Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ex-President Carter sends condolences to Kim Jong-un

Former President Jimmy Carter has sent North Korea a message of condolence over the death of Kim Jong-il and wished "every success" to the man expected to take over as dictator, according to the communist country's state-run news agency.

A dispatch from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Mr. Carter sent the message to Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il's son and heir apparent.

"In the message Jimmy Carter extended condolences to Kim Jong Un and the Korean people over the demise of leader Kim Jong Il. He wished Kim Jong Un every success as he assumes his new responsibility of leadership, looking forward to another visit to [North Korea] in the future," the KCNA dispatch read.

When contacted by The Washington Times for comment, the Carter Center provided an email contact to a spokeswoman who is out of the office until the New Year.

North Korea is routinely labeled as one of the world's most oppressive governments under an eccentric personality cult surrounding the Kim family. Harrowing reports from defectors describe North Korea as a dirt-poor nation filled with concentration camps and Communist propaganda. Kim Jong-il ran the reclusive country according to a "military first" policy since the mid-1990s, after a famine that may have killed as many as 2 million people.

Mr. Carter has visited North Korea twice — including a 1994 visit for talks on nuclear issues that led to a deal in which North Korea agreed to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program in exchange for oil deliveries and the construction of two nuclear reactors. That deal collapsed in 2002.

The former U.S. president also downplayed a 2010 North Korean attack on a South Korean island and disclosure of a uranium enrichment facility, saying the acts were merely "designed to remind the world that they deserve respect in negotiations that will shape their future."

Aussie Beer Wins Global Vote

Australia’s favorite beers are gaining traction overseas.
Following SABMiller’s acquisition of Foster’s Group for over US$10 billion, Coopers Brewery has been named the world’s top family business of 2011 by London magazine CampdenFB.


which enters its 150th year of operation in 2012 — received 38% of votes, trailed by Denmark’s Lego Group and Kenyan retailer Nakumatt which received 20% and 13% respectively. Readers were asked to consider a company’s financial performance as well as its commitment to best practice in areas including government and succession planning.

The largest Australian-owned brewery, in its fifth generation of ownership, defeated other contenders including U.S.-based cosmetic and perfume group Estee Lauder, Ford Motor and Spanish perfume and fashion house Puig.

On Wednesday, Coopers announced it has a 4% market share of all beer sales in Australia and produced a record 62.9 million liters of beer in the 2011 financial year, a touch above the 62 million liters recorded in 2010.

“Coopers has now enjoyed 10% compound annual growth in beer volumes for the past 15 years,” managing director Dr. Tim Cooper said in a statement. “Exports were steady at about 5% of revenue, despite the impact of the high Australian dollar,” he added.

Despite higher production levels, overall turnover in 2011 fell to 173 million Australian dollars (US$173 million) compared with the record A$179 million in 2010 while profit after tax fell to A$23 million from A$23.5 million.

With all this attention, Coopers may soon be known as Australian for beer.

Pakistan army wants Zardari out but not a coup

Pakistan's powerful army is fed up with unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari

and wants him out of office, but through legal means and without a repeat of the coups that are a hallmark of the country's 64 years of independence, military sources said.

Tensions are rising between Pakistan's civilian leaders and its generals over a memo that accused the army of plotting a coup after the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.

"Who isn't fed up with Zardari? It's not just the opposition and the man on the street but people within the government too," said one military source who asked not to be named.

"But there has to be a proper way. No action is being planned by the army. Even if we tried, it would be very unpopular and not just with the government and the opposition but most Pakistanis too."

The Pakistani military spokesman declined comment.

General Ashfaq Kayani has pledged to keep the military out of Pakistani politics since taking over as army chief in 2007.

Any coup -- Pakistan has had three since independence in 1947 -- could further tarnish the military's public image which has already taken a battering after the bin Laden operation, widely seen in Pakistan as a violation of sovereignty.

But the army remains the arbiter of power and analysts say it has plenty of ways to pressure Zardari to step down, especially if a link is established between him and the memo, which sought the Pentagon's help in averting a feared coup.

Businessman Mansoor Ijaz, writing in a column in the Financial Times on October 10, said a senior Pakistani diplomat had asked that a memo be delivered to the Pentagon with a plea for U.S. help to stave off a military coup in the days after the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May.

Ijaz later identified the diplomat as Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, who denied involvement but resigned over the controversy. No evidence has emerged that the military was plotting a coup and the Pentagon at the time dismissed the memo as not credible.

Friction between Pakistan's civilian government and military have bedeviled the nuclear-armed South Asian country for almost its entire existence, with the military ruling for more than half its 64-year history after a series of coups.

In the past the army has asked Pakistani civilian leaders to resign and influenced judicial proceedings against them.

Haqqani's resignation was seen by many analysts as further weakening the civilian government, which is already beset by allegations of corruption and incompetence in the face of many challenges, including a weak economy and a Taliban insurgency.


Zardari returned to Pakistan this week from medical treatment in Dubai that raised speculation he would resign under pressure from the military over what has been dubbed "memogate."

Although his position is largely ceremonial, he wields considerable influence as leader of the ruling party and his forced departure would be a humiliation for the civilian leadership and could throw the country into turmoil.

One of the military sources suggested that no direct action would be needed against the government because it had already made so many mistakes.

"If the government is digging its own grave, we are not going to look for spades," the source said.

The military has reasserted itself after a November 26 NATO cross-border air attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and the memo has also given it political ammunition.

In a statement submitted to the Supreme Court, which is looking into a petition demanding an inquiry into who may have been behind the memo, Kayani said it was a serious matter which required an investigation.

"We want anyone involved, be they in government or elsewhere, to be punished. But it is not for us to do anything. If the army moves to do anything it would have national as well as international repercussions," said another military source.

"So that is not likely. Anything that has to be done has to be done by the Supreme Court."

Officials from Zardari's ruling party have played down friction with the military and say they don't fear a coup.

But they fear that some judges in the increasingly aggressive Supreme Court dislike Zardari and could move against him.

"I am not bothered about the army. I think they are acting very sensibly and would not derail the system at the moment," a senior ruling party leader told Reuters.

"The worry probably would be what the Supreme Court does. They look in a mood to manipulate things."

The government's anxiety over memogate was highlighted in comments made by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Thursday.

"Let me make clear to you today that there are intrigues, conspiracies afoot to pack up the elected government," he said in a speech at the National Art Gallery.

New Afghan opposition coalition says can check Karzai

Dozens of Afghan political parties launched a new coalition bloc on Thursday hoping to pose a stronger challenge to the government of President Hamid Karzai, which they say is corrupt and misuses funds meant to rebuild their war-torn state.

In a room packed with hundreds of representatives from Afghanistan's provinces and ethnic groups, speakers said the bloc had secured enough support, including from a number of MPs, to provide a real counterweight to Karzai.

Karzai has ruled since soon after the Taliban government was toppled by U.S-backed Afghan forces in late 2001, but his grip on power has come under increasing pressure since a fraud-marred presidential election in 2009.

The National Coalition of Afghanistan, led by Abdullah Abdullah, an ophthalmologist who was Karzai's main rival in the 2009 vote, said the government had done little to rebuild the economy, erect infrastructure and bring people out of endemic poverty during Karzai's 10 years running the country.

Thousands of lives and billions of dollars have failed to secure Afghanistan and only fragile gains have been made in education and women's rights, falling well short of promises made a decade ago.

"We don't have any enmity with our friends who lead the country, but they have lost their way. Afghanistan's people are supporting the government but the gap between people and the government is growing day by day," Abdullah told the crowd.

The political battle has been undermining international efforts to foster good governance, particularly as the West starts handing over control of security to Afghan forces.

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan, which stands at about 130,000, is due to withdraw the last of its combat troops by the end of 2014.

Political parties in Afghanistan rarely have the structure or discipline of parties in Western political systems. The new coalition is meant to present a joint opposition ahead of the next presidential vote, also due in 2014.

The bloc called for a more decentralized political system, with proper checks and balances, so the fate of the country is not dictated by a political elite. It also questioned Karzai's desire to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban.

One speaker accused Karzai of luring opposition members with money or government positions to sustain their support.

The bloc also accused Karzai of planning to change the constitution to be able to run for a third term in power when his current five-year term ends, an allegation the president has so far denied.

"Ten years for a president of a country is enough time. When will you stop corruption, stop the mafia?" said Humayun Shah Asifi, a 2004 presidential candidate.

Public holiday in Sindh on Benazir Bhutto anniversary

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah has announced public holiday on the occasion of 4th death anniversary of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto

on December 27 (Tuesday), Geo News reported on Thursday.

The 4th death anniversary of slain leader of PPP chairperson and former prime minister of Pakistan is being observed across the country on December 27.

Arrangements are being made in Garhi Khuda Bux, the final resting place of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his other deceased family members and the central point for marking the anniversary of BB.

The widower of BB, President Asif Ali Zardari besides Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and other PPP leaders will be attending the anniversary programmes to be held in Garhi Khuda Bux on December 27.

Obama's last minute Holiday shopping trip

With Christmas only four days away, President Obama did some last-minute holiday shopping escaping the legislative stalemate in Congress over the payroll tax extensions.

The president took first dog Bo with him to visit an Alexandria, Virginia shopping center.

First stop: PetSmart – where Bo checked out a small poodle named "Cinnamon," according to its owner.

On the same day the White House website asked "what does $40 mean to you?" the president spent $41 for a rubber chew toy and a large bone.

His next stop: Best Buy – where the president said, "this [stop] is for the girls now." After browsing games in the Wii section, he settled on Just Dance 3 for first daughters Sasha and Malia.

"The girls beat me every time on these dance games," the president said. "But you'll never get a picture of me (playing) because I get graded F every time."

His total bill came to almost $200 for the dance game, the Sims 3 Pets video game and two $50 Apple gift cards. As he pulled out his credit card at the big box store the president joked, "Let's see if my credit card still works."

All that shopping can leave a president hungry, so stop #3: a local pizzeria where he purchased three large pizzas to-go.

Grand total: The president spent nearly $300 on his last-minute shopping trip.

First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters are already in Hawaii on vacation. Hopefully, they have been busy enjoying the beach and not reading online about their famous father's shopping excursion! Gifts are so much better when they are a surprise.

PML-N leader Javed Hashmi all set to join PTI

The PML-N leader Makhdoom Javed Hashmi is all set to join Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Reliable sources informed Online that all formalities have been duly fulfilled for a formal announcement within next few days. Makhdoom Javed Hashmi has been reported to be quite agitated over being constantly ignored/bypassed/sidetracked, and is known to have publicly criticided PML-N’s leadership in meetings.
Seeking no peace of mind, he has finally decided to resign from PML-N and join PTI. Sources have informed that he was constantly in touch with Imran Khan over the issue and Imran Khan eventually acquiesced to his (Makhdoom Javed) request.
Sixty-three years old leader of the PML-N Javed Hashmi is a key opposition leader in Pakistan, and one of the prominent leaders of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) which campaigned against the Musharraf regime.
He started his career in politics during his university days from the platform of Islami Jamiat Tulaba (IJT), the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami. In the capacity of his practical politics, he has also served in Zia-ul-Haq‘s cabinet.
On April 12 2004, he was sentenced to 23 years in prison for inciting mutiny in the army, forgery and defamation, by circulating a letter written by military officers calling for an investigation into alleged corruption in the armed forces and criticising President Pervez Musharraf and his relationship with US President George W Bush.

ANP to back resolution on Hazara province: minister

Minister of State for Health Sardar Shahjahan Yusuf Wednesday claimed that the Awami National Party would support the Hazara province resolution in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.

Speaking at a press conference, he said that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had taken the ANP leader Asfandyar Wali on board on the issue. He said the Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid and other political parties would also vote in favour of the Hazara resolution that would soon be tabled in the provincial assembly.

Sardar Shahjahan said the prime minister was already in contact with the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments on the issue of creating more provinces in the country. He said that work on the Hazara Expressway would soon be inaugurated and would cost Rs47 billion as the Asian Development Bank had approved funds for the project. The minister said the commissioner Hazara division had removed the hurdles in the construction of the expressway and the compensation process for the landowners was in progress.

Report blames both US, Pakistan for Nato attack


The US investigations into the Nov 26 border attack by Nato forces that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers has reportedly concluded that both US and Pakistan forces bear responsibility for the incident, The New York Times reported.

The report said: "Mistakes by both American and Pakistani forces led to airstrikes against Pakistani border posts that killed 24 Pakistani Army soldiers last month".

Even though it spread blame between both countries, the key finding of the investigation is likely to further enrage Pakistan: that the airstrikes were ultimately justified because Pakistani soldiers fired first on a joint team of Afghan and American special operations forces operating along the often poorly demarcated frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan, American and Western officials, who asked not to be identified because the report of the investigation had not yet been released, said Thursday.

The report says that the joint Afghan-American patrol, which was operating in a remote and mountainous area between the Afghan province of Kunar and the Pakistani tribal area of Mohmand, came under machine gun and mortar fire from at least one of the Pakistani border posts sometime around midnight on Nov. 26, American and Western officials said. The American official said the Afghan and American special operations forces believed they were being attacked by militants, at least initially, and called for air support.

Why the Pakistanis were firing remains unclear, the American official said. But in the days after the airstrikes, another American official in Washington provided part of an explanation: the Pakistanis apparently had intelligence that the Taliban was planning to attack the border posts and the Pakistani soldiers may have mistaken the Afghan and American troopers for militants.

The United States military report lends credence to that theory: the officials said it finds that NATO did not inform Pakistan that the operation on the border was taking place, and thus the Pakistani soldiers would not have known to expect allied forces near their posts. NATO and Pakistani forces are supposed to inform each other when launching operations on the border precisely to avoid the kind of mistake that took place on Nov. 26.

The second American mistake came when the airstrikes were called in. The Americans apparently gave the Pakistani Army the wrong coordinates that were to be struck by Apache attack helicopters and an AC-130 gunship, the officials said.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the Pakistanis cleared the strikes after getting the wrong coordinates. They have said they did not; regardless, the strikes began before their officers based at NATO coordination posts in Afghanistan had a chance to check with superiors in Pakistan, according to the Pakistani account of what took place.

But, as the report shows, even if Pakistan did clear the strikes, the posts still probably would have been hit because the Pakistanis had been given the wrong coordinates.

Another safeguard also failed, according to the report: Pakistan never told NATO it had established the border posts, which had been up for about three months, said a Western official in Kabul. Both sides are supposed to inform each other when setting up new positions along the border, another measure intended to avoid strikes against each other.

Whether any American service members will be disciplined in connection with the incident has not been decided, the American and Western officials said.

NATO's Afghanistan headquarters and the United States Embassy in Kabul declined to comment on the investigation, referring queries to the Defense Department and State Department in Washington. Pakistani officials did not offer any immediate reaction.

But given the indignant Pakistani response to the raid - "They killed our sons and we can never forgive this," said one senior Pakistani defense official in a recent interview, speaking anonymously because he still works with Americans - Washington was bracing for another round of recrimination, said the American and Western officials.

A ban on the shipment of NATO supplies through Pakistan, which was put in place after the strike, is expected to remain for some time, the officials said. NATO officials have said the blockade is not affecting operations because less than 30 percent of supplies for coalition forces in Afghanistan are currently shipped through Pakistan.

More damaging is the faltering military and counter-terror cooperation between Washington and Islamabad after a year of crises that began with the shooting of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in the city of Lahore. The two sides no longer conduct joint operations along the border, which they had started doing a few years ago, and intelligence-sharing on a range of threats from al Qaeda to lesser known Islamist militant groups has also fallen off, the American and Western officials said.

Pakistan’s Gilani spells out fear of being ousted

As talk of a rift between his government and the military gathers pace, Pakistan Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani today said “no institution can be a state within a state” and warned that “conspiracies” are being hatched to “pack up” his democratically-elected government.

People will have to decide whether they want “elected people or a dictatorship”, he added.“I want to make it clear today that there are intrigues and conspiracies going on and the conspiracy is to pack up the elected government,” Prime Minister Gilani said while addressing a function organised to commemorate the birth anniversary of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

“I want to tell them that whether we are in government or opposition or among the people, we will fight for the rights of the people of Pakistan,” he said without giving details of who was behind the conspiracies against his government.

The premier made a veiled reference to the differences between his government and the army, saying “no institution can be a state within a state”.

He added: “Nobody can say they are not under the government. Every institution of this country, including the Ministry of Defence, is under the prime minister.

“There should be no ambiguity that anybody can claim that I am independent…If any individual thinks they are not under the government, they are mistaken.

“They are under the government and will remain under the government because we are the elected, chosen representatives of the people of Pakistan.”

Gilani said the people have to decide whether they want “elected people or a dictatorship”.

The prime minister’s unusual remarks came in the backdrop of tensions between the civilian government and the powerful military over the memogate scandal.

The army and ISI have urged the Supreme Court to conduct a probe into the alleged memo made public by Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz that had sought US help to prevent a feared coup in Pakistan after the killing of Osama bin Laden in May.

However, the government has challenged the apex court’s jurisdiction to hear a batch of petitions seeking a probe into the memogate scandal, saying the matter is already being investigated by a parliamentary panel.

Meanwhile, in another twist in the memogate case, the defence ministry on Wednesday informed the apex court in an affidavit that it had “no operational control” over the military or the ISI.

The ministry stated it was not in a position to confirm or deny the stand taken by the military and ISI on the memo issue.

During his address today, Gilani said his government had the “highest regard and respect for the army” because it had stood up against terrorism and extremists, but made it clear that no institution could function without the support of the people.

Gilani said he had worked for public “ownership” of military operations by taking “responsibility for all military actions in country”.

He further said: “No military can fight against anybody without the support of the masses. If there is no support, no war can be won.”

At the same time, he appeared to hold out an olive branch to the army by saying: “My military is disciplined and they follow the constitution of Pakistan”.

Pakistan has been ruled by the military for almost half of its history and no elected leader has been able to complete his full term.