Friday, September 16, 2011

Three Congo Virus cases reported in Quetta

Three Congo Virus cases were reported in Quetta on Friday, Geo News reported. A senior surgeon and medical technician are amongst those who have contracted the virus.

Dr. Adam Khan the head of the isolation ward at Fatima Jinnah TB hospital said the surgeon and technician were infected with the virus while they were treating a patient. Dr. Khan added that the blood samples of the patients had been sent to Islamabad for testing.

U.S. lung cancer rates decline

The rates of new lung cancer cases in the United States dropped among men in 35 states and among women in six states between 1999 and 2008, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Among women, lung cancer incidence decreased nationwide between 2006 and 2008, after increasing steadily for decades.

The decrease in lung cancer cases corresponds closely with smoking patterns across the nation, the report said. In the West, where smoking prevalence is lower among men and women than in other regions, lung cancer incidence is decreasing faster. Studies show declines in lung cancer rates can be seen as soon as five years after smoking rates decline.

The report also noted that states that make greater investments in effective tobacco control strategies see larger reductions in smoking; and the longer they invest, the greater the savings in smoking -- related health care costs. Such strategies include higher tobacco prices, hard-hitting media campaigns, 100 percent smoke-free policies, and easily accessible quitting treatments and services for those who want to quit.

"Although lung cancer among men and women has decreased over the past few years," said CDC Director Thomas Frieden in a statement. "too many people continue to get sick and die from lung cancers, most of which are caused by smoking. The more we invest in proven tobacco control efforts, the fewer people will die from lung cancer."

Lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer, and the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke cause most lung cancer deaths in the United States.

ANP and MQM willing to end rifts

The time for rifts with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) was over, a private news channel reported Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Chief Minister (CM) Ameer Haider Khan Hoti as saying on Thursday. The chief minister, who was speaking to reporters after a polio eradication drive, said it was time to work for the prosperity of the nation and peace in Karachi. Hoti added that spirit and passion was required to establish peace in Karachi and all stakeholders had to work together to achieve this goal. “Until we move forward from these rifts, things will not improve,” the KP CM said. Separately, the MQM’s Rabita Committee welcomed the statement made by Hoti and said the party would not attach any conditions to ending rifts with the Awami National Party (ANP).

Pakistan PM cancels U.S. visit due to floods

Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has cancelled a visit to the United States to attend the U.N. General Assembly session to direct relief efforts as floods devastate southern Pakistan, his office said on Friday.

President Asif Ali Zardari was widely criticised for trips to Britain and France last year when Pakistan was battling floods that killed about 2,000 people and made 11 million homeless and the government again stands accused of moving too slowly.

"The prime minister has cancelled his visit because of the floods and now the foreign minister will represent Pakistan on the visit," an official in Gilani's office told Reuters.

"The prime minister will visit flood-affected areas from tomorrow and supervise relief efforts."

The latest floods, triggered by monsoon rains, have killed more than 230 people, destroyed or damaged 1.2 million houses and flooded 4.5 million acres (1.8 million hectares) since late last month, officials and Western aid groups say.

More than 300,000 people have been moved to shelters. Some 800,000 families hit by last year's floods are still homeless.

Aid groups have warned of a growing risk of fatal diseases.

Last year, the military took charge of rescue and relief efforts, along with aid groups. The army is active again in the latest disaster. But some Pakistanis are growing impatient with the army as well. Juman and his extended family fled when water as high as 12 feet (3.6 metres) raged through their village. Home has been a thatched hut on a roadside for several weeks in another village called Mohammad Yusuf.

"We go to the army and we have been asking for food, but they beat us with sticks and told us to leave," said Juman, who added he was turned away because the army camp was already overwhelmed. "They scared us away."

The military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its history, is seen as the only institution that can handle crises in the nuclear-armed South Asian nation.

Pakistan's cash-strapped government already faces many challenges, from a stubborn Taliban insurgency to growing frustrations over power cuts.

Islamabad's ties with Washington have been heavily strained since a unilateral U.S. raid killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town in May.

There were signs that ties were under repair when the allies recently spoke of counter-terrorism cooperation. But fresh tension has emerged.

The U.S. warning on militants based in Pakistan, blamed by Washington for this week's attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, works against counter-terrorism cooperation between the two allies, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

It was referring to comments by U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta that Washington would do whatever it takes to defend American forces in Afghanistan from Pakistan-based militants.

Gilani may have wanted to meet senior American officials on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly to try to patch up ties with the United States, the source of billions of dollars in aid.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar is expected to meet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the United States on September 18. She will be addressing the General Assembly in Gilani's place.

Religious freedom in Pakistan


US Department of State’s July-December, 2010 International Religious Freedom Report has documented “major developments with respect to religious freedom in 198 countries and territories”. The report placed China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan as “countries of particular concern” regarding religious freedom while 10 other countries, including Pakistan, were cited for failing to sufficiently protect religious rights. The report has raised important points regarding our country. On Pakistan, it says: “The government did not reform a blasphemy law that had been used to prosecute those who belong to religious minorities, and in some cases Muslims who promote tolerance. The government also used provisions of the penal code to prevent Ahmedis from practicing their religion. Members of other Islamic sects, Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus also reported governmental and societal discrimination...The government of Pakistan rarely prosecuted perpetrators of extremist attacks, deepening the climate of impunity.”

When late Governor Salmaan Taseer raised the issue of amending the blasphemy laws, he was silenced by a fanatic’s bullets. With Mr Taseer’s death, the issue of blasphemy laws also died a silent death. Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was the second victim of the religious fanatics who opposed anyone challenging the flawed blasphemy laws. These laws have been used to settle petty feuds, personal rivalries, property disputes, etc, both against the Muslims and non-Muslims by people with vested interests. Many Islamic scholars are of the opinion that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are man-made and thus can be changed since they are not based on Islamic teachings. Unfortunately, anybody who dares to challenge the veracity of these laws as per Islamic jurisprudence are threatened, harassed and/or killed. The government has, by the looks of it, given up on any debate regarding the blasphemy laws in view of two publicised killings of politicians this year — Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti. Blasphemy laws are not the only flawed laws present in Pakistan’s statute books. General Ziaul Haq might not have been responsible for declaring the Ahmedis non-Muslims but the laws promulgated under his command banning the Ahmedis from practicing their religion openly led to the persecution of the Ahmediyya community. The hate campaign against the Ahmedis continues to date. Just this year, Tehrik-e-Tahafuz-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwat took out pamphlets openly inciting violence against the Ahmedis in Punjab. It has led to various attacks on Ahmedi citizens resulting in the deaths. So far, the Punjab government has not just failed to nab the culprits but it has also turned a blind eye to such hate-mongering campaigns in the province. Sectarian violence is rampant all over Pakistan. Many Shias have lost their lives at the hands of banned sectarian outfits like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). These outfits have the overt and covert support of our intelligence agencies, which is why no action has been taken against them either. Christians, Hindus and Sikhs do not feel safe in this hostile environment. Religious minorities are treated worse than second-class citizens in our country.

There are many reasons for religious intolerance in Pakistan. Madrassas, jihadi organisations, textbooks with distorted history, sermons by illiterate and intolerance clerics, etc, are but a few reasons why Pakistan remains one of the most intolerant societies worldwide. The government must bring about educational reforms and close down religions seminaries or at least bring them into the mainstream. Hate literature should be banned. The military’s flawed policies of supporting sectarian outfits and other religious organisations must come to an end apart from making Pakistan’s constitution secular in letter and spirit.

Pakistan and International Democracy Day

Daily Times

By Muhammad Akram

The International Democracy Day in Pakistan was marked at a time when the nation is reeling under the constant threats of natural as well as man-made disasters. The threat of militancy and extremism was ever-growing as over 20 people were killed in a day in a suicide blast in Lower Dir in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Over 5 million people have been badly affected by monsoon rains with 2.5 million of them affected by various diseases in Sindh, while the dengue crisis is getting out of control in Punjab and insurgency in Balochistan is growing sans a healing touch.

The highlight of the day, however, remained a little ray of hope emanating from Karachi where a five-member bench of the Supreme Court concluded proceeding on suo motu about law and order situation in Karachi. It was largely been anticipated that the apex court would come out with a just solution of the crisis, without treading on the political path, as the staggering democracy would least afford a decision marred by expediencies that could further plunge the country and the city into turmoil.

The proceedings on suo motu case on Karachi situation, which concluded coincidently on the International Democracy Day, has largely been viewed as the only way to rid the city and the entire nation of the darkness of urban terrorism unleashed on the people in the name of so-called democracy.

The reported proceedings of the case and the observations made by the learned five-member bench while encompassing all aspects of the case, including political as well as administrative from all shades and colours of the society, has raised the hope that the apex court may have reached a point where it can come up with a decision that would not only help strengthen democracy in the country but also devise ways and means to help the city get out of the clutches of all mafias operating there. The apex court’s directions to the administration and the legal attorneys of the province for day-to-day reporting of the events in the city is a hint towards further stabilisation of the situation in the city as the bench had set up a monitoring system under its direct control for the time being till it pronounces its verdict in the case.

The epicentre of terrorism in the country, North and South Waziristan agencies and the adjoining areas bordering Afghanistan also echoed in the Supreme Court to narrate the intensity of violence or terrorism in the port city. However, the focus on violence in Karachi by no means allows the political parties, the real stakeholders in a democracy, to abdicate from their responsibility of dismantling the terror networks that has swayed the country like floodings. It rather emphasises on political parties to devise a more focused and multi-prong strategy to deal with the menace that keeps emanating the restive areas of north west of the country.

The ugly face of the terrorists though had long been viewed by the democratic people of Pakistan yet the new methods being applied by them, like mortar and hand grenade attack on a school bus the other day in Peshawar and attack on a funeral in Lower Dir requires all political forces to come out to condemn the forces of darkness without mincing words.

The Economic Survey of Pakistan, 2010 released last April should have served as an eye opener to many including the political forces that still attach ifs and buts to the condemnation they released following the terror acts by the occupants of Waziristan agency and adjoining areas and rooting in the democratic society at an alarming pace.

The Economic Survey of Pakistan has it to tell the people that the war on terror has cost the country more than 35,000 citizens, 3,500 security personnel, destruction of infrastructure, internal displacement of millions of people from parts of north-western Pakistan, erosion of investment climate, nose-diving of production, growing unemployment and above all it brought the economic activities to a virtual stand in many parts of the country.

The scarcity of funds to meet the natural calamities is man-made for which no heavens need to be moved, particularly for those who possessed the courage to take them head-on like the people of Pakistan. Offering prayers to end natural calamities has been a religious and cultural expression of the hapless people of this part of the world for centuries but the champions of these expressions had seldom contributed for the development of the people. In fact, they had been a source of keeping the hapless people in ignorance, illiteracy and of course had their role in decreeing the non-democratic rule in the country as permissible under their own version of interpretation of religion.

The situation in Balochistan and the denial of fundamental rights to the people there in a working democracy, where media and judiciary are considered to be ‘independent’, is nothing but travesty of democracy functioning in the country.

The cosmetic measures taken by the central government to address the problems being faced by the people of Balochistan, particularly the missing persons’ issue, could not bear fruit. This is so because the PPP-led coalition governments both in Centre and in the province had failed to fulfill their democratic responsibilities.

The situation is far from better in Balochistan despite certain steps taken by the democratic government.

The sham democracy that has been allowed to function in the country’s most populated province, Punjab, is suffering from dengue crisis because of the one-man rule of Khadam-e-Aala Shahbaz Sharif. The outbreak of dengue last year and year before that was not taken seriously and the provincial chief has no desire to appoint a team of ministers to look into the matter.

The one-man show in the province, as was evident from the fact that the Khadam-e-Aala directly controls 14 departments, including health, is not allowing anyone to handle the situation.

However, in a country where democracy is the only accepted political system despite many experiments made by the elected and un-elected individuals, all political ailments from militancy and extremism to bad governance to insurgencies and sham democracy could be cured only with more democracy.