Thursday, February 16, 2012

If not Isotab, what is it?

The Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) drug-death episode has taken another surprising turn as the doctors allege that nearly 55 percent of patients who had died in the entire episode were not using Isotab-20, the drug that the Punjab government has dubbed responsible for over 100 deaths, Pakistan Today has learnt.
The Punjab government sent samples of five drugs being used by affected patients to drug-testing laboratories abroad after the deaths were reported by the media. The labs in UK and Switzerland pointed out that Isotab-20 was the responsible killer drug manufactured by Efroze pharmaceuticals. However, Dr Nasir of the Punjab Young Doctors’ Association alleged that the Punjab government was trying to “hide” the other culprits involved in the episode and was trying to shift the blame to the doctors. He further said the government had seized the entire record of the hospital regarding the drugs and hence the doctors had no “proof”, however, “the initial enquiry completed by the PIC found out that other drugs including CardioVestin were also responsible for the deaths, but these were not highlighted and the entire issue was managed tactfully and in a hurry,” he added.
PIC former CEO Professor Azhar however said the enquiry report had found Isotab-20 to be responsible for the havoc, adding that he did not know who was spreading these ‘rumours’. However Health Secretary Captain (r) Arif Nadeem said foreign labortarise ahd labelled Isotab-20 to be the main culprit and that was the reason why an action had been taken against its manufacturers.
Meanwhile a judicial commission is probing the incident and statements were submitted by Dr Azhar and former health secretary Jehanzaib Khan. Senator Pervaiz Rasheed further said if the doctors were confident that these rumours were true then they should get their statements recorded with the commission.

Pak, Afghan, Iran presidents discuss regional peace


The Presidents of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran Thursday held an informal session, a day ahead of the trilateral summit, aimed at bringing peace and stability and ensuring security in the region.

President Asif Ali Zardari, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who are here for a two-day meeting held an informal round of talks here at the Aiwan-e-Sadr, as part of the trilateral mechanism.

This is the third round of the trilateral talks, that began in 2009. Pakistan believes that the summit would prove to be an important milestone towards finding peace, stability and Afghan-led reconciliation process.

The Foreign Office earlier said the trilateral mechanism was important for Pakistan as it would discuss matters pertaining to cooperation in counter-terrorism, curbing transnational organized crime, including drug and human trafficking, and border management.

The formal trilateral summit would be held on Friday. The three leaders will address a press conference at the end of talks.

Nato to keep fighting Taliban

NATO Secretary-General said Thursday Western alliance would maintain military pressure on Taliban.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen was speaking after Afghan President Hamid Karzai told The Wall Street Journal the U.S. and Afghan governments had begun secret three-way meetings with the Taliban to try to bolster U.S.-led efforts to convene fully-fledged peace talks.
"The stronger the military pressure on the Taliban, the better the chance that they realise they have no chance whatsoever militarily, so (they had) better go to the negotiation table," he told reporters during a trip to Greece.
"We will keep up the military pressure that will also facilitate a political solution," added Rasmussen.
Karzai s government had previously been excluded from early contacts between the Taliban and the United States, with the insurgents seen as resisting the involvement of a local administration they regard as a puppet of Washington.
The Afghan ambassador to Pakistan told Reuters on Thursday any contacts between the Afghan Taliban and the United States had been only "exploratory".
"When there s talks, it s supposed to be between the Afghan government and the Taliban. We have not reached that stage although we wish to reach that stage," Umar Daudzai said in Islamabad.
Rasmussen said the Afghan government must be "in the driver s seat" of any negotiations and that any parties involved must renounce terrorism and respect the Afghan constitution, including clauses on women s rights and other human rights.
"I don t know whether it will be possible to find a negotiated solution ... If these conditions are fulfilled, I think we should give it a try," he said.
The United States and NATO are racing against the clock to train a 350,000-strong force of Afghan police and soldiers who will take over all security responsibilities before end-2014.
The Taliban on Wednesday compared the situation to the humiliating Soviet pullout from Afghanistan 23 years earlier, when Moscow handed over to a shaky government under President Najibullah that was then attacked by fighters.
Najibullah s government held them off for three years

For London Youth, Down and Out Is Way of Life


For almost two years, Nicki Edwards has been looking for work — any type of work.

She is 19 years old, well-spoken and self-possessed. But like many young people in Britain, she could not afford to remain at her university, making it impossible to find a job. London’s youth riots last summer have closed even more doors to people like her.

“If you are not working, in training or in college, you might as well be a thief — employers just do not take you seriously,” Ms. Edwards said. “At some point, you just say, ‘I’m stuck and I will never find a job.’ ”

Perhaps the most debilitating consequence of the euro zone’s economic downturn and its debt-driven austerity crusade has been the soaring rate of youth unemployment. Spain’s jobless rate for people ages 16 to 24 is approaching 50 percent. Greece’s is 48 percent, and Portugal’s and Italy’s, 30 percent. Here in Britain, the rate is 22.3 percent, the highest since such data began being collected in 1992. (The comparable rate for Americans is 18 percent.)

The lack of opportunity is feeding a mounting alienation and anger among young people across Europe — animus that threatens to poison the aspirations of a generation and has already served as a wellspring for a number of violent protests in European cities from Athens to London. And new economic data on Wednesday, showing much of Europe in the doldrums or recession, does little to bolster hopes for a better jobs picture anytime soon.

Experts say that the majority of those who took to the streets in London last summer were young people who were unemployed, out of school and not participating in a job training program.

Classified by statisticians as NEETs (not in education, employment or training), they number about 1.3 million, or one of every five 16-to-24-year-olds in the country.

While youth unemployment has long been a chronic issue here, experts say the British government’s debt-reduction commitment to rein in social spending appears to be making the problem worse. Insufficient job training and apprenticeship programs, they argue, contribute to the large pool of permanently unemployed young people in Britain.

“It is patently wrong for young people to have such a poor start in life, when there is so much more we could be doing,” said Hilary Steedman, an economist at the London School of Economics. “Just because they did not go to university does not mean they don’t want to work.”

Many young people here spend endless months applying for technical jobs for which they do not have adequate training. In many cases, months turn into years, with people remaining on the dole indefinitely. In the most recent fiscal year, the government paid £4.2 billion ($6.6 billion) in benefits to this age group, at least some of which might be better spent on job training, some experts argue.

“A well-financed apprenticeship program is an important social investment that can enhance the competitive capacity of an economy,” said John P. Martin, an economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, who studies labor market issues across Europe.

Ms. Steedman, a specialist in vocational training, said that Britain lags far behind countries like Germany, Austria and the Netherlands in its use of training programs to introduce young people to permanent work.

Fewer than one in 10 employers in Britain offered apprenticeships in 2010, she said, compared with at least a quarter of employers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. And while government financing for such programs has increased in the last few years, Ms. Steedman said that much of the money went to training existing workers 25 years and older rather than building the skills of 18-to-20-year-olds.

“It’s completely perverse,” she said, pointing out that 40 percent of the 500,000 or so apprenticeships go to people age 25 or older. “Companies are subsidizing 25-year-olds who already have jobs.”

Ms. Edwards, for her part, completed two years at Greenford College, in London, before leaving last March because she could no longer afford the cost. She had hopes of pursuing a career in mental health, but now has narrowed her ambitions to taking care of children or the elderly.

Despite her inability to find a job, she keeps trying almost daily, filling out résumés online, handing them out in person and stomaching the shame she feels in having to accept government benefits.

“I don’t want to get paid by the government,” said Ms. Edwards, who lives in West London. “But what am I supposed to do? People can’t get jobs.”

James Lawson, 18, is also desperately looking for a job. He lives in a rent-subsidized youth hostel in the Hammersmith section of West London, and barely gets by on the £103 ($163) in unemployment benefits he receives every two weeks.

With his limited education and experience Mr. Lawson sees an apprenticeship as his only hope. He recently completed an information technology training course at a local academy. But the training led nowhere, so now he is resting his hopes on securing an apprenticeship at the British military contractor BAE Systems that promises — if he can secure one of the few positions — to provide him training as an electrical engineer.

“I wake up every morning and say to myself, ‘I don’t have a job,’ ” he said. “But I have to stay positive — even if it means taking a thousand noes to get that one yes.”

Neither Mr. Lawson nor Ms. Edwards participated in last summer’s riots. They both say, however, that they understand the frustrations that pushed many of their peers to break the law.

One 19-year-old who admits he looted during the July disturbances says he has now joined a gang and taken to petty burglaries to make ends meet.

“I just don’t care anymore,” he said, declining to identify himself. “I am sick of living like rubbish.”

Even those who stayed in school are struggling to find work.

Tam Chowdhury, 25, graduated from Southbank University in London in 2010 with a criminology and law degree. Out of the 105 positions she applied for, she said, she secured just two interviews.

“Even if you have qualifications, it can be really tough,” said Ms. Chowdhury, who works at Tomorrow’s People, a charity in London that provides training and preparation for disadvantaged young people looking to enter the job market.

While the recession is clearly making it harder for the young in Britain and across Europe to find work, economists argue that without a strategic partnership between the government and the private sector that trains those who want to be trained, youth unemployment in many countries will remain high even after the economy recovers.

Mr. Martin, of the O.E.C.D., said that the European countries that supported apprenticeship programs — Germany, Austria and the Netherlands — had also managed to sustain robust manufacturing and export industries.

In other economies, the cooperation among employers, government and unions is not as strong. “In England, for example, many employers prefer to poach skilled labor,” Mr. Martin said.

None of which comes as news to Stefan Radanovic, 19, who says he has applied for hundreds of jobs in customer service or sales.

He is looking for a job in the music industry but is willing to do anything to help support himself and his single mother, with whom he lives in the Ealing district of West London.

Mr. Radanovic presents a confident and polite appearance — all he wants, he says, is a chance — although he understands why he has not yet received one.

“I don’t blame them,” he said of the countless employers who have ignored his résumé. “They just don’t want to train you.”

China sends special envoy to Syria

China opposes armed interference or forcefully pushing for a so-called regime change in Syria, Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun said in Beijing yesterday, a day before he was heading to Damascus to push for a peaceful and proper solution to the current crisis in the strife-ridden country.

"We don't believe that sanctions or the threat of sanctions are helpful to achieving an appropriate solution," said Zhai, who will be Beijing's first envoy to Syria since China and Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution urging Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to quit.

Beijing and Moscow fear the UN Security Council's resolution could be interpreted as a mandate for military intervention in Syria by some other countries.

"The demand of a regime change is the direct way to even more deaths," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Vienna on Wednesday, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

"That's the way to full civil war," Lavrov said.

"We condemn all acts of violence against innocent civilians and urge the government and all political factions of Syria to immediately and fully end all violence, and quickly restore stability and normal social order," Xinhua quoted Zhai as saying.

Assad, who is battling an 11-month-old uprising against his regime, on Wednesday called for a referendum on a new constitution draft on February 26.

However, Syrian opposition groups rejected Assad's initiative and called upon Syrian voters to boycott the referendum to "confirm the lack of public support for this criminal regime," AFP reported yesterday, citing a statement by the Local Coordination Committees.

It added that Assad's regime had lost its constitutional and social legitimacy and there was no alternative but to topple it.

The White House on Wednesday dismissed Assad's proposal to hold a referendum on a new constitution as laughable. "It makes a mockery of the Syrian revolution," White House spokesman Jay Carney said, according to Reuters.

A senior diplomat in the Syrian embassy in Beijing had previously told the Global Times that Assad won't resign under any circumstance.

"Our president was elected by Syrian people, and he will never bow to the illegal requests by armed terrorists," the diplomat said, adding that Damascus wouldn't accept any foreign peacekeeping forces, but welcome an observer mission.

The Arab League suspended its monitoring mission in late January and had since then mulled sending international peacekeepers into Syria.

"The monitors have learned the truth, but they were never given a chance to speak it out loudly," the diplomat said.

The UN General Assembly set to vote late yesterday on a measure condemning repression in Syria.

Russia said it would not support the UN General Assembly draft resolution because it is "unbalanced," a source told the Interfax News Agency yesterday.

Obama Touts Manufacturing at Wisconsin Plant

Bahrain opposition presses for change

Financial Times

After making initial contact with the island’s ruling family last week, Bahrain’s opposition has reiterated its demand for fundamental change in the country’s ruling system, saying direct talks with the king are needed to resolve simmering tensions.

The possibility of a return to dialogue has encouraged onlookers, but strong scepticism remains on both sides about the likelihood of reaching a breakthrough that could end the country’s year long political and economic crisis.High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email to buy additional rights.

Amid continuing protests and widespread arrests, opposition groups have reaffirmed their demand for an elected government and more accountability, pledging peaceful protests while calling on youths to avoid violence.

Despite police claims that it would use minimal force with teargas and rubber pellets, there is evidence, seen by the Financial Times, that birdshot was used against some protesters on the one-year anniversary of the pro-democracy demonstrations this week. Armoured personnel carriers were also mobilised.

The opposition says 43 people were arrested on Wednesday amid heavy policing during the night across Shia villages, especially on the restive island of Sitra, where police could be seen firing teargas, apparently at random, into residential areas. The interior ministry later released a statement saying two policemen were seriously injured in attacks against police patrols in Sitra that night, with both hospitalised due to severe burns from Molotov cocktail used in the assaults.

On the anniversary, demonstrators injured at least five police, according to Adnan, one policeman on patrol in the village of Sanabis. He said one of the main reasons for suppressing the protests was to protect Bahrain’s economy, rejecting the protesters’ demands as “false”.

Nonetheless, initial contacts last week between the Sunni ruling family and the main group representing the majority Shia al-Wefaq, have encouraged observers about the potential for fresh dialogue.High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email to buy additional rights.

Al-Wefaq last week held informal talks with Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, head of the ruler’s court, widely regarded as a government hardliner.

The opposition is hopeful that international pressure, especially from the US, may make the government more open to a more meaningful dialogue.

Opposition groups walked out of last year’s national consultation, launched just three months after the violent crackdown on dissent last March, describing the process among politicians and civil society groups as a conversation among loyalists.

“We are ready for any dialogue, without limits, with those who have the power to bring real changes,” said Sheikh Ali Salman, al-Wefaq’s leader. “The talks have not yet reached the level of dialogue, which is what we need, not just talks that go nowhere.

Opposition sources say the initial contact with the ruling Al Khalifa family does not yet indicate that the government is serious in its intentions, but merely responding with vague statements to assuage international pressure for any solution to the political vacuum that could destabilise the region.

“The barrier is that some people in the ruling family do not believe in democracy, but are stuck in the 18th century,” said Sheikh Ali.

But a government spokesman said any sign that the opposition was willing to come to the negotiating table was encouraging.

“The ball is in their court – the offer for dialogue has always been open, but they need to engage without preconditions, such as calling for the government to resign of other trophies, before they engage,” said Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Mubarak Al Khalifa.

Representatives of the island’s Sunni community have called for their inclusion in any dialogue that emerges between the government and al-Wefaq.

Al-Wefaq’s secretary-general said the grouping around Sheikh Abdullatif Almahmood is welcome to hold its own talks with the government, but that the real issue had to be resolved via direct talks with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

“The problem is the ruling system, that’s what we want to correct,” he said.

Bahraini regime arrests 100 in two days

Saudi-backed security forces in Bahrain have detained more than 100 protesters during anti-regime demonstrations across the country over the past two days.

Activists said on Thursday the Bahraini regime forces rounded up at least 100 peaceful protesters on February 14 and 15.

Some of the detainees are said to be women and that there are wounded people among those arrested.

Manama has stepped up its violent crackdown on protesters who have been calling for the downfall of the Bahraini monarchy since the start of the revolution in the Persian Gulf nation in early 2011.

In the city of Sitra, regime forces clashed with young protesters and launched night raids on homes.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern over the ongoing violence in Bahrain and called on the Al Khalifa regime to meet its international human rights obligations.

Scores of people have been killed, some in prison and under severe torture, and many more wounded during the regime’s brutal repression of anti-government protests in Bahrain.

Mansoor Ijaz: Bikinis and Pakistan's 'memogate'

Iranian President given warm welcome on arrival

The Iranian president was given guard of honour on arrival at the President House where President Zardari welcomed him at an impressive ceremony.
The Iranian president is visiting to attend Pakistan-Iran-Afghanistan trilateral summit in Islamabad. On the sidelines, he is likely to meet PM Gilani. Several bilateral agreements are also expected to be signed during his visit.
Earlier in the day, President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani welcomed Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the President House.
In a meeting at the Prime Minister House, Gilani and Karzai discussed a range of issues, including the regional situation and bilateral ties, which have been hit by mistrust following recent cross-border attacks.
Karzai met with Pakistan s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and the army and intelligence chiefs and discussed efforts to seek reconciliation with the Taliban to end the 10-year war. But the world is currently focused on Iran s standoff with the West.
Tehran on Wednesday proclaimed advances in nuclear know-how, including new centrifuges able to enrich uranium much faster, a move that may heighten its confrontation with the West over suspicions it is seeking the means to make atomic bombs.
Iran s resolve to pursue a nuclear programme showed no sign of wavering despite Western sanctions inflicting increasing damage on its oil-based economy.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Thursday Iran s announcement of new nuclear achievements was exaggerated and meant to fend off action against the Islamic republic.
"They are describing a situation that is better and more advanced than the one they are in, in order to create a feeling among all the players that the point of no return is already behind them, which is not true," Barak told Israel Radio.
Tension between Iran and the West over Iran s nuclear work has mounted since November, when the United Nations
International Atomic Energy Agency said Tehran appeared to have worked on designing a nuclear weapon.
Widely believed to be the Middle East s only atomic power, Israel has said a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to its existence. Both Washington and Israel have not ruled out military action to stop Tehran developing atomic bombs.
Israel accused Iran and its Lebanese militant ally Hezbollah of being behind twin bomb attacks that targeted Israeli embassy staff in India and Georgia on Monday. Tehran has denied involvement in the attacks.
Thai investigators said on Wednesday they believe they have found a link between the New Delhi bombing and the one in Bangkok on Tuesday.

Saudi Royal Family Friend Convicted of Rape in New York

Mustapha Ouanes, a member of a Saudi prince's traveling entourage charged with rape in New York, was just convicted on four felony counts including first-degree rape. The 60-year-old engineer brought two women back to his hotel room at the Plaza after a night of drinking in 2010 and, when they fell asleep, raped one of them, the jury found.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office announced the conviction via email, quoting District Attorney Cy Vance, who said: "This was a crime of opportunity – the defendant had a vulnerable, intoxicated woman in his hotel room and sexually assaulted her." There's no word yet on what kind of sentencing the state's going to look for, but first-degree rape carries a penalty of five to 25 years in New York. Ouanes was convicted of one count of first-degree rape, in addition to one count each of sexual abuse and a criminal sexual act, the district attorney's office said.

If you remember, this same trial got underway with three very different accounts in the local press, which ranged from a near write-off of the possibility of rape in the New York Post to a lengthy trip through the salacious details in each side's version, in The New York Times. The prosecution painted a picture of a drunken night during which Ouanes and the two women, both in their 20s, all retired to Ouanes's room at the Plaza Hotel, where the women fell asleep. The Times recounted the prosecution's side this way:

[Prosecutor Samuel] David said that the two women began feeling ill and “passed out” on the bed in the room. When they awoke, he said, Mr. Ouanes was engaged in sex with one of the women, and she fought to free herself, eventually breaking a glass that she had intended to use as a possible weapon to slice Mr. Ouanes’s throat. Her friend, who Mr. David said awoke to find her leggings had been pulled down, called hotel security.

Ouanes is a 60-year-old Algerian-born engineer and citizen of Canada, who works for a firm that contracts with the Saudi royal family, and spent about half his time working and traveling with a Saudi prince (who has not been publicly identified), his lawyers told the court as his trial got underway.

Ban Urged on Saudi Arabia Over Discrimination

In an extensive report released Wednesday, Human Rights Watch, a New-York based advocacy group, called on the International Olympic Committee to take a harder line with Saudi Arabia’s national Olympic committee unless it enacted significant sports reforms.

The group said the Saudi delegation should be kept out of this summer’s London Olympics unless it included a female athlete.

Saudi Arabia is one of three established Olympic nations that have yet to send a female athlete to the Games. In its report, Human Rights Watch describes systematic discrimination against women in sports by restricting their access to physical education and sports clubs and by having an “effective ban” on women competing at a national level.

“The I.O.C. should really be mindful that Saudi Arabia is an outlier in the international sporting community, and that it’s a black eye to the sporting community to have such an outlier participate in the upcoming Olympics,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.

Wilcke, the report’s principal author, said the other two nations that had not fielded female athletes at the Olympics — Qatar and Brunei — were not as comprehensive in their discrimination against would-be female athletes. Unlike Saudi Arabia, he said, Qatar and Brunei had sent female athletes to regional and international senior competitions like the Islamic Women’s Games and the Asian Games.

Qatar, which is bidding to host the 2020 Olympics, has committed to sending female athletes to the London Olympics after having more than 50 women on its team for the 2010 Asian Games. Brunei, an Asian nation with a population of about 400,000, has struggled to field an Olympic team at all. It failed to register any athletes for the 2008 Games in Beijing and was excluded from the opening ceremony by the I.O.C.

Officials from Saudi Arabia, a monarchy whose legal system is based on Islamic law, have not ruled out sending women to the Olympics.

Wilcke said the I.O.C. was violating the Olympic Charter by not penalizing Saudi Arabia for discriminating against athletes based on sex. But Emmanuelle Moreau, an I.O.C. spokeswoman, reiterated Wednesday that the committee would not mandate that the Saudis have female representation in London.

“The I.O.C. does not give ultimatums nor deadlines but rather believes that a lot can be achieved through dialogue,” Moreau wrote in an e-mail.

She said that the I.O.C. had been in regular contact with the national Olympic committees of Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia, noting that each country had included women in their delegations for the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.

At those Games in 2010, the equestrian Dalma Rushdi Malhas became the first Saudi woman to participate in an international sporting competition, winning a bronze medal in show jumping.

“We are very pleased with this evolution, which can only be seen as a promising development leading towards London 2012,” Moreau wrote.

It remains unlikely that Malhas will be included on the Olympic team, though. Saudi Arabia qualified for the Olympic team show jumping event in December without Malhas. The Saudis have a strong core group of six male riders who are training for the Games, largely in Europe. Only four riders will be chosen to represent Saudi Arabia in team jumping at the Games.

Calls and messages to Saudi Arabia’s Olympic Committee and its equestrian federation were not immediately returned Wednesday.

To encourage broader participation, Olympic organizers can award so-called universality slots in track and field and swimming to athletes from nations that are under-represented at the Games. Those slots are awarded irrespective of qualifying standards, which Wilcke said could provide another avenue for a Saudi woman to participate in London.

“Swimming and the dress you wear is not going to go down well with the Saudi public, so we think track and field is the more appropriate option, also because you can enter an athlete pretty much up to the last minute,” he said.

He said the objective of his group’s report was not simply to promote change at the Olympics but to promote better conditions for all female athletes in Saudi Arabia. The report urges the I.O.C. to pressure the Saudi Olympic Committee to form a women’s section, to provide financing for women’s sports and to start a campaign to encourage Saudi women to compete in sports. The report also calls for a timeline and strategy for establishing physical education programs for girls in public schools. Last September, King Abdullah granted Saudi women the right to vote in the next election cycle in 2015 and to run as candidates in future municipal elections. But, among the other limitations on them, Saudi women do not yet have the right to drive, and they require the permission of a male sponsor to travel.

“Sports is a small part of this, and I would agree that it’s probably not the part that, when you ask a Saudi woman, that she would point her finger to,” Wilcke said. “But I think it is a wedge issue. It can open the cracks in what is pretty pervasive discrimination against women in Saudi Arabia.”

Russia urges "serious" search for compromise with Iran

Russia said global powers must work harder to win concessions from Iran over its nuclear program, warning that Tehran's desire for compromise is decreasing as it moves closer to being able to build atomic weapons.

Making a case for a renewed dialogue with Iran, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said four rounds of U.N. sanctions and additional measures by Western nations had had "zero" effect on its nuclear program.

"There is an alternative. The alternative is the introduction of a serious negotiations process with the Iranian side," Ryabkov, Moscow's pointman for Iran diplomacy, said in a interview posted on the ministry's website on Wednesday.

He said it would require "serious intent on the part of those holding this dialogue to seek compromises and propose a solution scheme that could interest the Iranian side."

His remarks were posted hours after Iran announced advances including faster centrifuges for uranium enrichment, but also expressed readiness for new talks with global powers on a nuclear program Western states fear is aimed at atomic arms.

Ryabkov emphasized that "an Iran with nuclear weapons is not an option for Russia" but said there was no "hard, unequivocal evidence" that nuclear work which Tehran says is for purely civilian purposes was in fact aimed at producing a bomb.

"We have no smoking gun confirming the presence of a military component and a military aspect of the Iranian nuclear program," he said in the interview with the journal Security Index.

Talks between Iran on one side and the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany on the other broke off a year ago with no progress in persuading Tehran to rein in its nuclear program and prove it is not seeking atomic weapons.

Russia, which built Iran's first nuclear power plant and has far warmer ties with Tehran than Western nations do, has often stressed the need for talks and said too much pressure on Tehran was counterproductive. Ryabkov suggested time was not on the side of the world powers.

As its nuclear program advances, he said, Tehran "is gradually losing interest in discussing variants of deals in which, in exchange for certain steps to limit and suspend a series of elements of its nuclear program, Iran would receive only some cosmetic improvements in its situation."


"We are concerned that the distance separating Iran from the hypothetical possession of the technologies for the creation of nuclear weapons is decreasing," Ryabkov said. "This is precisely why we believe it's necessary to reach an agreement."

Russia approved four rounds of sanctions in the U.N. Security Council in recent years, but says sanctions have exhausted their potential and criticizes the United States and European Union for imposing further punishments on Tehran.

"The result of these sanctions is, in the end, zero," Ryabkov said.

He suggested Western nations should use fewer threats and more attractive offers.

"The bargaining starts with a price that has no relation to reality," he said. "But if they see the buyer is not just wandering around the bazaar, that he really wants to buy this carpet, then the serious bargaining begins.

"But they will never just give the carpet away for free, and they certainly will not do so if the buyer takes a club or, worse, a pistol from his pocket," he said, apparently referring to speculation that Israel could attack Iranian nuclear sites and to the U.S. refusal to rule out a military option.

Ryabkov laid out some details of a Russian "step-by-step" plan in which sanctions would be eased in return for verifiable steps by Tehran.

As a start, he said, Iran could freeze the number of centrifuges for uranium enrichment at current levels and place other restrictions on its centrifuge use. In return, global powers would refrain from slapping new sanctions on Tehran.

Later, the powers could try to ease Iran's security concerns, "right up to measures of trust in naval activity in nearby bodies of water," he said, a reference to tension between the United States and Iran over the Strait of Hormuz.

Bio-diesel plant left to rot in militancy plagued Bara

Conflict in Khyber Agency has undermined the introduction of Jatropha Curcas, a bio-diesel plant, on community lands in Akkakhel, Bara sub-division, delaying its economic return to tribal people, officials say.

First harvest of Jatropha Curcas, planted on the newly developed community farms in Akkakhel, was due in 2010 but farmers could not materialise the opportunity, said a development planner of federal government.

“How can crop’s yield be taken in a situation when we can’t dare go there,” said the official, involved in introduction of the plant in Akkakhel.

Jatropha Curcas was cultivated on hundreds of acres of community land, with ownership rights shared by around 60 Akkakhel farm families, as part of the federal government-funded Sustainable Plains Development Programme aimed at bringing wasteland under cultivation in Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Imported from Costa Rica, Jatropha Curcas saplings were planted on the community land in 2009 in line with a SPDP plan to introduce drought resistant varieties in the area, promoting community farming on sustainable basis.

The programme staff, said the official, had not visited the plantation since early 2010, leaving it unattended as the community had also headed to safer places after Lashkar-i-Islam took control of the area.

Apart from the bio-diesel plants, the authorities had cultivated olive, black pepper and some medicinal plants on the over 200 acres community farm. “Except for Jatropha, other plantations are said to have vanished,” said the official, adding they could not survive in the absence of proper care.

He said that introduction of Jatropha Curcas in Akkakhel had been a success as the plants recorded considerable growth during the first eight-month period after they were planted in mid-2009.

“There were good chances of getting fuel (diesel) from the first year produce, but the plan did not materialise owing to heightened militant activities in the programme area,” said an SPDP official.

According to scientific research, he said, around 37 per cent oil could be extracted from Jatropha Curcas of which some 20 per cent could be used without modification to operate any diesel-run electricity generator.

It was introduced in Akkakhel, he said, because of its suitability to the area, a semi-arid zone with no manmade irrigation system.

The official said that Jatropha usually succeeded in areas that didn’t support any vegetation due to lack of irrigation water, environmental deficiencies or because of other reasons.

Bara has seen a mass displacement as thousands of families belonging to Akkakhel, Sturikhel, Sipah, Malakdinkhel, Qamberkhel and Shaluber left their houses owing to safety concerns. The paramilitary Frontier Corps has been conducting a crackdown since 2009 in the area against the banned militant outfit, Lashkar-i-Islam.

The SPDP official said that the energy plant was introduced in Bara after its introduction in Dera Ismail Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and a couple of places in Punjab proved quite a success. “We were really hopeful about its success the way it recorded growth in its early stages in Akkakhel area,” he said.

He said that economic return of the plantation would be possible if it survived the tide of militancy. “As per our reports gathered form different sources, the Jatropha Curcas plants are intact, which give us a hope that the community will have something to feel good about when it gets back after peace returns to the area,” said the official.

The plant had been introduced to Bara, he said, to improve local economy by creating income generating activities at grassroots level, sensitising tribal communities about the current energy crisis and best practices to control it.

Saranjam quits PML-N

The Express Tribune

Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) suffered a setback in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, as the party’s former central general secretary Saranjam Khan and former provincial president Abdul Subhan Khan along with other members resigned from the party on Wednesday. The group, led by Saranjam, has been at odds with the party’s leadership since December 28, 2010 provincial elections.

“Yes, I have resigned from the party and its basic membership,” Saranjam Khan told The Express Tribune.

Besides him and Abdul Subhan Khan, other party members including former MPA Bahader Khan, Humayun Khan, Rahim Khan Baacha, Gul Faraz Khan and Shahjehan Abdur Rehman have resigned as well.

Saranjam announced holding a convention in Mardan on March 23, to decide their future course of action. It is likely that they will announce another faction of PML in the meeting.

Saranjam rejected any prospects of joining another party, claiming “I am a leaguer first and last, and there is no chance of my joining the Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) or any other party.”

Asked why he parted ways with the party, he said that the PML-N leadership had appointed newcomers as leaders at the provincial level. He was also very vocal against the party’s new provincial general secretary Rehmat Salam Khattak, stating that Khattak had no right to the post since he became a member only a few years back. Saranjam added that their protests against this trend went unheeded by the central leadership. Instead of honouring them, PML-N had sidelined the old guard, forcing them to opt out of the party.

Saranjam Khan had differed with the central leadership over nominations for Mardan district leadership. He had staged a walkout from the PML-N provincial general council meeting in Nishtar Hall in protest against Rehmat Salam Khattak’s appointment.

Saranajam Khan resigned from the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC), while Abdul Subhan Khan refused the seat of PML-N provincial vice president the same day.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on December 27, 1979.

After ten years of tense fighting, the last Soviet troops left Afghanistan on February 15, 1989.During the decade-long conflict, tens of thousands of Soviet soldiers were killed and wounded. Thousands of Afghans were also killed and many fled to neighbouring countries.In this edition of Tawde Khabare, host Shahpoor Bakhtiyar recalls events with his guests.

Karzai Seeks Access to the Taliban in Pakistan Trip

President Hamid Karzai is reportedly seeking Pakistan's support to provide access to senior Afghan Taliban leaders when he visits Islamabad on Thursday.

"We hope that Pakistan will arrange a purposeful meeting between us and so that we find a solution to our own problems," a senior Afghan official has told Reuters, emphasising hopes of direct talks with Taliban leaders.

"Pakistan has paid little attention to our concerns and the level of cooperation has not been sincere or honest so far."

Pakistan has consistently denied giving sanctuary to insurgents and denies the existence of any Quetta Shura, or leadership council.

Ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan got strained after the assassination of the head of High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani in September.

Afghan officials blamed Pakistan's intelligence agency for the assassination, allegations angrily denied by Islamabad.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said after a recent trip to Kabul that Islamabad would support a process which is led and owned by the Afghans.

Karzai is expected to meet Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari during his visit which starts on Thursday part of the trilateral summit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Gilani‚ Karzai discuss regional situation

Pakistan and Afghanistan held delegation level talks on the entire gamut of bilateral relations in Islamabad on Thursday.
Pakistani side was led by Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and Afghan side was led by its President Hamid Karzai.
Regional situation with particular reference to the Afghan reconciliation process came under discussion during the meeting.
The two sides also discussed ways and means to further bolster their bilateral cooperation in different fields.
Federal Ministers Hina Rabbani Khar‚ Firdous Ashiq Awan‚ Rehman Malik‚ Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar‚ Asim Hussain and Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani assisted Prime Minister Gilani in the talks.
Earlier‚ the Prime Minister and the Afghan president held one on one meeting and discussed a host of issues ranging from bilateral cooperation to the Afghan reconciliation process.
On arrival at the Prime Minister house‚ Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani warmly welcomed the visiting dignitary.

PA passes unanimous resolution for Drug Regulatory Authority


In order to avoid incidents like the recent PIC drug fiasco in the city, the Punjab Assembly (PA) on Wednesday passed a unanimous resolution asking the federal government to form a national Drug Regulatory Authority.

Allowing the federal government to legislate the authority, the resolution said, “The provincial assembly of the Punjab resolves that the ‘Majlis-e-Shoora’ (parliament) may, by law, regulate matters relating to drugs and medicines in terms of Article 144 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.”

The other three provinces had already passed the same resolution, giving parliament their consent to legislate on the authority in June 2011, however, the Punjab government had been avoiding tabling the resolution, as the federal government had not handed over the administrative powers of Sheikh Zayed Hospital to the province.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah tabled the resolution in the House on Wednesday with the opposition’s consent. The resolution was moved in the assembly under Clause 1 of the constitution of Pakistan. Both the opposition parties and PA legislators unanimously supported the resolution.

PA opposition leader Raja Riaz Ahmad said the deaths from contaminated medicines provided by Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) could have been averted if the provincial government had passed the resolution a year before as was done by other provincial governments.

Raja Riaz said that the resolution had finally been tabled in wake of the recent deaths in Punjab, especially Lahore, due to reaction caused from intake of spurious drugs. He said these life-saving drugs were purchased on cheap rates by the PIC and provided to cardiac patients. He blamed Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his party for delay in tabling the resolution. He added that the CM was also responsible for the patients’ deaths, and did not even have the courage to face or take the House into confidence over the issue. Raja Riaz also criticised the role of Rana Sanaullah, saying he (Sanaullah) “had no worth in the party corridors”.

Addressing the House on a point of order, PPP’s parliamentary leader Major (r) Zulfiqar Gondal said the lives of 46,000 patients were at stake from consumption of fake medicines, adding that the CM was directly responsible for the negligence.

In reply to this, Sanaullah informed the House that the federal government had handed over the administrative control of Sheikh Zayed Hospital to the provincial government on Tuesday, immediately after which his government had called the session and passed the resolution for forming a Drug Regulatory Authority.

Raja Riaz of the PPP also raised the question regarding commitment of the speaker in ensuring release of funds for the opposition members. Speaker Rana Iqbal Muhammad Khan said he had not made any commitment. Upon this, Raja Riaz said the record of the last PA proceedings should be checked, which will automatically prove the speaker had made a commitment on the matter.

The speaker, in an attempt to silence him, tried passing the mic to a treasury member, on which Raja Riaz pointed out the quorum, which was incomplete, and the speaker was forced to prorogue the 34th session of the PA for an indefinite period. The session on Wednesday started two hours late from its scheduled time.

20th Amendment: some questions

EDITORIAL:Business Recorder

By unanimously adopting the 20th Amendment Bill on Wednesday night, members of the National Assembly on both sides of the aisle were equally jovial, not because their hopes and aspirations were factored into the adopted draft, but for their leaders wanted it so.

There was no debate on the Bill in the 342-member house - as if unanimity in parliament is more desirable than debate.

And once their leaders had hammered out a compromise draft in their hush-hush negotiations, it didn't take more than half an hour to pass the 11-clause piece of legislation.

This is a familiar pattern; the 18th Amendment was also passed like the present one.

How much more of deeper, participative and wider deliberations are required before a law of fundamental nature like the constitutional amendments is required, is evident if nothing else for the very fact that since the passage of that amendment it had to undergo modifications twice in the short time after its passage.

Definitely more debate on the floor of the National Assembly was required, depriving the people's representatives of their inherent right to speak on national issues.

The question is after all what is that helps the otherwise very bitter political rivals come to a common ground.

Why the National Assembly in session was almost focused exclusively on the 20th Amendment Bill for good two weeks, ignoring with great abandon far more serious issues confronting the people? Why such a bonhomie between the treasury and opposition benches when the same very opposition has moved the court seeking the truth in the suspected government involvement in the Memogate scam? And how critical is to the cause of the democratic process the issue of securing election of some 28 politicians, of which less than half are members of the parliament and constitute less than three percent of its bloated strength and would improve upon the quality of legislation? The answer: the ruling political elite which includes the parliamentary opposition has the common cause of securing a status quo which gives them, no matter which side of the aisle you sit, unlimited access to power to monopolise national resources.

If the pre-18th Amendment constitution was really anti-democratic in its character and had to be revised drastically changing almost a one-third of it, what was then the justification to retain the parliament which took birth from its womb? The amendment was much more geared to securing the future of the incumbents, and it did, as is expected of the latest constitutional amendment.

If its intention was to divest the holder of the presidential office of his dictatorial-vintage clout, it didn't.

Given our clout-ridden political culture the party leader has the final authority, which he retains thanks to its endorsement by the 18th Amendment.

And as for the much-desired devolution, its other significant 'achievement', it hasn't taken place so far in the real sense.

To have a neutral caretaker set-up following the expiration, irrespective of this being normal or forced, seems to be the PML (N)-led opposition's main reason for the co-operation in helping the government pass the latest amendment.

There is no objection to such thinking, given that the Bangladesh-model as an option, following the dissolution of the National Assembly is being aired by quite a few powerful quarters.

But there is a problem with the tight schedule and quite a few unpredictable scenarios that can emerge before a consensus is clinched to set up the caretaker government.

For one, it is certainly a tough challenge to secure consensus if our recent political history is any guide.

What would happen then? The amendment says the incumbents would continue; for how long there is no timeline.

One last question: what moral authority would the outgoing prime minister and the leader of opposition have in proposing the names of a caretaker set-up to supervise the next elections, when the political forces, particularly Imran Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaf, crying for change have not been consulted.

Is it a collusion between status quo forces and the emerging political thinking? Following a long spell of undemocratic rule the country needs a fair, free and impartial general election, which would be now the responsibility of the caretaker government.

It has to be above board, absolutely clear of any doubt about its neutrality and impartiality.

We hope not only these forces would be asked for their inputs into this election-oriented legislation there would be substantial debate in the Senate also.

In its present ambience the new legislation carries the unmistakable colour of a deal between two main political stakeholders, a bias that should be taken care of at this stage when it is still possible.

Unanimous 20th Amendment approval shows growing political maturity

Business Recorder

President Awami National Party Asfandyar Wali Khan on Wednesday said unanimous approval of the 20th Constitutional Amendment reflects growing political maturity and confidence of all parties in democratic system.

Talking to APP, he said this amendment would ensure free, fair and transparent electoral process under an independent election commission, would help further strengthen democracy and democratic system in the country.

He said passage of 20th amendment in the National Assembly was the greatest achievement in parliamentary history of the country, reflecting political sagacity of political forces.

He appreciated role of the opposition and other parties for supporting the amendment.

Asfandyar said free, fair and transparent elections in future would protect people's mandate and their trust in parliamentary democracy.

He said now there would be no excuse with any political party for not accepting result of election in future.