Saturday, March 10, 2012

Syria Ready to Make Successful any Sincere Efforts to Find Solution to Events

President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday said Syria is ready to make successful any sincere efforts to find a solution to the events taking place in Syria, adding that the success of any efforts require first studying what is happening on the ground instead of relying on the virtual space that is promoted by some regional and international countries to distort the facts and give a picture contrary to what Syria is undergoing.

President al-Assad's remarks came during his meeting with UN Secretary General's envoy Kofi Annan and the accompanying delegation.

The President was briefed by Annan on his preliminary vision on the situation in Syria, with the UN Secretary General's envoy stressing his commitment to work fairly, neutrally and independently, as well as his rejection to foreign interference in the Syrian affairs and his belief in a peaceful solution.

Annan expressed hope to work with the Syrian government to launch diplomatic dialogue in the framework of a political process to restore stability to Syria and realize the aspirations of the Syrian people.

President al-Assad said that any political dialogue or political process can not succeed as long as there are armed terrorist groups that are working to spread chaos and destabilize the country through targeting citizens, both civilian and military, and vandalizing private and public properties.

A bilateral meeting between President al-Assad and the UN Secretary General's envoy followed the plenary meeting, which was attended by Foreign and Expatriates Minister, Walid al-Moallem, Presidential Political and Media Advisor, Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban, Deputy Foreign and Expatriates Minister, Fayssal Mikdad, and Director of International Organizations Department at the Foreign Ministry Tamam Sulaiman.

Taliban threatens women activist and teenage girl

Pakistani Taliban have threatened a woman and a teenage girl who had spoken out against the militants in their former stronghold of Swat even as they warned they would target the government and security forces if Osama bin Laden's widows were not freed from custody.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan threatened Shad Begum, who was among 10 women conferred the International Women of
Courage Award by the US, and Malala Yousufzai, the first recipient of Pakistan's new National Peace Prize.
Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said both of them were on the militants' "hit list". Shad Begum is a social worker from Lower Dir district, located a short distance from Islamabad.
The area was overrun by the Taliban in 2009 before the army launched an offensive to flush out the militants. Fourteen-year-old Yousufzai is a resident of the Swat Valley and came to prominence with her blog that detailed the atrocities of the Taliban.
Ehsan said Shad Begum and Yousufzai had backed the "imposition of secular" governance in Swat. "These women have been working for the vested interest of the West and have supported the imposition of secular rule in Swat Valley," he told the media in Pakistan's northwest.

The militant spokesman further said the Taliban would attack government and security officials if bin Laden's three
widows are not released from custody. He declared the slain al-Qaeda chief a "hero of Islam and warned officials against putting his family members on trial.

"If the family of Osama bin Laden is not released, we will attack the judges, lawyers and security officials involved in their trial," Ehsan said. He warned the militants would carry out suicide bombings against security forces and the government across the country.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik had on Thursday said authorities had charged bin Laden's widows with illegally entering and staying in Pakistan.
He said the widows and their children were being held in a house in Islamabad. Bin Laden was killed by US special forces during a raid in the garrison town of Abbottabad in May last year.
The Pakistani Taliban had carried out several high profile attacks after his killing, including a suicide assault on a naval airbase base in Karachi and an attack on paramilitary recruits in the northwest.

Putin vows ‘non-party’ presidency for Russia

Global Times

Vladimir Putin vowed yesterday to rule Russia as a "non-party" leader when he assumes power for a third term as president amid a wave of protests challenging his rule for the first time in 12 years.

"Today, it would probably be appropriate to recall that the president is a non-party figure," Putin told outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev in a televised meeting at the Krasnaya Polyana ski resort on the Black Sea.

"I will be working in the interests of the entire Russian people, irrespective of their party affiliations," Putin promised.

Putin is not officially a card-carrying member of United Russia despite chairing the party. He has also recently attempted to distance himself from the group amid speculation that it may soon be either disbanded or reformed.

The idea of Putin presiding over Russia for an extended six-year term after a 2000-08 presidency has stirred protests that are set to continue in Moscow on Saturday with a rally organizers hope can draw 50,000 people.

Medvedev is due to take on Putin's current job as prime minister after his inauguration on May 7 in a scheme first announced in September that angered many for apparently being cooked up behind closed doors.

Putin hinted Wednesday his reform-minded rival Mikhail Prokhorov - a tycoon who finished a surprising third with strong support from middle class voters in Russia's big cities - could be given a spot in his new cabinet.

But, Putin gave no clear indication if the new government's make-up will be made public before he is sworn in.

"Yesterday we began working on the things we have to do - that we have to do together, as we had agreed," Putin told Medvedev. "Today, we are starting consultations on questions concerning the formation of the future government."

Medvedev for his part congratulated Putin with his "completely convincing" victory.

The election commission yesterday declared Putin winner with 63.60 percent of the vote on high turnout of 65.34 percent.

UN's Annan arrives in Syria to push for violence end

Kofi Annan, the joint special envoy of UN and Arab League for Syria, arrived in the Syrian capital of Damascus Saturday in an attempt to push for ending the year-long violence.

Obama on Economy: 'Better Days Ahead'

50 Shades of Grey: Discreetly Digital, Erotic Novel Sets American Women Abuzz


“Fifty Shades of Grey,” an erotic novel by an obscure author that has been described as “Mommy porn” and “Twilight” for grown-ups, has electrified women across the country, who have spread the word like gospel on Facebook pages, at school functions and in spin classes. Or as the handwritten tag on a paperback copy in a Montclair, N.J., bookstore helpfully noted, “Yes, this is THE book everyone is talking about.”

The problem has been finding it. The first book of a trilogy, it was published by a tiny independent press in Australia, and distribution in print has been limited and sluggish, leaving bookstores deprived of copies. The lion’s share of total sales (more than 250,000 copies for all three books) has come from ever-discreet e-book downloads, which have propelled “Fifty Shades of Grey” to No. 1 on the New York Times e-book fiction best-seller list for sales in the week ending March 3 and No. 3 position on Amazon’s best-seller list.

Now American publishers have just concluded a battle over the rights to re-release the book in the blockbuster fashion they think it deserves. This week, Vintage Books, part of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, known for its highbrow literary credentials, won a bidding war for the rights to all three books, paying a seven-figure sum.

On Monday, the publisher will release new e-book editions of the trilogy. Weeks later will come a 750,000-copy print run of redesigned paperback editions.

“We’re making a statement that this is bigger than one genre,” said Anne Messitte, the publisher of Vintage Anchor, who discovered the book when a colleague at Random House slipped her a copy. “The people who are reading this are not only people who read romance. It’s gone much broader than that.”

“Fifty Shades of Grey” and the two other titles in the series were written by a British author named E L James, a former television executive who began the trilogy by posting fan fiction online. The books, which were released in the last year, center on the lives (and affection for whips, chains and handcuffs) of Christian Grey, a rich, handsome tycoon, and Anastasia Steele, an innocent college student, who enter into a dominant-submissive relationship. The narrative is built on the purple prose typical of pulp novels, with lines like, “My inner goddess is doing the dance of the seven veils.”

Publishing executives said the word-of-mouth excitement accompanying “Fifty Shades of Grey” was reminiscent of that accompanying novels like “The Da Vinci Code,” “The Kite Runner” and “Eat, Pray, Love.”

Except this book has been credited with something else: introducing women who usually read run-of-the-mill literary or commercial fiction to graphic, heavy-breathing erotica. And in the cities and suburbs of New York, Denver and Minneapolis, the women who have devoured the books say they are feeling the happy effects at home.

“It’s relighting a fire under a lot of marriages,” said Lyss Stern, the founder of and one of the early fans of the series. “I think it makes you feel sexy again, reading the books.”

One Long Island woman, who insisted on anonymity so that she would not embarrass her employer, said the book had gained an obsessive following among her friends, the first erotic novel they have ever discussed.

“Women just feel like it’s O.K. to read it,” she said. “It’s taboo for women to admit that they watch pornography, but for some reason it’s O.K. to admit that they’re reading this book.”

The trilogy has its detractors. Commentators have shredded the books for their explicit violence and antiquated treatment of women, made especially clear in the character of Anastasia, an awkward naif who consents to being stalked, slapped and whipped with a leather riding crop.

“What I found fascinating is that there are all these supermotivated, smart, educated women saying this was like the greatest thing they’ve ever read,” said Meg Lazarus, a 38-year-old former lawyer in Scarsdale, whose friends and acquaintances have been buzzing about the book. “I don’t get it. There’s a lot of violence, and this guy is abhorrent sometimes.”

Online reviewers have criticized the author for her plodding prose and habit of printing lengthy contracts and e-mail exchanges between characters in the text.

“The books are just so long,” said Sarah Wendell, a blogger and the co-author of “Beyond Heaving Bosoms.” “They suffer from the same lack of content and pacing. They’re very dense, with a lot of detail. They just don’t go anywhere.”

But executives at Vintage say they believe that sales of the series so far are just the tip of the iceberg.

Interest in “Fifty Shades of Grey” has been highest in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Florida, according to results from Insights for Search, an online tool that indexes the volume of Google search trends.

On Friday afternoon, it was out of stock in Barnes & Noble stores in Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Seattle, Boston and Kansas City, Mo., suggesting that once the paperbacks are distributed widely, print sales are poised to boom. (A more wallet-friendly price will help: when Vintage releases its paperback edition, the cover price will drop to $15.95 from $29.99.)

Conversation about the book online has fed many of the sales, said Patricia Bostelman, vice president for marketing at Barnes & Noble. “I think this shows very clearly what the blog network can do,” she said. “The word-of-mouth so thoroughly outpaced the availability.”

Ms. James’s agent, Valerie Hoskins of London, is fielding offers from Hollywood producers for the film rights and from foreign publishers for the rights to the book in other languages.

“I think it can only get bigger in terms of its success,” Ms. Hoskins said. “One of the things about this is that in the 21st century, women have the ability to read this kind of material without anybody knowing what they’re reading, because they can read them on their iPads and Kindles.”

Where print editions of “Fifty Shades” are available, many independent booksellers have placed them front and center in stores, an unusual place for erotica among copies of Abraham Verghese’s “Cutting for Stone” and Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From the Goon Squad.”

“It’s a major amusement,” said Margot Sage-EL, the owner of Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, N.J., which has sold dozens of copies and whose customers have begun asking for more erotica. “But I can’t really endorse it. What can I say, hey, we have some soft porn on the table?”

Afghanistan and U.S. sign prison transfer deal

The United States and Afghanistan signed an agreement on Friday on the transfer of a major U.S.-run detention centre to Afghan authorities, improving the prospects of a deal allowing long-term American involvement in the country.

The Strategic Partnership Agreement, which Washington and Kabul have been discussing for over a year, will be the framework for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014, when the last foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan.

Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, who signed the deal to hand over the prison at Bagram airbase, said an Afghan general would soon be appointed to take charge of it. The transfer would be completed in about six months.

"The signing of this memorandum is an important step forward in our Strategic Partnership negotiations," said General John Allen, commander of the United States forces in Afghanistan, at the ceremony.

"It is yet another example of the progress of transition, and our efforts to ensure that Afghanistan can never again be a safe haven for terrorists."

In what appeared to be a compromise, the agreement states that the United States has veto power over which detainees can be released from Bagram, which is believed to hold many suspected Taliban fighters.

Ties between Washington and Kabul have been heavily strained for weeks after copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, were burned at Bagram by U.S. soldiers in what NATO called a tragic blunder.

Widespread protests erupted in which 30 people were killed. Afghan forces turned their weapons on U.S. soldiers, killing six.


Afghanistan wants a timeline to take over detention centers and for the United States and NATO to agree to stop carrying out night raids on Afghan homes as preconditions for signing an agreement with Washington.

In January, an Afghan government commission investigating abuse accusations at Bagram said inmates had reported being tortured and held without evidence.

However, the commission said it had found no evidence of torture on the detainees' bodies.

The findings came just days after President Hamid Karzai called for the facility to be handed over to Afghan control.

The decision to transfer prisoners appeared to have lifted the spirits of some Afghans, who say Western soldiers often fail to grasp their country's religious and cultural sensitivities.

"The Afghan army and police are capable of taking control of Afghan prisoners who are in foreign detention," said Kabul resident Feda Mohammad, 58.

"This is something that Afghanistan needs to take charge of not America or any other foreign country."

A senior Afghan official said earlier this week that the transfer of the Bagram detention centre - the biggest U.S.-run prison in Afghanistan - would be a first step to handing over other facilities.

The Obama administration has been hoping it can conclude a partnership agreement before a meeting of NATO leaders in Chicago in May.

While the document is unlikely to specify details, it is expected to contain an agreement in principle to some sort of long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

Failure to broker a deal might hurt U.S.-Afghan relations and increase the chances of prolonged turmoil in Afghanistan.

Afghan security forces still rely heavily on Western firepower and intelligence in the fight against the Taliban.

'Saving Face' to be released in Pakistan after Urdu dubbing: Sharmeen

The first Pakistani Oscar award winner,

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy said Saturday that bringing Oscar to Pakistan is an achievement and honor for her, Geo News reported.

Sharmeen was addressing a press conference in a local hotel. She was greeted warmly upon her arrival after winning the golden statue.

The Pakistani director won her country its first Oscar for "Saving Face", a 52-minute documentary film about acid attacks on women, and the doctors and social workers who helped restore their faces.

Upon arrival, she said Oscar has arrived here adding that she was feeling great to be in Pakistan. She greeted the nation for this glory.

Sharmeen said "Saving Face" would be released in Pakistan provided that the victim women who worked in the film get protection.

In April, the film will be released in London followed by dubbing in Urdu for release in Pakistan, she added.

Oscar winner said she would make efforts to work on such projects in future as well.

Kingmakers exposed in Asghar Khan case

Federal Information Minister, Firdos Ashiq Awan Saturday said that the political personalities which have been unveiled in Asghar Ali Khan case should present themselves before the apex court.

Talking to journalists here in Lahore, Awan said that so called champions of democracy have been exposed in the case, should not give explanations to the nation through media but suggested that they must appear before the court.

She said that the forces that had played role in making governments in the country as per their personal interests had been exposed in the Supreme Court during Asghar Ali Khan case.

“Younus Habib has been making important revelation in the court, and those who had been kingmakers in the past are exposed,” Awan said while speaking to media representatives here at Lahore’s Expo Center.

Criticized PML-N leader Mian Shahbaz Sharif she said that the Asghar Ali Khan case has proven that these leaders were acted as puppets of establishment and People party’s mandate had been overruled in the past with national treasure by these elements.

“Those who looted national exchequer will be exposed,” Awan asserted.

“Every state institution should follow constitution and work within its domain,” Awan said, expressing hope that the present PPP-led government would complete its 5-year term. “PPP wants to live in the history not in headlines”.

Referring to cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, Awan claimed that the cases “were fabricated” in the past.

The SC on Friday heard a 15-year old case in which former banker, Younus Habib, revealed that he doled out Rs. 1.5 million in bank funds to politicians and ISI officers on the orders of then army chief Gen. Aslam Beg and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who was considered close to the army, to influence 1990 elections, preventing PPP success.

Islamabad versus Rawalpindi: the focus on ISI

The refusal to extend the tenure of the ISI Chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha is hardly a political triumph for Pakistan’s civilian leadership—President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

There had been some speculation in the Pakistani media that Islamabad in deference to Rawalpindi, the city next door that hosts the Pakistan’s army’s headquarters, might keep Gen Pasha in office for a little longer.

Last March, Gen Pasha got an extension in service for a year. A few months before that Islamabad give the army chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani a full second term of three years.

Much has happened in Pakistan since then. The US Special Forces raided and executed Osama bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad right under the nose of the Pakistan army last May.

As Rawalpindi struggled to cope with the loss of face, Zardari and Gilani missed an opportunity to confront the army and redefine civil military relations in Pakistan.

No good deed, as they say, goes unpunished. If Zardari and Gilani let Kayani and Pasha off the hook, the army reciprocated by backing charges—under the so called 'memogate'—that Islamabad sought Washington’s help in putting Rawalpindi down in the tense days after the killing of bin Laden.

In these circumstances, it would have been utterly self-demeaning if Zardari and Gilani had chosen to prolong Gen Pasha’s reign at the ISI. Islamabad’s role in the appointment of Lt Gen Zahirul Islam as the successor to Gen Pasha is not clear.

Were Zardari and Gilani simply endorsing the army chief Gen Kayani’s choice or did they have a preference of their own?

The civil military tussle in Pakistan has acquired a different

dimension with the decision of the activist Supreme Court to relook at a 16-year old accusation that the ISI sought to influence the outcome of the 1990 general election.

The former ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani told the Supreme Court that he had indeed distributed money, under the instruction of the then army chief, Gen. Aslam Beg, to some political parties.

Gen. Beg, who rejected the charges, sought to put on a superior air before the Court. Slapped with contempt charges, Gen. Beg was quick to submit an apology.

If the Supreme Court does find army and the ISI guilty of attempts to disrupt the 1990 general election and punishes the generals responsible for it, it would indeed be a real victory for the ‘bloody civilians’ in Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia: Open the road for women drivers

In Saudi Arabia women can be arrested for driving a car.

A high profile campaign in 2011 saw women drivers take to the roads in protest. Some were arrested for their participation.

Despite catching the world’s attention, the ban remains in place.

This is a blatant violation of women’s rights to non-discrimination and equality. Saudi Arabia must end its pariah status as the sole country in the world that bans women from driving.

Amnesty International urges Saudi Arabia to free political prisoners

Amnesty International has criticized Saudi Arabia for imprisoning anti-regime protesters without charge or trial, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the detainees.

The UK-based rights body said almost a year after the planned “Day of Rage” demonstration in the capital Riyadh, some protesters are still being held in jail without being charged or tried.

The planned demonstration, which was called by activists to demand political reforms in the Saudi kingdom, ultimately did not happen on the planned day, March 11, 2011, due to the heavy deployment of security forces.

"Holding people for a year merely for intending to protest is completely unconscionable. But that is what it seems the Saudi authorities have been doing in the name of security," said on Friday Philip Luther, Amnesty's interim director for the Middle East and North Africa.

The rights group says it has received information indicating that the detainees have been "tortured or otherwise ill-treated after being detained.”

The right organization also confirmed that Saudi authorities have held hundreds of people for protesting and voicing their opposition to government policies.

“Most have been released without charge, but others remain in detention without charge or trial, while several have been charged with vague security-related and other offences,” Amnesty added.

Rallies and other public displays of dissent are forbidden in Saudi Arabia.

Several people have been killed and many others injured or detained since March 2011 when Saudi protesters began their anti-regime protests.

Bahraini forces kill 21-year-old protester in capital Manama

Saudi-backed Bahraini regime forces have killed a 21-year-old protester who was trying to get to Pearl Square in the capital Manama, Press TV reports.

Saudi women students to boycott classes after protesters hurt

Students at a women's university in Saudi Arabia said on Friday they planned to boycott classes after dozens were hurt during a campus protest following the intervention of security forces.

Public displays of dissent are rare and usually suppressed in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy that is a close US ally and the world's No.1 oil exporter. Students at King Khalid University in the town of Abha told Reuters by telephone that a strike was planned for Saturday, that start of the week in the conservative Muslim kingdom.

They said around 8,000 students demonstrated on Wednesday against a move by the university administration to keep cleaning crews away after accusing students of not doing enough to help keep their areas tidy. Piles of trash accumulated.

"On Wednesday security forces entered the campus with sticks, threatening the students by banging them against chairs and desks. Later the forces used fire extinguishers on the girls," said one student, who like others asked not be identified for their own safety.

Saeed al-Mugair, a health ministry spokesman, said 53 students suffered minor injuries in the fracas. He, as well as students contacted by Reuters, denied rumours of deaths.

Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in education to deal with high youth unemployment in a country where about 70% of the native population of 19 million is under the age of 30.

Bahrain's Renewed protests demand democracy

Protesters marched on the outskirts of the Bahraini capital on Friday, demanding democratic reforms amid renewed tension in the island nation more than a year after the beginning of pro-reform demonstrations.

The marchers filled a four-lane highway between Duraz and Maksha, and ended peacefully despite skirmishes between police and some protesters who tried to break away from the main column and reach Lulu Roundabout, the focal point for dramatic standoffs as authorities cracked down on protests last year.

A few protesters were injured, but their wounds did not appear serious, according to eyewitnesses.

The march was "a prime example of how freedom of expression is guaranteed" by Bahrain's constitution, an Information Affairs Authority spokesman said in a statement.

Government officials also touted progress toward talks with opposition groups on a political solution. Nabeel bin Yacoub Al-Hamer, adviser to the king for media, told CNN Arabic that contacts with reform groups began last month.

"The situation is towards dialogue to all components of the Bahraini community and everyone has the desire to end this crisis experienced by Bahrain," he said.

Leading opposition groups have assured supporters that the outcome of any talks with the government to end the crisis would be put to a public referendum before being adopted.

Friday's march came in response to a call last week by leading Shiite clergyman Sheikh Isa Qass for a unified outpouring of support for reform in the Sunni-ruled but Shiite-majority country.

"This rally reflects the people's consensus on the political demands and their determination to not leave the streets until their demands are met," he said during his Friday sermon in Duraz.

According to organizers, Friday's rally was meant to dismiss claims that the calls for reforms were voiced by only a small number of people and to emphasize that such calls persist despite the crackdown.

Tension on the streets of Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, has been on the increase since protesters marked the first anniversary of the pro-reform protests on February 14.

Protesters have repeatedly tried to get to Lulu Roundabout, where security forces battled protesters last year before clearing the site. Security forces continue the occupy the square as they have since last March.

Further protesters and skirmishes are expected with the arrival next week of the first anniversary of the arrival of Gulf Cooperation Council troops and a crackdown by security forces that left several protesters dead and numerous others wounded or arrested.

Moderate opposition groups, including leading Shiite opposition grouping Al-Wefaq and key liberal groups, continue to support calls for reforms including changes to the constitution and a fully elected legislature. Some more hard-line critics of the government have called for the ouster of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, particularly in light of the crackdown.

According to the opposition, more than 70 people have been killed since the protests broke out.

In November, an independent inquiry commissioned by the king confirmed that security forces had tortured and used excessive force against civilians arrested during the crackdown and that thousands of workers were allegedly fired for participating in the protests.

Last month, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called "on all parties to exercise maximum restraint."

Bahrain and other Sunni-ruled countries in the region have accused Shiite-led Iran of meddling in the country's internal affairs and standing behind the protests.

Mehran Bank : Past secrets

In his statement before the Supreme Court on Thursday, former Mehran Bank president Younis Habib revealed it all: he was forced by former president late Ghulam Ishaq Khan and former army chief Aslam Beg to arrange hundreds of millions of rupees in the ‘supreme national interest’. The money was then distributed among several politicians to create the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) and prevent Benazir Bhutto’s PPP from winning the 1990 elections. It is rare in our country for light to be thrown on political events and controversies from the past. Most simply fade away with time - leaving people in the dark. The uncovering of secrets in such a culture is therefore welcome, especially when this process throws so much light on the nature of our state and events within it. This is what is happening as the murky mysteries of Mehrangate unfold, thanks to the hearings conducted by the Supreme Court. The key players in the events of the 1990s have all appeared before the court. The case had remained largely dormant since 1996, when Air Marshal (r) Asghar Khan had filed a petition alleging that the ISI had disbursed huge funds in 1990 to politicians. Younis Habib, who appeared before the court in a wheelchair, confirmed he had transferred a total sum of Rs400 million to the accounts of various politicians. The ISI chief at that time, Asad Durrani, largely confirmed Habib’s account. On Friday, Aslam Beg, appearing in person before the three-member bench, denied he had issued the orders. He also submitted a written apology for a paragraph in his statement which the court held in contempt.

The story of a cell set up at the presidency, of the involvement of many military officers and of a chain of unfortunate events has now been told. The court wishes to know more and has asked the attorney general to produce classified documents pertaining to the affair. The AG said he would seek the government’s permission to do so. The documents could reveal even more about the sordid affair. But at a broader level, still more significant is all that it tells us about the way our state is run and crucial matters decided. The hearings by the SC are beginning to turn conjecture into concrete. Till now, beyond whispers, little has been said in public about the ISI role in politics. The wraps have suddenly been thrown off and many of our worst suspicions confirmed. Democracy needs transparency and openness. Our state needs to be relieved of the burden of so many secrets and dubious deeds. The SC verdict in this matter may just help make this possible.

Alarming situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan: lack of medical staff

Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) report said that 76 Tehsil Headquarter Hospitals (THQs) were found having less than 50 percent occupancy rate of sanctioned positions for medical staff including anaesthetists, gynaecologists, ENT specialists and physicians.

According to the report based on monitoring of 76 THQs in 55 districts across the country in January this year, the situation was quite alarming in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan where positions for specialised staff were not even sanctioned.

On the other hand, in hospitals where the positions for medical staff were sanctioned, they were not occupied.

Of the 76 THQs covered in the report, 35 were in 22 districts in Punjab, 14 in 13 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa districts, five in as many districts in Baluchistan and 22 in 15 districts in Sindh.

The monitored hospitals also lacked specialised units with at least 67 per cent of these without cardiology, chest, dermatology, ENT, orthopedic and pathology departments.

Similarly, there were no ophthalmology departments in three-fifths of the hospitals while specialised services for gynaecology and obstetrics were non-existent in 34 monitored facilities.

However, of all the monitored hospitals, 48 had surgical departments with 58 having dental departments.

The availability of general and physical facilities was far better than the specialised services.

Eighty five percent of the THQs were properly connected by roads, had in-house pharmacies, and telephone and electricity connections.

At least 80 per cent of the hospitals had running ambulances, generators for power backup, X-ray, dental and labour rooms, operation theaters, medico-legal services and wards for in-patients.

Fafen observers interviewed three out-patients at each of the monitored hospitals to ascertain the quality of treatment they received.

Of the 228 who were interviewed, six complained the doctors were not present on duty; 41 were not satisfied with the amount of time given by the doctors to attend to them while 27 categorised the doctors' behaviour as rude.

Though the in-house pharmacies are supposed to provide patients free medicines, 64 patients complained they had to buy them from these facilities.

Similarly, 15 said they were charged for services at the hospital.

Elected/government officials made 67 visits to the monitored THQs during the October-December 2011 quarter.

Most of these were monitoring and routine visits while some were for the purpose of checking attendance, performance of doctors and staff and for discussing issues faced by staff and patients.

Mehrangate: A duplicitous discourse


The commencement of judicial proceedings on the infamous Mehrangate has triggered off a public debate, which is fundamentally deeply flawed. Both the commentariat and chattering classes would have it that devil in the scam was the military and the ISI. But that is patently a duplicitous talk. No lesser culpable could be the political eminences named in the scandal. After all, they were no toddlers who their fondling moms or taunting nannies could have led by a finger to wherever they wanted. They were grown people, masters of their own wills. And if they became the IJI adventurism’s part, they obviously did it volitionally, not at gunpoint.
Hadn’t MQM supremo Altaf Hussain refused the proffered slush fund and declined becoming the IJI conspiracy’s part, and admirably? Those who sold out too could have rebuffed the ISI’ overtures had they so wanted. And they were no paupers, either. The Sharifs, the Jams, the Jatois, the Jamalis, the Marris, the Bizenjos, the Abidas, the Kakars, et all are all people of means, rich and wealthy. If in spite of that they hopped on to the ISI-driven chariot blithely, what does it tell if not they are no politicians of conviction but mere political operators and just professional mercenaries? Greed for money and lust for power is their creed, not the public service or the people’s weal? What else could it be?
And yet the commentariat and chattering classes would have in the dock only the military and the ISI and leave the political eminences out as the wronged party. Isn’t it an outright rank doublespeak and some intrinsic antipathy’s sheer manifestation? If the military or the ISI was a sinner in this political venture, weren’t the political eminences that knowingly joined it up, too? How could one set of sinners be held accountable and the other exempted from accountability? How would the commentariat and chattering classes square up this inherent contradiction in their stance and how would they justify their disgraceful shyness of calling a set of sinners the crooks that they actually are?
And who was it who indeed inducted the ISI in political engineering works? Wasn’t it the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto? Wasn’t he a politician? Didn’t he gift this premier intelligence agency with a political cell? And isn’t it that even his daughter Benazir Bhutto didn’t shut this cell down during her two prime ministerial stints, despite the fact that the IJI was specifically cobbled up to block her electoral triumph? And isn’t it that Mian Nawaz Sharif too was quite fan of the ISI all through his spells in the prime minister’s office? So enamoured of it was he that he first brought in a favourite maulvi general of his to head it and then gave it to the command of a general who he later abortively promoted to head the army. Isn’t it?
When all these facts are very much in the domain of public knowledge, do the commentariat and chattering classes have to do a doubletalk? How can you expect a rectification or reformation if you demonise one set of crooks as culprits and eulogise the other set of crooks as innocent? Hasn’t this skewed giving of clean chit been our political culture’s biggest bane? Who doesn’t know that many a political career had its genesis in the garrisons’ wombs and a lot of eminences strutting on our political landscape were nursed in praetorian laps? Wasn’t ZA Bhutto launched into the political arena under first military ruler Ayub Khan’s fondling guardianship? Wasn’t the Sharif Inc introduced to the political ring by Lt. Gen. Ghulam Jilani and patronised by military dictator Gen. Ziaul Haq? And hadn’t Benazir Bhutto returned home from self-exile after a power-sharing deal with dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf?
And isn’t a fact that retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan, on whose petition the judicial proceedings on Mehrangate have been kicked off, had himself asked the military not to obey the orders of ZA Bhutto against whose government the opposition had mounted a street agitation over poll rigging charges in 1977 and he was among star leaders of that movement? And isn’t an open secret that presently Shahbaz Sharif and another PML (N) stalwart Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan have met the army top command in the darkness of night? Then who are the commentariat and chattering classes kidding? They have been hosting Roedad Khan as a frequent fixture on media talk shows and as regular newspaper columnist where he has been lecturing on political morality and ethics, even though he was part of military ruler Yahya Khan’s junta and the czar of Benazir-specific accountability drive of president Ishaq Khan. He too has been named in the Mehrangate.
There really is something perturbedly amiss with the act of the commentariat and chattering classes. Military definitely must not interfere in civilian affairs, and not at all in political matters. But how can it happen if you issue a certificate of good conduct to a delinquent political class and pronounce only the military and the ISI guilty. To put an end to an evil, you have to call a spade a spade. And both the commentariat and chattering classes do need cleansing up of their own act, really.

Pakistan: Court zeroes in on spies

In a case that shines a harsh light on the interference in the country's politics of Pakistan's army and its premier spy agency, the Supreme Court on Friday heard an admission by a former spymaster that he distributed secret funds to opposition politicians in elections in 1990.

The high court's decision to revive an almost forgotten case — which seeks to hold a former head of the military's feared Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency and a former army chief accountable for manipulating the election results in favor of an Islamist coalition — has far-reaching implications even though the events happened more than 20 years ago.

Pakistan's activist Supreme Court has surprised many in recent weeks with its red-blooded assault on the workings of the ISI in a series of cases that could challenge the armed forces' longstanding impunity from the rule of law.

In another case before the court, the ISI is accused of abducting and hiding 11 suspected terrorists — four of whom eventually turned up dead. In a hearing earlier this month, a furious Chief Justice Ifitkhar Chaudhry asked the ISI's lawyer, "Who gave you the right to hound people?"

Later this month, the court is scheduled to begin hearings on the violent chaos in the western province of Baluchistan, where the military is accused of eliminating hundreds of political activists and imposing a virtual state of martial law. The worsening crisis was the subject of a congressional hearing in Washington last month.

"The manipulative power of the ISI is diminished now. Pakistan has changed," said Ayaz Amir, a maverick opposition member of Parliament and newspaper columnist. "The media is there, the judiciary is there. Politics is not so easily manipulated as in the past."

In recent years, Chaudhry has aggressively taken on the government, especially over old corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari, drawing criticism that the court was pursuing a political agenda. But the new cases involving the military suggest that Chaudhry intends to hold accountable people in power more broadly — carving out a powerful role for the judiciary in the process.

On Friday, the court heard the former head of the ISI, retired three-star Gen. Asad Durrani, testify that in 1990 he was instructed by the then-army chief to distribute 140 million rupees ($1.6 million today) to the political opposition. Durrani said he understood that the money had come from businessmen.

Durrani told the court, "It is true that the orders did come from the army chief," Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg. But, he went on, "as a general of the Pakistan army, I could have said no. ... That decision was mine. I take full responsibility."

Conspiracy against PPP’s 1989 government

Daily Times

Sharifs asked to apologise for ‘taking bribe’
Sharif brothers took Rs 60m from ISI to topple govt

LAHORE: Opposition members in the Punjab Assembly have demanded the provincial rulers, PML-N leadership Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif, to render an apology to the nation over getting millions of rupees in ‘bribe’ from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), as confirmed by Younus Habib, owner of the Mehran Bank, in the Asghar Khan case.

During the Punjab Assembly session on Friday, Leader of the Opposition in the House Raja Riaz Ahmad on a point of order raised the issue that it had been confirmed now after the statement of Younus Habib that Nawaz Sharif had taken Rs 35 million and Shahbaz Sharif, who is the Punjab chief minister nowadays, took Rs 25 million from the ISI to topple the PPP’s government in 1989.

Historically, in 1989, several politicians were bribed with millions of rupees or harassed by some state institutions under the ‘Operation Midnight Jackal’ to make successful the ‘no-confidence move’ against then premier Benazir Bhutto.

Under the operation, most parliamentarians were kept at Merriott Hotel and Balochistan House in Islamabad, and in Murree to get favourable results. They were also bribed for horse-trading and to sell their votes against Benazir’s premiership.

However, the move failed on November 1, 1989, and later, some ISI officials, especially Brig Imtiaz Billa and Major Aamir who were directly linked to the operation, were removed from service after their failure.

On Friday, though Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal Khan snubbed the voice of the opposition leader by closing his microphone to give opportunity to the treasury members, especially Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor, Tahir Khalil Sindhu, Ali Asghar Manda and Razzaq Dhillon, to interrupt him time and again, Raja Riaz continued his speech and demanded the PML-N leaders to apologise to the nation who were confident of their politics and leadership.

Raja Riaz said that PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharif should come to the provincial assembly and take the House into confidence by taking oath that he was not involved in such a scandal and had not taken any money from the ISI or any other institution. He also urged the Sharifs to return the said [bribe] money of Rs 6 million to the government, as it was the money of taxpayers.

All this time, treasury members stood on their benches and continued to interrupt the leader by chanted slogans like ‘Go Zardari Go’ and thumping the desks.

On the other hand, the opposition members tried to approach the speaker to complain against turning off of Raja Riaz’s microphone, saying that it was the right of the opposition leader to speak, and his mic could not be turned off in any case when he was on a point of order. However, the speaker did not attend them and gave the floor to a parliamentary secretary, Tahir Khalil Sindhu, to read out a brief about the ‘Women Package’ announced by the chief minister the other day.

Resultantly, Raja Riaz, protesting against the speaker and the treasury member’s attitude toward the opposition and the Sharifs’ alleged act of taking bribe, announced to walk out of the House. Meanwhile, a member of the opposition, Asghar Ghoral, pointed out the quorum and the speaker adjourned the session until next Monday at 3pm. Earlier, provincial minister Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor and Parliamentary Secretary for Industries Rana Tajamul Hussain answered the queries about their departments.

It is worthy to mention here that due to the adjournment of the session, an open debate on the measures for the protection of women in the province could not be started.

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy reaches Karachi

Oscar Award winner Pakistani film maker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy reached Karachi.
The first Pakistani film maker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, who won an Oscar Award on her documentary ‘Saving Face’ reached Karachi in the early hours of Saturday.
A large number of her fans and family members were present at the airport to receive her. In her brief talk with Dunya News, Sharmeen Obaid said that she will hold a press conference today regarding her achievement at the Oscar Award ceremony.