Friday, February 10, 2012

A hearing on Balochistan


There is reason to be both optimistic and cynical about hearings by the US Congress’s Foreign Affairs committee on the situation in Balochistan. The hope is derived from the fact that the state’s violations of human rights in the province, including alleged killings, abductions and torture, have generally been ignored by the international community and so, any publicity given to the issue can be seen as a net positive since it opens the prospect of a much-needed change in policy. At the same time, however, the sudden concern by some members of the US Congress about Balochistan could be part of larger strategic concerns that may have little to do with human rights and international law. The Americans have always been suspicious of Chinese investment in the region, including their involvement in the port of Gwadar and in the country’s energy sector. The proposed gas pipeline from Iran is also supposed to run through Balochistan. This, apart from the embarrassment caused to the federal government by the hearing having taken place, may explain the Foreign Office’s denunciation. Even the US State Department, acutely aware of how sensitive this issue is, distanced itself saying that the hearing did not reflect the policy of the US government and that the issue of Balochistan should be solved through internal negotiations.

Having said that, the mere fact that the US Congress saw fit to conduct these hearings shows just how dire the situation in the province really is. Human rights activists and experts apprised the committee of the violations taking place in Balochistan. A representative of Amnesty International even called for the Leahy Amendment to be applied to all military units operating in Balochistan. The said amendment is commonly applied to security assistance programmes to prevent foreign aid from being used to further human rights abuses. While one can understand why the Pakistan government is upset about the hearing, a better response may be to change in existing policy on Balochistan in a manner that the wishes of the local population are factored in. This is the best way of ensuring that the situation improves and that separatist feeling is quelled. That, clearly, is an end that should not even require prodding by a committee of American lawmakers.

Alarming figures: 12 women killed, two raped in Hazara division this year

The Express Tribune

As the struggle to fight violence against women gains momentum, 12 women have been killed and five cases of violence against women were reported in Hazara division this year, according to the police.
However, human rights activists believe the number of cases is much higher since murders of women are often presented as accidental death or suicide, while violence against women is not recognised as a crime.

Police record suggests that five women and three men have been killed in the name of honour in Kohistan, Torghar, Battagram and Mansehra this year.

Another person accused of illicit relations survived bullet wounds after assailants opened fire in Kohistan.

In addition to that, four women are said to have committed suicide in unexplained circumstances this year, while a married woman was set ablaze and allegedly killed by her in-laws in Haripur over a domestic dispute,

A woman was also shot dead by her relatives, reportedly over a property dispute and a 40-year old woman died when she accidentally touched a barbed electric wire while crossing through fields.

Of the four women who committed suicide, one of them hanged herself from a ceiling fan after she failed to convince a boy to stop harassing her on her cell phone near Abbottabad. According to her letter written before her death, she was afraid to spark an enmity if her family found out that the boy was threatening her.

Apart from that, two married women were gang-raped in Haripur, while two women, including a teenaged girl, attempted suicide. A newly-wed woman from Abbottabad district was battered and had to be hospitalised for failing to bring dowry.

A married woman was disrobed when she resisted an attempt by two intruders to rape her.

Another woman reportedly set herself on fire because she could not bear her in-laws’ taunts for giving birth to four girls in Haripur. She was, however, rescued and hospitalised for burn injuries.

The highest number of murders allegedly to ‘protect’ honour were committed in Kohistan, where four persons; two women and two men, were gunned down in the last week of December 2011.

There was just one case of violence perpetrated by a wife in Hazara. Sehrish Bibi from Haripur was booked for setting her husband on fire after he refused to grant her divorce. The injured died in the hospital the same day, said the police.

Prime Minister Gilani not afraid of jail

Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar has said that Gilani will present before the court on February 13.
Talking to the media at Lahore Airport, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar said that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani respected the judiciary and was not afraid of jail as he had spent many years in prison.
The defence minister blamed the Pakistan Muslim League-N chief Nawaz Sharif for not taking any more interest in the memo case and left for London after raising the issue.

Yemenis rally ahead of presidential vote

Thousands of Yemenis have rallied in the capital Sanaa to back a single-candidate presidential election planned for later this month, an AFP correspondent reported.

The demonstrators gathered in Sanaa's Change Square on Friday, chanting slogans in support of the election in which Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, the vice president, will be the sole candidate.

The planned vote has sparked protests in the country's south.

"February 21 is the day on which Yemen will be reborn," read a slogan printed on a large picture of Hadi brandished by the demonstrators.

"We have all agreed that Hadi will rule for our country's independence," they chanted.

"Hadi, take the key, the slaughterer's rule has ended," they shouted, referring to the hundreds of people killed in clashes with the security forces since nationwide protests erupted in January last year opposing President Ali Abdullah Saleh's rule.

Change Square has been the epicentre of the protests against Saleh who left the country for the US in January for treatment following a June 2011 attack that left him seriously wounded. He had been in hospital in neighbouring Saudi Arabia for months.

The poll is one of the centrepieces of a deal sponsored by the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) which Saleh signed with the parliamentary opposition last November.

Immunity pledge controversial

Under the deal, Saleh is to hand power to Hadi after the vote in return for a promise of immunity from prosecution.

Unlike the poll, the immunity pledge remains deeply controversial with the Change Square protesters.

"Our demand will not change, we will not accept anything but a trial," they chanted.

Hadi himself hails from the formerly independent south of Yemen but the single-candidate election has proved controversial in the restive region.

On Thursday, security forces shot dead two protesters against the vote in the southern town of Daleh, witnesses said.

Activists of the Southern Movement say the election fails to meet their aspirations for autonomy or renewed independence for the region.

Some factions of the movement have been campaigning for a boycott. Its hardline pro-independence wing, led by former southern leader Ali Salem al-Baidh, has called on supporters to disrupt the poll.

The south was independent from the end of British colonial rule in 1967 until union with the north in 1990.

It broke away again in 1994, sparking a brief civil war that ended with the region being overrun by northern troops.

Southerners have since complained of discrimination by the Sanaa government in the allocation of resources and there have been repeated protests in favour of self-rule for the region.

Bahrain protests seek new 'Freedom Square'

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters in Bahrain are streaming toward a site they seek to occupy for the one-year anniversary of their uprising in the Gulf kingdom.

Riot police did not immediately intervene as crowds headed to an empty lot dubbed 'Freedom Square' in the village of Miqsha outside the capital Manama. Miqsha has been a site of ongoing clashes between Shiite-led protesters and police.

Bahrain's Sunni monarchy permitted limited sit-ins ahead of the Feb. 14 anniversary.

But Friday's march appears aimed at creating a new round-the-clock hub of the protest movement similar to Manana's Pearl Square, which was stormed by security forces last year.

Bahrain's majority Shiites want Sunni rulers to give up their near-monopoly on power.

Saudi troops attack Awamiyah protest kill 1, injure 2

Saudi security forces have opened fire on anti-government protesters in the eastern part of the country, injuring at least two demonstrators and killing one in Awamiyah.
Witnesses say hundreds of Saudis took to the streets in the oil-rich east on Friday, one day after regime forces opened fire on protesters in Qatif, killing a demonstrator and injuring more than 14 others.
Some of the injured are reported to be in critical condition.
Protesters also chanted slogans against the ruling Al Saud family.
Protest rallies were reported in the cities of Qatif, Tarut, Rabi'iyah and Awamiyah.
At least one protester was killed amd two others were injured after Saudi security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Awamiyah, where the Friday Prayers leader demanded an end to Al Saud rule.
Saudis have held peaceful demonstrations since February last year on an almost regular basis in the eastern region, demanding reforms, freedom of expression and the release of political prisoners.
Protesters also want an end to economic and religious discrimination against the oil-rich region. Several demonstrators have been killed and dozens of activists have been arrested since the beginning of protests in the region.
Riyadh has intensified its crackdown on protesters since the beginning of 2012.

‘Third path’ for Syria

Editorial:Global Times

A delegation from the Syrian opposition concluded a four-day visit to Beijing earlier this week. As Western countries, one after another, opt to sever contact with al-Assad's government, China's capacity to maintain communication with both Damascus as well as the opposition becomes vital. It may propel Beijing into a special position in the Syria issue.

China has always been committed to a peaceful solution to end the deadlocked Syrian conflict. The realization of Beijing's proposal, a "third path" for Syria, requires capability and neutrality.

Chinese officials neither advocate a regime change through military intervention, nor would offer an umbrella for inaction by Syrian authorities. The "third path" should be a compromised and tangible reform roadmap created by all sides within Syria.

A handshake between the two sides in Syria will not come easy. Coalition governments around the world have poor records. That is especially true in this circumstance as the West has already made up its mind to get rid of Bashar-al-Assad. It is logical for the Syrian opposition to expect Western assistance. Even repeating the dramatic scenario of their Libyan counterparts may be what the Syrian opposition yearns for.

For those obsessed with such wishful thinking, it will not be the case. Unlike the beleaguered Gaddafi, al-Assad is backed by the Russians. If a war between Western and Russian "agents" occurs in Syria, as is speculated to happen by some in the European media, it would be an arduous and prolonged battle.

History shows regime changes in restive regions mean endless turmoil and uncertainty. Therefore the Syrian opposition does not need to be that ambitious. Threats against al-Assad will persist as they always have. Compromises on critical issues in exchange for a "soft landing" of his country seem to be a good deal for him.

Voices backing a political resolution have been loud in China, but Beijing may have to settle at least a handful of thorny issues so as to make it a doctrine that a greater number of people would seriously consult as a choice.

China is obviously seeking to assume an active role. The busiest mediators on the world stage are not necessarily stronger than China.

Russia can be an ally in advocating a "third path." China's ties with most of the Arab League members were not hurt by its veto decision. Western governments resolve could waver given embarrassing economic performances and domestic pressures, despite their determination on Syria.

China will not lose much as Beijing looks to score diplomatically on the Syria issue. An advocate of peace should not be ashamed even if the audience is small.

Lahore's Hira Mandi: a love affair

Hira Mandi, the traditional red light quarter of Lahore, lives in the popular mindscape through its stories of longing, loss and 'mujras' after the Pakistan government clamped down on prostitution in the 1970s, says noted French writer Claudine Le Tourneur d'lson.

Her fictional biography, 'Hira Mandi', based on the life story of Iqbal Husain, the son of a Hira Mandi courtesan, has connected to the English-speaking world with its first-ever translation by the capital-based Roli Books.

The novel, originally written in French in 2006, went on sale in India this week after an informal launch at the Alliance Francaise in the capital Monday. It will debut in Pakistan at the Karachi Literature Festival starting Saturday.Claudine describes the book "as her love affair with the people of Hira Mandi, with whom she had spent weeks in Lahore as if she was a part of them".

"The book has been inspired by Iqbal Hussain, son of a Hira Mandi prostitute, whom I had met in 1988. Iqbal is an artist - perhaps the only one of his kind - and a restaurateur. He owns an eatery, Cuckoo's Den, in Hira Mandi where he serves traditional Lahori food," Claudine told IANS here.

Iqbal is a misfit of an artist in Pakistan, where "even talking about prostitutes is a taboo", the writer said.

"Iqbal is not very comfortable among people though he has been drawing Lahore and the world to Hira Mandi with his food," Claudine said. Cuckoo's Den is a mandatory stopover for tourists in Lahore.

Iqbal uses the dancing girls of Hira Mandi as models for his impressionistic paintings "of figures and landscapes without expressions of sex", the writer said.

"In his leisure, Iqbal spends his time helping the dancing girls. He is very human... Iqbal says, 'I am a man before a Muslim,'" Claudine recalled.

Iqbal in Claudine's novel is the hero Shanwaz Nadeem, who narrates his life story in first person.

Shanwaz's earliest memories of Hira Mandi are of his beautiful 20-year-old mother Naseem, who lives in her Mughal-style "haveli" with her aunts, cousins and her five-year-old son in the narrow crowded bylanes in the old walled city of Lahore.

Naseem's quarters are partitioned and Shanwaz wakes up every night to the "cries, moans and sighs of his mother in the bedroom on the other side".

Shanwaz's life charts Pakistan's turbulent history from partition to the Bhutto years, Zia-ul Haq's repressive regime, fundamentalist violence and the years of "The Satanic Verses".

Hira Mandi gradually disintegrates around Shanwaz, leaving him with memories of its once-forbidden grandeur - and unrequited desires - amid aging courtesans and confused novices.

"The residents of Hira Mandi had hoped that the 'Bhuttos' would bring in democracy and free them of repression and blind police atrocities...But Benazir Bhutto had failed to do much for women. I suppose they were disappointed in the end..." the writer said.

The Hira Mandi of the courtesans does not exist any more.

"The dancing girls (the prettier ones) have either moved to Dubai where the business is good while the others are spread across hotels in Lahore," Claudine said.

Segregated as a red light area during the British Raj for "the benefit of the soldiers" in the old Anarkali Bazar overlooking the Badshahi mosque, Hira Mandi was known for its "refined courtesans with impeccable manners, accomplished in performing arts, music and traditional gastronomy".

However, the tradition of dancing girls in the old Lahore city - a walled settlement - dates back to the reign of emperor Akbar whose son, prince Salim, once fell in love with Anarkali, a dancing girl from Lahore.

The government is trying to remove the "taboos" associated with Hira Mandi with a heritage tourism project, the writer said.

"The government has decided to turn the four streets of Hira Mandi into a touristy place with Mughal facades, restaurants and art galleries. The government is planning to set up a dance school to perpetuate the dancing traditions. I was in Lahore last August. The transformation was yet to be completed...," Claudine said.

Crisis in Balochistan

(Part 1)

(Part 2)

U.S. Congress’s Landmark Balochistan Hearing

The Baloch Hal

Wednesday’s hearing on Balochistan of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs was a spectacular success under every standard for the Baloch nationalist movement. Chaired by Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican congressman from California, the hearing was attended by four more congressmen, bringing together members of America’s two most important political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, to discuss the important issue of Balochistan. A very learned audience, comprising of policymakers, lobbyists, diplomats, intellectuals, defenders of human rights, journalists, and researchers of leading think-tanks attentively heard the proceedings.

The hearing was convened at a very critical juncture not only because of the volatile situation that exists in Balochsitan but also because of increasing breach of trust between the United States of America and Pakistan. It has assured the Baloch that members of the US Congress, who have spent all their lives guarding and promoting democratic values, stand with the people of Balochistan. Given the ideas shared by members of the Congress, it was very clear that they already had an implicit sense of Balochistan’s history, geo-strategic significance, federal government’s discriminatory and exploitative policies toward Balochistan but they had been kept in dark about the current state of affairs.

It was the highest democratic institution in the world where the issue of Balochistan was discussed at length. Members of the Baloch diaspora, who had traveled from all over North America to attend the event, said the program exceeded their expectations. They were jubilant as they left the hearing hall. In their remarks, Congressmen gave the impression that they cared for the people of Balochistan and were disturbed by human rights violations being committed by the Pakistan army in Balochistan. One analyst rightly observed that it was not only concern over human rights issues. Some Congressmen also proposed redrawing maps which were once drawn by the British but had eventually caused major wars in the world during the 20th century.

In spite of failed attempts by the government of Pakistan to hinder the debate on Balochistan, the US lawmakers did the right job by conveying to Islamabad, through Wednesday’s proceedings, that people’s right to self-determination and human rights cannot be overlooked by just describing them as one country’s “‘internal matter”. When states employ torture and abuse to their citizens then the international community does have an obligation to intervene in the greater interest of human lives. Many Americans who previously did not know much about Balochistan said they were startled about the tragedy of the Baloch region.

Some US legislators were absolutely perturbed to learn from Mr. T. Kumar, Amnesty International’s Director for International Advocacy that Balochistan’s former governor Awais Ahmed Ghani had confirmed to him that American weapons, which were supplied to Pakistan to fight the war on terrorism, were actually used against the Baloch. Also, Ali Dayan Hassan, the Pakistan Director of the Human Rights Watch, also traced the origin of enforced disappearances. According to him, the Pakistani military exploited the context of the war on terrorism to subject Baloch political opponents to enforced disappearance. Many of these facts were not fully known to some educated Americans because Islamabad has endeavored its level best to kill every Balochistan-related important news story which concerns American and global interest in order to keep the world in oblivion.

In what can now be expected from lawmakers of the United States, a country known as the engine of democracy and freedom, is further debating the issue of disappearances, torture, murder and misuse of American weapons on the floor of the US House of Representatives. The US government should take an interest in resolving Balochistan’s political dispute. In this regard, the US should facilitate an international conference on Balochistan at a neutral venue to chalk out a road map for peace. Dr. C. Christine Fair of Georgetown University, who also testified on Wednesday at the Congressional hearing, is underestimating the seriousness of the conflict by calling it Pakistan’s internal matter. The debate at this point should not revolve around the argument whether or not Balochistan is an internal or external matter. What is merits attention is the fact that no Baloch leader is today prepared to trust the Pakistani army, which is the real center of real political and of course military power, and to negotiate with it on gunpoint.

Thus, in the midst of a deadlock like this, human rights will continue to be violated and political space will further shrink and get replaced by violence and madness. Amid these odds, we highly congratulate all five members of the US Congress for convening such a historic event, whose success could easily be judged by the overwhelming number of people who showed up to learn more about Balochistan. Also, the panel of five witnesses also deserve plaudits for their highly professional and insightful testimonies.

We truly hope that Dana Rohrabacher’s caravan of friends of Balochistan will be joined by more Congressmen and lead to the formation of a Baloch-America congressional caucus.

Egypt activists march ahead of strikes

Hundreds of protesters marched to Egypt's defence ministry Friday demanding the military rulers' ouster, on the eve of a planned civil disobedience campaign to mark Hosni Mubarak's overthrow a year ago.

The activists have planned marches in Cairo that will converge on the defence ministry as a prelude to strikes and sit-ins on Saturday, exactly a year after Mubarak's overthrow left the military in charge.

At the Fateh mosque in central Cairo, the protesters began chanting, "Down with military rule," at the end of the weekly Muslim prayer before setting off in the direction of the ministry.

"We are marching to the defence ministry, we want to remove the military," said prominent activist Asmaa Mahfuz, who taped an influential video more than a year ago calling on Egyptians to rise against Mubarak.

Young activists such as Mahfuz, whom the military had threatened to put on trial after she attacked the ruling generals in Internet postings, have turned their sights on the army a year after toppling Mubarak in an 18-day uprising.

The military, which promises to hand over power after a president is elected later this year, said it will deploy troops across the country after the activists called the civil disobedience campaign, state media reported.

The call has divided the country's political forces, with the Muslim Brotherhood -- the big winner in recent parliamentary elections -- coming out against the activists as they demand an immediate transition to civilian rule.

Students in several universities have called for strikes on Saturday, with secular youth groups who spearheaded the revolt against Mubarak joining in.

Tareq al-Khouly, an organiser with the April 6 youth group, said the plan was for a one-day strike, which could be extended.

In a joint statement on Friday, the groups called on Egyptians "to support these strikes in order to end the unjust rule and build a nation in which justice, freedom and dignity prevail."

The military was initially idolised for not siding with Mubarak during the uprising, but it has since faced growing protests against its continued rule and has several times used deadly force to disperse demonstrations.

Saudis protest Riyadh crackdown

Saudi protesters have taken to the streets in the Eastern Province to express their anger about Riyadh’s brutal crackdown on anti-government demonstrations.

Domestic violence plagues Iraq

Al Jazeera

Rights group says cases of violence against women are increasing, and the abused have few places to turn.

The UN estimates that one in five women in Iraq suffer from domestic abuse, in a society where a woman leaving her husband for any reason is considered grounds for punishment.

One rights group says cases of abuse appear to be on the rise since the fall of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein nearly nine years ago.

But even for women who do manage to escape their abuse, there are few places in the country they can go to seek refugee.

Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf has this exclusive report from the capital, Baghdad.

Fresh debate over US mission in Afghanistan

A US army officer has accused the American military of painting a misleading picture of progress in the war in Afghanistan while glossing over the Afghan government's many failings.

Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Davis's accusations have sparked fresh debate about the US mission in Afghanistan.

"What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by US military leaders about conditions on the ground," he wrote in an article published in Armed Forces Journal, a private newspaper not affiliated with the Pentagon.

"Instead, I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level," he wrote under the headline, "Truth, Lies And Afghanistan: How military leaders have let us down".

"How many more men must die in support of a mission that is not succeeding ...?"

Troop commanders and politicians say the handover to Afghan troops is going well, but Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Davis, who has just returned from the country, is challenging those statements in congress.

He says that conditions on the ground are ruinous - a conclusion deeply at odds with the picture of progress put forth by the top US military brass.

It is a rare instance of a US officer openly contradicting his superiors, and Davis’ insights, first published in a military journal on Sunday, have been picked up by several members of congress.

At a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday, the US military’s number-two commander in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti, answered Davis’ criticism, saying it was only one person’s opinion of the general situation.

“I am confident, in my personal view, that our outlook is accurate,” he said.

Scaparrotti says he does not doubt some of what Davis wrote, and he believes US forces have work to do in training Afghan forces.

Last week Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, said US forces would transition next year from a combat role to training Afghan soldiers and police.

Top photo award for Arab Spring portrait

A portrait of a veiled woman cradling a wounded relative in her arms, taken in Yemen by Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda for The New York Times, won the top World Press Photo prize Friday.
The photograph captured a moment in the conflict in Yemen, when demonstrators against outgoing president Ali Abdullah Saleh used a mosque in Sanaa as a field hospital to treat the wounded. But judges said it also spoke more broadly for the Arab Spring."The winning photo shows a poignant, compassionate moment, the human consequence of an enormous event, an event that is still going on," Aidan Sullivan, chair of the jury, said of Aranda's photograph, which won World Press Photo of the Year 2011.
"We might never know who this woman is, cradling an injured relative, but together they become a living image of the courage of ordinary people that helped create an important chapter in the history of the Middle East."
Reuters photographer Damir Sagolj won first prize in the Daily Life Singles category with his photograph of North Korea's founder, Kim Il-sung on a wall in Pyongyang.

Economy and regional politics

In the run up to the withdrawal of US/NATO forces from Afghanistan, the meeting between the foreign ministers (FMs) of Pakistan and Russia gains significance as the two regional players through enhanced bilateral relations are seeking to expand and diversify their cooperation in the fields of trade, investment, energy and agriculture. Their efforts aim at their increased role in the region full of great economic prospects considering the richness of the largely untapped resources of this region. For this purpose, Pakistan is striving hard to get full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) comprising China, Russia and Central Asian countries. During the visit, the two leaders discussed several concrete proposals including oil exploration, hydropower production/distribution and coal-based power generation projects. Russia also expressed its willingness to participate in trans-regional energy projects, namely TAPI and CASA-1000 and its interest in Thar coal exploitation. The finalisation process of the proposed memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Expansion and Modernisation of Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) also came under discussion.

The opportunity opening up is promising as Pakistan being an energy-starved country is in dire need of such help and if they come from within the region, nothing seems more feasible. The Russian offers need to be taken seriously as the IP gas project is threatened by growing US economic sanctions and military pressure on Iran. However, the materialisation of Pak-Russia cooperation is related to the establishment of peace and stability in Afghanistan as the future gas project of TAPI and electricity transmission project of CASA-1000 is dependent on a secure Afghanistan. However, Russian investment interest in the Thar Coal Project seems feasible given Pakistan’s dire energy needs amid a funds shortage crisis. Russia’s cooperation in building the PSM has been an exemplary venture the two countries took on decades ago. It is heartening that the much-needed expansion and modernisation in the PSM with the help of Russia has finally been given serious thought. Due to the mismanagement of its affairs and criminal delay in its upgrading, the facility is now literally in the doldrums, proving a burden on the national exchequer as a white elephant.

The two leaders also deliberated on the region’s security situation. Pakistan’s FM Ms Hina Rabbani Khar reiterated her country’s policy to fully support an Afghan-driven peace initiative, which is appreciable but requires fair play in this regard. If the security situation degrades in Afghanistan post-2014, efforts to amplify economic cooperation among regional powers would massively suffer, efforts that are the best approach to fill the power vacuum that is going to be created soon by the pullout of the US from Afghanistan. A stronger and more closely knit region of South Asia and Central Asia with China and Russia on economic grounds is important for the region’s stability and prosperity. Such economic partnerships would not only change Pakistan’s image of a US client state but also serve Russia’s interests, which is keen on having an improved security situation in the region to create a powerful regional bloc against the US, already eying the benefits of exploiting the resources of the Central Asian states by offering huge investment in the TAPI gas project and proposing building of a New Silk Route. Russia’s focus on enhancing economic partnership with Pakistan is due to Pakistan’s geostrategic location, which promises further economic prospects to Russia through ports in Karachi and Gwadar. It is time that Pakistan focuses more on increasing the economic benefits from Russian’s offers to help overcome its energy crisis, a prerequisite for improving our sliding economy.

Teenage girl from Afghanistan to box at Olympics

Besides going after a medal in the boxing ring at the London Olympics, Sadaf Rahimi will be taking a few punches in the fight for equal rights for Afghan women.

There are female Afghan success stories, yet most women in Afghanistan remain second-class citizens, cloaked from head-to-toe in blue burqas, abused or hidden in their homes.

Rahimi, a determined 17-year-old student, wants to become the new face of Afghan women, gaining honor and dignity for herself and other women in here war-torn country and improving their image worldwide.

She will get her chance this summer in London, where women's boxing makes its Olympic debut.

"When we participate in the outside competitions, there is pressure on us," Rahimi said while training in a makeshift gym in the Afghan capital. "But I will try to show that an Afghan girl can enter the ring and achieve a position for Afghanistan."

In line with conservative norms for women in Afghanistan, Rahimi is expecting to wear black tights under her boxing gear at the Olympics to cover her knees. She trains for hours three days a week, punching heavy bags and sparring with her teammates and trainers.

They throw punches on faded pink and green mats covering a concrete floor of a room in an Afghan sports stadium where the hardline Taliban regime used to stage public executions. The female boxers still don't have a real boxing ring to hone their skills.

After the Taliban banned women from participating in sporting events, the International Olympic Committee suspended Afghanistan from the games. Afghanistan missed the 2000 Olympics in Sydney as a result. The Taliban were toppled in 2001 and the suspension was lifted the following year. Afghanistan sent female athletes — for the first time in its history — to the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Rahimi, who has the support of her family in Kabul, is following in the footsteps of Robina Muqimyar, the female Afghan runner who competed in Athens. Another woman, Mehboda Ahdyar, was scheduled to go to the 2008 Beijing Games but couldn't compete because of injuries.

"I am well aware that my opponents in the London 2012 Olympics are more powerful and even twice as good as me, but I have prepared myself to participate and win a medal," said Rahimi, who started boxing four years ago and won a silver medal during a boxing competition in Tajikistan.

Female boxing is an unusual sport in a country like Afghanistan, where most of the women are still struggling for their rights and get little respect in the male-dominated society.

Recently in Baghlan province in the north, 15-year-old Sahar Gul was locked up, beaten with cables and tortured by her husband and in-laws after she refused to work as a prostitute. They deny any wrongdoing. She became the bruised and bloodied face of women's rights in Afghanistan after being rescued in late December when an uncle called police.

Her story shocked Afghanistan and prompted calls to end underage marriage. The legal marriage age in Afghanistan is 16, but the United Nations estimates that half of all girls are forced to marry before their 16th birthday.

In Kunduz province, also in the north, a 30-year-old woman named Storay was killed last month because she gave birth to a third baby girl, instead of a boy. Storay, who used only one name, was slain, allegedly by her husband, when her third child was 3 months old. Her husband has left the family.

Despite such atrocities, there are increasing opportunities for Afghan women who want to participate in sports, said Mohammad Saber Sharifi, the coach of the Afghan female boxing team.

The team was established by the Afghan Olympic Committee in 2007 and so far has registered more than two dozen female boxers.

Rahimi, who fights in the 54-kilogram (118.8 pounds) weight class, will get into the Olympics through a wild card berth. She plans to travel to London on Feb. 19 to train for several weeks. In May she will fight in a competition in China, but win or lose there, she will be at the Olympics in London.

"Sadaf Rahimi is the only girl who will participate in these games," Sharifi said. "She will represent all Afghan women, which makes her the biggest female personality in Afghanistan."

Things have been much easier for male athletes in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan's first Olympic medal winner was Rohullah Nikpai, who won a bronze medal in men's taekwondo in 2008, defeating rivals from Germany, England and Spanish world champion Juan Antonio Ramos at the Beijing Games.

Because of insecurity in Afghanistan, his family fled to Iran where he grew up. He returned to Afghanistan in 2004 — four years after the Taliban government collapsed. After participating in Beijing, he became a symbol of national pride.

"In the 2008 Olympics, I won a bronze medal and I am hopeful to win a gold medal in the Olympic 2012 in London," Nikpai said.

Two other male athletes will round out the foursome who will represent Afghanistan in this year's games. Massoud Azizi, a 25-year-old, 100-meter sprinter who competed in 2008 in Beijing, and Nasar Ahmad Bahawi, another taekwondo fighter.

"The people are expecting a lot from us. We know we will face the hardest opponents," said Bahawi, who practices inside a newly built gym at the sports stadium under the supervision of a foreign coach and Afghan trainer. "We have the prayers of our people, and God willing, we will do well."

Youth festival: Spotlighting the colourful side of Pakhtun culture

The Express Tribune

To underscore the importance of peace and education, a cultural festival featuring traditional performing arts and Pashto poetry was held on Wednesday.

The event was attended by a large number of students, who appreciated the performers from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and tribal areas representing their culture.

Handicrafts, jewellery and musical instruments of Chitral and Afghanistan were also displayed in decorated stalls during the event.

The performers tried to highlight their traditions to show that militancy is not all their region should be known for.

Saeedullah, a student of the University of Peshawar who hails from Dabori in upper Orakzai Agency, said he was motivated to participate in the event to display his culture to the world.

Regarding the ongoing conflict in the agency, he said militants were on the backfoot as security forces have cleared 70 per cent of the area.

“We want to let the whole world know that we are peace-loving and violence doesn’t represent us,” he remarked.

Some of the stalls also displayed pictures of destruction in the aftermath of drone attacks.

“Drones are killing innocent people including women and children, which should be stopped immediately,” said Umar Wazir, another Peshawar University student belonging to North Waziristan.

Umar was of the view that his hometown is completely peaceful with no military operation being carried out at present.

Riaz Darmal, president of Afghan students in K-P, said the culture on both sides of the Durand Line was the same, adding that participating in the event was a pleasant experience for Afghan students.

He said Afghan people have kept their culture alive despite a three-decade long civil war and they want to see peace in the world.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, who was the chief guest on the occasion, urged the youth to fight against terrorism through education and cultural promotion.

“Stopping one’s sister or daughter from going to school is not Pakhtun culture, in which women and children aren’t attacked and sanctity of mosques is maintained even in vendettas,” said Hussain.

The event was organised by Community Appraisal and Motivation Programme, a non-profit organisation. Hussain also distributed prizes among participants.

Pakistani high court gives spy agency ISI ultimatum

Pakistan's Supreme Court gave the country's secretive and powerful spy agency a midnight deadline to hand over seven detainees who were allegedly arrested without due process and injured while in its custody, a lawyer representing several of the detainees told CNN Friday.

A three-judge panel delivered the ultimatum after a lawyer representing the ISI, or Inter-Services Intelligence, failed to bring the detainees to court as earlier ordered.

"The court wants the detainees in court today and they're not accepting any excuses," said attorney Tariq Asad. "The court has said they have until midnight to produce the detainees, even if it means bringing them to court in a helicopter."

The court did not make clear what the consequences would be if ISI failed to produce the detainees by the end of the day.

Prime Minister will appear before SC on Feb 13

The Supreme Court on Friday threw out an appeal from embattled Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani against contempt charges, paving the way for him to be indicted next week.
Speaking to reporters outside the court, Barrister Atizaz Ahsan, the PM’s counsel,confirmed that the prime minister would now appear in court on Monday.

The eight-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry upheld a summons for Gilani to appear on February 13 to face indictment for the government’s two-year refusal to ask Swiss authorities to re-open graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

If convicted of contempt of court, Gilani faces up to six months in jail and being disqualified from office.

“The appeal is dismissed,” the chief justice told the court, upholding the February 2 summons for Gilani to appear on Monday.

The chief justice said that “the court can go to any extent to implement its verdict”.

He wanted a clear answer on whether the prime minister would write to the Swiss, telling his lawyer: “We are ready to give you 10 minutes to talk to the prime minister on the phone and let us know.”

Tell the prime minister this is not in the interests of the country (to defy the court order).”

“I have no mandate to do that,” replied Ahsan, adding: “It may not be possible for the PM to seek instructions by Monday as he will require more time to do so.”

Throughout the hearing, Ahsan provided the members of court with citation from various cases pertaining to contempt of court charges. However, the chief justice dismissed his arguments by saying that the precedents he mentioned are of civil nature whereas the current case is of criminal nature.

After conclusion of Ahsan’s arguments, the chief justice announced a detailed verdict in which he recalled previous National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) hearings as well as the government’s refusal to correspond with the Swiss authorities.

He also reiterated that the NRO was declared unconstitutional in December 2009 and all the corruption cases which were closed in Pakistan and abroad now stand reopen.

Political analyst Nazir Naji had expressed fears that after this new development the Senate elections could be postponed and that the government could also be changed after the budget.

Justice (r) Shahid Usmani told DawnNews that a contempt case could be dismissed at any time if an apology was sought from the court.

Drugs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa hospitals, prisons substandard, reveal test reports

The test reports of drugs used in prisons and government hospitals of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa submitted to the Peshawar High Court (PHC) revealed that various medicines were spurious and substandard.

During hearing of a suo moto notice about use of spurious drugs in prisons, a division bench comprising PHC Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan and Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth after receiving the test reports issued notices to secretary health, director general health and special secretary health to submit a detailed reply about the use of spurious drugs in the prisons and hospitals of the province.

The bench also issued show-cause notices to the abovementioned Health Department officials for not complying with the high court judgement for one year. The bench headed by the chief justice through health experts had prepared policy guidelines for the department regarding purchase of drugs and declared the service of doctors and other staff in hospitals as essential services.

The bench directed the chief secretary, director general health and secretary health to frame the policy guidelines with the subcommittee of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government on health and put it before the cabinet for approval within a month.

Inspector General (IG) Prisons Qudratullah Marwat, Director General Health Dr Sharif, Special Secretary Health Dr Noorul Iman, Chairman Health Regulatory Authority Muzaffar Khan and other officials including Deputy Attorney General Iqbal Mohmand were present in the court.

The bench also asked the Health Department to provide lists of the officials including executive district officers (health) involved in purchase of drugs for hospitals and prisons of the province so that the court is able to take action against them.

The chief justice observed that the guilty officials would not only face termination from service but would also be put behind bars. In a previous hearing, the bench had directed all district and sessions judges to depute responsible judicial officers to collect samples of drugs from prisons and government hospitals at the district and tehsil level and send the same to federal drug testing laboratory.

The federal drug testing laboratory produced a record of drug reports from a number of districts but it requested the court that reports from some districts like Tank, Nowshera, Karak, Swat, Lakki Marwat, Malakand and Torghar were still under process due to the heavy workload at the laboratory.

The IG Prisons informed the bench that jails in the province lacked health facilities as their demand for medicines were not met even after six months and there was no facility of screening tests of various fatal diseases including HIV and hepatitis A, B and C.

The bench directed the Health Department to ensure supply of medicines to the prisons within a week. The bench also asked the provincial government to release funds for the Health Regulatory Authority, as currently there are two inspectors only for the entire province. The bench fixed February 28 for next hearing of the case.

US Congress committee debates Balochistan situation

Lawmaker says Balochistan marred by human rights violations by regimes that worked against US values

Daily Times

The United States Committee on Foreign Affairs convened a congressional meeting on Thursday for an exclusive discussion on the gravity of situation in Balochistan.

The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Republican Dana Rohrabacher, held a session to discuss target killings and human rights situation in Balochistan, and termed it a matter requiring urgent attention. He has also co-authored an article a few days ago, favouring independent Balochistan.

In his opening remarks, Rohrabacher said Balochistan is a turbulent land marred by human rights violations “by regimes that are against US values”.

Rohrabacher further said the province had vital strategic importance.

Human Rights Watch Pakistan Director Ali Dayan Hasan, in his submitted remarks, said that cases documented by the HRW showed that Pakistan’s security forces and its intelligence agencies were involved in the forced disappearance of ethnic Baloch.

The HRW representative asked the US government in his recommendations to “communicate directly with the agencies responsible for disappearances and other abuses, demand an end to abuses and facilitate criminal inquiries to hold perpetrators accountable”.

He clarified that the HRW took no position on the issue of the independence of Balochistan. He argued that the US and UK had made forced disappearances possible by allowing them during the war on terror, which had led to the military doing the same.

Addressing the committee, scholar Christine Fair said that while she understood emotions ran high, “targeted killings are also being carried out by the Baloch”, adding that Pakistan’s abuse of human rights had served US interests.

The hearing, which lasted a little over an hour, came to an end as congressmen decided to go to the floor for a vote. In his closing remarks, Rohrabacher declared that the hearing was no stunt, and that they wanted to start a national dialogue on what US policy should be in that part of the world.

Addressing a news briefing, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said her country had not supported the idea of an independent Balochistan. She confirmed the meeting on Balochistan, but said the US position on Balochistan had not changed. She said the US “encourages” all factions involved in the province to tackle all their differences “peacefully and under the political process”

Pak army, ISI running 'reign of terror' in Baluchistan: Rights activists
In view of the seriousness of the law and order situation in Baluchistan, prominent human rights activists have told US lawmakers that it is the Pakistan Army and its spy agency that is running a "reign of terror" inside the restive province.

"The problem goes back to.... is that in many ways Pakistan's abuse of human rights served our interests, and so we're kind of coming to this late in the game, that we're trying to ask the Pakistanis to clean up their act after we've given them literally a blank check for about a decade," Christine Fair, assistant professor at Georgetown University, told US lawmakers at a Congressional hearing on Wednesday.

The first ever hearing on human rights violation in Baluchistan was organised by Dana Rohrabacher, Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Ralph Peters, military analyst and author, said that Baluchistan is an occupied territory, whose people did not wanted to be part of Pakistan in 1947.

"We look at this occupied territory of Baluchistan specifically, where people who simply yearn for fundamental freedoms for the right to determine that their own future, whether or not they have a battery of qualified teachers ready to go," he said.

While expressing admiration for the sacrifices the province people are making against enormous odds in Pakistan, Peters charged the latter of actively supporting terrorists and insurgent movements in Afghanistan.

"What's happening to Baluch people, it's the kill-and-dump operation, it's a terror mechanism that the Pakistani military and the intelligence officers used to terrorise the local population," said T Kumar of the Amnesty International. "It may be for a political reason, because some people, or maybe a majority of Baluch may be asking for independence," he said, and clarified that Amnesty International, as a human rights organisation, does not take position on whether a country is independent or not.

Kumar said that the Pakistan army brutalised the population in the region with the aid of US weapons as they wanted some opening in their political aspirations, and asked the lawmakers to ensure that no weapon be used against them.

"Baluchistan presents a hydra-headed conflict situation. There are multiple actors perpetrating violence in there. But the engine of human rights abuse no doubt is the Pakistani military, paramilitaries and intelligence agencies," Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director of Asia division of Human Rights said.

He said that the country's armed forces have run particularly since 2004, a campaign of enforced disappearances where at least hundreds of Baluch nationalists have disappeared.

"In the last year and a half we have seen targeted killings increase and something between 200 and 300 Baluch opponents of the Pakistani state have been found killed, and of course torture and illegal detention by the military and paramilitaries and intelligence agencies are commonplace,'' Hasan said.

"This is an absolutely appalling situation, even by Pakistani standards, and certainly when you are operating in Baluchistan you do see that the military in many ways behaves like a brutal occupying military – that is its behaviour," Hasan alleged.

In view of the license provided by the US, UK and other powers in the context of the war on terror, the issue of disappearances became commonplace in Pakistan and in Baluchistan in particular, where the disappearance or legal detention of Taliban and al-Qaida suspects was green lighted effectively by the US.

When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die

The Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC), its doctors and the poor patients will suffer the most in the spurious drug reaction case despite the facts that all findings have absolved them and have placed the responsibility on a Karachi-based pharmaceutical company, Pakistan Today has learnt. Alarms were raised when patients coming with strange symptoms including bleeding started passing away one after another with doctors having no clue of the actual cause of the disease and the consequent death. Hype was created in all concerned circles after the media highlighted the issue, causing none other than the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to take up the matter personally after the deaths started multiplying. Since no one, not even senior physicians and specialists, had any clue about the actual cause of deaths, it resulted in a lot of panic among patients, especially those with heart ailments, who started taking even normal pill like Ponston with a pinch of salt.
Moreover, since PIC was the central major centre for distribution of the “killer” drugs, the general perception around the hospital was built with the same tinge of danger, with even senior doctors calling it “the PIC drug syndrome”. In the same light, the Punjab government suspended an entire hierarchy of PIC officials including MS Dr Salim Jaffar and senior Cardiac surgeon and CEO Professor Dr Azhar. The government also sent the suspected drugs and bone marrow samples abroad for tests which revealed that Isotab-20, manufactured by Efroze Pharmaceuticals in Karachi, was the drug that was responsible for the havoc.
All legal action has been initiated against the said pharmaceutical company, however, the damage done to the reputation of the premier heart facility and its doctors is having its repercussions now.
Per details, the number of patients visiting the hospital has decreased and many are turning to private hospitals and spending thousands of rupees on healthcare that was being provided free at PIC.
HOW MONEY IS GENERATED FOR POOR PATIENTS: The PIC attracts patients with heart ailments from across the province and from all the strata of society. It has a unique system of allowing doctors to practice privately at the hospital, while an amount from that revenue goes to the government exchequer and is spent on the poor patients. Currently, around Rs 200 million is generated every year by providing treatment to the “paying” category patients and the same amount is then spent on free medicines and treatment of the poor. A decreasing number of “paying” category patients will translate into lesser money available for the treatment of the poor. Nearly all the doctors at the hospital have their own private practices so this would not affect them as much as it would make the poor suffer.
A senior surgeon at PIC on the condition of anonymity further said the government’s decision of initiating action against pharmaceutical companies and doctors before the laboratory report findings was in response to the “public pressure”, however, after the lab reports had absolved the doctors of any responsibility, the government should have had the “guts” to restore the reputation of a premier heart facility in the province. He said the doctors would continue to earn but the poor would suffer.
“The drug is the responsibility of the pharma company which manufactured it and no obligation can be placed on any doctor in this case, which has now been proven scientifically also,” he said.
PIC NOT ‘WORTH THE TROUBLE’? “Such a big incident has happened at the PIC due to the drugs being distributed by the hospital…besides the CM has also suspended senior doctors which also shows they are not capable…if we have to spend money, we will not mind spending some more and getting our relatives treated at a private hospital instead of PIC,” Ahsan Ali, whose father is patient, said.
A HISTORY OF GOOD PERFORMANCE: Talking to Pakistan Today, Parliamentary Health Secretary Dr Saeed Elahi said the PIC was the country’s premier health facility. He said except a few surgeries, heart surgeons at the PIC were performing all kinds of cardiac operations. He said after completing the enquiry, the government would introduce a comprehensive system of procuring, storing and distributing drugs. “The PIC has been distributing free medicines for poor patients for the past 11 years and only one such incident has happened and that too has been resolved,” he said. To a question, he said the reputation of the hospital would not only be restored but new cardiology hospitals would also be established in the metropolitan, the proposal for which as a proposal is already lying with the CM.

Pakistan's Killer Meds, Warring Feds

People across Pakistan are thinking twice before taking medication after the recent deaths of more than 120 patients who were prescribed contaminated heart medication at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (P.I.C.), a leading government facility in Lahore. The drugs were laced with lethal quantities of an antimalarial drug and administered in excessive doses.The P.I.C. scandal confirms the urgent need for investigations into quality control at drug-testing facilities, licensing protocols for the pharmaceutical industry and the training of doctors at government-run hospitals. In 2006, the World Health Organization found that 40 to 50 percent of all medication available in Pakistan was counterfeit.

But instead of galvanizing attempts to reform the public health sector, this latest crisis has sparked political mudslinging intended to sway voters in the run-up to general elections in 2013.

The problems in Pakistan’s health sector are endemic: limited human resources, spotty regulations, rampant corruption. And regulation is all the more important because in this country most medication is available over the counter and at low prices. Prescriptions are mere formalities.

While reporting in December 2009 on Pakistanis’ habit of self-medicating for stress and depression, I visited dozens of pharmacies in Karachi. Clumsily handwritten notices pasted above overstocked shelves claimed that sleeping pills wouldn’t be sold without prescriptions. But I walked away from counter after counter laden with barbiturates, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. Sometimes the pharmacists even recommended the best cocktail of drugs to ensure a good night’s sleep or an “easy feeling.”

It is a travesty, then, that these recent deaths from contaminated heart medication have not yet prompted any reform of the health sector.

Worse, they’ve become fodder for opportunistic politicking. Since 2010, the health ministry of Punjab has been under the purview of the provincial chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, a leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (P.M.L.N.). The P.M.L.N. is the main opposition to the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (P.P.P.) in national politics, but it dominates Punjab Province. Sharif’s opponents in the P.P.P. have seized on the P.I.C. tragedy to slam him for mismanagement and corruption, and for hogging control of 15 provincial ministries. Last week,,, Sharif surrendered control of eight ministries, retaining the health portfolio. Giving up on that ministry would have been like admitting defeat before his political adversaries.

Lawyers affiliated with the P.P.P. have also filed charges of high treason against Sharif’s son Hamza for owning a controlling share of a pharmaceutical company that allegedly supplies substandard medication to health facilities in Punjab. (No such drastic action has yet been taken against the Karachi-based factory that supplied the contaminated medication to the P.I.C.) These inflated charges have not yet been backed by evidence, and so for now they look like another attempt to disparage the Sharif name and cash in on ambient public ire.

Sharif, in turn, claims that the string of drug-related deaths in Lahore is a conspiracy against his government. In interviews he has said that the contaminated drugs came from Karachi, a hub for his political rivals in the P.P.P. and the Muttahida Quami Movement, implying that the defective medication was transferred to Punjab in order to malign his reputation. His advisers have also been blaming the P.P.P.-led federal government for the P.I.C. deaths: pointing to the 32 licenses Islamabad issues to pharmaceutical companies every day, they claim it does too little to prevent the proliferation of substandard medication.

While the politicians are trading accusations, the lives of more than 300 contaminated patients are still in danger. And Pakistan’s pharmaceutical industry, which contributes $200 million annually in exports to the country’s ailing G.D.P., is taking a hit: in recent days, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and four African nations have banned the import of medication manufactured here. Yet the Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association’s rational calls to establish a regulatory authority in order to restore domestic consumers’ and importers’ confidence have been lost in the political din.

Even when poor governance proves fatal, in Pakistan officials prefer to politicize the problems rather than implement much-needed reforms.