of human rights of Tibetans in China. The president commended the Dalai Lama’s commitment to nonviolence and dialogue with China.”

The Dalai Lama said he felt a “spirit of reunion” with Obama, said Kate Saunders, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet. Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, though, said the United States was intentionally “ignoring the facts” about the huge progress Tibet has made under party rule. It called on US politicians to “remove their tinted spectacles”.

“The statements of some in the United States show ignorance and hypocrisy, exposing the deep enmity some harbour towards China’s development and progress,” it said in a commentary.

Saudi detains two Omani women drivers

Two Omani women were detained for driving in Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to take to the wheel
Saudi Police detained two women drivers traveling with their families on the road connecting the capital Riyadh to the western city of Taef.

"A citizen tipped off police patrols that two women were driving cars with Omani licenses, Al-Hayat newspaper reported.

"The two women were detained and informed that women did not have the right to drive. They had to sign a commitment not to reoffend," it added.

Saudi Arabia in late June arrested five Saudi women for getting behind the wheel in defiance of a ban on female drivers in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom.

Their actions came in response to a call on the Internet for women in Riyadh to drive, after a show of defiance on 17 June in which 42 women took to the road.

Since then, "women defy the ban each day in different cities of the kingdom," an activist told AFP on condition of anonymity, noting her own mother had done so in Riyadh.

No law officially forbids women from driving in Saudi Arabia but a religious edict stipulates that women must be driven by a male chauffeur or family member.

US women show support for Saudi Women Drivers

Support for Saudi Arabian women openly flouting the driving ban in the deeply religious kingdom now extends as far as Ridgewood, a small town on the East Coast of the United States.

Inspired by Saudi women’s rights activists who uploaded videos of themselves openly driving, about 15 women in Ridgewood drove through the streets in cars adorned with signs saying “Honk For A Woman’s Right to Drive.”

The organizer, Bonnie Chalek, expressed outrage that a religious fatwa prohibited women from driving in the conservative country, calling it “totally insane,” in comments published by the local newspaper.

Human rights organizations report that female Saudi activists such as Manal al-Sharif taking part in this campaign have been arrested and forced to pledge not to drive.

Karzai Adviser Is Killed at Kabul Home

Insurgents killed a senior adviser to President Hamid Karzai at his Kabul home on Sunday night, the second assassination in a week of an influential official from southern Afghanistan and a major setback to the government's power there.

Jan Mohammed Khan, the former governor of southern Uruzgan province, was killed when at least two insurgents burst into his home at about 8 p.m., police officials said. Fighting continued for three hours after the attack as police battled insurgents holed up inside the residence.

The Taliban took responsibility for the attack, which also killed Mohammed Hashem Watanwal, a parliamentarian from Uruzgan who was visiting Mr. Khan at the time.

"He was on the Taliban target list," the insurgents said in an emailed statement. "The Taliban of Uruzgan kept following him and finally the operation was successful today."

Mr. Khan was a key player in the push to open peace negotiations with the Taliban. His death, Afghan and Western officials said, is likely a sign from insurgents that they aren't interested in talks with the government.

Mr. Khan was a close ally to the Karzai family and a key strongman in southern Afghanistan. His death followed last week's assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president's half brother. Considered the most influential power broker in the south, Ahmed Wali Karzai was the provincial council chief for Kandahar, the homeland of the Taliban.

In a sign of how close he was to the Karzai family, Mr. Khan last week put his turban on the head of Ahmed Wali's successor as head of the Popolzai tribe, said Shah Wali Karzai, the president's brother and a friend of Mr. Khan's. A Taliban bombing of a mourning ceremony afterward killed Kandahar's top Islamic cleric.

"Who is next? What kind of message are the Taliban sending here?" said a Western diplomat.

With the deaths of Messrs. Khan and Karzai, the Afghan government and U.S. forces will have a harder time navigating the complicated Pashtun tribal structure in the south. Both men were veterans of the region's tribal politics.

Southern Afghanistan is a key battleground for U.S.-led international forces; most of the 30,000 U.S. surge forces were deployed in the region.

Eyewitnesses said they heard a small explosion at the beginning of Sunday's Kabul assault and then bursts of gunfire. Around 50 Afghan police and intelligence officers surrounded Mr. Khan's compound. An unknown number of Mr. Khan's bodyguards were also killed in the attack.

Mr. Khan's house was thrown into darkness Sunday night, as police cut off the electricity to flush out the remaining insurgents. But occasionally, the silence was broken by gunfire and shouting from inside the compound, witnesses said.

Mr. Khan's death is also a blow to the transition to Afghan security control, which officially started on Sunday in a handful of relatively secure areas.

The handover from the U.S.-led coalition to Afghan security forces is supposed to allow the bulk of international troops to withdraw by late 2014. But the coalition relies on strongmen like Mr. Khan and Ahmed Wali Karzai to gather support for the Afghan government among the tribes.

In 2006, President Karzai forced Mr. Khan from his position as Uruzgan's governor, a condition set by Dutch forces when they took over the province. The Dutch saw Mr. Khan as corrupt and an impediment to efforts to improve governance in the province.

The Netherlands has since withdrawn its forces from Uruzgan.

Mr. Khan and his family have built an empire of private security firms that work with coalition forces in the south. Mr. Khan helped found Asia Security Group, which he has since sold to Hashmat Karzai, a cousin of the president.

3.2m children to be vaccinated against polio

The Khyber Pakthunkhwa Health Department has constituted 9972 vaccination teams to administer Bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine (BOPV) drops to 3.2 million children below five years of age in three-day immunization campaign starting from July 18-20 in Khyber Pakthunkhwa, official said.

Dr Asma Alamgir, President Women Wing PPP KPK and Member President’s Oversight Committee for Polio Eradication formally inaugurated the third National Immunization Campaign where fifteen districts would be fully covered while drive in four districts including Mardan, Nowshera excluding Jalozai, Batagram and Tank have been delayed for one week due to inadequate preparations.

Speaking on the occasion, Asma Alamgir said the government was giving priority to polio eradication programme so that no child could be crippled for life.

She said the President and Prime Minister were taking keen interests in polio eradication programmes keeping in view of its paramount importance.

She said under the Prime Minister’s Action Plan against polio, the campaign is being monitored at the grass rout level and army has been requested for providing security to staff and field workers for extensive vaccination to tribal people in Fata.

Underling the need for active role of media, ulema and other segment of the society to make the programme a success, she said that refusal cases could be tackled effectively by educating masses and media and ulema can play a vital role in this regard.

She directed the Secretary Health to cover the uncovered Union Councils in far flung areas of Khyber Pakthunkhwa so that no child could be deprived of the facility.

She said that political parties and local elders could also play an important role to educate and aware masses about Government’s endeavours against polio.

Asma said women volunteers should be hired for vaccination in Malakand Division and Kohistan district to avoid refusal cases.

She requested the Prime Minister to extend more support for eradication of polio in KPK and Fata.

Stressing the need for establishment of vaccination points on Pak Afghan border areas, she said these points at border areas of KPK and Fata would also be extremely helpful.

She said that polio free Pakistan was the dream of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and the government would fulfill her dream at every cost.

Khyber Pakthunkhwa Secretary Health Cap Retd Munir Azam said refusal cases are one of the major hurdles for high reported cases in KPK and sought the role of media for education of masses to discourage this tendency.

Dr Janbaz Afridi, Deputy Director EPI KPK said that a total of six polio cases from three districts have so far been reported from Khyber Pukhtunkhwa this year. The reported cases include three from Peshawar, two from Torghar and one from Bannu districts while 59 cases were so far reported from Pakistan this year. Out of 59 cases, he said that 20 cases were reported from Fata, six KPK, 18 Balochistan, 14 Sindh and one from Gilgit Baltistan and significantly no case has been reported from Punjab and AJK this year.

The Health Department has arranged 9,972 vaccination teams, which will be supervised by 1976 area in-charges include lady health workers and their supervisors, other cadre of health staff and teachers.

He said the necessary logistics including vaccines, finger-markers, social mobilization materials and recording forms have been provided to the districts.

Preparations in the districts have been started with assistance of District Coordination Officers who have been tasked to lead polio eradication efforts as envisaged in the President’s National Emergency Action Plan and Provincial Emergency Action Plan.

He said the Health Department has established polio control room with assistance of WHO and UNICEF under supervision of Deputy Director EPI, KPK and will function daily to provide latest updates of program. The most significant challenge is lack of uniformity in coverage at sub-district (Union Council) level, refusal cases, law and order situation and inaccessibility. The key target in every district is to have at least 95% finger-marking coverage in every union council.