Thursday, May 10, 2012

Drop in jobless claims eases labor market fears

The number of Americans submitting new applications for jobless benefits edged down last week, easing concerns the labor market was deteriorating after surprisingly weak employment growth in April. Another report on Thursday showed the U.S. trade deficit widened in March, with exports surging to a record high and a rise in imports highlighting the economy's firming underlying demand. Together, the reports indicated the economy remains on a moderate growth path, despite the softer jobs growth and signs the service sector slowed in April. "The slowdown we have seen in economic activity and employment growth during in the past two months may be in the rear view mirror," said Millan Mulraine, senior macro strategist at TD Securities in New York. New claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 1,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 367,000, the Labor Department said. Economists who had expected claims to rise to 369,000 said the decline suggested seasonal distortions that had led to a spike in applications last month was probably over. The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends, fell 5,250 to 379,000. Separately, the trade gap widened 14.1 percent to $51.8 billion in March, the biggest jump in nearly a year, as a surge in imports swamped a rise in exports, which hit a record high. Imports grew 5.2 percent, the biggest gain since January. That jump was consistent with a rise in consumer spending seen during the first quarter. Exports had another good month, rising 2.9 percent, suggesting the global economy had not slowed as much as people had feared. "With imports for everything surging, it is hard to argue that the economy is softening," said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania. While a widening trade deficit is a drag on gross domestic product, the details of the trade report were broadly in line with the government's assumptions when it made its first GDP estimate last month. Still, the government's gauge of first-quarter GDP growth is expected to be lowered to an annual pace of about 1.9 percent from 2.2 percent because of a smaller-than-expected rise in wholesale inventories in March reported on Wednesday. LABOR MARKET IMPROVING The claims data and bargain-hunting after a weak stretch lifted U.S. stocks. Treasury debt prices fell, losing some of their safe-haven appeal. The dollar was little changed against a basket of currencies. Following on the heels of April's sluggish employment gains, the claims data calmed fears the labor market was stagnating. Companies added a meager 115,000 new jobs to their payrolls in April, the fewest in six months, the government said on Friday. Most economists have viewed the pull-back in job creation as payback for stronger activity during the unusually warm winter and believe the underlying pace of payrolls growth is around 175,000 a month - its average for the past three months. Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida, said the jobless claims figures had "simmered down after the noises we had earlier." "This shows we have moderate job growth. They're consistent with monthly job payroll growing at 150,000 to 180,000," he said. Other data showed no sign of inflation pressures, with retreating crude oil prices pushing down the cost of imported goods in April by the most in 10 months. That should help to lower the cost of living for many households and support economic growth. "With external demand, particularly in Europe and oil prices having eased ... import price pressures are likely to remain subdued in the coming months," said Peter Newland, an economist at Barclays in New York.

How Pakistan Lets Terrorism Fester

ON the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death last week, Pakistan was the only Muslim country in which hundreds of demonstrators gathered to show solidarity with the dead terrorist figurehead. Yet rather than asking tough questions about how Bin Laden had managed to live unmolested in Pakistan for years, the Pakistani Supreme Court instead chose to punish the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, by charging him with contempt for failing to carry out the court’s own partisan agenda — in this case, pressuring the Swiss government to reopen a decades-old corruption investigation of President Asif Ali Zardari. (Never mind that Swiss officials say they are unlikely to revisit the charges.) In handing down the decision, one justice chose to paraphrase the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran. He held forth in a long appeal to religious-nationalist sentiment that began with the line, “Pity the nation that achieves nationhood in the name of a religion but pays little heed to truth, righteousness and accountability, which are the essence of every religion.” That a Supreme Court justice would cite poetry instead of law while sentencing an elected leader on questionable charges reflects Pakistan’s deep state of denial about its true national priorities at a time when the country is threatened by religious extremism and terrorism. Today, Pakistan is polarized between those who envision a modern, pluralist country and those who condone violence against minorities and terrorism in the name of Islam. Many are caught in the middle; they support the pluralist vision but dislike the politicians espousing it. Meanwhile, an elephant in the room remains. We still don’t know who enabled Bin Laden to live freely in Pakistan. Documents found on computers in his compound offer no direct evidence of support from Pakistan’s government, army or intelligence services. But even if Bin Laden relied on a private support network, our courts should be focused on identifying, arresting and prosecuting the individuals who helped him. Unfortunately, their priorities seem to lie elsewhere. In Pakistan, most of the debate about Bin Laden has centered on how and why America violated Pakistan’s sovereignty by unilaterally carrying out an operation to kill him. There has been little discussion about whether the presence of the world’s most-wanted terrorist in a garrison town filled with army officers was itself a threat to the sovereignty and security of Pakistan. Pakistanis are right to see themselves as victims of terrorism and to be offended by American unilateralism in dealing with it. Last year alone, 4,447 people were killed in 476 major terrorist attacks. Over the last decade, thousands of soldiers and law enforcement officers have died fighting terrorists — both homegrown, and those inspired by Al Qaeda’s nihilist ideology. But if anything, the reaction should be to gear up and fight jihadist ideology and those who perpetrate terrorist acts in its name; they remain the gravest threat to Pakistan’s stability. Instead, our national discourse has been hijacked by those seeking to deflect attention from militant Islamic extremism. The national mind-set that condones this sort of extremism was cultivated and encouraged under the military dictatorships of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq from 1977 to 1988 and Gen. Pervez Musharraf from 1999 to 2008. A whole generation of Pakistanis has grown up with textbooks that conflate Pakistani nationalism with Islamist exclusivism. Anti-Western sentiment and a sense of collective victimhood were cultivated as a substitute for serious debate on social or economic policy. Militant groups were given free rein, originally with American support, to resist the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and later became an instrument of Pakistani regional influence there and in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Pakistan’s return to democracy, after the elections of 2008, offered hope. But the elected government has since been hobbled by domestic political infighting and judicial activism on every issue except extremism and terrorism. Before Mr. Musharraf was ousted, a populist lawyers’ movement successfully challenged his firing of Supreme Court justices. The lawyers’ willingness to confront Mr. Musharraf in his last days raised hopes of a new era. But over the last four years, the Court has spent most of its energy trying to dislodge the government by insisting on reopening cases of alleged corruption from the 1990s. During the same period, no significant terrorist leader has been convicted, and many have been set free by judges who overtly sympathize with their ideology. This has happened because the lawyers’ movement split into two factions after Mr. Musharraf’s fall: those emphasizing the rule of law and those seeking to use the judiciary as a rival to elected leaders. Asma Jahangir, who helped lead the lawyers’ movement, has become a critic of the courts, accusing them of overstepping their constitutional mandate and falling under the influence of the security establishment. And Aitzaz Ahsan, who represented the Supreme Court’s chief justice during the lawyers’ showdown with Mr. Musharraf, is now Prime Minister Gilani’s lawyer in the contempt-of-court case — a clear indication of the political realignment that has taken place. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s raucous media, whose hard-won freedom is crucial for the success of democracy, has done little to help generate support for eliminating extremism and fighting terrorism. The Supreme Court, conservative opposition parties and the news media insist that confronting alleged incompetence and corruption in the current government is more important than turning Pakistan away from Islamist radicalism. While fighting Pakistan’s endemic corruption is vital, the media and judiciary have helped redirect attention away from the threat of jihadist ideology by constantly targeting the governing party — a convenient situation for the intelligence services, which would prefer to keep the spotlight on the civilian government rather than on the militant groups they have historically supported. Convicting the dozens of terrorists released by Pakistani courts should be a greater priority for the country’s judiciary than scoring points against the elected executive branch. And the Pakistani media should be more focused on asking why those deemed terrorists internationally are celebrated as heroes at home. Until their priorities shift, the empty pronouncements of our leaders against terrorism and the sacrifices of our soldiers in battle with militants will not suffice to change the nation’s course.

Zardari takes notice of power outages, a little too late

An emergency meeting on the prevalent power shortage and energy crisis in the country was held late on Thursday at the Presidency, with President Asif Ali Zardari taking to task Water and Power Minister Naveed Qamar for failing to resolve the seemingly uncontrollable issue. Others present in the meeting were Minister for Petroleum Dr Asim Hussain, federal secretaries for Water & Power, finance and petroleum ministries, PEPCO MD Rasool Khan Mehsood, SNGPL MD Arif Hameed, SSGCL MD Azeem Iqbal Siddiqui and former APTMA Chairman Gohar Ejaz. At the start of the meeting, the president expressed displeasure over the increasing incidents of unscheduled load shedding in various parts of the country that was resulting in great inconvenience to the people. He said that this situation was intolerable and had to be addressed satisfactorily by all state functionaries. A source told Pakistan Today that the president was so furious that as the meeting started he immediately admonished Naveed Qamar and said the chaotic situation could turn ugly anytime and things might go out of hands of everyone as they were inciting public wrath. "He also reminded the meeting that the opposition parties would take advantage of the situation," the source added. Qamar briefed the meeting about Thursday’s incident that resulted in massive power failure across the country. Petroleum Minister Dr Asim Hussain gave a briefing on the supply of furnace oil and gas to the power plants. He said the supply of oil and gas has been ensured which would result in stabilizing power generation by Friday morning. The meeting was informed that TFCs of Rs 82 billion would be floated after the approval of ECC next week for meeting the circular debt liability and further stabilizing power generation. The president said there was a great need for coordination at all levels and directed all federal government functionaries dealing with oil and gas and power to remain in Islamabad during the next week to meet regularly for monitoring the situation. The president also directed that he be kept informed on a daily basis about the power situation by the functionaries concerned. Zardari also directed that effective measures must be taken for eliminating unscheduled load shedding and suggested that a central control room be set up in the Ministry of Water and Power for the purpose, if necessary.

Sharifs misleading the masses

Sindh Information Minister Shazia Marri on Thursday said PML-N leaders were misleading the nation.In a press conference at Sindh Secretariat, she alleged that Nawaz Sharif had always tried to come into power from back doors and with the support of un-democratic forces. Once again he has started various tactics to derail democracy which the country now has, after a long struggle and sacrifices. She criticised Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif, and other central leaders of PML-N for their negative statements and comments for the elected PPP-led Government which enjoyed a heavy mandate from all over the country. Shazia Marri also criticised Mumtaz Bhutto for his shift in politics, from Sindhi nationalist to politics of federation.“He has betrayed the people of Sindh for whom he had given nationalist slogans for at least the last three decades,” she remarked. She referred to his (Mumtaz) different statements in the past, where on record he had been very critical of Nawaz Sharif and his party. The Sindh Information Minister said that hundreds of thousands people will participate in a PPP public meeting at Kamoon Shaheed, at Sindh-Punjab border, scheduled for 12th of this month.“This meeting will be a strong warning for those elements who have launched a campaign to harm the democracy,” she said. She said that arrangements for this programme were almost final. Shazia Marri said that Kamoon Shaheed is the place where Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto once held a sit-in to protest against construction of Kalabagh dam. She said that Pakistan People’s Party does not believe in ruling the country but has devoted itself for democracy, upholding the supremacy of the constitution and the Parliament, safeguarding the rights of the people and the rule of law in the country. Shazia said Nawaz Sharif should apologise people of Sindh as he was the first political leader who started politics on the basis of nationalism.

Bahraini protesters demand release of women

Bahraini opposition activists said they blocked roads with burning tyres yesterday to demand the release of women prisoners, many of them locked up during more than a year of protests against the kingdom’s rulers. Bahrain’s interior ministry blamed “vandals” for the road blockages, which stopped traffic in the capital Manama. “Legal measures were taken and the situation was returned to normal,” the ministry said. The government this week announced stiffer measures against illegal protests, but demonstrations have continued. Activists from the “February 14 Youth Coalition” – a group opposed to the monarchy – posted videos online showing masked youths placing tyres in several areas of Manama and setting them alight. A statement published with the video said they were calling for “the immediate release of women prisoners in the regime’s prisons”. Zainab al-Khawaja, daughter of a jailed protest leader who is on hunger strike, was detained as she tried to protest on a highway during Bahrain’s Formula One grand prix last month, activists said. Three other women were arrested two weeks ago after staging a protest outside a prison for the release of Ms al-Khawaja’s father, campaigners said. Opposition party Wefaq said at least 700 people were in jail pending trial or serving terms. The police have not given a figure for those held. Bahrain has been in turmoil since pro-democracy protests erupted last year. The ruling monarchy has rejected calls for an elected government and parliament with full legislative powers, dubbing the opposition “lackeys of Iran”. Leading activist Nabeel Rajab was arrested last week for questioning over accusations he was using Twitter to incite riots. He has been charged for organising illegal protests. “Rajab is a prisoner of conscience being held solely for expressing his views,” Amnesty International said. The government also warned clerics not to incite protests or insult state institutions, widely taken as a threat against leading cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim. The government prevented Wefaq staging a march in Manama on Wednesday. The US, whose fifth fleet is based in Manama, has been muted in its criticism of Bahrain since the uprising began. It has called for restraint from both the opposition and the government. Crown prince Salman thanked US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in Washington on Wednesday for US support during the crisis, state news agency BNA said.

'Saudi clerics use social media to spread hate'

Saudi clerics have toned down calls for violence in the decade since the September 11 attacks, according to a new report on social media in the kingdom, but still regularly use web technology to disseminate religious rulings hostile to women, non-Muslims and the West. The report, titled “Facebook Fatwa,” examined some 40,000 online postings written by or about Saudi religious figures. The study, conducted over six months around the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, was released this week by the US-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Working in conjunction with the technology company ConStrat, authors Jonathan Schanzer and Steven Miller examined some 40,000 online entries from Arabic and English web forums and social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter. The findings show a relative improvement in Riyadh’s willingness to clamp down on religious extremism, but also the alarming persistence of deeply conservative, intolerant views aired by both state-sponsored and unsanctioned clerics. “Of the information we pulled for this study, we found only 5 percent were outwardly calling for violence. The jihadi factor is down, and that’s good news,” Schanzer told The Jerusalem Post. “The bad news is that 75% of them [in Arabic] were xenophobic, misogynist and intolerant of other religions and minorities.” English-language entries were generally less antagonistic, with about half of all postings airing views categorized as conservative or radical. The authors classified a conservative opinion as one advocating rigidity on socioeconomic matters, reluctance to adapt to modernity, associating only with other Muslims or strict interpretation of Islamic law and texts. Opinions deemed radical are those that express disdain for non- Muslims, demands disassociation of believers from “unbelievers” and sanctions “treachery” in dealing with anyone not deemed to be a proper Muslim. “No one has ever done anything like this, collecting social media data from Saudi Arabia,” Schanzer said. “This is one of the few open windows into the kingdom, which is an incredibly closed-off society.” Fifteen Saudis were among 19 hijackers on 9/11 , and following the attacks Riyadh came under fierce criticism from Western allies – foremost the US – for its decades-long promotion of extremist Wahhabi Islam at home and abroad. In the years immediately following the attacks the kingdom itself became a frequent target of terrorists – led by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula – and Saudi authorities began to clamp down on homegrown extremism in earnest. Saudi Arabia houses Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in Islam, and clerical rulings emanating from the kingdom resonate with believers across the Islamic world. “Saudi Arabia’s success in reducing militant online content is a positive sign that the Saudi government can, when sufficiently motivated, temper the radicalism that percolates in the kingdom,” the report said. “This is also a sign that when the US properly applies pressure, it can have a noticeable impact,” it added. “However, the kingdom’s recent attempts to convince the West that it is promoting ‘religious tolerance’ and embracing change do not resonate with the content mined during this study.” An example of “intolerance” is Muhammad al-Arefe. One of Saudi Arabia’s most popular clerics, with over a million followers on Twitter and 855,000 on Facebook. As late as 2010 – several years into the Saudis’ campaign to rein in what they called “deviant” ideologies – Arefe issued a fatwa endorsing violence against non-Muslims. “Devotion to jihad for the sake of Allah, and the desire to shed blood, to smash skulls, and to sever limbs for the sake of Allah and in defense of His religion, is, undoubtedly, an honor for the believer,” he said in a YouTube clip. “Allah said that if a man fights the infidels, the infidels will be unable to prepare to fight.” Arefe is a member of the Wahhabi juridical establishment, but is not officially sanctioned by the Saudi regime. Still, the report found state-sponsored clerics regularly incited followers against non-Muslims and the West. Abdul Rahman al-Sudais is another such example. The regime-sponsored imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, has condemned mystical Sufi Muslims as apostates, vilified Christians and Hindus and in a 2002 sermon referred to Jews as “monkeys and pigs.” Even Salman al-Odah, a state-sanctioned cleric often described in Western media as a moderate, wrote in a 2010 online fatwa, or religious ruling, that jihad is a duty incumbent on all Muslims. “Jihad means fighting the infidels and the like – this is the duty of the people of the country that has been dominated or occupied by the infidels. The rest of the Muslims must assist and support them,” he wrote on the forum Islam Today, where the post is still available. In a well-publicized ruling last year, the unsanctioned cleric Awad al-Qarni went as far as to offer a $100,000 reward on his Facebook page to anyone who could kidnap an Israeli soldier as a bargaining chip for future prisoner exchanges with the Palestinians. Prince Khaled bin Talal, a royal family member and brother of the billionaire tycoon Al-Waleed bin Talal, soon raised the prize to $1 million. “While the Saudi clerics almost universally condemn al-Qaida and what they define as ‘terrorism,’ they still support ‘legitimate’ jihad,” Schanzer and Miller wrote in the report. “They still view Western culture with disdain, exhibit a lack of respect for women’s rights, and speak with open hostility about minorities, other religions and non-Wahhabi Muslims,” the report continued. “Though the government repeatedly pledges to remove ‘intolerant’ content from the country’s textbooks, passages remain that speak about fighting the Jews to bring about the hour of judgment, describe women as weak and irresponsible, and call for homosexuals to be put to death because they pose a danger to society.” Schanzer told the Post the problem of incitement remains serious in Saudi Arabia, even if outward calls for violence are increasingly rare. “They’re now stopping short of that, but still promoting intolerance,” Schanzer said. “And this doesn’t even touch on what they’re teaching in schools and preaching in mosques – this is just an online snapshot, and it’s disconcerting as it is.”

Minerals in FATA

Shahid Ahmed Afridi
Sending an sneering message to President Barack Obama, Congressman Walter Jones has criticized a deal between the Afghan government and China's National Petroleum Corp that allows China to be the first foreign country to access Afghanistan's oil and natural gas reserves in Sari Pul and Faryab, an area known as Amu Darya River Basin. Flurry of action is on to grapple the natural resources of the entire region. A large natural reservoir has been identified not only in Afghanistan but in the FATA region as well. In the past, ungoverned space of the FATA provided the bases for all types of illegal businesses, including drugs and weapons smuggling. Mild alteration of the old erroneous policy of FATA management is in motion but we are still slow on getting our act together. FATA's evolving socio-economic landscape needs deliberate overview and rumination. The geological surveys of 85 per cent of the tribal belt have revealed immense prospects of mineral exploration. So far, 19 different minerals' deposits have been identified in tribal areas which include; copper, manganese, chromites, iron ore, lead, barite, soapstone, coal, gypsum, limestone, marble, dolomite, feldspar, quartz, silica san, bentonite, marl, emerald and graphite. Mohmand Agency has the largest deposits of marble followed by the adjacent Bajaur Agency. More coal mines are likely to be found in Orakzai Agency, FR Kohat and FR Peshawar region. Only in Shinkai (North Waziristan), an estimated 27,000 million tones of copper reserves exist. If this industry is given proper government attention and the projects designed are properly implemented, they can provide job opportunities to several thousands of individual living here. To streamline the mineral business activity and to develop this industry on the modern lines "The Mineral Development and Trading Organization" is suggested to be formed. There are positive signs of large amount of chromites in NWA. Saidgai, Gharmalai, Dosalli and Mohmad Khan Khel areas have been identified as hotbeds of chromites. A plan has been mapped out to establish Mineral Trading Yard (MTY) at Bannu, machinery pool at Miran Shah; and Ore testing laboratory in Bannu. After consultation with Fata secretariat, there is a plan to purchase 200 acres of land for the purpose. The potential of mineral sector could be better exploited if mineral based industries are set up there. Moreover, without involving the private sector, appropriate technology cannot be made available for exploration and development of minerals. Due to lack of technical know-how tribesmen have been using outmoded methods of mineral extraction. Surface mining with hand tools is resorted to, which is primitive and results in lot of wastage. Mine workers are untrained, work under no safety facilities and have no or very limited machinery like excavator and drills machines. Most of the mines are not connected with roads and tracks, even in the areas where roads/tracks exist; it still needs link tracks up to the mine location. With no revenue department; the agency does not have any land ownership record. Resultantly, a lease is obtained and is used at numerous places with collective ownership. This also results in frequent disputes between tribes and sub-tribes over the mines ownership issue. In many areas crude forms of explosive are used in a non-technical way resulting in loss of large quantities of minerals besides eroding their value. There is a need to improve the productivity of mines and quality of the human resource through intensive trainings specially for blasting and use of modern methods. Establishment of mineral community welfare centre should be established in every agency and FR. However, with its meagre resources, the government cannot allocate the required funds for mineral exploration and development. If there is semblance of hope that life may get better in FATA, it is through the setting of mineral sector and the trade routes to central Asia, Eastern Europe and Russian federation. Let's get away with the concept of close door FATA instead invite the foreigners to explore the minerals, Chinese can be tempted to step in. Can we render fool proof security? Will foreign presence in FATA jeopardize Pakistan's security? Questions arise. Nonetheless, one thing is clear; the creeping prosperity in region would incite tribesmen to hold the pen instead of gun.

George Clooney's Obama Fundraiser Could make $15 Million

Who's the problem: People or politicians?

By Ravi Agrawal, CNN
The winners of last Sunday’s elections in Greece and Franc
e would do well to consider “Juncker’s Curse.” It’s named after the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker,
who famously quipped: “We all know what to do. But we don’t know how to get reelected once we've done it.” Juncker would know. He’s the longest serving democratically elected head of state in the world. But it raises an interesting, philosophical question. Is populism our greatest obstacle to growth and success? Are world leaders really just sitting on solutions to all our problems – but they can’t implement them because of us? In other words, are people the problem, and not politicians? A few recent events make one wonder. Exhibit A: Nigeria, the world’s 8th largest exporter of crude oil. Until the end of 2011, gasoline prices in Nigeria averaged $1.70 a gallon – less than half the U.S. average, and nearly a third of prices in India and China. But cheap oil came at a heavy price: Nigeria was spending $8 billion a year to subsidize gasoline – 4% of GDP. Rolling back those subsidies would give the government funds to build refineries; those new refineries would in turn make Nigeria a more effective exporter of refined crude, generating far more wealth. The International Monetary Fund – as well as many other economists – all agreed that cutting subsidies would be a vital first step towards fixing Nigeria’s finances. So Lagos boldly decided to double prices. Suddenly, on January 1, 2012, a gallon of gasoline was worth $3.50. Riots ensued. But President Goodluck Jonathan vowed to stand firm – after all, this was a decision that was good for the people, right? It took sixteen days to cave. The government dropped prices much of the way back down, to $2.27 a gallon. It seems Jonathan backtracked in time. A Gallup poll from April shows he has an 81% approval rating. If there is a moral, it is this: You can break promises you never meant to keep; but never, ever take away a gift you’ve already given. The story isn’t new. Jordan’s government reversed similar cuts last year in the face of protests. In Venezuela, if gasoline costs $0.18 a gallon – less than bottled water – it’s not because President Hugo Chavez likes being generous. The last time a leader there tried to raise prices, in 1989, all hell broke loose. Hundreds died in riots. In India last year, a proposal to allow Walmart to enter the country was met with mass strikes – despite the fact that economists agreed it would revolutionize the market and increase supply-chain efficiency. One could go on. For all of these countries, subsidies or nationalist policies can be a populist, short-term crutch. They tend to skew markets and hold back investment in infrastructure and wide-scale development. I put that to Ken Rogoff, a Harvard economics professor who was once chief economist at the IMF. He says that almost everywhere, people want the government to deliver more while paying less. “The problem isn’t nearly as much the politicians as the voters. Every poll you look at shows the public has huge expectations of what the government can do for them. And it’s just not possible.” So is Juncker right? There is a flipside, as Rogoff himself pointed out to me. The issue isn’t just economics – it’s trust. Just ask the Nigerians. Transparency International ranks the country #143 in the world on corruption. No surprise then, that the rioters weren't convinced oil money would end up in the right hands. The deficit of trust isn’t limited to countries perceived to have high levels of corruption. Let’s go back to Greece and France’s elections last Sunday. Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman diagnosed it as a vote against policies – against austerity. “Europe’s voters,” he wrote in the New York Times, “are wiser than the continent’s best and brightest.” So maybe the people do know what’s best for them? The most heartening thing I heard this week came from an eastern neighbor of France and Greece. The Czech Republic’s Foreign Minister was lamenting the mood of anti-incumbency around the world. “The next elections are lost anyway,” said Karel Schwarzenberg to the Financial Times. “I should be astonished if we won. And in that case, if you can’t keep power, you should do what you promised to do.” Now there’s something both the people and the powerful won’t disagree on.

Afghan girls' schools shut down, Taliban blamed

Headmaster Abdul Rahman was heading to work when a man he believes was a member of the Taliban accosted him and warned him to shut his high school in eastern Afghanistan or face the consequences.
Rahman agreed and his school, which teaches girls and boys, became one of more than 100 mixed or girls' schools that have closed in Ghazni province in recent weeks, in what the Ministry of Education says is a Taliban campaign against educating girls. Rahman has since re-opened his school, just south of provincial capital Ghazni, but is having difficulty in persuading students to return. "We now have to prove to families that nothing bad will happen to their children," Rahman told Reuters at the one-storey, bright yellow school building, built three years ago by foreign troops. Afghan girls were banned from receiving an education and women were not allowed to work or vote under the five-year rule of the hardline Islamist Taliban. Since the group was toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001, women have won back those rights. But the situation remains precarious and the future uncertain as the Afghan government and U.S. officials try to negotiate with the Taliban for a peaceful settlement to the end of the increasingly unpopular war, which just entered its 11th year. The Ministry of Education says 550 schools in 11 provinces where the Taliban enjoy popular support have been shut recently. "Most of these are girls' schools and it is obvious that the Taliban are responsible for the threats against them," ministry spokesman Amanullah Iman said. The Taliban denied involvement. Earlier this week unknown attackers burned down a large girls' school in Khogiani district in Nangarhar province, on the border with Pakistan. Five more girls' schools in that district have since shut, said regional education spokesman Asif Shinwari. Also this week, a roadside bomb in eastern Paktika province targeted the vehicle of five education department workers but missed. They were later gunned down in a firefight, local officials said. HARDLINE IDEOLOGIES In southern Helmand province, a bastion of the Taliban, education official Mohammad Sarhadi said they have managed to reopen only 100 of the 170 that were forced to shut in recent months. President Hamid Karzai, who has taken to calling the Taliban "brothers" in recent speeches, urged the group to stop their campaign against education. "I call on the Taliban elders to avoid this and let our children get educated," he said in a radio address last week. The Taliban blamed the government for the schools' closure. "The enemy is stirring propaganda against us," spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. Mujahid said the Taliban deemed education "a necessity", and added that their children attended schools in rural areas. Senior Afghan peace negotiators say the Taliban are willing to soften their hardline ideologies in an attempt to regain a share of power, and the group has said it is open to domestic business and wants to treat all ethnic groups equally. But when asked if the Taliban now supported girls' education, Mujahid said: "It is too early to discuss this." Parents are terrified of sending daughters to school even in the capital Kabul, where the Afghan government and a heavy NATO and foreign diplomatic presence maintain security. "I am scared my daughters will get poisoned or killed while going to school, " said father Abdul Satar, from the north of the city. Last year girls at a school near Kabul survived a poisoning attack, similar to that last month in northern Takhar province, where 150 girls became ill after drinking contaminated water in what officials said was an attack by conservative radicals.

Nawaz Sharif trying 3rd time

Nawaz sharif: Rehman Malik in the ring

Rehman Malik did his best to heat up an unseasonably chilly London in May, yesterday. “Mian Nawaz Sharif is playing into someone else’s hands. He has gone from Nawaz Sharif to Baby Nawaz Sharif. His desire to become third time PM has meant a departure from his principles and senses. Someone has whispered in his ear that if he pushes for early elections, Imran Khan will not be ready quickly enough and he will win. They’re wrong and he should know it. The way he is behaving does not become a two-time Prime Minister, it is childish. He should act mature. If he cannot, there are pills available, he should take them.” The Interior Minister was optimistic about the future of the PPP in the upcoming elections, “If we have a five year mandate, let the government complete its tenure. Democracy is difficult to come by. Inshallah, if Mian Nawaz Sharif keeps going in this direction, the next elected government will also be the PPP’s.” Mr Malik produced copies of a letter, dated 9th May, 2012, to Mr Tim Tyler, Head of NCB, Serious Organized Crime Agency, Interpol. The letter refers to a judgment of the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, on March 18, 1999. Which, it mentions, has directed Mian Muhammad Abbas Sharif “and others” to pay $32 million to M/S Al Towfeek Company for Investment Funds (Ltd), for being personal guarantors for repayment of a lease amount, on behalf of Hudabiya Paper Mills (Ltd). The properties of 16 Avenfield House, 117-128 Park Lane, 16-A Avenfield House, 117-128 Park Lane, 17 Avenfield House, 117-128 Park Lane and 17-A Avenfield House, 117-128 Park Lane, through a subsequent judgement dated November, 5, 1999, were kept in lien, until the payment was made. Payment was eventually made, as directed by the court, and the aforementioned properties released. The letter to the Head of NCB ends with a request for the “money trial” of how this payment was received by Al Towfeek, whether any tax was paid on it and the declaration/certificate of the concerned lawyer who handled the transation. The letter alludes to an attachment, presumably sent with the original, which is a copy of the BBC documentary, titled Pakistan to Park Lane (via Ilford). A copy of the letter has also been sent to Mr Ronald Nobel, Secretary General Interpol, Lyon, France; with a request to “supply available information on this transaction worldwide and the Banking Record as any transaction over US $ 10,000 has to be logged and declared.” Mr Malik added, “They keep harping on about bringing money back to Pakistan. Well, why don’t they start? Bring back the $32 million. I am standing in London saying this, bring defamation charges against me if I am wrong. Take me to court, I am not afraid. If you cannot afford a lawyer, I will pay the expenses. Every fortnight, I will unveil another corruption scam of the Sharif Brothers. To you, Mian Sahiban, I say, your corruption must be exposed to the world.” To a question as to why this investigation was only being unveiled now, the Minister explained, “It was a very thorough investigation. It took 4 years to do.” He again challenged the Mian brothers to a debate, “on any forum, in front of all the anchors”. Still fixated on the Opposition, he criticised them for saying, “Yes, sir. Yes, sir.” to US officials in private and speaking against them in public. He pointed out alleged links to Lashkar I Jhangvi and Sipah Sahaba, saying that the PML N was maintaining ties with anti-Pakistan elements. “The PMLN wants elections announced before the PM files an appeal. Mian Nawaz Sharif, in one thing, I have to say, is excellent. He has the best lawyers. MashAllah, how your lawyers manage stays for 4 years running now, I am in awe. I need one of these lawyers, I will have to take one away from you, by paying them a higher fee. Why does Mian Nawaz deny to the Prime Minister what he took advantage of when returning from exile? The same exile, when he took his whole family, 40 suitcases, even his cook - and forgot his party workers languishing in jail.” Reacting to Mian Nawaz Sharif’s statement with Mumtaz Bhutto, he lamented, “Mumtaz Bhutto was one of those who was anti-Pakistan. He would not allow cheering for Pakistan, when the Pakistan Movement was underway. It seems Mian Nawaz Sharif will go to any corner of the wilderness, if there is an anti-PPP voice coming from it.” In a calibrated and beautifully timed mistake, Mr Malik remarked, “Chakri, Chaudhry Nisar - sorry, I meant from the village Chakri. I don’t want you to think I am calling him Chakri...bent his head and took oath from a dictator: Musharraf. The same dictator who they said they would not participate in elections under. The same Musharraf under whom, they said, if anyone was willing to be elected, he was a traitor. If they had that much moral courage, they would not have been bowing before General Musharraf, taking oaths.”

Nawaz Sharif’s Sindh visit still a futile attempt

Daily Times
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s current visit to Sindh still appears to be a futile political stunt as his current activities would neither be beneficial for the party nor would they be able to create any problem for the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The PML-N chief was in Garhi Khero, a town of district Jacobabad on Tuesday, which was severely affected in 2010’s floods. On the second day, Wednesday, he arrived in Ratodero, the native town of former caretaker chief minister, Mumtaz Bhutto and the current constituency of PPP representatives. The personalities and tribes who organised Nawaz’s public meetings were political opponents of the ruling PPP however they never really challenged the PPP candidates in last general elections. The public participation in both meetings was not significant despite the fact that huddling people in the rural areas of Sindh had never been a problem for the local landlords and influential personalities. During the Ratodero meeting, Mumtaz Bhutto announced merger of her party, Sindh National Party (SNF) with the PML-N, however, the SNF could not clinch any seat in the past general elections. Instead, both leaders invited severe criticism from various circles. Bhutto, for joining a party which had openly supported the controversial Kalabagh Dam project and Nawaz, for inducting a nationalist politician and a person who had been opposing the construction of Kalabagh Dam. On the other hand, the ruling PPP has intensified efforts to induct political personalities in the party. Interestingly, most of those joining the PPP have been affiliated with the PML-N directly in the past. They include former federal minister Asghar Shah and provincial minister Syed Murad Ali Shah from Naushehro Feroze and Liaquat Jatoi-led Awami Alliance leaders from Dadu. It is learnt that former federal minister from Kashmore, Sardar Salim Jan Mazari, who had been with the PML-N, has also decided to join the PPP on May 11. Many of the political analysts are surprised to see a number of politicians joining a party during its last year in the government as this practice is against the political fads. According to political analysts, Nawaz would need to muster support from the politically influential families of Sindh, including Shirazis of Thatta, Jatois of Shikarpur and Mahers of Ghotki if he really wanted to pose a political threat to the ruling PPP. But it seems as if these politically influential families are still reluctant to decide their future course of action and instead have decided to wait and see which way the tide turns.

‘ISI funded politicians to manipulate elections’

Former Pakistan chief of army staff General Mirza Aslam Beg has told the Supreme Court that former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt General Asad Durrani allegedly disbursed millions of rupees among anti-PPP politicians to manipulate the 1990 general elections.General Beg said the amount was placed in the ISI account, and the person having any knowledge of the accounts would be Durrani, or anyone else directed by him, adding that no misappropriation was ever reported to him, adding that the ISI was not under his command. According to a newspaper, a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had on April 25 ordered the counsel for Mirza Aslam Beg to furnish the details of such accounts before the court by May 10. The apex court has asked Beg’s counsel to furnish the details of the account before the next hearing.

Swat women using embroidery skills to support families

Like many other Swati women, the prolonged conflict in the region left Farida with nothing but embroidery skills to earn livelihood. Thanks to her expertise in this traditional craft, the 40-year-old currently works with Lasoona, a nongovernmental organisation developing handicraft skills of local women and marketing their work, including Swati embroidered shawls. As handicrafts made by skilled women were put on display here at Women Business Development Centre, a number of such women from Swat also poured their hearts out about the crisis they faced even after the conflict was over. Ms Farida said she got education up to intermediate but after 22 years of her life as a housewife, she was forced to step out and work with an NGO for food and education of her two children. She said there was an old diabetic woman in Qamber village whose two sons were killed on suspicion of aiding Taliban and that she earned Rs20 per chaddar (shawl) for embroidery and it paid for her medicine. Middle-aged Parveen, who is a mother of young daughters from Qamber, said most of the women, who were doing Swati embroidery, were either widows heading their families or so poor that they wanted to supplement income of the household with their skills. She said conflict had destroyed school and lives of Swat women and financial problems were looming in every village. Shama, another skilled woman from Swat, said conflict had badly affected handicrafts business in Swat as tourists stopped coming to the valley and buying their handicrafts. The linkages of the women making handicrafts and those marketing it were also broken but now things are improving and women are starting to work again to earn livelihood for their families. Seema Ajmal from Mardan district, who had also displayed her handicrafts at the crafts bazaar, said the women had skills and enthusiasm to utilise their skills for income generation but she lacked support from family and the society. According to her, women hesitate to approach markets for selling or marketing their products. “The customs and traditions are a big hurdle in a businesswoman or skilled woman’s way to progress. Women, who showed up at the bazaar, which was inaugurated on Wednesday, said buyers did not trust women entrepreneurs. They said the government support was needed to provide them with exposure and marketing skills. “Linkages should be developed so that women could access markets,” she said. Smeda chief in Peshawar Javed Khattak said his organisation was trying to develop linkages of women entrepreneurs and had planned their visits for exposure. He said WBDCs were important in networking of skilled women. WDBCs have been proposed for DI Khan and Hazara. He said WBDC in Peshawar was trying to polish the skills of the women making handicrafts. SMEDA and Home Economics College Peshawar has signed an MoU to train skilled women in color and thread-selection, designs, choice of cloth, designing and making of gems jewelry so that their products or handicrafts could be refined and saleable in the market, Mr. Khattak said. Semda chief executive Naseem Khokar inaugurated the crafts bazaar and asked details from stallholders about handicrafts and about the areas in which they needed help. The event will continue until Saturday (May 12).


For the past many decades, the Federal Government is making big announcement and allocating an impressive amount of funds for development of Balochistan in the budget annually and when the financial year come to a close, it is normally revealed that the Federal Government had spent less than 30 per cent for development of Balochistan. Whenever the Federal Government is facing the financial crunch, Balochistan had become the first victim facing drastic cuts in development spending slashing allocated funds by 50 per cent in one go and later on it is further reduced to less than 30 per cent spending. This practice had exposed the real intentions of the Federal Government, regardless of the party in power, towards Balochistan which is meant to deny funds by delaying mega projects. We can cite dozens of mega projects for development of Balochistan which took more than three decades to complete and some of them are still in the process of completion. The Planning Commission officials briefed the Chief Minister and his economic managers confirming that the Federal Government had spent merely Rs 11 billion in Balochistan during the current fiscal year. The officials of the Federal Government promised to release Rs 5 billion more at the end of the fiscal year. It is admission of deliberate attempt to deny funds. Releasing funds by end of the June is nothing but allowing the officials, engineers and ministers to pilferage the fund. Rs five billions can not be consumed or spent in hours or in days. It is nothing but to patronize corruption in Balochistan so that the fruits of development should not reach the people, the most deserving people in remote corners of Balochistan. For example, the RCD Highway is under construction for the past 55 years and it is not complete. On the other hand, the Motorway linking Lahore with Rawalpindi was constructed in a record period of eight months and the funding for the project had never been hampered as it meant to develop Central Punjab and link it up with northern Punjab. There is a 40-kilometer patch of RCD Highway between Khad Kocha and Lak Pass is under construction for the past six years. It is the political constituency of the Chief Minister and the rebuilding is not complete only to humiliate the Chief Executive Balochistan, the elected Chief Minister of Balochistan. Similarly, construction of Gwadar deep water port had been left in half way, there is no chance to complete Kachhi Canal ensuring cultivation of over eight hundred thousands of highly fertile land that will make Balochistan food sufficient from food deficit. Similarly, the land leveling at the Mirani Dam is still incomplete for the past many years only to delay production of primary products in the food deficit region of Mekran. Now there is a promise that the Federal Government will enhance allocation of development funds for Balochistan in the Federal PSDP. This time, Balochistan will get Rs three billions more. At the end of the fiscal year, it will be known how much money the Federal Government had spent on development projects in Balochistan during the next fiscal year.

ICRC suspends Pakistan aid work

The Red Cross on Thursday suspended most of its aid projects in Pakistan and recalled all of its foreign staff to the capital, following the brutal murder of a British worker. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had put on hold activities run from the southern port city of Karachi and the northwestern city of Peshawar, while it reviewed its operations after the killing of Khalil Dale. The move suspends activities at all facilities run by ICRC apart from a physical rehabilitation centre in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. "The recent attack against the ICRC compels us to completely reassess the balance between the humanitarian impact of our activities and the risks faced by our staff," said Jacques de Maio, ICRC's head of operations for South Asia. The 60-year-old Dale's mutilated body was found outside Quetta, the capital of the insurgency-plagued southwest province of Baluchistan, on April 29, four months after he was abducted. ICRC activities in Quetta were frozen in the aftermath of Dale's death, the aid group said. "We are currently analysing the situation and the environment with a view to setting out a clear and sustainable way forward," said Paul Castella, head of the ICRC delegation in Pakistan. "In the coming weeks, the ICRC will announce a decision on its future presence and set-up in Pakistan." Some of the expatriate staff recalled to Islamabad will work on the review process, while the majority of local staff in Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar will go on paid leave, ICRC said.