Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Putting Afghans Forces in Charge Raises Concerns


U.S. and Afghan military leaders have called the agreement transferring leadership for night raid operations to Afghan forces a major milestone towards Afghanistan's sovereignty. But as Some analysts have raised concerns that the process was driven by political expediency and that the Afghan military and judiciary are not capable of fulfilling the agreement.

Afghan presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi says the compromise reached Sunday putting night raids under Afghan leadership resolved a source of tension between the Afghan government and U.S. military.

He says the "Afghan-ization" of special operations is a big achievement for the country in maintaining stability and the joint struggle against terrorism.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai had said the raids by foreign troops are provocative and increase public resentment against international forces. NATO commanders defended the operations, saying they are extremely effective in disrupting insurgent operations and apprehending Taliban and al-Qaida commanders.

U.S. and Afghan military leaders say by putting Afghan special forces in charge and requiring an Afghan judge to authorize each night raid operation, the agreement addresses the concerns of both sides.

Lack of capability

But Samina Ahmed, South Asia security analyst with the International Crisis Group, says the agreement will produce nominal change at best. She says the Afghan forces will continue to rely on the U.S. to direct and support operations, and that the Afghan judiciary lacks the training and authority to ensure that the Afghan special forces, police and local militias protect human rights and follow the rule of law.

“The legal system in Afghanistan is very weak. At best, it's incapable of implementation because the judicial arm has been so neglected,” said Ahmed.

The agreement also calls for prisoners apprehended in special forces operations to be held by Afghan authorities. This follows another recently signed deal to transfer Afghan detainees to Kabul's custody. Human rights groups have raised questions about the treatment of those held in Afghan prisons and have detailed incidents of torture and abuse. The Afghan government has denied these allegations.

Political goal

These agreements put the U.S. and Afghanistan on track to reach an important political goal - to develop a long-term strategic partnership pact ahead of a May NATO summit in Chicago. The partnership pact will authorize a reduced U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after the planned 2014 withdrawal of most Western combat troops.

Ahmed says the flurry of political progress is not being matched by the training and development of a professional Afghan army.

“In our assessment, the ANSF - the Afghan National Security Forces - are not capable of taking on the challenge of protecting ... the state against any kind of violation, whether it is within or from outside Afghanistan's borders,” she said.

She says increased anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan and a growing antiwar consensus in America may be changing the political dynamics, but the military reality is that Afghan forces are not yet ready to take the lead.

Dental X-rays can double brain tumor risk, study finds


Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Dental X-rays could double the risk for the most common brain tumor, according to a study released Tuesday from scientists and doctors at Yale, Harvard and other prestigious institutions published in Cancer, a scientific journal of the American Cancer Society.
It sounds frightening -- and there is no question it invokes a serious warning -- but even those who carried out the research urge people not to overreact.

"Our take home message is don’t panic. Don’t stop going to the dentist," said the lead author of the study Dr. Elizabeth Claus, a neurological surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the Yale School of Public Health.But people "should have a conversation with their dentist" about the need to use X-rays as little as possible to keep teeth healthy, Claus says. That’s a conclusion few would dispute, with or without the new study.The tumor studied is meningioma, a type that is usually not malignant, meaning it can grow but not spread. To be sure, it can cause severe problems in some patients. But people with meningiomas often live long, healthy lives with no treatment, dying of some other cause. Doctors diagnose about 5,000 cases a year in the United States, about three times as often in women as in men.
Significantly, the study is the weakest type of epidemiology, a so-called “case control” study. The researchers interviewed 1,433 people diagnosed with meningioma and compared them with 1,350 people with no such diagnosis. The two groups were matched for age, gender, race, income and places of residence. In a tiny portion of the cases the researchers actually looked at dental records. But, most often, they asked the study subjects – whose average age was 57 -- to recall their history of dental X-rays going back to childhood.
The increased tumor risk increased in people who reported receiving bitewing exams, which use X-ray film held in place by a tab between the teeth, on a yearly or more frequent basis. There was also a greater risk from the panorex dental exam which uses an x-ray outside the mouth to get an image of all the teeth. Adults who had this type of dental X-ray when they were younger than 10 years had a five times greater risk of developing meningioma.
The well-known pitfall of case control studies is “recall bias.” People with a tumor or any other unwanted health outcome are far more likely to remember that they had X-rays, air pollution or pesticide exposure, cell phone use or anything else that might be suspected of causing the problem.
Dr. Otis W. Brawley, scientific director of the American Cancer Society, told me “the strongest thing you can say about this study is that there is a suggestion of a link between dental X-rays and meningioma.”
In guidelines published in 2006, the American Dental Association declared X-rays should not be used for "detecting disease before clinical examination." If the dentist thinks X-rays are warranted, they should be administrated with "the ALARA Principle (As Low as Reasonably Achievable) to minimize the patient’s exposure," the guidelines say.It is also comforting that the dose for most dental X-rays has dropped hundred of times in recent decades.
"Our study," Claus told me, "refers to exposures in the past rather than exposures that people are receiving in this day and age."
Still, the ALARA principle is wise advice for all medical and dental procedures that submit a patient to radiation. This latest study is yet another reason why.

Obama: Time to choose country's direction

Succumbing to Beer Madness

Obama visit will raise FAU's profile beyond South Florida


It's a school that often struggles to be noticed outside of South Florida. But on Tuesday, Florida Atlantic University will get an unexpected boost from the nation's top leader.

When President Obama gives a nationally televised speech on tax policy at the FAU Arena at 2:55 p.m., about 50 cheering students dressed in FAU shirts will be behind him. And thousands more will be in the audience.

Not bad for a university that just five years ago was known as a commuter school with little campus life.

"It's a big deal when the president of the United States shows up," said Terry Hartle, vice president of the American Council on Education, which represents colleges and universities. "Florida Atlantic University will be on the front page of newspapers all over the country Wednesday. It gives them a great deal of visibility that they can tout in their marketing and recruiting of students."

About 100 to 150 media are expected to cover the event, FAU spokeswoman Christine Dardet said.

"We've never had anything like this happen here," said FAU student Jervonte Edmonds, 20. "We have a losing football team, so it's exciting to have something popular here.''

Joanna Mandel, 22, of Pembroke Pines, was also surprised, saying, "You'd think it would be a bigger school like UF."

But Obama's never spoken at the University of Florida or the state's other top public school, Florida State University. It turns out FAU is a more geographically friendly location for the president. He has fundraising events in Palm Beach Gardens before his speech and in Hollywood and Golden Beach afterward.

"We're an obvious choice if you're looking for a wonderful venue for a speech between those two areas," FAU President Mary Jane Saunders said.

Saunders said she would welcome the Republican nominee for president as well, saying it's a great experience for students and employees, regardless of their political leanings. Gov. Mitt Romney was on campus in 2008 when FAU hosted a Republican presidential debate.

Obama visited the University of Miami recently and spoke at Miami Dade College's graduation last year. Lynn University in Boca Raton has been selected to host the final presidential debate in October.

Obama's FAU visit marks the first time a U.S. president has spoken at the university since 1963, whenLyndon B. Johnsongave the speech at the dedication for the new university.

Boris Bastidas, president of FAU's College Democrats, said Obama's visit could help attract more students. He said he became interested in FAU in 2008 shortly after the presidential debate and the football team's first bowl victory.

"All of that opened my eyes to the school, and got me thinking FAU is on the rise," he said. "Maybe this will also open the door to some incoming freshmen who think FAU might be a serious place for them to consider."

Obama's speech is closed to the public, but FAU is randomly selecting about 3,500 students and faculty to attend through a random lottery that drew 7,100 entries.

FAU students will also be featured in prominent volunteer roles. Student government President Ayden Maher will lead the Pledge of Allegiance, while FAU sophomore Rebecca Guillaume will sing the National Anthem.

"I'm a little bit nervous, but I'm going to try to remember I've done this before," said Guillaume, who has sung at school baseball and basketball games. "It's really a blessing to FAU that he's coming."

Most classes will go on as scheduled Tuesday, with the exception for those in the arena, which will be moved, and Lifelong Learning Society classes, which will be rescheduled. Instructors are not required to give students excused absences.

FAU is posting parking and traffic information on its website, fau.edu.

"The only downside is that traffic is going to be a nightmare," Hartle said. "FAU will be able to demonstrate to the public that important things happen at Florida Atlantic University. It's a place where news gets made."

New poll has President Obama crushing Mitt Romney in the likability factor

As President Obama headed to Florida Tuesday to push for millionaires to pay more in taxes, a new poll showed him with an edge over Mitt Romney of greater than 2-to-1 when voters considered their personal traits.

But while the Washington Post-ABC News poll found the President to be far superior in terms of personal attributes, it also showed that the campaign’s central issue — the economy — is still very much a cause for concern for Obama.

When pollsters asked participants which of the two “seems like the more friendly and likable person,” Obama came out on top by the surprisingly high margin of 64% to 26%.

When questioned as to whether the Democratic president was more inspiring than his presumed GOP challenger, Obama prevailed 55% to 29%.

The poll of 1,103 people by telephone last week found Obama with a double-digit lead over the former Massachusetts governor in eight categories — including addressing women’s issues (53% to 44%); representing the middle class (49% to 39%); and confronting health care issues (48% to 38%).

The results supported the notion that Romney’s image has been hurt by the bruising GOP primary battle, Rick Santorum’s insurgent campaign and, perhaps most importantly, several of his own verbal slips that have allowed rivals to portray him as a tone-deaf, multi-millionaire who is out of touch with middle- and working-class voters.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the poll showed nothing the Romney campaign doesn’t already know.

“There’s something about Romney, I think the combination of wealth and his person, that just combines to make him a curiosity at times,” he said. “There is odd behavior there — when he walks into a room, there’s a reason why people are always talking about him as an automaton.”

In recent weeks, as the Romney campaign has increasingly pivoted toward the general election, it has seemingly gone on a blitz mode to make the buttoned-down former corporate turnaround artist appear more like a regular guy.

They have put more focus on his wife, Ann Romney, and the couple’s sons, all of whom come off as more appealing than the candidate himself.

“They’ve got to find ways to humanize him — bringing out [his\] grandchildren would be another way to do that,” Sabato said. “It’s hard to not be normal when you’re around little kids.”

But the polls findings on economic issues were encouraging for Team Romney.

The issue of job creation had Obama with a slight edge, 46% to 43%. But on the topic of handling the economy in general, Romney had the advantage, 47% to 43%. And perhaps his best number came in his approach to curbing the staggeringly high federal deficit, with Romney enjoying a 12-point cushion, at 51% to 38%.

On the biggest issue, however, the poll found that if the election were held today, Obama would win 51% to 44%.

Sabato, for one, believes the only way that disadvantage will turn in Romney’s favor would be if the economy nosedives — making the GOP challenger’s business cred a better selling point.

“That’s the only way Romney could win, but he’s never going to be better liked,” he said.

Sectarian killing: Hazara community seeks to make protest heard internationally

The Express Tribune

The Hazara Democratic Party (HDP) announced that the Hazara community will hold protest demonstrations outside the embassies of European, Asian countries, America, Australia and United Nations offices against targeted killings.
Chairman HDP Abdul Khaliq Hazara announced during a news conference on Tuesday that the protests will also be registered with International Human Rights Organisation to highlight the rampant targeted killings of the Hazara community in Quetta.
“This decade was really painful for the Hazara community during which hundreds of Hazara tribesmen were killed in incidents of targeted killings and suicide attacks,” he told reporters. Khaliq was accompanied by his party leaders among other activists.
Ironically there has been no progress in investigation nor any culprit brought to justice, Khaliq said adding that inaction on the part of government and its law enforcment agencies affirm the notion that they were patronising the culprits.
“Six labourers were brutally killed on the busy Prince Road on Monday night which shows the lawlessness and utter apathy of the government. I believe no religion allows such inhumane act.
“The Members of Provincial Assembly do not even have time to condemn these killings. The chief minister is running affairs of Balochistan from Islamabad which reflects his sincerity with the suffering people of his province have to bear,” he added.
The HDP announced that they will register their protest with the international community since the provincial and federal governments have failed to curb the unending targeted killings of the Hazara community and had given a free hand to criminals.
The HDP will stage protest demonstrations in front of embassies of Asian, European Countries, America, Australia and United Nations from April 20 to 30. The Hazara community residing abroad will also register their protest with International Human Rights Organisations.
The party also announced to stage a sit-in outside the Governor House and Chief Minister’s Secretariat and convene an All Parties Conference on April 15, inviting all political and nationalist parties to evolve a strategy on a future course of action.
“The province is on the brink of civil war; all the parties and responsible people have to show sincerity, otherwise the ongoing unrest will result in an unexpected crisis or a civil war,” the leaders of the Hazara community warned.

Pakistanis stage protest against Balochistan Shia killing

Pakistani people have staged massive street protests against the killing of Shia Muslims in the southwestern province of Balochistan, Press TV reports.

On Monday, gunmen riding a motorbike opened fire on a shoe store killing six Shia Muslims and injuring three others in the Hazara region of the provincial capital of Quetta.

Hundreds of people took to the streets across the province on Tuesday, shouting against the government for allowing the attackers to escape with impunity.

They also held the local administration responsible for backing the culprits who are engaged in killing Shias in the region.

Meanwhile, shops, markets and other educational institutions were closed in response to a call for a general strike in Balochistan over the killings.

Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani sacked six police officials for dereliction of duty and 17suspects were arrested in connection with the incident.

No group or individual has claimed responsibility for the Monday's attack in the region rife with attacks by extremist groups against Shias.

Shia Muslims have experienced a hike in attacks by pro-Taliban militant groups in various parts of Pakistan over the past years. Local sources say more than 2,000 Shia Muslims have been killed in the northwestern Kurram region close to the Afghan border since 2007.

Bahraini prisoner in very critical condition: Danish PM

A jailed activist who has been on hunger strike in a Bahrain prison for the last two months is now in a very critical condition, Denmark's prime minister said Tuesday.
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a Shiite with dual Danish and Bahraini nationality, was sentenced with other opposition activists to life in jail over an alleged plot to topple the Sunni monarchy during a month-long protest a year ago.
"Denmark demands thay Danish-Bahraini citizen and human rights activist Khawaja be freed," said Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt at a press conference.
"According to our information, Khawaja's condition is very critical," she added.
Kwawaja's lawyer Mohammed al-Jeshi told AFP on Monday that Khawaja was feared to have died, after Bahraini authorities turned down repeated requests to contact him.
The last time he contacted Khawaja was on Saturday, a day after he was moved from the interior ministry hospital into a military hospital in Manama, he said.
Reacting to his statement, Bahrain's interior ministry said later Monday that Khawaja was in "good health".
A Danish foreign ministry spokesman said Khawaja was alive on Monday according to "credible independent sources" who saw him that day.
Danish ambassador to Bahrain Christian Koenigsfeldt was not allowed to see the prisoner on Sunday or Monday, as he has done daily, the spokesman told AFP.
Denmark has asked Bahrain to send Khawaja to the Scandinavian country but Bahrain's official news agency BNA reported on Sunday that Manama has rejected the request.

Saudi activists fight through their fear

As the population is left simmering after the 'Arab Spring,' those challenging the kingdom wonder whether it will suppress them or let the phenomenon grow.

Mohammad Fahad Al-Qahtani is a busy man with a dangerous passion.

A human rights activist and relentless writer of letters and legal briefs, he challenges a kingdom that demands unquestioned authority. He slips videos onto the Internet and fires off missives to King Abdullah, calling for the freeing of political prisoners and the arrest of the king's half brother and heir apparent.

He smiles at such audaciousness at a time when Saudi authorities are trying to contain calls for change encouraged by Arab rebellions, but turns somber when pondering the consequences. Hours earlier, Al-Qahtani was interrogated by security forces, clicking off his cellphone beforehand and handing his car keys to his lawyer in case he was imprisoned.

When the questioning was over, he drove across a city where religious police ensure that women are hidden by veils and the foreboding monolith of the Interior Ministry rises at the desert's edge.

"They don't like this and they keep coming after us," said Al-Qahtani, with the air of a man accustomed to surveillance. "I'm afraid they'll raid my home. The regime is very nervous. Since the 'Arab Spring,' the population is no longer passive. So what can the ruling family do? Suppress us or let the phenomenon grow?"

Even in a kingdom where police often materialize before a protest placard can be raised or a cry of dissent can be shouted, the uprisings across the region have inspired rumblings of discontent. Minority Shiite Muslims have taken to the streets and thousands of female university students have demonstrated against poor services and discrimination. Disillusioned and angry over lack of opportunities, Saudis have posted gripes in the social media about corruption and civil rights abuses.

Much of the dissatisfaction emanates from a ballooning young population irate because a country with vast oil wealth can't provide livelihoods and affordable apartments. More than 25% of Saudis in their 20s are unemployed. Rising discontent over public corruption and ineptitude prompted the government last year to promise a $130-billion program to build affordable housing, create jobs and fund religious institutions.

"They can't buy their way out anymore and they're not willing to compromise," said Al-Qahtani, an economics professor and president of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Assn. "The problem is an aging leadership and a second generation that's really corrupt. The near future of this country is gloomy."

Saudi Arabia "is redoubling its efforts to punish those who dare to demand democracy and human rights reform," Human Rights Watch charges. The group said in its 2012 World Report that the kingdom has used "unflinching repression," including travel bans, arbitrary arrests and torture, to silence critics.

The Sunni Muslim royal family claims strict security is necessary to counter Al Qaeda and prevent Iran from instigating sectarian trouble. King Abdullah sent Saudi troops into neighboring Bahrain last year to help crush Shiite protests against that country's Sunni monarchy. Riyadh said Shiite-dominated Iran stirred those demonstrations and is plotting to ignite sectarian tensions near Saudi Arabia's eastern oil fields.

The king remains popular even as his attempts at reforms have been limited by a fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam that makes free expression dangerous. One writer may face the death penalty for tweeting an imagined conversation with the prophet Muhammad: "I will not bow to you. I won't kiss your hands."

Gradual steps toward wider freedoms, including the appointment of moderates to some government ministries, have done little to appease civil rights advocates. They predict increased hostility toward reform when the king, who is in his 80s, dies. He is expected to be replaced by his half brother Prince Nayif ibn Abdulaziz, an ally of hard-line clerics and head of the Interior Ministry and its security networks that swiftly suppress protests, arrest accused witches and anyone deviating from the harsh interpretations of the Koran.

Saudi women are increasingly restive; they are not allowed to drive and must have the permission of a male guardian to travel abroad. Loosening the driving ban has gained wider support, including from members of the royal family, but, like many things in the kingdom, it is enforced by religious clerics and police.

"Prison, lashings and Interior Ministry phone threats ... drove the women driving movement underground again," said the Saudiwoman's blog in February. "If you are a Saudi woman reading this, I urge you to join the Right to Dignity initiative."

The post states that women have other options, such as calling the traffic police, if joining the initiative "sounds too intimidating."

Intimidation secures the kingdom's equilibrium. In a recent interview, a newspaper editor complained about the regime's reach and power; the following day his office called to ask that his name not be mentioned for fear of reprisal.

Al-Qahtani has no such reservations. A former talk show host, he believes, on his good days, that a high profile offers a degree of protection.

"I tell the interrogators: 'I want you to send me to prison. I want to see what's happening inside,' " he said, adding that such publicity could increase international pressure. "If I went to jail it would raise awareness. The authorities don't want to do that. It might be too costly for them. Yet they have to do something. I really think they want to understand me. I have another interrogation tomorrow."

Unease over the kingdom's stability has seeped into the mechanism of power itself. Al-Qahtani's organization has taken on the case of army Capt. Ghazi Al-Harbi, who was released recently after spending seven years in prison on allegations by the Interior Ministry that he belonged to a cadre of officers plotting a mutiny.

Al-Harbi, who said he was targeted to offer up other names in a wider purge, sat recently in a reception hall on the outskirts of Riyadh celebrating his new freedom with family and clansmen. The men-only crowd ate dates, sipped tea and listened to verse read by a tribal poet.

"I had no access to the evidence against me. I was in jail five years before I saw a judge," he said. "They tied my hands behind my back and hanged me on a wall with my feet dangling. They beat me. They accused me loudly of being anti-Muslim and then they put me on a wing with Islamist extremists to incite them to kill me."

He added: "They wanted me to confess but I did nothing wrong. What they did to me will remain for the rest of my life. I trust no one now. When I went to jail, my daughter was 2. She's 9 now. My colleagues were all promoted to higher rank, but my career is ruined."

Al-Qahtani listened and whispered: "What a crazy country.... What a broken system."

Al-Harbi's case, like those of political prisoners, activists and students are cataloged by Al-Qahtani's civil rights organization, filed with Saudi courts and sent to the United Nations and international human rights groups. Occasionally, Al-Qahtani, who has degrees from U.S. universities, and members of his group stage hunger strikes and post Internet videos.

"The ultimate goal of the royal family is stability," he said. "But the dynamic is picking up. Who would have ever imagined protests by female university students? There is no sense of engagement by the regime. For them, it's either you have it all or you lose it all. They're afraid."

Al-Qahtani, who has four children, added: "I'm pushing for democracy in my country. I spend a lot of time with my children just in case [I go to jail]. I don't want to feel guilty. I tell them what I'm doing is the right thing to do and if it means prison, then that's the right cost. I think they understand."

Saudi Woman to Receive 50 Lashes for Swearing in Text Message

A Saudi court sentenced a local woman to 50 lashes for swearing at her friend, following an argument, a newspaper reported on Monday.

The two Saudi women, aged 33 and 31 years, had decided to go out with their children for a weekend night but differed on where to go.

“An argument ensued and the two women decided to split … one of them later sent a text to her friend’s mobile phone swearing at her,” the Arabic language quotidian Kabar reported.

“The other woman went to court and showed the judge the message … although that woman said she was joking, the court ordered her lashed 50 times.”

Kabar said the court has given the convicted and sentenced woman the right to appeal.

Afghan Carpet Exports Decrease 95% in Five Years


Transit problems with Pakistan and a lack of cooperation from the Afghan government have been key reasons for a 95 percent drop in exports of Afghan carpet

in the last five years, an Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) official said Tuesday.

ACCI Vice-Chairman Khanjan Alokozay said the lack of Afghanistan's processing facilities to efficiently produce carpets from the raw material had also contributed to the decrease.

He claimed that Pakistan was creating transit problems for Afghan carpet traders in an attempt to force them to produce the carpets inside Pakistan.

"Unfortunately, we don't have the necessary facilities inside the country and our neighbors are creating transit issues," Alokozay told TOLOnews. "The traders have no choice but to produce the carpets in Pakistan and export under Pakistan's name."

He warned of a complete destruction of the carpet industry if the problems were not seriously addressed.

Ministry of Commerce and Industries (MoCI) spokesman, Wahidullah Ghazi Khil, said he was unaware of any transit issues in this regard.

"If Pakistan, Iran, Russia or India are creating transit issues to the Afghan carpet traders, they [the traders] should contact us," Ghazi Khil said. "It is the duty of the Ministry of Commerce and Industries to solve such issues."

The ACCI has made three primary demands for the government to help the industry: establish a carpet industrial production park, subsidise business loans to carpet producers, and exempt carpet raw material from custom duties.

The MoCI says on its website that it is developing a marketing strategy to pitch Afghan carpets to overseas markets and will seek a premium for their "unique" character.

The carpet sector is of "strategic importance for the future development of the Afghan economy", it says, accounting for 47 % of the country´s export earnings in 2002/2003.

The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons Protest Demands Monthly Hearings of Missing Persons’ Case

The Baloch Hal News

The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP)

on Monday staged a protest demonstration outside the Quetta Press Club (QPC) demanding safe release of all the missing persons.

They also appealed to the Chief Justice of Pakistan to hold monthly hearings on the issue of missing persons in Quetta.

Women and children participated in the demonstration and chanted slogans against government for their failure to trace the missing persons.

Addressing the demonstration, sister of missing Shabir Somalani and daughter of Dr. Din Muhammad Baloch said, as many as 410 mutilated bodies of missing persons have so far been found in desolate places of Balochistan during the past one and half year while thousands were listed missing.

They said that they observed hunger strike camps outside the Karachi and Islamabad press clubs with the hope to draw the attention of concerned authorities and humanitarian organisations. However, their missing beloveds were yet to be released. “The government and judiciary should take notice of this serious humanitarian issue,” they demanded.

However, they welcomed the recovery of five missing persons, saying relatives of more than 1300 missing persons were ready to appear before the court and record their statements.

They strongly rejected the statement of Interior Minister Rehman Malik that the missing persons were living in Afghanistan and Dubai. “The recovery of five missing persons by Supreme Court is the prove that government and its functionaries are lying,” they said, and adding that the missing persons were in the custody of government agencies and they could be released if pressure were exerted on them.

They demanded of the humanitarian organizations to play their hectic role in recovering the missing persons before it was too late and their bodies were thrown away.

Shahbaz’s laptops are useless without ‘free internet’

The federal government, to match the Punjab government’s laptop distribution campaign, has decided to provide free internet connections to all the universities and colleges of the province.
Sources said that during high level meeting at Governor House, Lahore and chaired by President Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) provincial leaders complained of least employment to party activists and also apprised the president of the increasing credibility of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz among the youth due to laptop distribution among the students.
The president taking the notice of complaints suggested provision of free internet facility in universities and colleges of Punjab which was highly appreciated the party leaders.
The PPP leaders said that providing internet facility to universities and colleges would not only help the students to get benefit of modern technology, information and research but would also bring PPP credibility at par with the N-League among the youth which was noticed inclining towards the Punjab government for its laptop distribution campaign.
Leader of the opposition in Punjab Assembly, Raja Riaz, when approached in this regard, said that Wifi connections would be provided in universities and colleges so that students who possess laptops would also enjoy internet facility.
He said that the federal government was considering establishing computer labs in universities and colleges in second phase.

Ayesha Ahad moves court against Hamza Shahbaz

Ayesha Ahad Malik, daughter of former Punjab MPA Malik Ahad, on Tuesday filed an application against eight persons, including Hamza Shahbaz, son of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, in a session court over her alleged torture and death threats.
Aftab Bajwa, lawyer of Ayesha Ahad, filed the application in the session court Lahore.
In the application, it was stated that Hamza Shahbaz, Imran, and six other accused entered into the house of Ayesha Ahad and tortured her besides gave her death threats. The application pleaded to the court to issue orders to the police to register case against the accused. The court issued orders to the concerned police and sought reply till April 18.

Punjab Textbook fiasco

AS the Punjab government distributes some 125,000 commissioned laptops among qualified students, and another 300,000 are said to be in the pipelines, students in the province face a shortage of textbooks, the provision of which has reportedly hit many snags. While the government is at pains to explain that the laptops’ distribution is a trans-parent affair, no such explanation is offered regarding the commissioning, printing and distribution of the more basic provision of textbooks. The result is that hundreds of thousands of students fear having to go through the academic year without the prescribed books. The Punjab Textbook Board reportedly awarded the printing contracts to a number of publishers in a deal that many allege is questionable citing the lack of capacity of the publishers concerned. Also, there reportedly is confusion as to the currency of the syllabi at various levels over which the chief minister is said to have fired the head of the textbook board; however, the real concern, the non-availability of textbooks, seems to have not got the attention it deserves.

The fiasco leads one to question the priorities of the Punjab government. What should come first, it must be asked, the provision of textbooks or the laptops? It is true that computer literacy centres have been set up in a large number of public schools across Punjab, but the drive to further IT education should not come at the cost of neglecting the provision of basic education of which textbooks are an indispensable tool. The shortage of books in the market has thrown open a number of questions. For instance, a report in this newspaper on Monday expressed pessimism about the ability and the intention of private-sector publishers given the contracts to print the books. The deal does not seem to be very transparent as many publishers are said to be reluctant to print the number of copies assigned to them in order to bag more profit. Consequently, the shortage remains at many levels. While this calls for an investigation into the said deal, urgent efforts must be made to make the prescribed books available to students.

ANP lost 750 workers, leaders in fight against terror


The Awami National Party (ANP) has lost more than 750 leaders and workers in its fight against militancy over the last four years, a spokesman for the nationalist party said on Sunday.

Talking to The News, Malik Mustafa said the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would always remember the struggle and sacrifices of his party for peace. “They would vote for the ANP candidates in the next general election to take the struggle to its logical conclusion,” he said.

He said the ANP struggled relentlessly to protect Pakistan’s sovereignty and counter militancy. He said militants would have swarmed the whole country and destabilised it if the ANP had not offered sacrifices,” Malik Mustafa added.

He criticised the religio-political parties for not speaking out against militancy. “The religious parties have never condemned those attacking mosques, schools, funerals and military installations. They also have dual standards as during the MMA’s five-year rule they never opposed the supplies destined for the Afghanistan-based Nato forces,” he argued.

“The people should think whether they would vote for those supporting militancy or the ANP that stand like a rock against the militants,” he stated.

Enumerating the achievements of the ANP-led government, Malik Mustafa listed restoration of peace in Swat and the rest of the province as its biggest achievement of the ANP. “Renaming the province, winning provincial autonomy under the 18th Amendment and getting the net hydel profits were some other ANP achievements,” he added.

Should we put Pakistan at stake for Hafiz Saeed?


BY:Fayyazi Sarwari

Saeed led the funeral prayers for Osama bin Laden. He cried while he read the prayers for the world’s most wanted terrorist and called him a “martyr” and a “fellow Muslim brother”

There are many fellow travellers I am not proud of sharing my green Pakistani passport with but I am particularly not proud of sharing this passport with Hafiz Saeed. His organisation is a declared terrorist outfit by the United Nations Security Council. He is a source of embarrassment to every Pakistani who wants to see Pakistan’s economy thrive and who prays for reclamation by this country of its rightful place in the international community. Who would want to do business with a country where a renowned hatemonger is given state shelter?

Even more disturbing is that the Pakistan government does not agree with the charge and continues to support and protect Saeed’s movements in the country, where he holds rallies under the Difa-e-Pakistan Council umbrella and preaches hatred for fellow Pakistanis who disagree with his totalitarian vision of a theocracy.

Born in 1950, Saeed is the head of the Jama’at-ud-Da’wah (JuD), a charity organisation that is considered a front for Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), which is as stated above a banned outfit. The bounty politics and the diplomatic maneouvring by the Indian lobby in the US are of no consequence to me as a Pakistani. Here is what I know: time and again, the LeT and JuD have taken to the streets. In response to the caricature controversy in Denmark, this organisation systematically burnt down a great part of the Mall Road, Lahore. Last month, the JuD is said to have spearheaded a movement to ban the right to worship of a peaceful community in Rawalpindi. Is there no accountability for acts of terror aimed at citizens of this country let alone violence aimed at other nations?

Saeed’s hate speeches at mass rallies, which have gained prominence, include inciting violence against the “enemies of Pakistan”, even though on a television show on Geo TV, he has denied that he supports terrorism. His popularity has grown since the US announced a bounty of $ 10 million on his head. He is being hailed as a defiant hero instead of being held accountable for what he did.

The bounty was a long time coming. The statements against Saeed had been mounting. Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and adviser to Barack Obama on Afghanistan and Pakistan in an interview to the Daily Telegraph said that the evidence showed that Osama bin Laden played a key role in planning the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people died, including four Americans. There is also proof that both Hafiz Saeed and Osama bin Laden communicated through a courier until bin Laden died.

Saeed does not shy away from this association. It was he who led the funeral prayers for Osama bin Laden after the Americans eliminated him in a strike in Abbottabad on May 4, 2011, to the embarrassment of the ISI. He cried while he read the prayers for the world’s most wanted terrorist and called him a “martyr” and a “fellow Muslim brother”.

Meanwhile Saeed mocks the bounty, clearly emboldened by the Pakistan government’s appeasement of the ISI that supports him. “I am here, I am visible. America should give that reward money to me,” he added, “I will be in Lahore tomorrow. America can contact me whenever it wants to.”

The problem is not just that Saeed continues to spread ideology advocating terrorism despite the bounty, but that the government thinks he is important enough to take a stand for, against both the US and India. This is the same government that backed off after the murder of Salmaan Taseer, and rather than crack down on the Blasphemy law, it let flowers be garlanded on the murderer. This constant soft peddling runs the risk of Pakistan being perceived as a nation that has no capacity to act on its own. In this case, it may again be shamed if the US undertakes a unilateral strike against Saeed as it did for Osama.

The phrase ‘due process’ has been thrown around quite a bit. This is quite ironic. Our courts, which have repeatedly trampled on due process rights of its citizens, are willing to use this principle to defend someone who openly advocates violence and terrorism. Our selective application of legal principles has a Machiavellian tone to it. This country, which has hauled up dissidents and patriots alike for far lesser a slight, is incapable of jailing Saeed because of due process. The whole idea is a joke.

By deliberately sending the world a message that someone so clearly connected to violence in a very direct and deliberate manner, running a group on the fringe, has more freedom in this country than a normal citizen is not very dignified.

We do not need Hafiz Saeed with his dubious background to be the one to champion the cause of the rights of the Kashmiris, or the drone attacks — we have our politicians for that. By not sending a ‘we are on the same page’ message to the US on this one, the government is fueling the right wing sentiments in Pakistan that view Saeed as a religious scholar and not a terrorist. The state radio refers to him as “Professor Hafiz Saeed”.

We also threaten the gradual progress, especially on trade, made with India, when we fail to carry out a joint investigation into the allegations against Saeed. His recent vitriolic remarks against India came at a time when President Zardari was due to visit India for a personal trip. This visit would help in thawing the diplomatic channels given that the Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, is travelling with him and that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is to hold a lunch in the visiting delegation’s honour.

The bounty on Saeed’s head is a direct result of Pakistan’s inaction; it can now either enter wholeheartedly into a world of international isolation and defy cooperation on this issue, or act like a responsible country and work effectively to put Saeed behind bars.

The types of Hafiz Saeed are not good for Pakistan’s image, for its economy and consequently for the poor people of this country. How long are you going to feed them a diet of misplaced zeal, misguided sense of honour and a sheer misreading of the events of our time? Tell them the truth. Let them figure out if they really want the dystopia that people like Hafiz Saeed want it to be or whether they stand for something different. My bet is on the latter.

The writer is a technology and media professional and a freelance writer based in Lahore. She can be reached at aisha.f.sarwari@gmail.com