Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Zardari to visit Afghanistan today

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari is due to visit Kabul today to hold talks with his Afghan counterpart President Hamid Karzai.

Zardari's spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said that the two leaders will discuss issues of bilateral importance as well as counter-terrorism and peacemaking with the Taliban.

The president will also convey his condolences to Karzai on the death of his half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Express Tribune reports.

Zardari's visit to Kabul comes after his trip to Iran earlier this week in which he reportedly held in-depth negotiations with the country's leadership on the future of Afghanistan.

Hina waits for date to take oath as foreign minister

Hina Rabbani Khar, long tipped to be elevated as foreign minister, is now awaiting a date to take oath.

“President’s secretariat is working to find a slot in the president’s schedule for the oath-taking ceremony,” an official at the Presidency said on Monday after reports that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, before his departure to the UK, had advised President Asif Ali Zardari to make her the foreign minister.

Mr Gilani met Ms Khar at the Prime Minister’s House prior to leaving for London and discussed her new role.

Mr Zardari is leaving for Afghanistan on Tuesday to offer condolence to President Hamid Karzai on his brother’s assassination. According to his itinerary, the president will be out of the country on Wednesday and Thursday.

Ms Khar will then be leaving for Indonesia to attend a meeting of the Asean Regional Forum scheduled for July 22-23 in Bali.

The most likely dates for her oath taking will be between July 24 and 26 before she leaves for Delhi for a ministerial meeting on July 27. But Foreign Office strategists are urging the Presidency for an earlier date to avoid an impression that Ms Khar was elevated only to remove the protocol hitch for the upcoming meeting with Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna. With her goal of becoming the youngest and first woman foreign minister in sight, Ms Khar, known at the Foreign Office to be “too protocol conscious”, has got her name and picture as minister of state removed from the ministry’s website before the elevation officially materialises. The office of the foreign minister has been lying vacant since Feb 9 when Shah Mehmood Qureshi lost the ministry in a cabinet reshuffle.

While Mr Qureshi is widely believed to have lost the office for taking a hard line on the issue of immunity for CIA operative Raymond Davis, incidentally Ms Khar’s choice as the next foreign minister, according to a minister, was inspired by former US envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan (late) Richard Holbrooke’s special liking for the minister, who was then looking after economic affairs as a minister of state and was responsible for coordinating international aid.

A dangerous Saudi affair

Ahmad Ali Khalid
One can witness a pervasive sort of racism, a form of Saudi supremacy that views other types of Arabs and particularly the South Asian expats (who are mostly labourers) as inferior and mere ‘commodities’ who can be bought and sold ruthlessly. Expats are not human beings but a commodity to be bartered and acquired.

Connected to racial supremacy is an attempt to insulate the regime from criticism by using the cloak of religion. Saudi textbooks are filled with references to hate; the Islamic Studies curriculum in the country is simply barbaric. I’ve experienced first-hand being taught by an Islamic Studies teacher in one of the most prominent private schools in Riyadh, about the dangers of having non-Muslims as friends and about the evil conspiracies hatched by Christians, Jews and Shias.

In Pakistan, Saudi petro-dollars have funded factories of hate in the form of the madrassa system. ‘Petro-Islam’ is a nightmare scenario – capitalism and a dangerous ideology locked in a tight embrace. It is because of the sheer amount of money behind this austere and dangerous theology that it can easily overwhelm the moderate elements in any given society.

Little attention is given in Pakistan about the treatment of Pakistani labourers. If the Saudis will not speak about the suffering of these people then why should we remain silent? It is understandable that Pakistanis within Saudi cannot protest, but why do Pakistanis living outside who have witnessed first-hand the harsh treatment of their fellow citizens choose to remain silent? The Gulf countries practice a modern day equivalent of slavery, and our media should be more vocal about it, instead of weaving tales about Mossad and RAW.

The treatment of Pakistani labourers as sub-humans is deeply pervasive. The underlying logic of this treatment is that a non-Saudi can never be an equal; they are always meant to serve. Pakistanis like to criticise Europe’s hostility to immigrants but the anti-immigration feeling in Saudi Arabia is deeply toxic and yet it is never scrutinised.

A famous Pakistani defence of Saudi Arabia is that it is an ‘Islamic country’ and ergo a good place to raise the kids. But there is very little ‘Islamic’ about the country – in my time in Saudi, I talked to converts to Islam who travelled from as far as America and the UK to see for themselves the ‘Islamic’ Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Privately, they reveal a story of disillusionment and profuse disappointment.

Many were shocked by what they see in Saudi. They talk about a hypocrisy running deep within the society. Whilst the elite enjoy a hedonistic lifestyle of drinking and private nightclub-style parties, the religious police make life hell. I once saw a mullah in a GMC reverse on one of the main roads in Riyadh just to tell a woman to put her burqa on properly.

I find we are confused about our reaction to the prospect of a ‘Saudi Revolution’. When Mubarak was toppled and Ben Ali fled, the reaction amongst Pakistanis was positive, after all these dictators were merely pawns of the West. But talk about Saudi, and again there is that sense of unease and discomfort. After all, for all their faults the Saudis still do some great work. Many Pakistanis and indeed Muslims around the world have a sense of deep respect in regards to the provision of the Hajj. Indeed, the Saudis have continually done a fantastic job in improving facilities, crowd control and should be given credit for handling such a difficult event with efficiency.

But on the issue of faith, some Pakistanis are naive in thinking that a Muslim country can never be unjust with another Muslim country; they refuse to accept that in the reality of real politick there is no ‘Islamic Ummah’.

It is this sense of moral unease we have when we talk about Saudi Arabia that has haunted Pakistani hearts and minds. On the one hand, we receive great remittances from Pakistani workers who are employed in the Kingdom, but on the other hand everyone knows that they are discriminated against and have little or no rights. But yet again the response is that those Pakistanis living and working in Saudi Arabia should be grateful that they even have a job because of the deteriorating economic conditions back home. In this cold, utilitarian world where money talks, it is impossible that the Pakistani government will fight for its citizens rights in front of the Saudi Royal family.

The old adage, ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you’, comes to mind. Pakistan is trapped in an abusive marriage (or maybe a delusional affair?) when it comes to Saudi.

Today the Kingdom is launching a great counter-revolution trying to contain the ‘Arab Spring’ by buying off Arab militaries, supporting dictators, issuing fatwas against the protestors and involving the Pakistani security forces in controlling protests in Bahrain which has become a stage for its great feud with Iran. Pakistan is very much a supporter of tyranny in the greatest political awakening of the 21st century, and this will hurt only Pakistanis in the end.

ANP welcomes MQM decision on Sindh Governor

Welcoming the decision of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) directing Sindh Governor to resume his duties, spokesman of the Awami National Party Senator Zahid Khan on Monday hoped that this would help restore peace in Karachi.
MQM chief Altaf Hussain has directed Sindh Governor Dr. Ishratul Ebad Khan to resume his duties. Zahid said the Sindh Governor would continue his role for peace in the mega city. All the stakeholders, including ANP, Pakistan Peoples Party
(PPP) and MQM should work together for the betterment and peace in Karachi.
He said it was responsibility of all political parties to seriously play their role to restore peace in the city.
Zahid Khan, however, said people of Karachi wanted to know who was responsible for recent loss of innocent lives and property in the city.

Bahrain's government accused of targeting doctors

A Human Rights Watch report released today accuses the government in Bahrain of engaging in a concerted attack on the country's medical community.

The report alleges that security forces targeted doctors and nurses who were treating injured Bahrainis during the anti-government uprisings earlier this year and that the abuse and intimidation is continuing despite the suppression of the protests.

Tom Porteous is the deputy program director at Human Rights Watch.

He says the group witnessed the abuse first hand and that the international community should be condemning the actions of the government in Bahrain far more strongly.

He spoke to me from New York.

Tom Porteous, Human Rights Watch says the Bahraini government engaged in abuse of medical staff. What exactly does your report document?

TOM PORTEOUS: Well this is basically a report that looks at a concerted attack against the medical community. First of all the report documents the way in which the security forces surrounded and literally besieged medical facilities, including the main hospital in Bahrain.

But also it looks at the way in which patients who were suspected of having been injured in protests were rounded up in some cases into incommunicado detention and beaten in spite of their injuries and then also it looks at attacks on medical staff themselves with continue now with a trial by military courts of about 48 medical personnel.

ELEANOR HALL: Did people die because of these government actions?

TOM PORTEOUS: In some cases it does appear quite possible that a number of people actually may have died. Certainly harm to health but also probable death as a result of these interventions by the security forces.

ELEANOR HALL: Was there any one case that particularly affected you?

TOM PORTEOUS: Yeah I mean there was the case of one chap who had been, you know, very severely injured. He'd been hit by birdshot pellets and they were really all over his body and he was in a very weak state.

And the doctors begged the security forces not to move him and they insisted and they took him away. It was obviously clear that this chap was in a great deal of pain as he was being forced to walk away.

Eventually they put him in a wheelchair and they just carted him off and they put him in a sports utility vehicle and drove him away. And we've been trying to ascertain where this young man was taken, what happened to him ever since. This was you know, a few months ago now and he's just disappeared as far as we can gather.

ELEANOR HALL: So you don't know what happened to him, do you know what happened to the doctors that were trying to help him?

TOM PORTEOUS: The doctors we know what happened to them is that, you know, that many of them were arrested and now there are almost 50 of them who are facing trial on a variety of different charges. So clearly the doctors who were treating these injured protesters have been viewed with a great deal of suspicion as well as the protesters themselves. And for us this just seems to be gratuitous and retributive measure on the part of the government, in order to warn people not to side with the protesters.

And that's why we felt it was important to put out a report on this particular subject and of course it continues today as we speak.

ELEANOR HALL: So the government stifled the uprising essentially in mid-March with the help of the Saudis but you're saying that did not put an end to this abuse and persecution of doctors?

TOM PORTEOUS: These trials continue and they are clearly a way of trying to instil fear in the population and to prevent them from resuming the protests.

ELEANOR HALL: How did you conduct your investigation, did the government allow you into the country to interview doctors?

TOM PORTEOUS: Most of the research that we did was kind of on the ground, I mean we were there during the protests, we were there during the crackdown and in the weeks following the crackdown. So we were able to witness a lot of the things that we documented in this report at first hand.

But for the last six weeks or so, probably two months perhaps, we have not been able to access Bahrain, it's been impossible for us to get in. In the meantime we're able to monitor quite effectively from outside because we have many good contacts.

ELEANOR HALL: The government denies that it’s abusing doctors and says the protesters were in fact hiding weapons in the hospital. Did you seek a response from the government to these allegations?

TOM PORTEOUS: Yes indeed, well that's the line that the government has taken to justify this abuse that took place at the hospital and abuse against other medical facilities and abuse in general against the medical community.

We have sought clarification of the statements of the government to that effect and you know, we've taken those statements very seriously.

We ourselves did not see any evidence of that and we were there at the time, and we've written to the government to ask for, you know, further elaboration of these claims and we have not to date received any response.

However, the government has now established an investigative commission which is composed of some extremely prominent international human rights experts to look into the whole crisis and the consequences of the crisis and that's a positive step I should say.

So we do hope that there will be some clarity and we'll get a full picture of the government's side of the story as that investigative commission starts and completes its work.

ELEANOR HALL: So what is Human Rights Watch calling for now, both from the government and indeed from the international community?

TOM PORTEOUS: We're calling on the government to use restraint in its approach to the medical community, we're calling on them to essentially release those who have been detained and that there should be some accountability for any abuses on the part of the security forces.

As far as the international community is concerned, you know, we're very concerned that while the European Union and the United States, which are both close allies of Bahrain, have been very quick to condemn violence on the part of governments against protesters in other parts of the Middle East, Bahrain has been the exception.

And it's important that policy makers in the West should see what's going on in Bahrain and very much part of the pattern of what's going on in the rest of the region.

ELEANOR HALL: Would it make a difference if the US in particular spoke out?

TOM PORTEOUS: Of course it would because I mean Bahrain is a very small country that is extremely dependent on the goodwill of its Western allies.

ELEANOR HALL: Tom Porteous, thanks very much for joining us.

TOM PORTEOUS: You're welcome, thank you.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the deputy program director from Human Rights Watch, Tom Porteous.

Cultural fashion show concludes in Peshawar

A two-day fashion show highlighting historical and modern fashion and lifestyles of the people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) concluded on Sunday.

The event was jointly organised by Globoss and the Tourism Corporation of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (TCKP).

Male and female models strutted down the ramp while showcasing local culture and style from 1950 up to the modern era.

Kiran, a model, told The Express Tribune that while she was nervous before the show, she enjoyed the experience a lot. “I am not a professional model but I have decided to enter this profession in the future,” she said.

Fazilat, a singer from Swat, said that, “I did not feel any fear over the security situation here. I performed and received a lot of appreciation. I am very happy.”

Haroon, an audience member, applauded the show and stressed the need for holding such events in the future as well.

Nasreen, another audience member said, “I liked the dance performance and modelling very much. It was very good.”

The event included musical performances and painting and photo competitions to pay tribute to the legends of the film industry,
including Badar Munir, Yasmeen Khan and Asif Khan, and national heroes such as Malik Saad Shaheed, Safwat Ghayur and Karnal Sher Khan.

Famous singers including Kiran Khan, Zeek Afridi, Sitara Younas,
Baryalay Samadi, Janas Khan, Zeb Khan, Sami Khan, Arooj Mohmand, Yamee Khan and Ayaz Khan performedn, as is bands from Lahore and AR Anwar Ustad from Karachi.

Titled Peshawar Vision 2020, a paintings and photography competition between students and professionals from various universities and colleges was also held, the winners of which were awarded medals and cash prizes.

The Express Tribune

'Air-conditioned clothes' help Japan beat heat

As jackets go it looks far from fashionable, but its Japanese maker cannot meet sky-rocketing demand for "air conditioned" coats with built-in fans.

Kuchofuku Co. Ltd -- whose name literally means "air-conditioned clothing" -- has seen orders soar amid power shortages in Japan after the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

As parts of the nation sweat out an uncomfortable summer shackled by restrictions on electricity use, demand has grown for goods that provide guilt-free respite from the unrelenting summer heat.

Two electric fans in the jacket can be controlled to draw air in at different speeds, giving the garment a puffed-up look. But this has not deterred those happy to be cool rather than "hot" when it comes to fashion.

"I work in a very hot place and have to wear long sleeved outfits, so I came over to buy this to stay cool and to prevent heat stroke," said Ryo Igarashi, 33, as he left the Kuchofuku office after buying an air-conditioned jacket.

Igarashi said the clothing offers him relief at hot construction sites where he, coincidentally, installs air conditioners in buildings.

Nearly 1,000 companies in Japan use Kuchofuku, including automobile giants, steelmakers, food companies and construction firms.

Among its other products, the company also sells air-conditioned cushions and mattresses that use Kuchofuku's patented plastic mesh system that allows air to circulate while supporting weight.

The products have taken on extra significance since the closure of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and a government decree obliging big companies in the Tokyo and Tohoku northern region to reduce power usage by 15 percent to avoid blackouts.

Initiatives such as "Super Cool Biz" encourage employees to ditch jackets and ties and turn down air conditioning, while the power-saving drive has also sparked demand for cooling gadgets.

Imports of electrical fans through Tokyo port hit a record high in May, jumping 70 percent from a year earlier to 1.24 million units, according to the customs office.

The fans in the Kuchofuku jacket are connected to a lithium-ion battery pack that lasts for 11 hours on a single charge, consuming only a fraction of the power used by conventional air-conditioning, said company president Hiroshi Ichigaya.

Ichigaya says that his clothing offers a counter-intuitive solution: that by wearing more, a person can feel cooler than if baring it all.

"People are now trying to wear as little as possible in such campaigns as Super Cool Biz, but wearing more Kuchofuku makes you feel much cooler," Ichigaya told AFP.

Up to 20 litres per second of air circulates throughout the jacket and escapes through the collar and cuffs, drying off sweat and cooling down the wearer.

The idea of "personal air-conditioning" struck Ichigaya -- a Sony engineer for two decades until the early 1990s -- when he was trying to invent an air conditioner that would use little electricity.

"It came to me that we don't need to cool the entire room, just as long as people in it feel cool," he said.

Kuchofuku, first launched in 2004, typically draws demand from factories and construction sites but the company has recently seen orders come in from office workers and housewives.

A standard air-conditioned jacket sells for around 11,000 yen ($140), with others priced higher.

A central government official recently approached the company to buy half-a-million jackets, but Ichigaya said he had to turn the order down because the company was unable to boost production in time to meet demand.

The company will sell a total of 40,000 jackets, cushions and other air-cooled products this year, double last year's figure, Ichigaya said, adding that sales would reach 80,000 if he could manufacture enough.

Obama threatens veto of House GOP spending cuts

Courting confrontation and compromise alike, House Republicans shrugged off President Barack Obama's threat to veto legislation to cut federal spending by trillions of dollars on Monday while simultaneously negotiating with him over more modest steps to avert a potential government default.

The Republican bill demands deep spending reductions and congressional approval of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in exchange for raising the nation's debt limit. But Obama will veto it if it reaches his desk, the White House said, asserting the legislation would "lead to severe cuts in Medicare and Social Security" and impose unrealistic limits on education spending.

In response, GOP lawmakers said they would go ahead with plans to pass the bill on Tuesday. "It's disappointing the White House would reject this commonsense plan to rein in the debt and deficits that are hurting job creation in America," Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio said.

By contrast, neither the administration nor congressional officials provided substantive details on an unannounced meeting that Obama held Sunday with the two top House Republican leaders, Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.

Obama said late Monday the two sides were "making progress."

Several Republicans said privately the decision to vote on veto-threatened legislation is paradoxically designed to clear the way for a compromise. They said conservatives would have a chance to push their deep spending cuts through the House, and then see the measure quickly die either in the Democratic-controlled Senate or by veto.

Barring action by Congress to raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit, the Treasury will be unable to pay all the government's bills that come due beginning on Aug. 3, two weeks from Wednesday. Administration officials, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and others say the result could be a default that inflicts serious harm on the economy, which is still struggling to recover from the worst recession in decades.

In a gesture underscoring the significance of the issue, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced the Senate will meet each day until it is resolved, including on weekends.

The two-pronged approach pursued by the House GOP follows the collapse of a weeks-long effort to negotiate a sweeping bipartisan plan to cut into future deficits. The endeavor foundered when Obama demanded that tax increases on the wealthy and selected corporations be included alongside cuts in benefit programs, and Republicans refused.

The failure of that effort also reflects the outsized influence exerted by 87 first-term Republicans, many of them elected last fall with tea party backing.

As late as last Thursday, Republican leaders held a news conference to tout plans to vote this week on a proposed balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

But the same senior Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting of the rank and file on Friday to say the House would instead vote on an alternative — dubbed by its advocates as "Cut, Cap and Balance." No date has been set for a vote on the constitutional amendment itself.

Officials said the change in course had been requested by members of the Republican Study Committee, whose members are among the most conservative in Congress.

Supporters of the measure say it would cut $111 billion from government spending in the budget year that begins on Oct 1, and $6 trillion more over the coming decade through a requirement that the budget shrink relative to the overall size of the economy.

Additionally, it would require both houses of Congress to approve a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution as a condition for an increase in the debt limit.

Both Boehner and Cantor reacted relatively mildly to the White House veto threat.

"As President Obama has not put forth a plan that can garner 218 votes in the House, I'd caution him against so hastily dismissing 'Cut, Cap and Balance,'" said Cantor.

Other Republicans, by contrast, took a harder line.

"I find it incredibly ironic that President Obama is one of the few Americans who think we don't need a constitutional amendment 'to do our jobs.'" Said Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, a member of the leadership.

"The point of cutting up the credit cards in order to raise the debt ceiling isn't to meet his tax-and-spend demands; it's to force him to stop spending money we don't have."

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky made a strong statement of support for the measure.

"Not only is this legislation just the kind of thing Washington needs right now, it may be the only option we have if you want to see the debt limit raised at all," he said.

"I strongly urge my Democratic friends to join us in supporting it."

Despite his warning, McConnell and Reid have been deeply involved in writing a fallback measure that is viewed in both houses as promising.

It would allow the president to raise the debt limit by $2.4 trillion in three installments over the next year without a prior vote by lawmakers. Instead, a panel of House and Senate members would be created to recommend cuts in benefit programs, with their work guaranteed a yes-or-no vote in the House or Senate.

Recreating the divide that plagued the earlier negotiations, Democrats want the panel to have the power to recommend higher taxes.

Neither Reid nor McConnell has publicly disclosed the details of the measure, and neither is expected to do so as long as the legislation in the House is pending.

One conservative deficit hawk, Sen. Tom Coburn, unveiled his own proposal to bring federal deficits under control. The Oklahoma Republican recommended $9 trillion in cuts over a decade, including $1 trillion in higher taxes.