Friday, June 8, 2012

China Signals Interest in Afghanistan

In a sign of China’s growing interest in neighboring Afghanistan after the departure of the United States and NATO led forces, President Hu Jintao met the Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, in the Great Hall of the People on Friday and announced a new strategic partnership between the two countries. Mr. Karzai was given special attention this week at the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a group of six countries organized by China that includes Russia and Central Asian nations bordering Afghanistan. China is trying to ensure that a Muslim separatist group in a western region does not benefit from the Taliban when Western forces leave Afghanistan. In a joint statement, China and Afghanistan said they would step up cooperation in security and the fight against terrorism, as well as increase intelligence sharing. No specifics were given. A modest $23 million aid grant for unspecified projects that accompanied the new partnership indicated that despite concerns about the stability of Afghanistan after 2014, when most United States and allied troops are expected to be gone, China had no immediate plans to play a major development role. This was Mr. Karzai’s fifth, and most prominent, visit to China. No Chinese leader has been to Afghanistan since the 1958 visit of Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. China’s major worry is the prospect of a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan lending sanctuary to the separatist group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, led by ethnic Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking, largely Muslim people in the autonomous western region of Xinjiang . The group wants a breakaway homeland in Xinjiang. In official statements, the Chinese government refrains from specifying the threat of Afghanistan's harboring Uighur separatists, but an orderly transfer of power that would stop short of a Taliban takeover appears to be of uppermost importance for China. At a Foreign Ministry press briefing shortly after the warm welcome for Mr. Karzai, a spokesman said China supported a “step by step” process that allowed for a role by other countries after the withdrawal of Western troops. In efforts to work toward some semblance of stability in Afghanistan after the Americans leave, Chinese and American diplomats have been talking for more than a year about the shape of the post-2014 political landscape, American officials and Chinese analysts say. A new kind of Great Game, a competition for influence among Afghanistan’s neighbors, many of whom belong to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or play a role in it, is a likely outcome from the Western withdrawal, the analysts say. China has already put down investment stakes in mineral-rich Afghanistan, signing an oil and gas deal late last year, and beginning development at a copper mine four years ago. But from the discussions between the United States and China, it was clear that China would not play any significant security role inside Afghanistan, a decision consistent with its noninterference policies abroad, the American officials and analysts say. The Chinese government has refused to contribute to a $4.1 billion fund for sustaining the Afghan Army after 2014, but has offered to train a small number of Afghan soldiers, particularly in antiterror techniques. In a show of cooperation with the United States, China admitted 15 young Afghan diplomats to the China Foreign Affairs University last month as part of a joint American-Chinese program. The State Department will also sponsor training for the Afghan diplomats. China’s main concern is about how post-2014 Afghanistan will affect China’s internal security, the analysts said. “China’s first concern is national security and to make sure the Uighurs don’t get more strength,” said Yun Sun, a Washington-based analyst specializing in China’s neighbors. “The official line is that the Uighurs get terrorist training in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” “China supports the international community in its efforts in Afghanistan, but stays away from direct military involvement,” Zhao Huasheng, director of the Center for Russia and Central Asia Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, wrote in a recent paper. China dislikes the Taliban because of their close relations with the East Turkestan group, but deals with the Taliban on a pragmatic basis, he wrote. Looking toward the uncertainties of post-2014 Afghanistan, China has already established some forms of communication with elements of the Taliban through the channels of the Pakistani military, said Sajjan Gohel, the international security director of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a London-based group. “Beijing wants guarantees that the Taliban will not give sanctuary or support to the Uighur terrorists should they develop an open presence in Afghanistan after the troop handover,” Mr. Gohel said. The prospects of instability in Afghanistan have not discouraged China’s investments in big energy and mining projects. The China National Petroleum Company signed a deal in December to explore oil and natural gas in the Amu Darya River Basin, an area where the Soviet Union held concessions during its occupation. As part of the deal, the Chinese company pledged to build Afghanistan’s first oil refinery within three years. In 2008, the China Metallurgical Construction Company invested more than $3.5 billion in the Aynak Copper Mine in Logar Province in Afghanistan, not far from the Chinese border.

Khayber Pukhtunkhaw budget of Rs303 billion presented

Budget of Rs303b for FY 2012-13 has been presented in Khayber Pukhtunkhaw assembly today. In the KPK assembly session presided over by the Speaker Karamutallah Khan, provincial Finance Minister Humayun Khan presented the budget amounting to Rs303 billion. A sum of Rs87 billion will be allocated for the annual development programme (ADP). Seventy percent of ADP amount will be spent on the ongoing projects, according to the proposal. According to budget details, Rs 12 billion have been allocated for education while Rs 7 billion for health department. Malakand Division has been exempted from any kind of tax. Apart from this, the province would get about Rs 183 billion issued by the federation and Rs 22 billion as expenditures for war on terror. Government employees’ salary increase by 20 percent will also be announced. Sources said that a raise in the KPK share in PSDP and an increase in the electricity annual net profit will also be demanded from the federal government.

Pakistan: Child prisoners increasing

The Nation
Noted human rights activist Hina Jillani presented the Annual Report on Child Prisoners 2011 at the Lahore Press Club on Thursday. The report reveals the number of under trial child prisoners, their age groups, offences, period of pre-sentence detention, duration of stay in police custody and number of convicted prisoners. On average, 593 children were detained monthly in Punjab prisons in 2011; while the total number of new entries in 2011 was 2,610, the report informs. This figure shows a substantial increase in the number of children detained in Punjab prisons over 2010 when 1,061 children met the same fate. Of the children found in prisons, 0.76 per cent were in the age group of 7-11 years; 31.06 per cent in the age group of 12-15 years; and 68.17 per cent in the age group of 16-18 years. Most of the new entrants were also aged between 16 and 18 years, as was the case in 2010. In 2011, the youngest detainee was an eight-year old boy in Central Jail Sahiwal, charged with the offence of murder. As was the case in the previous year, a downward trend was witnessed in the age group of 7-11 years. It rose slightly in 2009; however, it has declined again in 2011 forming 0.76 percent of the number of children entering the prisons in 2011. Approximately, 7 percent increase was also observed in the children entering the prisons in 2011 in the age groups of 12-15 and 16-18 years.

Saudi regime protester Manal al-Sharif cancels US trip over death threats

A Saudi woman who publicly defied the country's ban on female drivers has been forced to cancel a planned trip to the United States after receiving multiple death threats and learning that she is the subject of a fatwa issued by a fundamentalist Muslim cleric. Manal al-Sharif became a global symbol of the struggle for gender equality in the Middle East after a video of her driving through the streets of Khobar was uploaded to YouTube last April, at the height of the Arab Spring. She was later arrested and imprisoned for nine days. On Wednesday this week she had been due to be honoured for her high-profile activism at an awards ceremony in Washington organised by Vital Voices, a US-based pressure group which campaigns for women's rights and has close ties to the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. But 48 hours before the event, organisers were told that Ms Sharif, a divorced single mother, had reluctantly decided to stay in Saudi Arabia, amid what appears to be growing fears for both her personal safety and that of her family. In an email, she said a recent filmed speaking appearance at the Oslo Freedom Forum, a human rights conference held annually in Norway, had brought a slew of threats from conservatives angered by her feminist critique of Saudi Arabia's highly-repressive laws and social conventions. Tensions are also rising in advance of 17 June, the first anniversary of an organised "protest drive" that saw Ms Sharif and dozens of female supporters get behind the wheel in defiance of misogynistic laws which make it illegal for women to drive in the country. Explaining her decision to stay at home, she said: "Threats I was faced with after speaking in Oslo made me take the decision to keep a low profile to be able to prepare for the first anniversary of 17 June." It is not the first time Ms Sharif has been targeted for her activism. Last month, she told The Independent how her growing political profile had led to her losing a job at Aramco, a Saudi-controlled oil company where she had worked in information security for more than a decade. She has since been the subject of a fatwa issued by Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Tarifi, a cleric who follows Wahhabism, one of the most unbending forms of the Muslim faith which has a huge following in the Islamic state. He declared Ms Sharif a "hypocrite," a designation which amounts to questioning her religious allegiance and therefore placing her safety at further risk. Initial reports of her last-minute decision to cancel the US trip suggested that she had been the subject of threats by un-named "Saudi officials". But in an email to The Independent, Ms Sharif stressed that no threats against had come directly from members of the country's government. Despite her absence from Washington, Ms Sharif did not go entirely unrecognised at the Vital Voices ceremony which was to have seen five "heroines" of the Arab Spring receive medals. When the four other honourees were called on to the stage at the Kennedy Center Opera House, they left a gap to represent where Ms Sharif should have been standing.

Russia Seeks to Halt Saudi, Qatari Help for Syrian Rebels
Russia is looking to a proposed international conference on Syria to pressure Saudi Arabia and Qatar to halt help for rebels against President Bashar al-Assad, a senior lawmaker in the Russian ruling party said. Russia and China on June 6 proposed a meeting to back peace efforts by United Nations envoy Kofi Annan. The two nations, along with the U.S., the U.K., France, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Conference and Arab League states, Turkey and Iran should take part, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Beijing after talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao. “Boats carrying weapons are being dispatched and they are getting financing too because Saudi Arabia and Qatar are paying salaries to members of the Syrian Free Army,” Alexei Pushkov, the head of the foreign-affairs committee in the lower house of parliament, said in a telephone interview yesterday in Moscow. “Instead of supporting the armed actions of the opposition, we want them to exert a restraining influence.” Putin, who returned to the presidency for a third term last month, has signaled that Russia won’t insist on Assad staying in power. A U.S. delegation, led by Fred Hof, the State Department’s special envoy to the Syrian opposition, began talks with Russian officials including Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov today in Moscow. A statement will be issued after the meeting, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. Veto Threat Russia has shielded the Assad regime, its biggest Middle East ally, vowing to veto any attempt at imposing sanctions on the Syrian government through the UN Security Council. The threat has hobbled 15 months of international efforts to pressure the Assad government as the conflict deteriorated from peaceful protests into an armed fighting with sectarian undercurrents. The U.S. delegation will try to forge a common approach to moving Assad aside, with the goal of replacing him with someone acceptable to both sides in the conflict, according to two U.S officials speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, ruled by Sunni monarchies that are at odds with Syria’s mainly Shiite ally, Iran, have publicly voiced support for arming the rebels. Syria’s ambassador to Russia said last week that the two countries are sabotaging the UN plan by continuing to arm rebels in violation of a cease-fire agreement reached in April. Arms Shipments “Weapons are entering Syria through its borders with Lebanon and Turkey,” Riad Haddad said in a June 1 interview. “And these are heavy weapons.” Lebanese authorities at the end of April seized a ship originating in Libya that was carrying anti-tank and anti- aircraft missiles destined for Syrian opposition groups, Haddad said. The U.S. in turn has accused Russia of propping up Assad’s regime by supplying weapons to Syria. The latest shipment was delivered by a boat owned by billionaire Vladimir Lisin on May 26, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said. Annan, who visited Syria in the wake of the May 25 massacre of more than 100 people in Houla, called on Assad’s government and opposition forces to halt the violence and abide by the cease-fire agreement. Russia, China and other countries received a request from the Syrian government to investigate the massacre in Houla, Pushkov said. ‘No Proof’ “There’s no proof of either the involvement of pro- government or opposition forces,” he said. “If you listen to Western media, you hear witnesses who say pro-government militia carried it out, but if you listen to Syrian media, you hear witnesses who say that it was opposition fighters.” The UN Human Rights Council called for a probe into the Houla killings, including dozens of children, which it said were carried out by “pro-regime elements” and government forces. Syria blamed terrorists for the atrocity. The timing of the Houla massacre, as well as reports two days ago by opposition activists of the killing of 78 people, more than half of them women and children, in a village in Hama province, point to the involvement of rebel fighters, according to Pushkov. The first massacre happened a day before Annan visited Syria and the latest just before UN Security Council discussions on Syria, he said. ‘Absolutely Counterproductive’ “To carry out such acts on the eve of such events is absolutely counterproductive for the Syrian government,” Pushkov said. “To the contrary, I can see that for rebel fighters, especially Islamist rebel fighters for whom blood is cheap, as shown by experience in Afghanistan, Iraq and many other places, there is a direct political benefit.” Syria has found evidence that fighters from Libya and Tunisia with ties to al-Qaeda are among the rebels and some of the Houla massacre was filmed, the Syrian ambassador to Russia said. “The main aim is to cause failure of the Annan plan and to provoke foreign military interference,” he said.

PESHAWAR: 21 killed in Peshawar bus blast

Civil secretariat employees were on board the bus when explosion occurred. At least 21 people including several women were killed and many others got injured as remote-controlled bomb struck a civil secretariat bus on Charsadda road in Peshawar. According to details the explosion took place within the limits of Dawoodzai police station. SP Rural while confirming the blast said 8-kilogram explosives were used in the attack. Rescue teams reached the site of the incident and injured people were rushed to Lady Reading Hospital. At the blast site, the back of the colorfully decorated bus was torn apart, leaving a mass of snarled metal. Peshawar is on the edge of Pakistan`s tribal region and has been targeted by many militant attacks in the past five years. Violence has declined in the past year, but attacks still occur relatively frequently.

Pakistan's opposition lawmakers : Ugly shows

Who are the opposition lawmakers entertaining with their ugly parliamentary spectacles of rowdyism, heckling and shouting nowadays, anyway? It is only a cheering media where they are hitting the headlines. Not at all on the street where not a taker they have for their obscene shows to clap on. Indeed, it is only jeers and sneers that they have there for their exasperating antics. Then who are they trying to impress? The electorate had sent them to the parliament to espouse the people's causes, not to fight their own political battles. So, the people are infuriated the way these grandees have pushed back their woes to pursue their own political objectives. They cannot even imagine with how much scorn are the people's hearts filled for them when a grandee from amongst them walks in jollily, points out lack of quorum in the house childishly and then walks out laughing amidst the sounding bells to call the truants to the session. Ironically, in respected democracy, which these jokers pretend we have become but actually we have not, the opposition parliamentary party holds a strategy session to decide what issues it will take the treasury benches on, what will be the party stance on it and who will speak out that stance. Here these clowns hold a session to work out the strategy as to how to disrupt the parliamentary proceedings. It is not the issues their strategy session dwells on. It is if it will be a bhangra dance, pulling the hair, or a straight boxing match that their strategy session ponders on. But who are these eminences kidding? Do they know that the mass of our people deem them wholly unfit and incapable of understanding, what to talk of debating, serious things like a budget? Do not they know that the people from one to all are perfectly aware that the bulk of these eminences don't turn over even the first page of bulky budget documents placed on their desks? And are they not aware either that the people know that most of these eminences do not bother even to remove those documents from their desks but leave them there untouched? And those few who do carry them to their cosy homes and luxurious parliamentary lodges simply dump them there, not read them. In any case, what point are these eminences trying to make with their obscene show? Of course, the prime minister could have taken the sting out of their antics, had he taken a high moral stance and stood down from his office, which still remains controversially mired in court challenges. Nevertheless, the opposition lawmakers too could have taken the most logical step if they have a problem with his continued incumbency. They could have just terminated their own membership of the parliament in protest. That would have carried some conviction with the mass of the people about their own credibility. But they have not, making them look as great charlatan as the prime minister in the popular eye. But is the hard-pressed taxpayer shelling out enormous sums from his hard-earned money for these gaudy shows of the opposition lawmakers? Mind you, every parliamentary session costs a lot of buck. On each sitting, millions of rupees are consumed up just in paying the lawmakers their daily allowance and conveyance allowance, and on the security and air-conditioning of the premises for their safety and comfort. The wages of attendants and parliamentary staffs is a hefty extra. If the taxpayer is to have a circus show, why would he go for these eminences' discordant, disjointed, amateurish performance? Wouldn't he go for the Lucky Irani Circus, where the act will be lyrical, rhythmic and pleasing? And also it would cost him just a pittance compared to what a staggering sum he has to expend on the ugly show of these eminences? Enough is enough. The electorate has had enough of chicanery from the swaggering political elite across the spectrum. The people are now fed up with their antics, with which they have belittled the very concept of democracy in the people's estimation. The people are not ready to have any more of it. For a change, these elite must deliver and help deliver the people their needs and wants. And they must stand down, if they cannot. A stop they must put to their jugglery at once, anyway. Just intolerable have they become.

‘Extraordinarily dissatisfied’ with Pakistan: Dempsey

The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey joined Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta Thursday in expressing unhappiness with Pakistan’s progress in battling the Haqqani network’s use of safe havens in Pakistan. Pakistan is working to battle other threats within the federally administered tribal area, or FATA, Dempsey told reporters. “Although we are extraordinarily dissatisfied with the effect that Pakistan has had on the Haqqani network, we are also mindful that they are conducting military operations, at great loss elsewhere,” Dempsey said. Regional Command East, which includes Khost and Logar provinces, has seen an uptick in activity, largely due increased activity by the Haqqani network, Dempsey said. The Haqqani network is as big a threat to Pakistan as it is to Afghanistan and the United States, Dempsey said. He added that the US will continue to work with Pakistan to find common ground on ways to deal with the cross-border threat posed by the Haqqani network and other groups. In addition to the recent activity by the Haqqani network, Dempsey said al-Qaida remains a threat in Pakistan, particularly within the FATA, and to a lesser extent within Afghanistan. Coalition efforts have been very successful in eliminating al-Qaida leaders, though others continue to take their place, he added. Dempsey cited the June 4 death of Abu Yahya Al-Libi, al-Qaida's second in command, as an example of those successes, calling it a significant loss for the terror group. “He had long-standing credibility and he had operational skills that are tough to grow overnight, and so that will be something that affects the al-Qaida network globally, not just in south Asia,” Dempsey said. “Most of those who 10 years ago we began tracking are no longer a part of al-Qaida, they’re no longer part of any organization,” Dempsey said. “We are at war with al-Qaida and we will pursue them wherever we find them,” he said.