Thursday, September 15, 2011

Floodwaters return to haunt millions in Pakistan

Floodwaters return to haunt millions in Pakistan

Saudi woman hits the road

Hiding under a hooded shirt, another Saudi woman drove on King Fahd Road in Riyadh.

The woman, identified as Nora, was accompanied by her mother, who had expressed her despair of using taxis to move around in the city. Taking taxis exhausted her, the mother complained, adding that it exposed her to a number of problems, as she had no man in the house.

“My only daughter learned to drive when we traveled and is in possession of a driving license, so I thought it more convenient to have her drive me around to finish my chores,” said the mother.

She added that recruiting a private driver was very expensive, and two of her previous drivers had run away, leaving her helpless.

The daughter, on the other hand, said she preferred to wear a hooded sweatshirt to hide her identity, as she was not sure about the law and how she would be treated if caught. “I also tried to keep a low profile, so men would not hassle me, given that I am not protected by the law. Things might turn against me if there was a clash,” said Nora.

Nora and her mother admitted that they had been driving since morning carrying out some chores all the way from Takhassosi Street, west of Riyadh, to Al-Woroud area, north of Riyadh, with no trouble at all. They were held in the traffic on King Fahd Road, where some of the drivers had spotted Nora, but left her alone.

Nora's mother said that once the government finally approved women driving, and bylaws were set to protect her daughter and other female drivers, her and other women’s problems would be reduced.

“I am retired and my salary is hardly enough for my expenses. I cannot afford a driver, and even if I could, I have no place for a strange man in my house,” said Nora's mother, confirming that she knew many other women in the same situation.

Yet Nora's mother expressed more despair about the present situation, as it remains unclear if driving is approved or not and whether she can come out openly with her daughter into the streets or has to keep dodging bullets.

Late last month Jeddah police briefly detained Najla Hariri, a social activist who was part of an Internet campaign titled “Women2Drive,” for driving her daughter to her workplace.

Anti-sexual-harassment exhibition held

A series of exhibitions, marking decade-long working women's movements and raising awareness about sexual harassment at national level, is getting good response from womenfolk.

Alliance Against Sexual Harassment at workplace (AASHA) is arranging these exhibitions in ten major cities including Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, Hyderabad, Multan, Sialkot, and Faisalabad.

Talking to APP, Women Organization for Rights and Development (WORD), Executive Director Aqsa Khan said that the exhibitions have been successfully held in seven cities where it received positive response as women were keen to know about this specific legislation approved for ensuring conducive environment for them.

Aqsa said that the participants from across the country have send strong messages for supporting victims of sexual harassment especially those who report cases.

The participants have demanded the government, media and policy makers' support promoting zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the society, she added.

Aqsa said every single case of sexual harassment reported is an achievement of the efforts in implementing the anti sexual harassment laws. An organization that is committed to deal with cases of sexual harassment will enhance the productivity and efficiency of its employees. It should take pride in resolving cases of sexual harassment rather than feel afraid of damaging the reputation of the organization.

The management should not side with the perpetrator or put pressure on the enquiry committees due to outside political influence, she added.

Aqsa stressed the need to change the mindset of those who discriminate women on the basis of their sex and usually consider them inferior to men in the society.

The awareness material and key highlights of the struggle of decade long movement are a part of the display while awareness sessions are also being arranged at national level.
Through AASHA's platform, women are demanding appointment of provincial ombudspersons on priority, adding she said that the women are also demanding strengthening of inquiry committees for resolving cases swiftly.

The exhibition will be held in Multan on September 15-16 and in Lahore on September 17.

Rift surface in ranks of ANP ahead of party elections

The Awami National Party’s key leaders have developed serious differences over key slots of president and general secretary ahead of party elections expected this month.The visible two major groups are headed by ex minister for transport Mohammad Karim Babak who is uncle of minister for education while another by Mohammad Iqbal Khan of Panjtar. They are the expected another words aspirant candidates for the top slot of president while ex secretary general Rahim Zada of Salarzai is in the group of Mohammad Karim Babak and Waliur Rehman of Torwarsak in the group of Mohammad Iqbal Khan, inside sources confirmed.The said groups are supported by top leadership of the district including minister for education Sardar Hussain Babak and ex district nazim Haji Rauf Khan the former and MPA Qaisar Wali Khan the later one respectively. Both of them are active for gaining support of workers. The corner meetings of the confronting groups are levelling allegations against each other while MNA Istiqbal Khan and MPA Said Rahim Khan are playing role of silent spectators apparently. But secretly as reported they are supporting one of them, inside sources disclosed.The source confided that a committee of top leadership headed by provincial president Afrasiab Khattak was also summoned both of them to district Swabi when on trip to resolve differences among ranks there. But the groups from district Buner were not agreed over patch up request, sources revealed.The interesting aspect of the whole episode is that the existing general secretary and interim president Mian Syed Laiq Bacha and Qareebur Rehman are also taken mum over the ongoing developments in the party in spite they have contributed a lot and have wide ranging political influence at district and provincial level.The political pundits are of the view that the ongoing tussle amongst ranks will force the top bosses in the province to convince the resigned president Abdur Rashed Khan of Makhranai by removing his genuine grievances and pave way for his elections as a powerful president in the larger party interests. In case of winning elections by one or other group will lead to split in the party a head of general elections and resultantly will lose dominant position in the upcoming general elections, the pundits remarked.

Pakistan's breadbasket reels from more floods

One year after record floods left 21 million Pakistanis reeling, thousands living on the country's southern fertile plains have seen their homes washed away for a second time -- despite the spending of millions of dollars in aid to avert a fresh crisis.
Anwer Mirani is one of 20,000 people living in Sindh province's Jamshoro district who have been made homeless again after heavy downpours and rainwater from the surrounding mountains swept their homes away.
"We had just begun to restore our houses when we had to leave again because of the floods," said the 38-year-old construction worker, wearing a tatty shalwar kameez, the traditional garb of baggy trousers and long shirt.
He took his wife, parents and three children in a boat loaded with their few household goods and has made his way to the same nearby hills they had escaped to one year ago.
"What can we do except run away? No one can fight nature," he said.
The heavy rains that began falling in late August have so far affected at least 5.3 million people, made 200,000 homeless for a second time and deluged 1.7 million acres of arable land, government officials say.
The devastation has not reached the scale of 2010's catastrophe that caused $10 billion losses, but with the aid-dependent government seeking fresh funds, questions have been raised over whether the new disaster could have been prevented.
The government was last year pilloried by flood victims who accused civilian authorities of a delayed and inadequate response to the disaster, which was met with nearly one billion dollars in foreign donations.
In July, relief agency Oxfam said that Pakistan had failed to invest in prevention measures since last year and warned that river banks had not been rebuilt, estimating that 37,000 people in Sindh were still living in camps.
Local officials say the level of devastation is worse than last year in parts of southern Sindh province, the country's main breadbasket, with poor drainage and weak infrastructure exacerbating the problem.
Last year's floods hit 13 out of 24 districts of Sindh -- this year almost every district is affected.
But while last year's disaster was caused by the bulging River Indus, causing mass devastation where waters breached the broken banks, the flooding this year is a result of direct rainfall, affecting different areas.
Pakistan's meteorological department says average rainfall across Sindh province is three times the normal level, with the three worst-affected districts seeing eight times the usual rainfall.
"This year the river is quiet and the catastrophe came from the skies," said Idrees Rajput, a consultant with the provincial government's irrigation ministry, who added there was no budget to invest properly in infrastructure.
"The rains are unprecedented this year, which has exposed how weak our infrastructure is. It is not a matter of preparedness to face floods. Our system was even inadequate for lesser rains."
Relief workers said the government's rebuilding efforts along the river had focused more on strengthening the main protection walls and embankments and ignored some of the smaller weak spots.
"The monsoon exploited on all those weaker points and caused huge losses," said Akbar Khoso of Thar Deep, a non-governmental organisation in the area.
The UN's World Food Programme agency said it is currently working to provide emergency supplies to half a million people and would scale up operations with the aim of reaching over two million in October.
The United States says it is sending food aid for nearly 350,000 Pakistanis and medical assistance for about 500,000, while China, Pakistan's most trusted foreign ally, said it had pledged $4.7 million for urgent humanitarian help.
Meanwhile, residents of the southern region are resigned to facing another year of upheaval.
Ashraf Jatoi, 45, a peasant from Nausheroferoze district, has travelled with his family to the nearby town of Moro and has no idea how long he will have to wait before returning to his broken home.
"We spent months last year because of floods, and it seems we have to do it again. What can we do? It is the will of Allah," he said.

U.S. warns Pakistan after suspected Haqqani attack

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Pakistan on Wednesday the United States would "do everything we can" to defend U.S. forces from Pakistan-based militants staging attacks in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials, including Panetta, suspect militants from the Haqqani network were behind Tuesday's rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy compound in Kabul, as well as a truck bomb last Saturday that wounded 77 American forces.
"Time and again we've urged the Pakistanis to exercise their influence over these kinds of attacks from the Haqqanis. And we have made very little progress in that area," Panetta told reporters flying with him to San Francisco.
He added, "I think the message they (the Pakistanis) need to know is: we're going to do everything we can to defend our forces."
Panetta, who was CIA director until July, has long pressed Islamabad to go after the Haqqanis, perhaps the most feared of the Taliban-allied insurgent factions fighting U.S.-led NATO and Afghan troops in Afghanistan.
He declined to answer questions about what steps the United States might take to defend U.S. forces. But Panetta said he was concerned about the Haqqanis' ability to attack American troops and then "escape back into what is a safe haven in Pakistan."
"And that's unacceptable," Panetta said.
The CIA has had success targeting militants in Pakistan using pilotless drones, and Navy SEALs killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May during a covert raid in Pakistan. Last month, Admiral Mike Mullen, the top U.S. military officer, cited progress curtailing Haqqani movements within Afghanistan.
"I'm not going to talk about how we're going to respond. I'll just let you know that we are not going to allow these kinds of attacks to go on," Panetta said.
Pakistan's Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, has long been suspected of maintaining ties to the Haqqani network, cultivated during the 1980s when Jalaluddin Haqqani was a feared battlefield commander against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
While based in Pakistan's North Waziristan area on the Afghan border, Haqqani refrains from attacking the Pakistani state and is seen as a way to maintain Pakistani influence in any future political settlement in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials including Panetta have played down the significance of Tuesday's attack on Kabul's diplomatic enclave, which showered rockets on Western embassies in a dramatic show of insurgent strength.
It was the longest and most audacious militant attack on the Afghan capital in the decade since the Taliban was ousted from power and a stark reminder of insurgents' resources and reach as Western forces start to return home.
Panetta stressed the attacks themselves were repelled by Afghan forces and inflicted a limited number of casualties. The U.S. military has cited gains against the Taliban in the past year, particularly in southern Afghanistan.
"These kinds of attacks -- sporadic attacks and assassination attempts -- are more a reflection of the fact that they're losing their ability to be able to attack our forces on a broader scale," Panetta said.