Friday, December 23, 2011

Deadly Suicide Bombings Hit Damascus

Pakistani Christians Face Alienation, Discrimination

China says top diplomat visits Pakistan


China’s senior diplomat Dai Bingguo arrived in Pakistan on Friday for talks with the country whose relations with key backer, the United States, have gone from bad to worse, state news agency Xinhua said.

Dai will meet Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a daily briefing.

Dai is a state councillor who steers foreign policy for China’s top leaders. He outranks Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who answers to Dai.

The visit is meant to mark 60 years of diplomatic ties and will “take relations to a new high”, Liu said.

Both sides will use this visit to “discuss the future development of practical cooperation and exchange views on other issues of mutual concern,” Liu said, without elaborating.

“China is satisfied with the present course of bilateral relations and has total confidence in prospects for future cooperation the future,” Liu added.

Liu did not give other details on Dai’s trip.

Beijing has voiced support for Islamabad during months of worsening Pakistani American relations, which were shaken by the US incursion in May that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden near a Pakistani military base, and a cross-border attack by US forces that mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last month.

Pakistan has been trying to move closer to Asian powerhouse China as ties with the United States have suffered.

China and Pakistan call each other “all-weather friends” and their close ties have been underpinned by long-standing wariness of their common neighbour, India, and a desire to counter-balance US influence across the region.

China invested more than $200 million to help build the deep-sea Gwadar port on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast, partly with a view to opening an energy and trade corridor from the Gulf, across Pakistan to western China.

China also helped Pakistan build its main nuclear power generation facility at Chashma in Punjab province.

Two reactors are in operation and two more are planned. Analysts say China agreed to expand the Chashma complex to counter a 2008 nuclear energy deal between India and the United States.

PPP sees PML-N in love with establishment

The Pakistan People`s Party, which appears to be in confrontation mood with the military establishment, believes the PML-N in an effort to maintain its position in the face of growing popularity of Imran Khan`s PTI will not support it (PPP) to save democracy.

“The PML-N is trying to get closer to the establishment to anticipate PTI`s popularity in Punjab and for this reason it is playing in latter`s hands,” says president`s assistant political secretary Fauzia Wahab.

She told Dawn on Thursday that the PPP was in no delusion that the PML-N would go with it to save democracy. “We do not believe in recent statements of Nawaz Sharif that his party was anti-establishment and will not support any move to wrap up the democratic system,” she said, adding the PML-N chief filed the petition in the Supreme Court with regard to the memo controversy in an attempt to dispel the impression that it was the PML-N, not the PTI, that had establishment`s support.

The former PPP information secretary said Mr Sharif`s demand for early elections was not feasible because no situation under the Constitution had arisen to go for it. “Mr Sharif should learn a lesson from the past and instead of indulging in the 1990s politics he should lend his support to strengthen democracy in the country,” she said.

GOVERNOR: Governor Latif Khosa said all institutions, including the army, were under the control of the democratic government according to the Constitution.

Talking to reporters at a function organised in connection with Christmas at Governor`s House on Thursday, the governor denied that there had been any rift between the army and the civilian leadership. “There is no truth in these rumours,” he said.

Mr Khosa said the parliament could even undo court decisions through legislation.

Payroll tax deal passes Congress in rare win for Obama


The US Congress has approved a short-term renewal of a payroll tax cut, a day after House Republicans caved in to overwhelming pressure on the issue.

The bill extends the tax cut as well as unemployment insurance for two-months.

Lawmakers held voice votes on the deal, requiring only a few members to be present.

A joint conference committee will work on a year-long deal, after the holiday recess. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama to sign into law.The deal keeps in place a tax cut that saves about $1,000 (£638) each year for an average US income, and prevents almost two million unemployed people from losing jobless benefits of about $300 a week.

Senate and House Democrat leaders named their own appointees on Friday to a conference committee tasked with extending the compromise to a full-year version.

On Thursday, Republican House Speaker John Boehner told members of his party about his U-turn in a muted conference call, where they could not ask questions.

A similar call last weekend prompted a revolt from Tea Party-backed opponents of the bipartisan deal, prompting this week's political showdown.

Thursday's about-turn was a rare retreat for Republicans, who since gaining control of the House in 2010's mid-term elections have wrung a string of concessions from the White House.

Conservatives were initially sceptical about extending the payroll tax break, which economists say would aid US economic recovery.But as Republicans demurred over the $120bn (£76bn) cost of the plan, Democrats had accused them of backing tax cuts only for the wealthiest Americans.

Correspondents say Mr Boehner's back-pedalling reflects a realisation in his party that it would have faced blame for an effective tax rise on US workers in a general election year.

After the Senate vote, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters he wanted the new year to be turning point for Congress.

"I hope this Congress has had a had very good learning experience, especially the newer members," Mr Reid said in a press conference. "The American people need this institution to work effectively," he added.

Israel's treatment of women is hardly that of a democracy

Rachel Shabi

A 'dignified' dress code and gender segregation show Israel is fast becoming bigoted about dissent and difference
While we've been distracted by alarmism over newly elected Islamist leaders enforcing hijabs and bikini bans in the Arab world, Israel is already embroiled in attempts to rein in this unruly matter of female "immodesty".

Last week, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported on businesses in the southern town of Sderot signing up to a "dignified" dress code – whereby female employees must be "modestly" clothed. So far 20 stores have adopted this long-sleeves directive, initiated by a religious group which says it did not actively threaten to boycott non-signatory shops – but which, nonetheless, has considerable buying power. Not surprisingly, the women subjected to this new code have described it as religious coercion.

This is on top of some other instances of an apparent increase in ultra-religious modesty decrees. There have been recent religious pronouncements that men should walk out of army ceremonies where women are singing (immodestly, of course); along with attempts to erase women's faces from billboard advertising and increased attempts to impose gender-segregated queuing in stores.

Last week, religiously imposed gender segregation of buses prompted a stand-off, as a female passenger simply refused to move to the back – despite requests to do so from the bus driver and a police officer called in to sort out the dispute. Dozens of public bus lines used by Israel's ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) sector have been gender-segregated for years. Israel's supreme court tried to reverse this practice a year ago, but balked at actually banning the "women at the back" policy – making it more a voluntary issue.

The woman who stood up to it all sparked a round of indignation at these religious dictates in the Israeli media – and from Israeli leaders, including prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who issued some generic outrage premised on those favourite politico buzzwords: unity and coexistence.

Netanyahu is in a coalition that includes dominant religious parties – a support base he isn't likely to antagonise. Israeli governments are adept at making the right noises over religious enforcements in public spaces, but meanwhile doing nothing to seriously tackle the flourish. Underpinning this is the matter that, while Israel might be secular on the streets, it has never been secular as a state – with fundamentals from birth to death managed in some way by rabbis.

But this vocal protest premised on liberal, secular values is an easy run for Israel's leaders. Gender rights is one of the cornerstones of Israel's self-image as "the only democracy in the Middle East". Officials championing the subject can rely on solid support from mainstream Israelis – still a non-Orthodox majority – who worry that the Haredi sector's influence over public norms is getting out of hand. Part of the public fight-back includes a plan, on New Year's Day, for a mass boarding of gender-segregated buses to challenge this arrangement.

Pointedly, there is a big difference when it comes to defending another component of Israel's "only democracy" calling card: freedom of expression. In that frame, the Israeli government is currently trying to pass a series of laws that salute the spirit of McCarthy, while large sections of the public seem to have approved the line that any criticism of the country is basically treason.

But it seems unlikely that these trends are unrelated. Israel is increasingly becoming a place that's bigoted about dissent and difference. If the landscape as a whole is more aggressively intolerant, why shouldn't that include the Haredi sector, too?

Bahrain police attack Shiite opposition
Security forces firing rubber bullets and tear gas attacked the headquarters of Bahrain’s main Shiite opposition party in the capital on Friday after the group challenged a new government ban on its weekly protests. Police also used tear gas to disperse hundreds of opposition supporters attempting to protest elsewhere in the capital.

“I was really shocked to see tear gas and rubber bullets hit our offices,” said vice president of the Al Wefaq party, Sheik Hussain Al Daihi. He said he was inside the building with foreign journalists when the security forces attacked and that a 13-year-old girl among those hurt had a serious injury to her thigh.Friday’s clampdown was the latest episode in 10 months of unrest between Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy and an opposition movement led by the country’s majority Shiites, who have long complained of discrimination.

“We are a people that won’t be broken. All this repression and brutality is the source of our strength and determination to continue the struggle and defend our national rights,” Al Daihi said later in a statement.

Authorities banned the weekly Friday protests for the first time since emergency laws were lifted in June. The Interior Ministry “gave silly excuses” to ban the event, including that it would block traffic and endanger others in the area, Al Daihi said.

Defying government orders, Shiite clerics on Friday also held prayer services on the rubble of mosques that had been bulldozed by authorities earlier this year. It was the first time that Shiite clerics have actively taken part in the protest movement, openly defying the government.

The Shiite clerics say at least 38 mosques used by their congregations were destroyed since the protests began in February.

“We will start a campaign to defend our religious sites and the first such activity starts with a protest at the end of the prayer at Diraz grand mosque,” senior Shiite cleric Sheik Isa Qassim said during his Friday sermon. Diraz is an opposition stronghold northwest of the capital.

“We demand democracy for one people, Sunni and Shiite, and we understand the approach of the government that aims to divide our people. We are the ones who insist on unity, and because of this we are targeted by the government,” he said.

Qassim called on international allies of Bahrain to exert pressure on the government because of what he said was it lack of will to reform.

Bahrain is a key U.S. ally in the Gulf and is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Since February, at least 40 people have been killed.

Hundreds of activists have been detained and brought to trial on anti-state charges in a special security court set up after authorities imposed marital law and invited a Saudi-led Gulf military force into the country to help deal with dissent in the tiny island kingdom.

Bahrain lifted emergency rule in June. Since then, government opponents have clashed with police almost every night.

All state institutions have to work in ambit of Constituion

A meeting of the PPP core committee was held at Aiwan-e-Sadr which was chaired by Co-Chairman PPP President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani.

The president’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the meeting which lasted for two hours reviewed the overall political situation in the country with special reference to recent developments. The prime minister gave a comprehensive briefing on the overall situation.

The meeting reiterated its unswerving commitment to the principles of parliamentary sovereignty, constitutionalism and rule of law and said the party and the government would uphold these principles under all circumstances.

The meeting also reiterated that all institutions of the state have to work within the ambit of the Constitution without trespassing into domain of others.

Babar said that the meeting reposed full confidence in the leadership of Co-Chairman President Asif Ali Zardari and Chief Executive Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani.

He said that the meeting also discussed arrangements for the proposed rally in Garhi Khuda Baksh on December 27 to mark the 4th martyrdom anniversary of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

Obama: 'Enough Is Enough' on Payroll Tax Fight

Malika-e-Tarannum Noor Jehan remembered

Legendary singer Malika-e-Tarannum Noor Jehan was remembered on her death anniversary, here on Friday.

Renowned as one of the greatest and most influential singers of her time in South Asia, Noor Jehan and was given the honorific title of Malika-e-Tarannum for a career spanning seven decades.

Born in a Punjabi family of musicians, Noor Jehan was pushed by her parents to follow in their musical footsteps and become a singer but she was more interested in acting in films and graced the earliest Pakistani films with her performances. She holds a remarkable record of 10,000 songs to her singing credits in various languages of India and Pakistan including Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and Sindhi languages. Along with Ahmed Rushdi, she holds the highest record of film songs in the history of Pakistani cinema. She is also considered to be the first female Pakistani film director.

Noor Jehan was born September 21, 1926 in Kasur, Punjab and was one of the eleven children of professional musicians Madad Ali and Fateh Bibi. She made her film debut in 1935 as a child artist in K.D. Mehra directed Pind di Kuri. In 1939, Ghulam Haider composed songs for Jehan which led to her early popularity. She then recorded her first song Shala Jawaniyan Mane for Dalsukh M. Pancholi's movie Gul Bakavli. In 1942, she played the main lead opposite Pran in the film Khandaan.
In 1945, she achieved a milestone, when she sung a Qawwali with Zohrabai Ambalewali and Amirbai Karnataki which was "Aahen Na Bhareen Shikave Na Kiye". This was the first ever Qawwali recorded in female voices in South Asian films.
After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Jehan decided to move to Pakistan along with her husband Shaukat Hussain Rizvi. She left Bombay and settled in Karachi with her family.
Three years after settling in Pakistan, Noor Jehan starred in her first film in Pakistan, Chan wey (1951), opposite Santosh Kumar, which was also her first Punjabi film as a heroine. Shaukat and Noor Jehan directed this film together making Noor Jehan Pakistan's first female director. Noor Jehan's second film in Pakistan was Dopatta (1952) which turned out to be an even bigger success than Chan wey (1951).
Her penultimate film as an actress/singer was Mirza Ghalib (1961). This contributed to the strengthening of her iconic stature. She gained another audience for herself. Her rendition of Faiz Ahmed Faiz's Mujh se pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob naj maang is a unique example of tarranum, reciting poetry as a song. Noor Jehan last starred in Baaji in 1963, though not in a leading role. Noor Jehan bade farewell to acting in 1963 after a career of 33 years (1930 to 1963). The pressure of being a mother of six children and the demanding wife of a hero (Ejaz Durrani) forced her to give up her career. Noor Jehan made 14 films in Pakistan, ten in Urdu, four in Punjabi.

After quitting acting she took up playback singing. She made her debut as a playback singer in 1960 with the film Salma. Her first initial playback for a Pakistani film was for Jan-e-Bahar (1958), in which she sang the song Kaisa Naseeb Layi Thi, picturised on Musarrat Nazir.
She received many awards, including the highest Pakistani honour in entertainment, Tamgha-e-Imtiaz (The Pride of Performance) in 1966, Pakistan's top civil award. She sang a large number of duets with Ahmed Rushdi, Mehdi Hassan, Masood Rana and Mujeeb Aalam.

In 1986, on a tour of North America, Jehan suffered from chest pains and was diagnosed with angina pectoris after which she underwent a surgery to install a pacemaker. In 2000, Jehan was hospitalised in Karachi and suffered a heart attack. On Saturday afternoon, December 23, 2000, Noor Jehan breathed her last, as a result of heart failure.

Outspoken Afghan Rights Official Ousted

There have been few causes that Ahmad Nader Nadery, the prominent Afghan human rights activist, shied away from over the past decade: he spoke out on the killings of civilians by NATO and Taliban forces, on election fraud by President Hamid Karzai’s supporters, even on land grabs by rich and well-connected Afghans whose houses now dominate central Kabul’s broken streets.

But this week, Mr. Karzai and his closest aides seemed to have had enough of Mr. Nadery. He was effectively forced out of the leadership of a national human rights commission, according to Afghan rights activists and Western officials. The decision appeared final, although there remained a slight chance it could be reversed, they said.

Mr. Nadery, 36, has long been an irritant to Afghanistan’s elite. But the final straw for the Karzai administration appeared to be a report that he has championed, which exhaustively details atrocities committed here over three decades of war, the officials and activists said. The officials asked not to be identified because they are lobbying the Karzai administration to be more open about its decision — and to reconsider it. The activists also said they were worried that speaking out publicly could jeopardize their safety.

Mr. Nadery’s ouster from the C, which is appointed by the government but acts independently, raised fresh questions about the Karzai administration’s commitment to human rights, which have been a major focus of the international effort here for the past decade. In that time, a small but vocal community of activists has grown up, and Mr. Nadery was at their forefront.

Lately, though, the activists have found themselves under increasing pressure on two flanks. On one side is a government dominated by former warlords whom Mr. Karzai cannot afford to alienate; on the other, the Taliban and their allies, with their own checkered history on human rights. As the United States starts to cut back its forces and financing and pushes the government to negotiate with the Taliban, hard-won rights for women and minorities face an uncertain future.

The people named as offenders in the report — which Mr. Nadery described on Thursday as his “most important work” — include Taliban commanders and powerful politicians. Many were leaders of the mujahedeen resistance to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and then played major roles in the civil war of the mid-1990s, the officials and activists said; some are now senior figures in the government.

Mr. Karzai’s spokesman did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Mr. Nadery, whose five-year term ran out on Dec. 16, said he was not formally told that his tenure would not be renewed. The terms of two other members of the nine-member commission also may not have been renewed, the officials said.

“This sends a very disturbing message to the people of Afghanistan that if you speak out about human rights, if you demand justice, you will be silenced,” said Dallas Mazoori, a former colleague of Mr. Nadery’s who remains involved in human rights issues in Afghanistan. She called him “the face of human rights in Afghanistan.”

Western officials said they were dismayed that the Karzai administration had made the decision this week at a private meeting of Mr. Karzai and some senior officials and aides whom Mr. Nadery has criticized.

Mr. Nadery’s replacement is an associate of the first vice president, Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, activists and officials said; one Western official called the choice “exactly the wrong sign.”

Mr. Nadery declined on Thursday to discuss the details of the atrocities report, which has been in the works for about three years. It was not clear when it would be released. In an earlier interview, he had said the report documented “more than 180 mass graves, some with large numbers.” As for who was responsible, he said: “Unfortunately, it belongs to all sides in different stages of the conflict. The majority of people killed, a lot of them were P.O.W.’s or civilians.”

Mr. Nadery, who grew up in Kabul, was briefly imprisoned by the Taliban in the late 1990s, along with other Kabul University students, for writing reports advocating peace and dropping them anonymously at the United Nations office in the city. “We didn’t know where to send them,” he said.

After the fall of the Taliban, he became a prominent rights activist and was named to the commission in 2004; his five-year term formally began in December 2006.

Mr. Nadery also runs the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan and said he expected to stay on there. But he will lose his government security detail when the decree announcing his departure is released, a step expected on Saturday.

“I’ve received death threats,” Mr. Nadery said in an interview. “I am worried about my life, and my wife and our small daughter and my parents, who live with me.” Still, he said, he did not plan to leave the country.

PML-N’s help sought to down government

While its leader has gone out of his way to openly reject any military intervention, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has been approached by elements within the security establishment, which is seeking help in dislodging the government, The Express Tribune has learnt.

The PML-N remains non-committal, however.

According to well-placed sources, the PML-N leadership is willing to get onboard only after concrete guarantees and on certain terms of conditions.

In the aftermath of the Memogate issue, officials of the country’s premier intelligence agency have been shuttling back and forth to take the PML-N on board, sources say.

A brigadier of the intelligence agency held detailed sessions with three key leaders of the PML-N’s second-tier leadership, days before hearing on Memogate scandal started in the Supreme Court on December 1st. Later meetings were held with the party’s top leadership, sources add.

These meetings took place on the nights between November 27 and 28, and November 28 and 29; the first one in Islamabad, the second one in Murree.

Sources say the opposition party was given blueprints of a possible scenario sans President Zardari – a 2007-like, ‘emergency plus’ situation, with a pledge of holding fresh polls within three months.

The same official, according to some sources – other sources say it was a different official of the same rank – held a meeting with a top judicial officer during the same period.

No guarantees, no decision

Of the limited choices available to oust an adamant president, a ‘quasi-judicial-military coup’ appeared to be the top option.

For the PML-N though, making unconditional, solemn commitments was not viable, especially when there were no guarantees that the promise of new polls within the given time frame will be met.

The indecisiveness was later evident from the mixed signals coming through different quarters in the party.

A party MNA from Potohar, on National Assembly floor, termed the alleged memo a ‘mere piece of paper’. A senator, and a relative of Sharifs, who had been one of the three interlocutors at the late November meetings, rebutted the MNA’s claim, and called it his ‘personal point of view’.

NY protests offer warning to Chinese rich

By Rong Xiaoqing
There aren't many Chinese camping in Zuccotti Park, the home of the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement. Not a surprise. Chinese immigrants have long been known for being silent and invisible at political events, especially one like this that was started mainly by young white hipsters.

But it doesn't mean there aren't Chinese at the scene. These days tourists from China coming to visit the site of the destroyed World Trade Center and the newly opened 9/11 Memorial seem to have added Zuccotti Park, which is only a couple of blocks away from Ground Zero, as a must-see.

The Chinese tourists won't usually walk into the protesting crowd. They like to walk around the edges of the park, taking some pictures and making some comments within their own groups. The middle aged man I met the other afternoon was a typical example. He exaggeratedly waved his fist to the crowd and shouted jokingly, "We Chinese people support you guys!" before he was pulled away by his laughing wife and daughter.

The curiosity is understandable. Protesting is nothing new in American history and marching and protesting have almost become street fixtures in New York since the 2008 financial meltdown. But for many Chinese tourists, who have only just started to come to the US in large numbers, Occupy Wall Street may be the first major American demonstration that they have witnessed in person, thanks to the long lasting nature, the convenient location of the protest and the lavish coverage in the Chinese media.

But if the Chinese tourists, who presumably belong to the wealthy class in their own country, simply take what's happening in Zuccotti Park as an exotic street drama without thinking about how it reflects on themselves, they may have cause for regret.

Resentment against the rich, which is a major engine of the movement, exists in both the US, where wealth has been flowing for a long time and China, where wealth has been accumulating rapidly. But the American rich, who are the target of the Wall Street protesters and the Chinese rich, who are mainly amused gawkers here, couldn't be more different.

In the US, the rich have a tradition of giving back to society. The donation from robber barons in the 19th century blessed New York with many gifts, such as the renowned Carnegie Hall and the Rockefeller Plaza.

The foundations of George Soros and Bill Gates are pushing earthshaking changes in the nation and in the world. Even Zuccotti Park was built and maintained by the real estate firm Brookfield Properties for the public as part of a planning deal with the authorities. In China, philanthropy is still an infant idea that scares many rich people away.

In the US, the rich often try to avoid flaunting their wealth in public, especially when the economy is weak. Billionaires like Warren Buffet and the late Steve Jobs have been known for dressing simply. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg may often fly on his private jet to Bermuda for vacations, but he is also known for wearing the same pair of shoes for 10 years. Since the economy started to nosedive, shops on Fifth Avenue started to use logo-less shopping bags to cater to the need of their customers who want to be anonymous when buying luxuries.

To be sure, the American rich are not Santa Clauses. They still hold an ever-increasing amount of national wealth and use their money to fight political efforts to make them pay more, and that's what ignited Occupy Wall Street. But even when they become the target, multi-millionaires from Blackrock's Laurence Fink to Citigroup's Vikram Pandit still manage to publicly indicate that they are sympathetic and understanding of their attackers.

Much of this is merely self serving – a way of heading off criticism or worse. But it seems to be working. At least, the protesters only want to push the rich to give back more rather than having them beheaded.

The newly rich in China are still on a learning curve. One thing they may want to be aware of is that being rich is not only about knowing how to drink wine, collect art, golf or ride horses.

Sometimes, it is not about how much money you have and how generous you are. It is the sophistication of getting more by taking less and showing people you care about wider society that has yet to become part of Chinese behavior.

The author is a New York-based journalist.

Egyptians to stage anti-junta rally

Egyptian activists have called for a major rally in the capital Cairo to protest the ruling junta's management of Egypt's domestic affairs and the military's delay in transferring power to a civilian rule.

Egypt's opposition activists called on their compatriots to join Friday's protest and take to the streets in a march in the capital.

"The current predicament we have reached is a result of the army council's reluctance to play its role, its intentional foot-dragging, breaking its obligations and failing over the economy and security, putting the whole country on the edge of a huge crisis," said a statement signed by two dozen parties including the youth movements and others calling for the protest.

Egypt's Revolution Youth Movement, which played a lead role in massive demonstrations that brought down the US-sponsored Mubarak regime in February, said the army's handling of the latest street protests showed it was seeking to "protect the previous regime.”

At least, one hundred people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces as well as sectarian violence since the military took power.

The deaths, coupled with the brutality shown by army troops against protesters that included women, have prompted some activists to consider suing the ruling generals in local courts or have them put on trial before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Activists and political groups have become increasingly critical of military rulers' management of Egypt's transitional period, which the junta had promised would be a six-month span.

They have also widely rebuked the head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, for his reluctance to implement sweeping changes and dismantle elements of the former regime.

The military rulers have yet to give a clear timetable for their plan to step down and hand over power.

They have instead proposed holding a presidential election by late next year.

Saudis could still flog woman who dared to drive car .

A SAUDI woman sentenced to ten lashes for flouting the country's ban on women driving has not been officially pardoned, despite reports to the contrary - and her sentence may still be carried out at any time.

Shaima Jastaniya, 34, was given the draconian sentence by a court in Jedda in September after she persistently ignored the ban, which is not enshrined in law but handed down in fatwas by Muslim clerics, making Saudi Arabia the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.

Then 87-year-old King Adbullah, who has overseen a gentle thawing of his hardline rule in recent years, announced he had pardoned Jastaniya – a move much reported in the world's media.

Now The Times reports that the increasingly powerful – and conservative – Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz has exerted his influence to make sure Abdullah’s pardon has no real force.

Jastaniya's father was summoned to the Interior Ministry last week, the paper reports, to be told that his daughter was pardoned. However, when he asked for written guarantees that she would not be flogged, his request was refused.

The newspaper says it has learned that the original punishment could still be carried out at any time – and the verdict has not been overturned. Activist Mohammed al-Qahtani told the paper: "They will keep this hanging over her in case she does anything else."

Jastaniya has become the focal point for a campaign of civil disobedience by women drivers which culminated in a 'mass drive' where 50 women flouted the ban in convoy, writing about it later on social networking sights.

Aware that it was the focus of world attention, the authorities let the protest go ahead unhindered. It seemed like a watershed moment, but there has been a quiet crackdown since.

One woman activist in Riyadh told the Times anonymously: "The campaign is dying right now. People are afraid. They have seen what happened to Shaima and the others." ·

Read more:

'Blue bra girl' rallies Egypt's women vs. oppression

By Isobel Coleman,CNN

The Egyptian revolution has a new, and shocking, image: It's the Egyptian flag, but the eagle in the middle has been replaced by a simple blue bra. The image refers to the recent, savage beating of an abaya-clad female protester by Egyptian military forces.

Graphic videos of the beating, captured on phones and uploaded to YouTube and Facebook, have quickly proliferated. They show a limp woman being dragged by her arms along the street. Her abaya is ripped open, exposing her naked torso and blue bra. Security forces surround her, many wielding batons. As the beating progresses, the guards hit her and one even stomps on her. Photos of the man bringing his heavy boot down on her bare stomach made the front page of newspapers around the world.

In response, thousands of women -- and men -- marched Tuesday in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Observers say it was the largest demonstration of women in Egypt in decades. Not since 1919, when women mobilized under the leadership of feminist Hoda Sha'rawi in anti-colonial demonstrations against the British have so many Egyptian women taken to the streets. (After representing Egyptian women at the International Women Suffrage Alliance in Rome in 1923, Sha'rawi returned to Cairo and very publicly removed her veil.)Women have played an important role in Egypt's modern revolution but have struggled to translate their activism into a political role in the new, emerging system. They have been excluded from important decision-making bodies, and the military leadership declined to continue a Mubarak-era quota for women that ensured them at least 64 seats in parliament. Based on early election results, it appears that few women will win a place in the new government.

Nevertheless, one intrepid woman, Bothaina Kamel, is breaking ground with her candidacy for president. The campaign of Kamel, a well-known television presenter, at first was shocking, and certainly quixotic, with polls indicating her support is less than 1%. But her persistence has gained her credibility. While she has little chance of winning, she is helping to normalize the idea of women in politics -- an idea that is deeply contested in Egyptian society. Leaders of Salafi parties, which gained a surprising 20% of the vote in the first rounds of elections, have spoken out against women running for office.The recent women's protest may breathe life into a movement that desperately needs new energy. In the early weeks of the revolution, women activists tried to bring attention to women's issues but never succeeded in getting the masses behind them.

A women's march in Tahrir Square to mark International Women's Day on March 8 ended badly. Only a few hundred women showed up, and they were soon harassed by a mob of angry men who shouted at them to go home and warned that their demands for rights were against Islam.

Around the same time, the Egyptian military rounded up scores of women demonstrators, and in a show of raw intimidation, subjected many of them to "virginity tests." Military leaders at first denied the accusations, and later defended their abuse by claiming the women "were not like your daughter or mine."

In a remarkable show of courage, one of the victims, Samira Ibrahim, is pursuing a criminal case against the military for her ordeal. The only one of the 17 victims willing to take her case to court, Ibrahim is challenging not only the heavy-handed tactics of the military but also the social stigma associated with her issue.

The woman attacked by the military in the recent protests has declined to come forward, so for now she is only known as "blue bra girl." But her mistreatment seems to be a galvanizing force. Thousands of people joined the march through Cairo on Tuesday, many of them taking to the streets for the first time in outrage. Organizers of the march used the hashtag #BlueBra on Twitter to encourage people to join them.

Some of the protesters held giant posters of the blue bra/flag icon. Others carried photographs of the beating. Men formed a cordon around the women, chanting "The women of Egypt are the red line." Still, many Egyptians were not supportive.

Bloggers and tweeters offered negative comments on the blue bra girl -- criticizing her for being out in public protesting in the first place and accusing her of being provocative for not wearing more clothes under her abaya.

It remains to be seen whether these new humiliations for Egyptian women will lead to significant changes. But given the country's deep-seated patriarchy, women in Egypt should not take their rights for granted.

Pakistan deadliest for journalists for 2nd year

Pakistan is the world's deadliest country to work in for journalists, a dubious distinction it has earned for the second year in a row, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in its annual report.
Of the 43 journalists killed worldwide in direct relation to their work in 2011, seven died in Pakistan, the non-profit organization said on its website Tuesday. Eight journalists were killed in Pakistan in 2010, the group said.
Umar Cheema, a senior Pakistani journalist who was abducted and beaten last year, told CNN that the news was "alarming and unfortunate" and meant that "we are not out of the woods yet."
"Forces against the freedom of speech are against us and this is evidence that the establishment allows such forces to thrive within a culture of impunity," Cheema said.
The journalists killed in Pakistan in 2011 included Saleem Shahzad, a reporter for Asia Times Online, who exposed links between al Qaeda and the Pakistani navy in his book published after his death.
The CPJ report also said that Pakistan was the worst country in the world for finding justice for journalist deaths.
Another group, Reporters without Borders, documented 10 journalists killed in Pakistan in 2011, the highest number on its annual press freedom barometer.
The CPJ statement said it was still investigating another 35 journalist deaths worldwide to determine if they were work-related.

President Zardari signs two women’s rights bills into law

On his first working day after suffering from an ailment that took him to Dubai for treatment, President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday gave assent to two bills aimed at provisions for enhanced punishment to several offences against women.
The first bill was the Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Bill of 2011, which was passed by the National Assembly on November 15 and by the Senate on December 12.
Presidential Spokesman Farhatullah Babar said in a statement that the president signed both bills to coincide with the National Day for Working Women to highlight the government’s commitment to protecting women from abuse by raising the bar for crimes against them.
While signing the bills, the president said that in line with the vision of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the government would continue to empower women and the signing of the bills into law was a manifestation of this policy. He said the signing of the new laws was an auspicious occasion as December 22 marked the National Working Women’s Day.
The new law seeks to punish offences against women such as giving them in marriage in ‘Badal-e-sulah’, wanni or swara, depriving them from inheritance, forced marriage and marriage to the Holy Quran.
A new chapter (XXA) containing three clauses has also been inserted in the code seeking to prohibit three offences against women. The offences punishable with various terms of imprisonment and fine include depriving women from inheriting property, forced marriage and marriage to the Holy Quran.
The presidential spokesman said the other bill that the president assented to was the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Bill of 2011. This bill, he said, sought to provide punishment of 14 years to life imprisonment for crimes of disfiguring and defacing of human organs or body by a corrosive substance.

ANP to defend democracy no matter the cirumstances


The Khyber Pakthunkhwa Minister for Environment and Forests, Wajid Ali Khan said here Thursday that Awami National Party (ANP) will defend democracy whatever the situation may arise in future and people will strongly resist against toppling of government through undemocratic means.”There would be no problem if all institutions work within its constitutional ambit,” he told APP. Wajid Khan said ANP was the only party that always raised voices in support of democracy and constitutional rule and never become part of dictatorial rule. Also, the civil society including media, political forces, lawyers, international community etc would not welcome unconstitutional change in the country, he maintained.He said democracy was the only way forward to address masses’ problems and country’s challenges and we should all work together to strengthen this system.”It is a high time of showing political stability and national unity keeping in view the current geo-political and security’s environment of the region,” he said. ”Instead to indulge in blame games and throwing mud on each others, we as nation should show political maturity, respects each others’ views and political mandates to resolve problems of masses.”The ANP leader, while out rightly rejecting the political jugglers’ speculations regarding political change, the Minister said the government was stable and will complete its tenure, adding people, civil society and political forces will protect democracy at all cost.”I do not foresee political change in the country. The opportunists, who are talking today about bringing revolutions have failed to deliver for masses and country uplift in their respective regimes. The democratic forces are united on single point agenda to take ship of democracy forward. Democracy is the destiny of people,” he remarked.The Minister said, “where were these opportunities and political jugglers when militancy and terrorism were in full peak in Khyber Pakthunkhwa and Fata.” He said it was ANP that stood against enemy of peace like iron wall and even sacrificed their relatives, leaders and workers and never compromised on principles.Asked about joining of different politicians to Pakistan Tahrik-e-Insaf (PTI), the Minister said the political jugglers were again come out with catchy slogans to misguide people.”These elements change their loyalties like change of path by migratory birds and would face peoples’ wrath in next general election,” he added.The Minister said people were political mature and will make these opportunists accountable in next election. He said 2012 was election year of Senate and general election would be held in 2013.Asked about the rise of popularity graph of PTI, the Minister said, ANP has solid and ideological vote bank and has no threat to ANP from any political party.The Minister said rallies, political debates and meetings were the real essence of democracy and ANP considers it a positive development in democratic society. The ANP leader however, said these political activities should be based within constitutional parameters and democratic norms and values.”The media and internet have brought revolution in every sphere of life and elements indulge in catchy and hallow slogans and double standards politics have been exposed before masses,” he remarked.The Minister said ANP Swat Chapter will show its political strength in Mingora on Dec 26 where Chief Minister Khyber Pakthunkhwa Ameer Haider Khan Hoti and ANP Central President Asfandyar Wali Khan were likely to addressed and announce a mega development package for militancy and flood-hit Swat district.To a question about new provinces, the Minister said ANP will support every move in line with constitution. About future alliance with PPP, he said it was yet to be decided.The Minister said record development projects worth billions of rupees were initiated and completed in Swat district to help ameliorate lots of flood and terrorism stricken Swatis.ANP have completed all election promises referring to restoration of law and order in Swat and Malakand, gives name to province, granted provincial autonomy, abolishment of concurrent list, restoration of 1973 Constitution, establishment of Darul Qaza, Swat University and Seven Tehsil Municipal Administration, he concluded.

Nawaz Sharif...... Balochs need balm not trickery


Amid great fanfare has the PML (N) steered through the Punjab Assembly a resolution in support of its head honcho Mian Nawaz Sharif’s recent confabulations with Sardar Attaullah Mengal, which statedly focused on “compensation of the past injustices done to the people of Balochistan and steps to bring them in the national mainstream”. Yes, a huge raw deal has been dealt to our compatriots of Balochistan over the time by every successive central government and no stone must be left unturned to make amends to this colossal injustice done to them. But wasn’t Nawaz himself very much part of that terrible injustice dispensation? He was the prime minister twice and has an empty slate to show for the redress of the Balochs’ grief or for Balochistan’s progress during his two power stints. Wasn’t it he who himself had engineered the fall of Mengal’s scion Akhtar’s ministry in Balochistan in his second power stint at the centre? Akhtar’s grouse was very legitimate. He was sour, and very rightly so, for being kept in complete dark about the 1998 nuclear tests, when the testing site of Chagai was right on his domain. Was he not a Pakistani and a patriot, trustworthy to be taken aboard? He should have been told but told he was not. At least, he could have taken care of the residents of the area in and around the testing site, who were driven out from their homes before the tests and then left to wander about in the wilderness, like forsaken animals, unattended, all alone, and out in the open to fend for themselves. Not even had Nawaz bothered making him part of his gaudy show he enacted in Lahore to “celebrate” Pakistan’s nuclear accomplishment. When Akhtar spoke out, instead of trying mitigating his valid grouse, an angry Nawaz pulled down his government with an engineered no-confidence assembly device. Then with what face was he talking of injustices and compensations to Balochistan’s people to Attaullah and with what trust was the elderly Mengal chewing up his stinking hogwash? Anyway, that is between the two of them. But Balochistan’s people are yet to know if ever he had had some plan to alleviate their unenviable doleful predicament or for developing their ever-neglected province. Not even a plaque of his they see on any development works in the province; nor do they remember him for launching any scheme for their wellbeing. Balochistan’s mountains and plains and it deserts and valleys bear no sign at all of his any interest in the province or its people. He built a grand motorway between Lahore and Islamabad, which was not really needed any pressingly as existing roadways were more than enough. The precious billions that he consumed up on this unneeded showpiece he could have spent on indispensably-needed roads and expressways in Balochistan, but he did not. He built to Lahore airport a grand terminal building when the existing one could easily do, but thought of no plans to give Balochistan’s residents some adequate air travelling facilities. While he toyed frantically with constructing a controversial Kalabagh dam, he even didn’t fiddle with giving even a medium-size waterworks to Balochistan. Not known is he either for any real interest in exploiting the province’s tremendous mineral wealth for its progress and its residents’ prosperity. No university or institution of higher learning or professional education for the benefit of the province’s youths he established, as has done the military now. Not even had he bothered giving Balochistan’s younger generation some institutes for technical education to become respectable earning hands for very many a family. It is the army that has done it, too. It is really so disgusting hearing him of talking of injustices and compensations in Balochistan when he all through his power spells was so neglectful of its development needs and its residents’ urgent wants. He really sounds so sham, so fake and so unconvincing. Clearly, it is all politics he is doing, but shamefully on our Baloch compatriots’ deep gore and their painful sore, in inflicting of which he had had no lesser a part.He asks for bringing Nawab Akbar Bugti’s killers to justice. Yes, no violent killing must go unpunished. But why he keeps mum on mutilated and bullet-riddled corpses chilling the province’s air with intense human grief, anguish and dread? Is it because that continuing brutal slaughter of the Baloch commoners doesn’t promise him getting his bete noire Pervez Musharraf while the late Nawab’s does? And why is he asking no questions about the hands behind the Punjabi settlers’ ethnic cleansing in the province and target killings of its Urdu-speaking residents? Is it because he senses no profitable politics there for him? And he speaks not of the woes of the province’s huge community of Pakhtuns. Is it because he sees no brownie points there, too?The people of Balochistan do need a balm, definitely not trickery or dirty politicking, if Nawaz could understand.

Memogate issue............Something is rotten


The Memogate issue, a political scandal at best, seems to have developed into a matter of great import because the Supreme Court (SC) has decided to hear a petition related to the controversial memo. It is quite embarrassing that two supreme institutions — parliament and the SC — are investigating the same issue. When the prime minister had already ordered an inquiry into the matter through the parliamentary committee on national security, there was no need for the matter to be taken to the highest court. According to Article 184 (3.1) of the Constitution: “Exercise of jurisdiction. Court has to see that discretion is exercised in such a way that mischief and chaos is prevented. It should be exercised only when necessary, for injudicious exercise of such power, might result in grave and serious consequences.” Is it appropriate that the court and parliament are seized of the same matter? Should the petition be heard when it involves a spurious unsigned memo? It is important that the maintainability of the petition should first be addressed before the honourable justices exercise their jurisdiction so that mischief and chaos is prevented.

Judging by the responses submitted by the top military brass to the SC, it looks like they are jumping to conclusions when the very fact that has been ‘stated’ as a fact is still under investigation. What was also interesting to see was the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) reply to the SC on the memo issue. It admitted that the MoD had no control over the army and the ISI. An admission to this effect has sent everyone in a tizzy. Prime Minister Gilani also came down hard on the military, in a subtle yet aggressive manner, yesterday, while speaking in parliament. He said: “If they [military/ISI] say that they are not under the Ministry of Defence, then we should get out of this slavery, then this parliament has no importance, this system has no importance, then you are not sovereign...They are being paid from the state exchequer, from your revenue and from your taxes. If somebody thinks that they are not under the government, they are mistaken. They are under the government and they remain under the government, because we are the elected representatives of the people of Pakistan.”

That the prime minister made such a statement comes as no surprise given that a Reuters report quoting unnamed military sources claims that the military wants to get rid of President Zardari but through ‘legal means’. In order to oust the president, a two-thirds majority is needed in parliament. It is highly unlikely that the military is looking for that route. On the other hand, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) looks like it is not ready to go down without a fight. Prime Minister Gilani raised the issue of Osama bin Laden and asked who gave the most wanted terrorist the visa to enter and reside in Pakistan for six years. This was a direct dig at the military and its intelligence agencies. Mr Gilani made it clear that the military is accountable to parliament and that no institution can be a state within a state. In principle he is right, but has this parliament functioned in a way that commands respect from all state institutions and the people is a question to ponder. No one can disagree with the principle of civilian supremacy but Pakistan’s history is witness to how the military holds it in utter contempt and considers itself not to be subservient to the elected representatives. This is something that needs to be changed. The PPP might have asserted itself a bit late but it is good to finally see the government taking the high moral ground. Something is definitely rotten in the state.