Friday, January 13, 2012

Karzai vows action on 'cowardly' violence

Child bride still recovering from torture, being locked in basement toilet for months

An Afghan child bride who was tortured in an attempt to force her into prostitution is slowly recovering but is still hardly able to speak, hospital offices said.

Sahar Gul, 15 says she was tortured by her mother-in-law who locked her in a toilet in the basement of her husband's home for six months, beat her, pulled out her fingernails and burned her with cigarettes.

Sahar Gul, 15, is recovering in hospital in Kabul, her face bruised and swollen, her skin still bearing the marks of her ordeal, barely able to speak.

"Since the past few days, Gul can walk very slowly, she can eat and talk in a frail voice," said nurse Latifa Mirzad at the Wazir Akbar Khan hospital, as the bruised and battered girl looked on silently.

"She is hardly able to speak of her ordeal but sometimes she says in a weak voice 'my father in-law and mother-in law have beaten me'."

Police have said she was locked up when she defied her in-laws who tried to force her into prostitution. Her brother had sold her to her husband about seven months ago for $5,000.

"For several months I was locked up in a toilet by my in-laws and particularly my mother-in-law," she told media in a frail voice during a visit from Afghan health minister Dr Suraya Dalil. "I was denied food and water. I was tortured and beaten."

The minister said it was an example of "increased cases of violence against women in Afghanistan".

Gul's case was taken directly to President Hamid Karzai by a delegation from the Afghan Women's Network on Wednesday.

"The president assured his full support to strictly punish the perpetrators of the crime against Sahar Gul so that nobody can commit such a crime in the future," said the network's Lema Anwari.

Karzai pledged in a statement after the delegation's visit to take action against the "cowardly" perpetrators of violence against women.

The president said that he always took measures as soon as he heard about cases of violence against women, and would continue to take the issue seriously so that the culprits were brought to justice.

Women continue to suffer in Afghanistan despite billions of dollars of international aid which has poured into the country during the decade-long war.

A recent Oxfam study states 87 per cent of Afghan women report having experience physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage.

According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Com-mission logged 1,026 cases of violence against women in the second quarter of 2011 com-pared with 2,700 cases for the whole of 2010.

Dalil said Gul was suffering from severe blood loss, with multiple burns and injuries.

"She is also suffering from trauma and psychological problems," she said.

"She is still a child, below the legal age of marriage. She is only 15 and from a remote part of the country.

"It's a tragic and heartbreaking story for Afghanistan."

The teenager was found in a basement in the northeastern Baghlan province last week.

Her family, from the neighbouring province of Badakh-shan, had reported her disappearance to the police after being denied access to the home.

Three women including the girl's mother-in-law were arrested over the case, but her husband fled.

Gul's case comes after a woman known as Gulnaz was pardoned and released earlier in December after spending two years in prison for "moral crimes".

She was jailed after she reported to police that her cousin's husband had raped her. Gulnaz gave birth to the rapist's child in prison.

In November, the United Nations said that a landmark law aiming to protect women against violence in Afghanistan had been used to prosecute just over 100 cases since being enacted two years ago.

Karzai faces criticism over prison demand


One week after President Hamid Karzai demanded that the United States hand over its military prison near Bagram Airfield to Afghan officials by month’s end, opposition to the plan has emerged from human rights advocates appointed by Karzai.

The fracture comes in response to Karzai’s claim that troubled Afghan institutions are prepared to bring to trial and detain thousands of suspected militants.After visiting more than a dozen prisons across the country in recent months, members of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission say a rapid transfer of the the Parwan detention center would put the safety of thousands of prisoners in jeopardy and strain a feeble judicial system.

“We’re simply not ready. The conditions in Afghan prisons raised serious concerns, and the prison system is not ready to take responsibility for such a large facility,” said a top commission official who has examined the Afghan detention system and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue. “Karzai thinks it’s easy. He thinks the prison is a little 20-room facility. He has never been there. He has no idea how complicated it is.”

The commission is preparing this month to release a report that details the widespread problems in Afghan-run prisons, including physical abuse and a legal system that detains prisoners for 10 months, or more, without trial.

On Tuesday, the Interior Ministry issued a scathing critique of the prison system, pointing to the infiltration of insurgents and drug use inside prisons as well as general security concerns.

“Despite your efforts and commitments, the Afghan prisons and detention centers are facing many challenges that need practical efforts to be tackled,” said Interior Minister Gen. Bismullah Khan Mohammadi.

A number of international groups have documented abuses in the country’s detention centers in recent years. But officials on Afghanistan’s human rights panel have gone a step further in not only identifying abuse in more than a dozen Afghan prisons but also linking their findings to what they see as a flaw in the president’s decree: Those who would inherit Parwan have not yet proved themselves competent. Commission members said they also worried that the Afghan government would be unable to finance the costly detention operation without assistance.

Karzai’s demand is seen by many here as an attempt to assert his independence after agreeing to diplomatic talks with the Taliban at the United States’ behest.

Karzai has vacillated in recent months between compromise and confrontation with Washington. At a conference last month in Bonn, Germany, he pleaded for U.S. assistance beyond 2014 — when the United States is due to remove all combat troops — before condemning the United States for its night raids. Karzai supported the opening of a Taliban diplomatic office in Qatar last week and then days later made his demand about the Parwan detention center.

Members of the human rights commission found that conditions at Parwan were better than any Afghan prison they visited — a blow to Karzai’s advisers, who claimed that problems with the U.S.-run detention make its transfer to Afghan control all the more important.

The Parwan detention center holds about 2,600 prisoners, ranging from suspected low-level insurgents to high-profile Taliban members. U.S. officials, caught off guard by Karzai’s announcement last week, have long expressed concern that the Afghan legal system is not yet strong enough to warrant a handover of the military prison.

Gavin Sundwall, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, said negotiations with the Afghan government over transfer of the facility were ongoing.

Mehdi Hassan alive and recovering in the hospital: Death rumours confirmed fake!

Mehdi Hassan alive and recovering in the hospital: Death rumours confirmed fake!

There were a lot of noises in the air pertaining the death of Mr. Mehdi Hassan but it has been confirmed now that by the grace of Allah the legendary singer is alive and recovering as well, Alhamdulillah.

The Indian-born singer Mehdi Hassan, who is widely considered by many as ‘King of ghazal’, is currently in the Special Care Unit of the Agha Khan University Hospital in Karachi and the doctors have confirmed that he is now responding to the treatment.

The 84-year-old Mehdi Hassan, also known as Ustad Mehdi Hassan, is suffering from a serious lung condition for the past many years as a result to which he was admitted in the hospital a few days back. Mr. Hassan was put on the ventilator but now it has been removed, thanks to millions of people who prayed for his health.

Mehdi Hassan’s son, Asif Mehdi, explained his father’s condition to the media when the last time he was interviewed. At that time Mehdi’s condition was much serious but now he is improving.

“He is still in the ICU and doctors are looking after him round the clock. All we can do now is pray for him and hope Allah gives him life,” said Hassan’s son, Asif Mehdi himself a singer.

“He had trouble in breathing (on Tuesday). We immediately rushed him to the hospital. He is in ICU but there is no positive response from the doctors about his condition,” Arif said.

“We have been feeding him through tube for the past two years and for the past one month, he has even lost his voice, which mesmerized millions of his fans,” he added.

The Shahenshah-e-Ghazal was born in 1927 in Luna, Rajasthan and many over there are also praying for his health, as they know there can never be another Mehdi Hassan.

Let’s pray Mehdi Hassan, who has given us evergreen ghazals like ‘Ab Ke Hum Bichde’, ‘Patta Patta Boota Boota’, ‘Yeh Dhuan’, ‘Woh Dilnawaz’, ‘Magghan Baat’, ‘Arz-E-Nyaz’ and ‘Zindagi main tu sabhi’, recovers soon because he is certainly a great asset in the field classical singing.

Pakistan, UK deny call expressing coup fears

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani telephoned the top British diplomat in the country this week expressing fears that the Pakistani army might be about to stage a coup, a British official and an official in Islamabad said on Friday.

The Pakistani and British governments denied the report, which comes as tensions between Pakistan’s army and government have soared in recent days, leading to speculation that the army might try to oust the civilian leadership.

Tribute To Faraz: Remembering the great poet on his birthday

The Express Tribune

To commemorate the birthday of renowned Urdu poet, Ahmed Faraz, a literary reference was held at the International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI) in collaboration with Ahmad Faraz Trust on Thursday.

This was stated in a press release issued by the university.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwah Governor Barrister Masood Kousar was the chief guest while IIUI Acting President Prof. Dr Sahibzada Sajidur Rehman presided over the event.

At the event, IIUI Rector Prof Fateh Muhammad Malik and other scholars presented papers on Ahmad Faraz.

Barrister Kousar said that acceptance of the work and personality of Faraz in the literary world indicates triumph of his thought and ideas. He added there are doubts in the society about religious soundness of Ahmad Faraz.

However, Faraz belonged to a religious family, he said. Faraz took off his literary journey at a good time. Faraz had inherited a deep sense of Arabic and Persian languages from his ancestors.

Bahrain fires tear gas, stun grenades to halt protesters

The Associated Press and

Bahraini security forces violently broke-up a protest in the Gulf kingdom's capital Friday, using tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the marchers, the BBC reported.

More than 3,000 people participated in the protest, which the government said was illegal, the BBC reported.

The march was led by leading human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, who was beaten by security forces on Friday, Jan. 6, according to Human Rights Watch.

"We are using the streets peacefully. We are marching for our rights," Rajab told the BBC.

Human Rights Watch on Friday called on authorities to "immediately halt attacks on peaceful protesters."ahrain, where members of the Shiite majority began protesting against the country's Sunni royal family in February, is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Al Arabiya inquiry reveals how Tunisia’s Ben Ali escaped to Saudi Arabia

On January 14, 2011, the most critical moments in Tunisia’s modern history and the subsequent facts of the moments were woven behind the scenes and in the corridors of the Tunisian authority, from lowly to lofty positions. This historic date was the spark that drew the red lines on the region’s map, a region that entered a new chapter entitled: The Revolution.

That day witnessed by the Tunisian people reintroduced questions about the reasons that forced the former president, Zine ElAbidine Ben Ali, to leave his palace, and then his country, like a fugitive.

The story takes place in Tunis, the country’s capital, and in many other Tunisian cities, but its events primarily occur in the ruling authority’s decision-making headquarters: the presidential palace in Carthage, the former president’s residence in Sidi Bou Said, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense, al-Habib Bourguiba avenue in the Capital, the Tunis-Carthage International Airport and the military barracks of Aounia, site of the military airbase, and the governmental palace in El Kasba.

It all began at 8 a.m. on that morning, when the then-president Ben Ali arrived at his office in the presidential Palace of Carthage, with the ministers of interior and defense and the country’s prime minister, Mohammed al-Ghannoushi.

At the same time, a few demonstrators were gathering in Habib Burguiba Avenue in front of the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior, headed by the human rights activist and lawyer Radiya al-Nassrawi, who had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and who was demanding the release of her husband, the leader of the communist workers’ party, who was incarcerated in the building housing the Interior ministry.

At around 11 that morning the situation worsened. The then-president was receiving conflicting reports and information that he would not be blamed for considering threatening.

The events reached a climax at around 1 p.m.: the protestors outside the palace now numbered about 70,000, and security was breaking down across the city. Demonstrators had set the police and national guard stations on fire. Then, inmates in the prison in the capital and other cities began to rebel … this all resulted in a near total breakdown of the already strained Tunisian security forces, which had for more than a month been dealing with a taxing situation.

Under these circumstances, Ben Ali president decided to send his wife, his son Mohammed and his daughter Halima to Jeddah to perform Umrah, the pilgrimage to Mecca. And indeed, the presidential chief of protocol urgently started preparing for the trip, since the president was not intending to leave the country at the time. The president’s wife had received a notice from her husband asking her to pack her bags and leave for Jeddah. Concurrently, the security services received conflicting information about a potential helicopter attack on the presidential palace, and an attack from sea.

In the midst of these events, during which the presidential palace was awash in panic and terror, the Tunis-Carthage International Airport, and specifically the VIP lounge, which is used by the most imminent personalities, witnessed a watershed in the story’s events.

Colonel Samir Tarhouni of Tunisia’s anti-terrorism brigade and his team broke into the airport and prevented the Trabelsi Family, Ben Ali’s in laws, from leaving the country. Tarhouni took this initiative without the permission of his superiors in the Ministry of the Interior, so his actions were considered as rebellion.

Meanwhile, the president’s wife arrived at the palace to bid farewell to her husband; however, in the midst of the panic and terror in the palace, the former president suddenly insisted on accompanying them to the military barracks in order to secure their departure. Afterward, the presidential convoy, which consisted of nine cars, one of which was driven by Ben Ali’s wife, Leila, along with his son, arrived at the military barracks in Aounia. The president exited the car, which was parked in front of the presidential plane that was refueling in the hangar.

It was at that precise moment that the president decided to travel to Jeddah with the intention of accompanying his family and then coming back home. The plane took off, escorted by armored cars on the runway.
In the meantime, the news of the president’s departure spread among the security services, especially the presidential guard.

Colonel Sami Sik Salem, in charge of protecting the palace, called the prime minister, Mohammed al-Ghannoushi, and pleaded with him to come to the presidential palace to fill the power void left in the country. Accordingly, the prime minister, as well as the speakers of the parliament and their advisors, arrived at the palace.

A statement was issued decreeing that the prime minister had assumed power as an interim president, in accordance with chapter 56 of the Tunisian constitution. Throughout that night and during the flight to Jeddah, a series of calls were made between the president, the prime minister, the defense minister and the chief of staff of the Tunisian Armed Forces, General Rashid Ammar. Ultimately, in an overnight meeting held in the headquarters of the ministry of Interior, it was decided to bar the president from returning to Tunisia.

Thus, the presidential plane’s pilot was ordered to return home without the president on board.

Among the protagonists who participated in this historical day:

•Zine ElAbidine Ben Ali, President of Tunisia since 1987

•Leila Bin Ali, the president’s wife, who was targeted with her family by the protests because of serious financial corruption widely acknowledged inside and outside Tunisia. Her family’s residences were set on fire and were looted, and her brother, Belhassen Trabelsi, fled by sea to Malta on the same day.

•General Ali Seriati, Presidential Security Chief. He played a pivotal role in the events of the story.

•Ridha Grira, the Tunisian Defense Minister, who played a major role in the events and adopted mysterious stances in several situations.

•General Rashid Ammar, the Chief of Staff of the Tunisian Armed Forces, who was widely popular in Tunisia.

•Mohammed al-Ghannoushi, prime Minister. He assumed the role of interim president for a couple of hours and then handed over power to the speaker of the house of the representatives, in line with chapter 57 of the constitution.

•Lieutenant Samir Tarhouni, Colonel of Tunisia’s anti-terrorism Brigade who broke into the airport, without the permission of his officials, in a bid to detain the president’s family and wife, although the president was in the Carthage palace at the time.

•Colonel Sami Sik Salem, Commander of the Presidential Security Forces, who took the historical decision of calling upon the Prime Minister to take office.

•Mohsen Rahim, the Presidential Chief of Protocol, who organized and prepared Ben Ali’s trip to Jeddah.

•Ghazwa and Sirine Ben Ali, daughters of the former president, who were with him on the January 13 and 14.

There are also minor characters who participated in the events, including:

•The presidential plane’s pilot

•The president’s valet

•Female flight attendants

•The Tunis-Carthage international airport Commander.

REVOLUTION:: Jordanian dies after setting himself ablaze

A 54-year-old Jordanian man died after setting himself on fire, in the second such death in as many days, a security official said.

“Yassin Falah Zubi set himself on fire in the Nazzal neighborhood, east of Amman. He was rushed to hospital but died there,” the official told AFP. “According to his son, the man suffered from mental problems.”

On Tuesday, 52-year-old Ahmad Matarneh died in hospital after setting himself on fire the previous day because of his economic woes, his family said.

The former Amman municipality employee’s contract was terminated in July. The municipality said Matarneh received about $11,000 as end-of-service compensation and a $42,000 housing loan, “expressing regret over his death.”

In April, a man killed himself the same way after police refused to erase his criminal record.

Meanwhile, an 18-year-old activist was arrested on Wednesday after torching a large picture of King Abdullah II in the southern city of Madaba, near Amman, local news websites reported.

Jordan faces chronic economic challenges and people have been protesting since January last year to demand economic and political reforms as well as an end to corruption.

The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in December 2010 after unemployed graduate Mohamed Bouaziz’s self-immolation set off a wave of protests that toppled long-standing dictators and dramatically changed the Arab world.

Dangerous Tension With Iran


With tensions rising over Iran’s nuclear program, the Obama administration has now warned the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that Iran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz would provoke an American response. Earlier this week, international monitors confirmed that Iran has begun enriching uranium at a new underground plant. The United States and Europe are tightening sanctions to choke off Iranian oil revenues. On Wednesday, an Iranian nuclear scientist died in a bomb attack en route to work, and a government newspaper signaled that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps might retaliate. Many officials, experts and commentators increasingly expect some kind of military confrontation. No one should want to see Iran, with its contempt for international law, acquire a nuclear weapon. But a military strike on the nuclear facilities would be a disaster.

We don’t know whether any mix of sanctions and inducements could persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. There is another option besides force: negotiations with the United States and other major powers over curbing Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for ending sanctions and diplomatic isolation. Iran’s fractured leadership so far has not committed to serious talks, but President Obama and his allies have not paid enough attention to that alternative.

The United Nations Security Council demanded that Iran stop enriching uranium more than five years ago. Iran claims it only wants access to nuclear technology for electricity and other peaceful purposes. But that excuse is hollow. The major powers have said that power generation would be guaranteed if Iran abandons its weapons ambitions. Instead, Iran is still enriching uranium and mastering other technologies that would allow it to build a nuclear weapon. According to the latest report from United Nations inspectors, Iran has created computer models of nuclear explosions, conducted experiments on nuclear triggers and completed advanced research on a warhead that could be delivered by a medium-range missile.

An accelerating covert campaign of assassinations, bombings, cyberattacks and defections — carried out mainly by Israel, according to The Times — is slowing the program, but whether that is enough is unclear.

Economic pressure could be more effective if the United Nations Security Council ratcheted up its existing sanctions. A new round has been delayed by opposition from Russia and China. The United States and Europe have been imposing their own penalties, and Tehran’s recent threat to shut the Strait of Hormuz, gateway to one-fifth of the world’s oil trade, is an obvious sign of its growing economic desperation.

A new United States law that would penalize foreign companies that do business with Iran’s central bank — which they must do to buy Iranian oil — and an oil embargo that European Union foreign ministers plan to approve on Jan. 23 could have an even bigger impact. The Obama administration and European officials seem likely to phase in these sanctions in a way that limits the damage to the world economy. On Thursday, Japan pledged to buy less Iranian oil, China and South Korea were looking for alternative suppliers, and India’s intent was unclear. Tehran is more likely to respond if all the major importers apply pressure together.

The Americans and Europeans are working with Turkey to set up a new round of negotiations with Iran in Istanbul. The Iranians need to know that the economic pressure will not let up until they stop the nuclear program.

Mehdi Hassan's condition is improving

Even as Mehdi Hassan's birth village Luna in Rajasthan prays for the good health and long life of the ghazal maestro, his doctor says he is "improving" and "responding" to treatment.

He said that the singer is not on a ventilator and is currently under treatment at the Special Care Unit of the Agha Khan University Hospital in Karachi.

Earlier there were reports that the singer is critical and on a ventilator following respiratory problems.

The 84-year-old Hassan has been ill for the last few years due to a serious lung condition that has led to complications and breathing problems.

The Shahenshah-e-Ghazal, who was born into a family of traditional musicians at Luna village in Rajasthan in 1927, and the voice behind evergreen ghazals like Ab Ke Hum Bichde, Patta Patta Boota Boota, Yeh Dhuan, Woh Dilnawaz, Magghan Baat and Arz-E-Nyaz, had recently lost his voice due to his illness.

The singer's son Arif said his father always wanted to visit India for treatment but doctors ruled out any travel due to his ill-health. Facing a cash crunch, the family had appealed to the Pakistan government for help.

The Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and other government officials have visited the legendary singer at his residence in recent times but Asif said financial help had been slow in coming from the government.

Hassan remains a hugely popular ghazal singer in the Indian sub-continent though he cut back on his performances in the late 80s due to illness.

PPP knows how to come out of crisis

Minister for Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said on Friday that the government does not believe in confrontation of institutions.

Talking to media outside the parliament, she said, “We have given unmatched sacrifices for the restoration, stability and strength of institutions then how can we confront with them.”

The Minister said that people have elected PPP for a period of five years to work for their welfare. She said PPP knows how to come out of crisis adding that the government would complete its constitutional period and next general elections would be held on time.

To a question she said misunderstandings created by some elements among the institutions would soon be removed. In a democracy the solution of every problem can be sought through dialogue, she said.

To another question, she said the Defence Cabinet Committee (DCC) would discuss the NATO report.

The DCC will take decisions in the supreme interest of the country, she said.

Pakistani government report criticizes spy agency

A Pakistani commission investigating the unsolved murder of a journalist last year has said that the country's notorious intelligence service needs to be more "law-abiding."

The report released Friday by a government-appointed judicial commission says the inquiry did not find enough evidence to name any perpetrators in the death of Saleem Shahzad, who was killed after he told friends he had been threatened by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

However, the commission does call on Pakistan's intelligence agencies to be made more accountable to the government through internal reviews and oversight by parliament. It also says agencies' interactions with reporters should be closely monitored.

Obama seeks power to merge agencies


President Barack Obama will ask Congress on Friday for greater power to shrink the federal government, and his first idea is merging six sprawling trade and commerce agencies whose overlapping programs can be baffling to businesses, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

Obama will call on Congress to give him a type of reorganizational power last held by a president when Ronald Reagan was in office. The Obama version would be a so-called consolidation authority allowing him to propose mergers that promise to save money and help consumers. The deal would entitle him to an up-or-down vote from Congress in 90 days.

It would be up to lawmakers, therefore, to first grant Obama this fast-track authority and then decide whether to approve any of his specific ideas.

Obama was expected to announce his plans Friday. The official confirmed the details to the AP on condition of anonymity ahead of the president's event.

In an election year and a political atmosphere of tighter spending, Obama's motivation is about improving a giant bureaucracy — but that's hardly all of it.

To voters sick of dysfunction, Obama wants to show some action on making Washington work better. Politically, his plan would allow him to do so by putting the onus on Congress and in particular his Republican critics in the House and Senate, to show why they would be against the pursuit of a leaner government.

Obama also has an imperative to deliver. He made a promise to come up with a smart reorganization of the government in his last State of the Union speech. That was nearly a year ago.

At the time, Obama grabbed attention by pointing out the absurdity of government inefficiency. In what he called his favorite example, Obama said: "The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they're in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked."

The White House said the problem is serious for consumers who turn to their government for help and often do not know where to begin.

Not in decades has the government undergone a sustained reorganization of itself. Presidents have tried from time to time, but each part of the bureaucracy has its own defenders inside and outside the government, which can make merger ideas politically impossible. That's particularly true because "efficiency" is often another way of saying people will lose their jobs.

Obama hopes to enhance his chances by getting Congress to give him the assurance of a clean, relatively speedy vote on any of his proposals.

There is no clear sign that Obama would get that cooperation. He spent much of 2011 in gridlock with Republicans who control the House and can halt votes in the Senate.

Should he prevail, Obama's first project would be to combine six major operations of the government that focus on business and trade.

They are: the Commerce Department's core business and trade functions; the Small Business Administration; the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative; the Export-Import Bank; the Overseas Private Investment Corporation; and the Trade and Development Agency. The goal would be one agency designed to help businesses thrive.

The official said 1,000 to 2,000 jobs would be cut, but the administration would do so through attrition; that is, as people routinely leave their jobs over time.

The administration said the merger would save $3 billion over 10 years by getting rid of duplicative overhead costs, human resources divisions and programs.

The point, the official said, is not just making the government smaller but better by saving people time and eliminating bureaucratic nightmares. The idea for the consolidated business agency grew out of discussions with hundreds of business leaders and agency heads over the last several months.

The administration official presented Obama as the CEO of an operation who should have more power to influence how it is designed. According to the White House, presidents held such a reorganizational authority for about 50 years until it ran out during Reagan's presidency in 1984.

Wali tables resolution in govt’s favour

Chief of Awami National Party (ANP) Asfandyar Wali Khan

has submitted a resolution before the National Assembly in favor of democracy, Geo News reported.

Wali's resolution will be voted on next week, Jan. 16 (Monday).

The resolution, which will be voted Jan. 16 said the Parliament is people's representative. The NA session has now been adjourned till Monday evening.

I do not need to take a vote of confidence, Gilani

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Friday said that he did not need to take a vote of confidence, according to media reports.
Whoever wants to initiate a no-confidence motion in the parliament, they are free to do so, he said.
Addressing a session of the National Assembly, Gilani said everyone should respect the constitution and those who want to cut short the terms of the prime minister and the president should propose amendments to the constitution.
He further said that the government was not against any state institution.
“We have not come here to seek martyrdom, nor are we seeking support on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO),” the premier said.
“The opposition should tell us if the NRO was made by our government,” the prime minister questioned.
He further said that “if a new stage is set up, it would neither welcome the current government, nor the existing opposition”.
Regarding the judiciary, he said: “We went to prisons for the judges and faced treason cases for standing up for Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.”

Historic Pakistani film premiered in India

Film buffs in the city today got a rare opportunity to watch the Indian premiere of the 1959 historic Pakistani movie `Jago Hua Savera`, which has dialogues and songs by legendary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

Based on `Padma Nadir Majhi` (The Boatman on the River Padma), a story by Bengali novelist Manik Bandopadhyay, the film depicts a poignant tale of an impoverished fisherman who struggles to built a boat in Bangladesh.

Credited as the first Pakistani film which had won international acclaim, the masterpiece by director A J Kardar had won eleven international awards, including one at the Moscow Film Festival.

The film was screened at the ICCR auditorium as part of a tribute to Faiz on his birth centenary celebrations at the ongoing Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival.

Faiz`s daughter Salima Hashmi, who was present on the occasion, told PTI that this was the first screening of the film in India.

"Personally, it was very emotional moment because of the connections between Lahore and Kolkata and between Faiz, films and Kolkata. He (Faiz) spoke with great admiration for Satyajit Ray and his meeting with him," she said.

The film`s young star cast had a rare casting combination of actors from the three neighbouring countries - India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Chocolate's Child Slaves

Everyone loves chocolate. But for thousands of people, chocolate is the reason for their enslavement.

The chocolate bar you snack on likely starts at a plant in a West African cocoa plantation, and often the people who harvest it are children. Many are slaves to a system that produces something almost all of us consume and enjoy.

The CNN Freedom Project sent correspondent David McKenzie into the heart of the Ivory Coast - the world’s largest cocoa producer - to investigate what's happening to children working in the fields.

His work has resulted in a shocking, eye-opening documentary showing that despite all the promises the global chocolate industry made a decade ago, much of the trade remains unchanged. There are still child slaves harvesting cocoa, even though some have never even tasted chocolate and some don't even know what the word "chocolate" means.

In the documentary "Chocolate’s Child Slaves," CNN discovers a human trafficking network and farmers using child labor for an industry offering low prices and little more than broken promises.

The documentary first airs on Friday, January 20. As you now ponder the injustices chocolate can cause, are you considering checking your next chocolate purchase for a fair-trade label? Can that seemingly inconsequential action of looking at a label spur a chain of events? Or do you think it takes more than a label to change an industry? We'll also find out what the chocolate industry says about all this in a discussion airing after the documentary.

PML-N constantly trying to attack democratic process

Pakistan Observer

Sindh Minister for Information Shazia Marri has expressed disappointment at the role of PML-N who she said, was constantly trying to attack the democratic process.

“Democracy has always suffered in Pakistan and sadly it is the political worker who sacrifices for the all freedoms but today fingers are being raised at the same political workers and the only political party which has seen a judicial murder, endless jail sentences without charges proved and so much more,” she said in a statement.

“Where was Nawaz Sharif when Pakistan People Party was fighting General Musharraf?. Where were the campaigners for change when a dictator was ruining the constitutional institutions of Pakistan,” she asked.

Marri questioned. Minister Information stressed upon the need to avoid extreme attitudes and refrain from maligning the Parliament.

“Parliament is supreme and all constitutional institutions are expected to perform in light of the constitution approved by the Parliament”, Shazia Marri said. She expressed the need to work together for stronger democratic system and to facilitate the evolution process in Pakistan in order to sustain democracy in the country. She said despite negative policies of the PML-N, the PP has always advocated for reconciliation.

“Shaheed Mohtarma initiated the process of reconciliation between political parties to restore democracy in Pakistan and President Zardari took it forward to strengthen the democratic system”, Marri said.

Kohat tunnel turned into a suffocating ‘black hole’

Built at a cost of Rs6 billion,

the Kohat Friendship Tunnel has virtually been turned into a black hole due to non-repair of lights and the exhaust system, which were damaged by militants, causing nuisance to passengers.

Sources said that the National Highway Authority failed to renovate the tunnel connecting Peshawar with the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the last few years though its had been generating road tax worth millions every month since its opening in 2003.

Wishing anonymity, officials privy to the issue told this correspondent by phone from Islamabad that the contractor company closed the tunnel for repair in its first phase for 10 days in April last year.

They said that without carrying out any repair work the company was claiming Rs7.5 million, which turned into a dispute between the NHA and the company.

The sources said that the exhaust fans, imported by the Japanese construction company, were sold in scarp, but new ones had not been installed.

The NHA had decided in 2009 to float tenders to install new lights and exhaust system with a cost of Rs400 million after it was damaged by militants in 2008.

The sources said that some of the exhaust fans and lights were in working condition, but due to negligence in annual repairs they developed irreparable faults. The price of one exhaust fan was Rs10 million whereas the lights had to be imported from Italy, they added.

They claimed that the decision to award the tender to Siemens company had been made, but the start of repair work was taking too long.

At the time of the tunnel`s construction it was proposed that with the increase of rush, a second tunnel would be built by the NHA, which had got the training from the Japanese company. A

t that time the NHA had said that the second tunnel would be constructed in2011, but the number of vehicles using the tunnel passed the limit within three years of its opening.

The 1.89-km tunnel has cut the travel time between Kohat and Peshawar by 20 minutes and unlike Kotal Pass it allows longer goods vehicle to pass through it.

Now the railways department is considering constructing a new tunnel and starting a train service between the southern region and Peshawar.

Thousands of people daily go to Peshawar offices and return the same day. Similarly, people also go to Peshawar to catch a train for Karachi.

Besides thousands of students the overseas Pakistanis would also get a convenient mode of transportation from Peshawar to southern districts with the launch of train service.

An official said that the project was in the pipeline, but the current situation of the PR was hampering the plan though it could be carried out by obtaining loan as was done in the case of friendship tunnel.

President Zardari Don't want any conflict with SC, Army

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari,

who returned from Dubai on Friday, has said that he does not want any confrontation with the Army and the Supreme Court. Sources close to Zardari said, "We don't want any confrontation with the Army and the Supreme Court. The matter with the Supreme Court will be sorted out."

Sources said that the main aim of the government is to bring the economy back on track.

Zardari reached Islamabad on Friday morning from Dubai, where he had gone on a personal visit. Pakistan's national Assembly is set to meet for a special session on Friday over the ongoing political crisis in the country. Speaking on his abrupt Dubai visit, Zardari said, "My visit to Dubai was scheduled and personal." His abrupt departure on Thursday had fuelled speculation of whether he will return.

The Supreme Court will be key even as the Pakistan government claims to have struck a peace deal with the Army ahead of the special session.

Zardari's spokesperson has said that the ruling PPP will decide if there will be confidence motion when its Parliamentary party meets ahead of the special session of the Assembly.

While PPL allies including the ANP and the MQM have assured support in case of a confidence motion, the Opposition PML-N has approved two options. It will either give a notice for a no-confidence motion or call for mass resignations from the National Assembly. Imran Khan's Tehreek-e-Insaaf also favours a no-confidence motion.

Pakistan's unfolding political drama has been getting a new twist every hour. After a night of speculation of a coup, Pakistan woke up on Thursday to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's assertion that the Army had only issued its statement criticising him after he gave his approval.

A peace deal seemed to have been struck with the Army clarifying that there was to be no meeting of the top commanders either.

Amidst fears of a military coup in Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari left for Dubai for a one-day visit. Presidential sources termed Zardari's visit as a private visit. Sources had also indicated that Zardari may meet former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

This came, even as the Opposition demanded Zardari and Gilani's resignation.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan lashed out at the Pakistan government led by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, demanding their resignation. He said that early elections were the only way out of the country's current crisis, but also added that he won't support a military coup.

"I have been hearing 'go Zardari go' slogans. If you are serious, then resign from the Assembly and there will be an automatic situation for elections," Khan said on Thursday.

The row erupted after Gilani sacked the Defence Secretary Lt Gen(retd) Naeem Khalid Lodhi, considered to be close to the military, raising fears of a coup.

A disputed memo allegedly from Zardari's government seeking U.S. help in reining in the military has soured relations to their lowest point since a coup in 1999.

Imran Khan claimed that Gilani could have sacked the Defence Secretary on the orders of Zardari. "The Prime Minister is a puppet of President Zardari. He cannot be doing this alone," Khan said.

This has come at a time when Gilani and his government are already on a collision course with the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court called Gilani 'dishonest and dishonourable' on Wednesday.

The Gilani government has also been facing public anger over prices, shortages and corruption.

The Supreme Court has made it clear that it will hear both the corruption case against Zardari and the memogate controversy on Monday.

The PPP will be held before the Assembly session to decide if there will be a confidence motion, calling attention or resolution.

Journalist Saleem Shahzad’s murder case: Blind commission


‘Business as usual’ is basically what the judicial commission, formed to investigate slain journalist Saleem Shahzad’s murder case, is saying having spent six months on it but being unable to look at what is staring it in the face. A prominent investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad was abducted last year on May 29 in Islamabad two days after his story on the infiltration of al Qaeda into the Pakistan Navy had been published. On May 31, his tortured dead body was found lying in a canal near Mandi Bahauddin, a district of Punjab. Saleem Shahzad had been working on a story focusing on the Pakistan Army’s alleged ties with militants. He was receiving death threats from the country’s premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for his investigation spree as he had confided to his confidants. After his brutal murder, a Judicial Commission was formed, raising hopes that a fair and impartial probe would take place and justice would eventually be served. However, after taking a really long time and wasting precious resources of the national exchequer, it has come up with an inconclusive report, which has no findings at all. It seems that Saleem Shahzad committed self-torture and suicide and later his dead body drove a car to the canal and dumped itself there.

The Judicial Commission has made a mockery of justice. It is crystal clear that the judiciary lacks the courage to question the ISI for its alleged extra-judicial murders and other illegal activities. It is indeed a sad day. Journalists, human rights activists and citizens of Pakistan had high hopes from this Judicial Commission that at last someone would rein in the ISI, which considers itself above the law and that their basic right of freedom of expression as enshrined in the constitution would be protected. Alas! The commission, despite its clear mandate, has failed miserably and disappointed all. Its report is a whitewash. It has given license to the ISI to continue its kill and dump policy against the dissenting voices with impunity across the country. The abduction and killing of daring journalists would continue and their families should expect no justice. What sort of a country are we living in? The security of journalists now seems like a distant dream. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), during the last year, five out of 16 journalists killed in Pakistan were allegedly abducted and murdered by secret agencies. No wonder our country is considered the most dangerous place for journalists in the world. The Judicial Commission on Saleem Shahzad murder case has only left journalists feeling even more insecure.

Pakistan: Descent into anarchy

EDITORIAL: Daily Times

January 11 saw a lot of action on the part of both the government and the army. It all started with a harshly worded press release issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) regarding Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s interview to the People’s Daily Online of China. It said: “There can be no allegation more serious than what the Honourable Prime Minister has levelled against COAS and DG ISI and has unfortunately charged the officers for violation of the Constitution of the Country. This has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the Country.” The ISPR’s threatening tone is unacceptable because constitutionally the military as an institution is subordinate to the prime minister and parliament. The ISPR’s press release smacks of the military mindset bogged down in the past. They should not forget that the country and the world have changed. It is not easy to browbeat a democratically elected prime minister as it was in the past. The military must, under all conditions, respect the supremacy of parliament where the elected representatives of the people run the affairs of the country. Apart from the ISPR’s press release, we saw Prime Minister Gilani dismiss the Defence Secretary, Lieutenant-General (retd) Naeem Khalid Lodhi “for creating misunderstanding between the state institutions”. This was in reference to Mr Lodhi’s affidavit in the memo petition where he stated that the Defence Ministry had “no operational control” over the military and the ISI. Cabinet Secretary Nargis Sethi has been given the additional charge of Defence Secretary. Then there was another important development. Brigadier Sarfraz Ali has been given the charge of the 111th Infantry Brigade or Triple One Brigade even though an ISPR spokesman said that this is a routine posting. All these ‘developments’ were seen with interest not just in Pakistan but the entire world.

While all this was going on, Prime Minister Gilani gave a surprising statement saying that the army chief took his permission before issuing a clarification through the ISPR. First the prime minister makes adventurist statements in an interview related to the army chief and DG ISI and then he backs down from it. Why is Mr Gilani doing this to his own cause and credibility? Is this deliberate? If it is, then the apprehensions of a clash of institutions will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy but if it is not deliberate, then he should be more circumspect in his statements so as not to cause more confusion and commotion. Whatever the prime minister’s reasons, it would not be wrong to say that a clash between institutions does exist. The military and the judiciary seem to be on one side while the civilian government on the other. Mian Nawaz Sharif has gravitated more and more towards the military-judiciary’s side and thrown all caution to the winds on his earlier democratic stance of not destabilising the system. The suspicion in the mind of some observers is that an indirect coup might be in the offing against a democratically elected government. If something like this happens, we could have anarchy on our hands. Instead of further destabilising the country, it would be better if all state institutions remain within their parameters. All politicians, especially those in the opposition, should support democracy. Just like Pakistan cannot afford another direct military coup, it cannot afford an end to democracy either.

Mansoor Ijaz blamed Kayani over OBL after Abbottabad raid

Daily Times

Although Mansoor Ijaz, the main character in the memogate saga, has sought protection from the Pakistan Army during his stay in Pakistan for appearing before the memo inquiry commission, he had earnestly accused the army and ISI of protecting Osama bin Laden right after the May 2 US raid in Abbottabad, research into his articles and statements reveals.

In a radio interview in May, Ijaz had also suggested that Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani may have been forewarned by the US about the raid, though in November he claimed that it was the country’s civilian leadership that had prior information about the raid.

These contradictions raise serious questions about the credibility of Ijaz, who is expected to testify before the memo commission on Monday.

In an article in Financial Times on May 3, Ijaz wrote, “As Pakistan now awakens to a post-bin Laden era, the nuclear-armed nation seems unable to respond truthfully or credibly to the duplicity of its policies or the complicity of its spy agency in harbouring a mass murderer.” He added, “The compound’s location near an elite Pakistani military academy and among the homes of high-ranking Pakistani military retirees raises hard questions about Pakistan’s role in harbouring the al Qaeda leader in plain sight while its intelligence services and military chiefs nursed on the American taxpayers’ wallet.”

According to Mansoor Ijaz, “It seems implausible that Inter-Services Intelligence, the premier Pakistani spy agency, knew nothing about where bin Laden was. Indeed, it seems much more likely that elements within the agency knew exactly where he was and kept bin Laden within that compound on just the terms it wanted. In all of this, Pakistan has almost certainly acted as a knowing babysitter, watching over the terror master so he would do no further harm –as long as the babysitting fees were sufficient and recurring.”

Ijaz argued that “the ISI’s watchful eye on bin Laden also would have had the advantage of creating plausible deniability with both the military and civilian wings of government, as we are now seeing…Put more bluntly, Pakistan intelligence service chiefs should once and for all wake up to the reality that every time they try to con the world into thinking they are a bunch of good guys protecting their country, they just get caught with their pants down –each time eroding further the nation’s credibility.”

Also on May 3, Mansoor Ijaz appeared on Fox News TV and claimed “military types” were involved in building the compound in Abbottabad where Osama bin Laden was located. He said, “Yeah I mean in that area, almost all the land is owned by the Pakistani army. That’s the bottom line (sarcastic laugh). That’s where all the retired general of Pakistan Army live. And in very good houses I might add. I’ve been up there before.”

About President Asif Ali Zardari, Ijaz said in his Fox News interview, “I would say that he is a naïve buffoon. And I would say that he is someone who doesn’t have any control over any single lever of government in that country that has relevance other than his political party and I will also say we ought to be thinking about from a strategic standpoint where Pakistan is concerned.”

Ijaz’s proposed policy for the US was identical to what he subsequently proposed in the unsigned memo he sent through General Jones to Admiral Mullen. He said, “From now on, if we get actionable intelligence we just go in there. Sovereignty or no sovereignty, I don’t think that America can ever again look at Pakistan just as a nation. We have to look at it as a place where they are allowing the breeding of these terrorists that want to come and destroy us and we have got to stop this.”

On May 5, 2011, Ijaz gave a detailed interview on the ‘Morning Majority’ show on 630 WMAL radio station. In this interview, he said, “I think no American listening to this radio programme or anywhere else in America today should believe for one second a word out of the Pakistani civilian side of the government or the military side that they did not know that bin Laden was there. They absolutely knew that he was there.”

The anchor of the show asked him if anyone in Pakistan might have been forewarned by the Americans about their operation and suggested that COAS General Kayani might have been given some information just prior to the operation.

The anchor further asked, “What about this theory, just as a possibility. The helicopters come in, somebody in the military, Kayani, somebody gets a phone call from the US and in that phone call following is communicated: we are coming in, you do not want to interfere. Helicopters are not all that we have. If you interfere, the consequences will not be pretty. Just keep your planes on the ground.”

Mansoor Ijaz responded, “Yeah, it’s a good theory. I think that it would’ve had to happen just as they were entering Pakistani airspace for that to be the case.”

In this radio programme, Ijaz said of bin Laden, “I think that the reality is Pakistanis not only knew, but they were harbouring him. They were giving him direct assistance to be able to stay where he was because they had a deal with him and God knows who else and the question is whether or not we are implicated in any way shape or form in that deal. Whether we just decided this was the moment we go get him, whether there was an active process in place here to determine when the right time was to actually execute that kind of a plan.”

On May 6, 2011, Mansoor Ijaz published another article on the Washington Post blog title ‘After Osama bin Laden, Pakistan’s narrow window for redemption.’ In this article he argued for redesigning US-Pakistan relations along lines very similar to the ones that can be identified in the disputed memo.

Ijaz wrote, “For much of its life as a country, Pakistan has been ruled either directly or indirectly by the military. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has grown to act like a state within the state, operating with absolute power and impunity — often arrogantly and shamelessly in its own interests — the country and its civilian population be damned. Yet the same firewalls, now exposed, that were erected by the army and ISI to shroud in secrecy their activities to harbour Osama bin Laden, and to make their civilian leaders appear hapless and cartoonishly stupid on the world stage, contain important silver linings in them. Taken advantage of properly by US policymakers, exposed treachery could usher in a new era of transparency in Pakistan’s internal affairs — much as the Watergate scandal did in America. It could transform the US-Pakistan bilateral relationship from one of begrudging mistrust in the mutual need of each other into one of an openly architectured security relationship that reduces, perhaps one day even eliminates, the myriad threats emerging from Pakistani soil.”

Ijaz went on to say, “Pakistan is the global epicenter of radical Islamist ideology, its extremist practices and the terrorists it breeds. Since the country’s founding in 1947, Pakistan’s spy services have used extremists as a foreign-policy sledgehammer to level the playing field for the army’s sub-standard performance on the battlefield.”

He also wrote, “President Asif Ali Zardari, a shrewd politician even if always self-interested, has a narrow window in which he can potentially end the army’s rogue operations and get control over his spies. He should instruct Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Kayani and ISI Director-General Shuja Pasha that in order to compensate for Pakistan’s complicity in sheltering bin Laden, they are to locate Mullah Omar, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Sirajuddin Haqqani and other high-value targets and hand them over to US special forces in five days. If they do not, he should tell them he will permit any US military operation on Pakistani soil or in its airspace that rids Pakistan of the terror masters, and then fire both generals.”

Interestingly, having suggested that US should take advantage of a Watergate type situation in Pakistan, Mansoor Ijaz helped create memogate and also created tensions between civil and military leaders.