Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pakistan: IG Punjab doesn’t deserve top office

The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday directed the federal and provincial governments to take appropriate action within three days against Inspector General Police Punjab, DIG and other police officers who are involved in the investigation into the murder of a Khanewal-based woman. Expressing dissatisfaction with the Punjab Police report on a mother of five children stoned to death in Khanewal on the decision of a jirga, the CJP observed that IGP and other investigation officers did not deserve occupying such important positions meant to protect the fundamental rights and security of the citizens. Federal and provincial governments should look into the matter and examine that whether such police officers should continue working on the these posts, the court ordered. A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry resumed hearing of a suo motu case on the stoning of a woman to death in Khanewal. It is duty of the executive to move forward against the persons who are failing to protect fundamental rights and protection of the people, the CJP observed. Earlier, the IGP Haji Habibur Rehman presented the probe report before the bench that was rejected by the CJP commenting that the police didn’t take prompt action against the killers and ensure justice to the aggrieved family. However, Advocate General Punjab, Ashtar Osaf requested the court to give anther chance for fresh probe into the case but the bench turned down it and passed the order against police officials for their negligence. The court also directed the IGP and DPO to provide security cover to the victim family before disposing of the case for further action.

Bahrain urged to free prisoners of conscience

Bahrain must release all prisoners of conscience immediately and without conditions, Amnesty International said today, ahead of appeals in the cases of a prominent human rights activist and a group of medical workers. On 24 July, a court will consider the appeal of human rights activist Nabeel Rajab against his three-month prison sentence on libel charges related to a post he made on Twitter. His appeal hearing was postponed on 18 July. In another case a group of nine health professionals, whose convictions were upheld on appeal in June for their role in anti-government protests last year, have been summoned to appear before the Court of Cassation in the capital Manama on 30 July. Amnesty International has previously adopted Nabeel Rajab as a prisoner of conscience and said that if any of the nine health professionals currently released on bail were jailed they would be prisoners of conscience, held solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. “The charade of justice has gone on too long in Bahrain, and all prisoners of conscience must be set free immediately and unconditionally before these appeals take place,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Programme Director. “All convictions against them should be quashed.” Nabeel Rajab The charges against Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, relate to a tweet he posted on 2 June about Bahraini Prime Minister, Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa during his official visit to the area of al-Muharraq. On 6 June, he was arrested after several al-Muharraq residents complained about the tweet. He was charged with libel on 14 June and released on bail on 27 June. Following a court hearing on 9 July, he was re-arrested and jailed in Manama’s al-Jaw prison. Salmaniya medical workers Nine workers from Manama’s Salmaniya medical complex have been summoned to appear before the Court of Cassation on 30 July. On 14 June, Manama’s High Criminal Court of Appeal upheld convictions against them on charges which include “calling for the overthrow of the regime by force”, “illegal gathering” and “instigating hatred against another sect” – many of them were quite vocal in denouncing the excessive use of force against protesters to international media. Amnesty International believes they did not use or advocated violence. Their sentences ranged from one month to five years in prison, but five of the defendants have already spent their entire prison sentence behind bars. Nine other medical workers on trial with them were previously acquitted. If the remaining four medical workers – Ali ‘Esa Mansoor al-‘Ekr, Ebrahim ‘Abdullah Ebrahim, Ghassan Ahmed ‘Ali Dhaif, and Sa’eed Mothaher Habib Al Samahiji – or any other in the group are jailed, Amnesty International would consider them to be prisoners of conscience. Opposition activists Amnesty International is also concerned about a judge’s recent decision to move all future hearings of 13 prominent Bahraini opposition activists behind closed doors, where they would be filmed. In response to the move, the 13 men – who maintain their innocence and are also prisoners of conscience behind bars for peaceful political activities since last year – have asked their lawyers not to represent them in court any longer. The court has since appointed them new lawyers. Several of the defendants have spoken out in previous court hearings to describe their alleged torture and other ill-treatment in detention, which included sexual assault and other acts of torture to coerce “confessions”. They are serving prison terms ranging from two years to life imprisonment on bogus charges related to their participation in pro-reform protests in early 2011. “In the first place they should not be tried for exercising their rights, yet not only are they tried but the trial has been moved behind closed doors in an apparent attempt to conceal the truth,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. Amnesty International continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience in Bahrain, and urges the Bahraini authorities to carry out an independent investigation into all allegations of torture in detention and to bring those responsible to justice in fair trials.

Saudi Shi'ite protests show rise of more radical generation

By Angus McDowall
Renewed unrest among minority Shi'ite Muslims in Saudi Arabia have exposed a rift between their traditional leaders and a younger, more radical generation exasperated by what they see as persistent discrimination in the mainly Sunni Muslim kingdom. Three young men were shot dead by security forces in exchanges of fire in the country's east this month sparked by the arrest of a radical cleric on July 8, raising the death toll from such incidents since November to nine. “The youth, the young people, want a change. They want something different. They are telling the old generation (of Shi'ite leaders): 'Stay away. You've tried for 30 years and have achieved nothing,'” an activist from the flashpoint village of Awamiya said in a phone interview, who asked not to be named. Shi'ites have long accused the government of systematic bias by denying them important state jobs, restricting their places of worship and limiting their educational opportunities, charges Riyadh denies. The government has pointed to efforts to include Shi'ites in a “national dialogue” started by King Abdullah last decade, the appointment of Shi'ites to the advisory Shoura Council and a relaxation of policy to allow them more freedom to worship. It views the protests in the context of tensions with Shi'ite power and regional rival Iran, which it accuses of fomenting the unrest, and says it has only used force when its security forces have been physically attacked. An Interior Ministry spokesman did not respond to repeated calls and an email and a text message requesting comment. “The Iranians are not hiding their sympathies. When relations with Iran improve and tensions decrease, the Shia will feel more relaxed and the government will feel more confident in allowing reform,” said prominent Saudi commentator Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Shi'ites, who mostly live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, have for decades followed a group of leaders who directed anti-government protests in 1979 before striking a deal in 1993 to quit active opposition in return for gradual reforms. However, as a younger generation of activists has come of age at a time when Arab Spring uprisings have toppled autocrats in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya, they have increasingly questioned the ability of their leaders to deliver real change. While online calls to protest were almost entirely ignored by Sunni Saudis in the spring of 2011, hundreds of Shi'ites did hit the streets for rallies, encouraged by radical leaders like Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, whose arrest prompted this month's unrest. In October, when 11 members of the Saudi security forces were injured in a protest outside a police station, Shi'ite leaders visited the families of men it thought might be involved to appeal for calm - but were rebuffed. “We said: 'Enough. We don't want the situation to deteriorate towards violence. There will be blood and killings. Stop.' But nobody listened. They said to the leaders: 'You stop. You haven't delivered what you have promised. Now we will do our best,'” said Tawfiq al-Saif, a prominent community leader. In a further sign of a rupture in the once tight-knit Shi'ite community, a letter from top clerics calling for calm collected only 25 signatures, compared to dozens after previous bouts of protest, Saif said, whereas a letter demanding faster change was signed by 37 clergymen. Nimr, who was shot in the leg during his arrest, had for several years preached an uncompromising message of demanding more rights for the minority and built a following in the Qatif district, one of Saudi Arabia's main Shi'ite centres. Films uploaded to YouTube on consecutive days earlier this month showed night protests in Qatif and Awamiya as crowds marched with placards in support of Nimr and chanted “down with the House of Saud”, the kingdom's long-ruling family. IRAN CONCERNS From Riyadh, capital of a kingdom that follows the strict Wahhabi Sunni doctrine in which Shi'ism is viewed as heresy, the protests are viewed in the context of regional frictions. Locked in a bitter geo-political rivalry with Iran involving sectarian struggles in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and neighbouring Bahrain, Riyadh regards the heightened tensions in Qatif as evidence of foreign interference. When protests engulfed a police station in October, the Interior Ministry blamed “a foreign country which tried to undermine the security of the homeland in a blatant act of interference”. Officials have confirmed this meant Iran. Saudi Arabia has also accused Tehran of whipping up disturbances in Bahrain, a Gulf island nation that adjoins the Eastern Province and where majority Shi'ites have rebelled against a Sunni monarchy closely aligned with Riyadh. Iran denies these charges. But in a sign of links between the Shi'ite communities of both Arab countries, demonstrators in Qatif were this month pictured in films posted online carrying Bahraini flags.

Olympic visa scandal: Several arrested during crackdown

The joint investigation team of the FIA and NADRA after registering an FIR Tuesday launched a crackdown against those involved in the Olympic visa scandal and arrested six accused including five women here. FIA officials said those arrested were NADRA employees, while the main character of the case Abid Chaudhry has gone underground. Chaudhry’s family says he went into hiding due to threats to his life, adding that he will only appear if summoned by the court. The joint investigation team was constituted on the directive of the interior ministry, following the disclosure of the Olympic visa scandal in British newspaper ‘The Sun’. FIA sources said that an FIR has been registered against eighteen persons of which twelve were nominated and the arrest of six was confirmed. However, according to the latest information two employees of NADRA and four travel agents have already been arrested, while four employees Aslam James, Faheem, Talat and Ghaffar of Garden Town Passport office have been suspended and further six persons were arrested, which included Syed Wasif, Abbad Zaidi, Parvina Majeed, Rukhsana Maqbool, Sumera Tabassum, Azmi Khaleeq and Qudsia Idrees.

California police violence stirs protests

Protesters in the United States have clashed with the police in Orange County, California, over the controversial fatal shooting of an unarmed Latino man by a police officer, Press TV reports. Chanting "no justice, no peace" and "cops, pigs, murderers," the crowd swarmed the Anaheim Police headquarters after an Anaheim police officer killed 24-year-old Manuel Diaz on Saturday afternoon. The killing sparked violent protests and outrage in the neighborhood. Also on Saturday, protesters gathered near the shooting scene and set fire to a trash bin and threw rocks and bottles at officers who were securing the scene for investigators to collect evidence. The police used pepper balls and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Videos of the scene showed the police unleashing a K-9 dog into the crowd. The dog charged several people, including a woman and a child in a stroller, before biting a man in the arm. Five people have been arrested in Anaheim during two days of protests, the latest in a series of actions by families of shooting victims, some of whom have been holding weekly protests for nearly two years at police headquarters in Orange County. According to Anaheim Police Chief John Welter, the Saturday shooting occurred after two officers spotted three men acting suspiciously in a neighborhood in northeastern Anaheim. One of the officers chased Diaz and shot him. Diaz later died in the hospital. Welter said two officers were placed on paid leave, but did not say what had prompted the officer to open fire. “He was shot first in the back, but he was down," Diaz’s mother, Genevieve Huizar, said, adding that “then they shot him a second time. They shot him in the head.” Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait has called for an independent investigation into the shooting and has asked the Attorney General’s Office in California to get involved in the case. "Transparency is essential,” Tait said, noting, “The investigation will seek the truth. And whatever the truth is, we will own it.” Late on Sunday, in another incident several miles away from the scene of the Saturday afternoon shooting, an officer shot and killed a man the police said was shooting at them.

New Delhi ignores chances in Philippines

If India's "Look East" policy is remarkable for rapidly going beyond ASEAN to the AsiaPacific, it is equally remarkable for the conspicuously unremarkable bilateral relations with the Philippines. Not surprisingly, the Philippines is little more than a blip on the radar of India's Ministry of External Affairs. Why is this Englishspeaking republic, which has quite a bit in common with India, not a bigger factor in the latter's "Look East" policy? In the 20 years of the "Look East" policy's unraveling, there has been speculation over which Asian country India would choose. IndiaPhilippine relations have been spectacularly bereft of any defining issue, positive or negative. The best that can be said is that bilateral ties have not been marked by either any jarring or an upbeat note. There are only two recent occasions when the Philippines made headlines in India. Two months ago, in May, at the height of the South China Sea dispute between China and the Philippines, New Delhi urged "both countries to exercise restraint and resolve the issue diplomatically according to principles of international law." The message was seen as a sign of India being alert to tensions in the South China Sea, where it is involved in oil and gas explorations off Vietnam and, as a signal to the Southeast Asian countries of its sensitivity to issues affecting them. There was a time though, from 2004 to 2009, when there was a series of highvisibility interactions and the possibility of counterterrorism becoming an important area of defense cooperation. Although regular foreign policy dialogues have been held since 1994, it was only in March 2004 that the first IndiaPhilippines Security Dialogue was held in Manila. The last one was in 2009. The last state visit of an Indian president to the Philippines was by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in 2006. Although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the Philippines in 2007 and held bilateral talks with then president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, he had gone there for the ASEAN and East Asia summits. The only other occasion an Indian prime minister touched down in the Philippines was when Indira Gandhi made a stopover in Manila in 1981. There are many agreements, treaties, MoUs, dialogue forums and working groups between India and the Philippines. While this may be taken to underscore the potential and, therefore, the challenges and opportunities ahead, for deeper cooperation, the fact remains that there have been no initiatives to bring a buzz or add spark to the relationship.

Syria tries to clarify comments about WMD possession

The Syrian regime on Tuesday sought to clarify recent comments about the country's weapons of mass destruction, which the Foreign Ministry had said would only be used in the event of "external aggression." "The Foreign Ministry's statement was only a response to false allegations on WMD & explanation of guidelines of defensive policy," ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi tweeted on Tuesday. During a press conference Monday, Makdissi specifically addressed Western media with the following comments in English: "Any stocks of WMD or any unconventional weapon that the Syrian Arab Republic possesses would never be used against civilians or against the Syrian people during this crisis at any circumstances, no matter how the crisis would evolve," Makdissi said. "All the stocks of these weapons that the Syrian Arab Republic possesses are monitored and guarded by the Syrian army. These weapons are meant to be used only and strictly in the event of external aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic." But on Tuesday, the regime accused some media outlets of taking Makdissi's comments out of context and "portraying it as a declaration of possessing non-traditional weapons." "The Ministry said that the goal of the statement and the press conference wasn't to declare but rather to respond to a methodical media campaign targeting Syria to prepare world public opinion for the possibility of military intervention under the false premise of weapons of mass destruction (similar to what happened with Iraq) or the possibility of using such weapons against terrorist groups or civilians," the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Tuesday. The rebel Free Syrian Army, however, said the Syrian regime moved around stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons about 15 days ago, citing intelligence from cells inside the regime. The FSA is largely composed of soldiers who defected from President Bashar al-Assad's forces. One portion of the stockpile was transferred to the Syrian coast, and another was transferred to airports along the southern border, FSA Col. Mustapha Sheikh told CNN. The Syrian government's comments about weapons of mass destruction came after months of international chatter about whether foreign countries should intervene militarily to try to end more than a year of bloodshed in Syria. The violence continued Tuesday, when at least 37 people were killed across the country, opposition activists said. Among the dead, nine people were killed at a prison in Aleppo as guards tried to suppress a days-old protest there, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said. CNN cannot independently confirm reports of violence because the government restricts access by foreign journalists. The Syrian government has long maintained that "armed terrorist groups" are fueling violence in the country. Responding to a question Monday about clashes in Damascus, Makdissi said, "We are in a state of self-defense." But he later added, "This is an exceptional matter. It will last a couple of days, and matters will return to normal." The Syrian crisis started in March 2011, when a fierce government crackdown against protesters morphed into a nationwide uprising against the regime.On Sunday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said almost 17,000 people have been killed over the past 17 months. In addition to the deaths, thousands of refugees have fled Syria into neighboring countries to escape the turmoil. The three border crossings between Iraq and Syria were opened Monday to Syrian refugees, an Iraqi government spokesman said

Putin: Non-stop civil war if Assad ousted

Russian President Putin has warned that if the Assad government is overthrown, the ensuing civil war in Syria may see no end. Speaking after a meeting with Italian PM Monti, Putin said thatt in the case if the Syrian authorities are displaced, “they will simply swap places with the current opposition and this will cause a civil war that would go on for no one knows how long.” Putin also called on the conflicting parties to reach a compromise, saying this is the only path which ensures the country has a future. “The incumbent Syrian authorities as well as the so- called armed opposition must find strength to organize the talks and find a mutually acceptable compromise for the country’s future,” Putin told reporters. “We believe that the following should be the course of action: halting the violence, conducting negotiations, searching for a solution, laying down a constitutional basis for the future society, and only then introducing structural changes, not vice versa. Doing things the other way around would only cause chaos,” Putin continued. Prime Minister Monti told the press that a provisional government modeled on Lebanon's could be the best solution to the crisis. He added that such a government should include all elements of Syrian society, and that Russia should support such a move once it goes through the UN. Putin replied that Russia’s position on the subject remained the same – the priority being putting an end to violence. “Both the government side and the armed opposition must end the violence and get to the negotiation table,” the Russian President said. “We hold that the country’s future must be decided not on the basis of a military defeat or a military victory by one of the sides, but on the basis of the process of talks, on the basis of agreements and compromise,” Putin said. “The agreements that were reached in the UN on prolonging the UN mission testify to the fact that despite certain splits in defining what is primary and what is secondary, compromises can be found on UN grounds and a settlement made with all sides for the benefit of the Syrian people,” Putin added. Putin’s words echoed the statements made earlier by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other top Russian diplomats. Russia insists that both sides of the Syrian conflict take part in the settlement, sharply criticizing the unilateral approach of those nations who have blamed the crisis solely on President Assad and his government. Russia and China have repeatedly vetoed UN resolutions that threatened the Syrian regime with sanctions if the conflict continued, arguing that both the rebels and the government should be held responsible for the current situation. Earlier this month, Russian officials received two delegations from the Syrian opposition in Moscow. Following the talks, the Syrian opposition recognized Russia’s roll in helping stabilize the situation in the country. On Friday, the UN Security Council unanimously voted to prolong the international monitors’ stay in Syria, a move suggested by Pakistan and supported by Russia.

US Warns Assad Over Chemical Weapons

Obama attacks on taxes and Bain hit Romney ratings

Sustained attacks by President Barack Obama's
campaign on Republican rival Mitt Romney's business history and refusal to release more tax records appear to be working, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday. More than a third of voters who are registered to a party or as an independent said in the online survey that what they had heard about Romney's taxes and his time at Bain Capital private equity firm had given them a less favorable impression of the Republican candidate. And particularly worrying for Romney is that a large slice of independent voters -- whom he needs to win the November 6 election -- are also buying into the Obama campaign's portrayal of him as a ruthless businessman who may be hiding something in his taxes. "With three-quarters of registered voters saying they've heard at least a little about these issues, I would say the Obama campaign has been successful in raising them to the national conscience," said Ipsos pollster Julia Clark. After weeks of accusations from Obama and his allies that Romney cut U.S. jobs and sent them overseas while he headed Bain, 36 percent of registered voters said the issue had made them see Romney less favorably, compared to 18 percent who said they were now more favorable toward the former governor of Massachusetts. Among independents, 26 percent regarded him less favorably and 13 percent more favorably after hearing about his business tenure. The Romney campaign counters that Obama is trying to distract attention from the poor economy with frequent ads and speeches about Bain and the Republican's personal finances. The Democrats are also calling on Romney to release more tax returns beyond the two years' worth of information he has given so far. An ad last week suggested that not being more open about his taxes meant the White House hopeful had something to hide. A RIGHT TO KNOW Almost half of the poll respondents said Americans have a right to know a presidential candidate's financial history going back many years, while a third said Romney doesn't need to release any more tax returns and further requests to do so are an invasion of his privacy. Among registered voters, 37 percent said what they had heard about Romney's taxes made them less favorable toward him, while among independents 30 percent agreed. The poll results were not all negative for Romney, though. The Republican holds a 5 percentage point advantage over Obama among registered voters on his "plan, policy or approach" to the country's economy. The margin was 36 to 31 percent among registered voters, but 22 to 19 in favor of Obama among independents. Americans also showed signs of displeasure about a candidate's taxes becoming such an important part of the national dialogue. More than half of registered voters -- 55 percent -- said the debate about Romney's tax returns was a waste of time, while 45 percent said it was an important part of the campaign. But independents, by a margin of 54 to 46, saw Romney's taxes as important in the fight for the White House. The poll of 1,195 adults, including 962 registered voters, was taken between Thursday and Monday. The precision of Reuters/Ipsos online surveys are measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for all Americans. For registered voters it was plus or minus 3.7, and for independents it was plus or minus 8.7.

A day after Kabul’s warning to Pakistan, more cross-border shelling reported

Scores of fresh artillery rounds fired from Pakistan hit parts of eastern Afghanistan on Sunday night and Monday, a local official said, a day after Kabul warned Islamabad that any further cross-border shelling could significantly damage ties between the two historically uneasy neighbors. There were no casualties from the overnight barrage, which mostly hit the Dangam district of eastern Konar province. Earlier in the weekend, four civilians were killed in shelling there, said Wasifullah Wasifi, a spokesman for Konar’s governor. In western Afghanistan on Sunday, a gunman wearing the uniform of the Afghan security forces shot and killed three civilian contractors — two Americans and a British citizen — working with the U.S.-led NATO coalition, the Associated Press reported. Five coalition troops were killed by roadside bombs over the weekend in other parts of the country. Konar police Chief Ewaz Mohammad Naziri said 1,960 shells, mostly artillery rounds, have hit various districts of the province in recent months. Pakistan denies that accusation. The shelling comes days after Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul to discuss joint efforts to persuade Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan to join peace talks and end the cross-border shelling. On Sunday, the deputy Afghan foreign minister, Jawed Ludin, met with Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul and issued a warning. “Any continuation of such reported shelling against Afghan villages could have a significant negative impact on bilateral relations,” Ludin told Ambassador Mohammad Sadiq, the Foreign Ministry reported. The two sides agreed to hold a senior-level meeting of military officials soon to discuss the shelling and improve military coordination along the border region. The shelling also was the focal point of a debate in the Afghan parliament Sunday, with some lawmakers calling Karzai’s U.S.- reliant government weak for failing to respond to the firing. Afghan officials say the shelling has forced hundreds of families to leave their villages, mostly in rugged Konar province, an entry point for insurgents. The province lies near the porous, ill-defined and historically disputed frontier with Pakistan and was the target of even more extensive shelling from Pakistan last summer. Afghan and U.S. and other NATO-led troops have come under fire by suspected insurgents in Konar in the past. Adding to the tension between Islamabad and Kabul, Pakistan recently decided to revoke refu­gee status for nearly 3 million Afghans, meaning they will be deported by year’s end. Pakistan is also blocking the transfer of millions of school textbooks into Afghanistan. Afghanistan had wanted its refugees to be able to return home more gradually, and an Afghan government spokeswoman said Karzai had received a personal pledge from Ashraf that the books would be allowed into his country.

Afghan Cabinet Raises Concern About Mining Legislation, to West’s Unease

For Afghan mining officials and their Western advisers, revamping the Afghan laws that cover mining and oil drilling looked like an easy sell with a big payoff: new rules would give foreign investors certainty and, in the process, begin transforming Afghanistan from a ward of the international community into a state that could better pay its own way. Instead, the new laws are now in limbo after a group of Afghan cabinet ministers and senior officials last week objected to the draft legislation as kowtowing to foreign mining interests eager to hijack Afghanistan’s natural resources. “A balance has to be struck so we can make sure that our patrimony does not become a pot of porridge for others,” said Ashraf Ghani, a senior adviser to President Hamid Karzai. With the end of the NATO military mission in Afghanistan looming in 2014, the dispute over the legislation reflects growing Afghan unease over how steep a price their country — among the world’s poorest and most corrupt — may have to pay for outside help in the future. Exploiting Afghanistan’s potentially rich deposits of iron, oil, gold, copper and other minerals and gemstones is seen as crucial to the country’s economic prospects, and, by extension, the West’s ability to cut back over the next decade the billions of dollars spent each year on the government, the army, the police and myriad development projects. Afghanistan’s big international backers — the United States, Germany, Japan, among others — were so certain the laws would soon be in place that this month they made $16 billion in aid commitments for the coming four years based in part on projections of future mining revenues the Afghan government could expect. The cabinet’s rejection of the draft legislation in a special session on Wednesday caught Western diplomats in Kabul off guard. “We did not know it was going to cabinet last week,” Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador in Kabul, said in an interview. “We’re still playing catch-up.” But he added that the Afghans were worried about being taken advantage of and wary of suffering the fate of other states where mining has fueled instability. “There has to be enough of an incentive to bring in the companies and yet enough assurance that they won’t be taken for a ride,” he said. Mr. Karzai affirmed the cabinet’s decision, saying in a statement on Monday that the Justice Ministry and other departments would review the laws to ensure they better protect “the national interests of Afghanistan.” That could delay new legislation by months, at least, sending Western officials scrambling to help Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines get the legislation back on track. The immediate concern is that at least five open tenders — four gold and copper concessions and one significant oil and gas project — could attract far less lucrative bids than expected if Afghanistan’s laws are not soon brought in line with global norms, Afghan mining officials and Western officials said. Bidding on those concessions is expected to be completed before the end of the year. Among the companies expressing interest is ExxonMobil, by far the largest to seriously explore investing in Afghanistan. If the expected revenue streams from mining are delayed or diminished, Afghanistan is “going to need a lot more funding,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Are the publics in Europe and the United States going to have the interest in Afghanistan to make current aid levels feasible?” the official continued. “I don’t think so.” No one on either side of the disagreement over the new legislation disputes that Afghanistan needs the money mining could bring in. But “we’re being inundated by people who have a conflict of interest advising us,” said Mr. Ghani, a former finance minister and World Bank official who is now overseeing the transition from a Western-led rebuilding effort to one run largely by the Afghan government. “Will the advisers end up working for the very same companies that are investing?” he said in a telephone interview. “These are questions we need to ask in particular given the revolving-door culture in the United States and other international organizations.” Mr. Ghani, who also taught at Johns Hopkins University, was careful to present his opposition to the draft legislation as a matter of getting Afghanistan the best deal from the foreign companies, whose money and expertise he acknowledged Afghanistan did need. He also said care had to be taken to ensure mining and oil concessions did not become a source of conflict, as has happened in many countries, especially in Africa. Mining, he said, could turn Afghanistan “into Chile, or it could turn us into Congo.” The draft legislation is intended to update earlier laws written with World Bank assistance and passed in 2009. Those laws are seen by the mining industry as highly problematic — they, for instance, give no guarantee that a company that conducts exploration would get to exploit what it found. Afghanistan’s commerce minister, Anwar-ul-Haq Ahady, said he understood the concerns, but was not comfortable being rushed into making a decision or with the level of foreign involvement in drafting the new laws. “The previous law was written by experts from the World Bank, and they were all highly paid consultants. And now we have more highly paid consultants telling us we need new laws,” he said. “We just need to know why it needs to change.” But other senior officials present at the cabinet meeting, most of them far less knowledgeable about finance and international development, were openly hostile to the idea that foreign companies would profit from Afghan mines or oil fields, according to Afghan and Western officials briefed on the discussions. Why, asked a few of the ministers, should foreigners grow rich off Afghanistan’s minerals, oil and gemstones? Couldn’t Afghans do it themselves? The short answer, according to Afghan mining officials and foreign experts: No. It has neither the money nor the expertise. Attracting companies that can provide the needed capital and expertise, however, takes an open, transparent and predictable investing landscape, American and European officials said. They insisted that their main goal was bringing Afghan laws and regulations up to international standards, not the mere pursuit of national self-interest. “Obviously, we have U.S. companies that could be qualified bidders and we would obviously be really happy if they did bid,” one American diplomat said. “But you’ve got to have an environment in place where they want to bid — our companies, other countries’ companies, all companies.”

'PM Ashraf cannot write to Swiss authorities'

The federal government has submitted its reply in the NRO implementation case on Tuesday. The federal government in its reply - submitted by Attorney General Irfan Qadir - stated that the Prime Minister follows the decisions of the federal cabinet and it has so far not advised him to write letter to the Swiss authorities for reopening of the cases. Therefore the letter to the Swiss authorities cannot be written. The reply prays to the apex court to review its July 12 judgment in which it had asked the Attorney General to apprise the Prime Minister about the court orders in respect of writing of letter to the Swiss authorities. The Supreme Court will resume hearing of the NRO implementation case on July 25. The judiciary has been trying for years to force the federal government to reopen multi-million-dollar corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. After dismissing prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on June 19, it gave Raja Pervaiz Ashraf two weeks to indicate whether he would write to the Swiss authorities to reopen the cases which were shelved in 2008 when Zaradri became president. The allegations against Zardari date back to the 1990s, when he and his late wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, are suspected of using Swiss bank accounts to launder $12 million allegedly paid in bribes by companies seeking customs inspection contracts. The government insists the president has full immunity. But in 2009 the court overturned a political amnesty that froze investigations into the president and other politicians, ordering that the cases be reopened.

Pakistan: Focus on the judiciary?

By Hussain
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has been asserting that state organs should work within the parameters described in the constitution. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has also said on many occasions that each institution should strictly work according to the constitution as it is the supreme law of the country. The relevant question here is which state organs they are talking about — executive, parliament or the judiciary — all of which have crossed multiple red lines in the past four years. The contempt law that was promulgated in 2003 by General Pervez Musharraf has been applied by the superior court to remove prime minister Gilani. In which other democratic country of the world has an elected prime minister been sent home on a contempt of court charge despite the former prime minister's claim that he cannot obey an order that will result in his breaching the constitutional oath? Article 248 extends immunity to the president while in office. How then can the prime minister write a letter against the president to reopen a case by the Swiss authorities that the Musharraf government requested the Swiss authorities to be considered a closed case as far as the government of Pakistan was concerned. Why are we so keen to look like a fool in front of another country's government and people? Why has this corruption case been allowed to linger for over a decade? Why was a former judge of the Lahore High Court forced to resign after it was proved that he was asking the government what verdict he should give on the case and later, the same judge became an attorney general and wrote a letter to close the Swiss case? President Asif Ali Zardari had spent over a decade in jail without being found guilty of cases against him. What further punishment should he undergo for his sins? Considering the PPP's stated arguments for not writing to the Swiss, why has the Supreme Court not set up a commission to send a letter directly to the Swiss authorities and avoid unnecessary fighting with the former on this issue? President Zardari is not the only president in the world who has assets in a foreign country with an unknown source of income. Then there is rampant corruption in the judiciary as well, which among the primary ten institutions of the country has been ranked number three in 2010's International Transparency Report. Is there any judicial accountability system working that has punished any judge involved in corruption? I think a great error has been committed by the apex court to disqualify and remove Yousaf Raza Gilani from the post of prime minister who did not ridicule or defame the Supreme Court at any time. He took the stand based on the immunity given to the president under Article 248(2) of the Constitution. In a parliamentary form of government, the prime minister holds office as long as he has the confidence of parliament, not the Supreme Court. Article 63(1) g cannot be utilised by the court to oust the prime minister. S T HUSSAIN Chief Executive, Consumer Awareness and Welfare Association Lahore


For the past six years, the National Highway Authority and the Frontier Works Organization had virtually stopped constructing highways in all directions. In most of the cases, the NHA had failed to make payment to the contractors forcing them to close the work and shift their machinery, people and engineers to other places where they got contract. Those Highways include the main roads linking Gwadar Port with rest of the country, the Khuzdar Rato-Dero Section, the RCD Highway from Bela to Zahedan, Gwadar-Quetta section via Central Balochistan. It is more important to link Gwadar Port with Afghanistan first so that transit trade between the two neighbour is diverted from Karachi-Torkham Highway, a longer route, Gwadar-Zahedan highway or railroad link to connect Gwadar Port with rest of the Western world. It is strange that the NHA had diverted the funds from Gwadar-Hoshap Section to somewhere in Central or Southern Punjab at the behest of the former Prime Minister of Pakistan. The amount of money was said to be over Rs five billions. The work had been stopped since then. A senior official who paid a visit to Gwadar on the request from the provincial Government promised to release the needed Rs five billion for the Gwadar link roads during the current fiscal year. Let us hope that funds are released immediately so that the work should start again without any further delay. First phase of Gwadar Port had been completed by the Chinese six month ahead of schedule in 2006 and the NHA had failed to complete the roads and highways linking the Port with rest of the world. The Provincial Government had been using necessary pressure on the Federal Government the Chief Minister and his Cabinet colleagues had several meetings with the President and the former Prime Minister requesting them to expedite the construction of highway so that Gwadar Port is used in serving the landlocked countries in our surroundings, including Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics of Soviet era. All those efforts gone waste and the NHA and the Planning Commission failed to implement the projects prepared more than a decade ago. In all, the Federal Government or the NHA was supposed to spend around Rs 37 billions on major highways in Balochistan over a period of time. It is shocking that the NHA or the Federal Government had spent mere Rs 7 billion over a period of time. The plans were prepared and approved and the Government failed to release the funds for the projects as there is no one in the Planning Commission, the Finance Minister or for that matter in the entire Central Government to release the promised funds of Balochistan projects. It was one of the major reasons that the Baloch people are demanding complete autonomy and minimum powers to the Federal Government necessary to defend the national frontiers only. Gwadar Port will be effective only when the entire project is complete and it will start earning money by facilitating transit trade for the land locked countries of Central Asia, including Afghanistan. By merely handling TCP cargo, Gwadar Port will not be developed. Since Pakistan Government is feeling the severe financial crunch in the recent years, it will be better to hand over the Gwadar Port to the Balochistan Government permitting the provincial authorities to seek finances from world over for early construction and completion of the entire Gwadar Port project. International market forces need the services of Gwadar Port, a strategic port vital for trade with landlocked countries, and they will be ready to finance it if it is handed over to the Balochistan Government, independent economists believed. Pakistan Government is totally isolated in the present day world due to its policies and no country is ready to help Pakistan. Even the US had slashed its military assistance by 650 million US dollars in a single go indicating the level of relations between Pakistan and rest of the world. Presumably, the Balochistan Government will be in a better position and having a better goodwill the world over in seeking funds for development and completion of the entire Gwadar Port with its railroad links in all directions.

Pakistan: Constitutional blues

The government contends that it is following the constitution. The judiciary too maintains that it is acting in accordance with the constitution. And the lawmakers insist that they abide by the constitutional privilege to amend the constitution and enact laws. Then why is so much of hullabaloo when each and all are respectable of the constitution and its true followers? Why all that tension and friction in the air? The bland fact is that after decades of military dictatorships and, yes, civilian autocratic rules, the state institutions are perhaps for the first time finding a climate of openness to breathe in. They are evolving and finding their feet. In the process, things are happening that were unimaginable before. The higher judicial appointments were once the closed preserve of the superior judiciary alone. But now the legislative branch too has a say in them. Likewise, parliamentary enactments were earlier deemed the last word. Now they are open to judicial scrutiny for their constitutionality. And the judiciary is now treading in the fields erstwhile deemed to be the executive's sole turf, while the executive is defying the judiciary on certain issues that it insists are within its own pale. Such confusions and bickering would persist inevitably until the institutions evolve to establish mutually acceptable and accommodative practices and traditions. But, then, tiffs and disputes are not unknown even to the established democracies with long-held traditions and norms. For months, US president Bill Clinton ran his administration on ad hoc funding arrangements as the Congress was adamant not to approve his proposed budget. And currently President Barack Obama has seen his health reforms being challenged in the Supreme Court, even though these had been approved by the Congress. Yet a clutch of Republican state governors and senators approached the apex court to shoot them down. Nevertheless, the court ruled in favour of the reforms, although with a contentious divided vote. Given this, there is nothing quaint about the chaotic conditions presently prevalent in the inter-institution relationships in the country. In time, as the institutions evolve, their mutual frictions will largely stand ironed out and greater harmony in their relationships will ensue. Until then, bonhomie is unrealistic to expect. Perhaps, a broad dialogue between the top leaders of the executive, legislative and judicial branches could help smoothen this evolution process to occur in a harmonious way. But that frankly looks just not feasible in the given conditions. Still, some effort to this end could be worth it, particularly when no institution wants any harm to come to the country and all mean good for the nation. Presently, a lot of vitiation is stemming forth from the Swiss letter episode, which indeed is poisoning the relationship between the judiciary and the executive worrisomely. Both have their stands rooted in the constitution. The Supreme Court is unhappy that by defying writing the letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen the money laundering case against President Asif Zardari, the government is ridiculing the judiciary, which a constitutional provision forbids. And the government insists that the president enjoys constitutional immunity and hence the letter it would not write. The imbroglio has given birth to a whole lot of difficulties and acts that could potentially hurt the system irreparably. A way out of the impasse thus needs to be found out so that the apex court's verdict is carried out and the government's reservation is also pacified. In this, the thinking class can play a role. It can moot out some plausible third way to go about the whole imbroglio to the satisfaction of both the apex court and the government. But, appallingly, certain segments of this thinking class are displaying quite a churlish cavalierism at this point in time when they are expected to act responsibly and with wisdom and sagacity. Instead of bridging the gulfs between the judiciary and the executive, they are out trying to widen chasms between the two. What point is there when the apex court has taken up a suo moto notice to flood it with many more petitions on the issue? The court will rule in the best of its light whether it is single petition or many more. Indeed, this kind of a joke of these strands of the thinking class this nation can hardly afford, placed as it is so fragilely at present.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa:USAID to fund rebuilding of schools hit by flooding, militancy

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would receive $25 million assistance from United States Agency for International Development for reconstruction of damaged school buildings in its flood and militancy affected areas other than Malakand, official sources said. The provincial government and USAID signed an ‘activity agreement’ a few days ago on the basis of which school buildings damaged by floods and militants in areas other than Malakand division would be reconstructed, a well placed official told Dawn on Monday. “The number of schools to be reconstructed with this money would be known once we determine our needs following an assessment exercise that would be carried out in the near future,” he said. In this regard, according to sources, the elementary and secondary education department and Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) will work together to assess the damaged schools that are to be reconstructed in the flood and militancy affected parts of the province other than Malakand division. More than 11,000 schools were damaged in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as a result of the 2010 devastating flood, rendering a large number of students without education facilities. While a large number of the partially damaged schools are being reconstructed with funds provided by UK’s Department for International Development, bilateral donors, including UAE and Qatar, have also extended financial assistance for reconstructing school buildings. A PDMA official said that provincial government had undertaken activities on a large scale to reconstruct flood damaged schools in various parts of the province. But there were still many more schools in various parts of the province for which funds were required, he added. “The joint assessment will enable the government to know how many of the flood affected schools remain to be reconstructed following which the government would exactly know how many of the schools would be reconstructed by utilising the fresh $25 million USAID funds,” said the official. The information, once available with the government, would be shared with the donor to chalk out future course of action, the official added. The $25 million funding line being provided by USAID would be in addition to an identical amount the agency has extended for reconstructing about 110 destroyed school buildings in the militancy affected parts of Malakand division. A majority of these under-reconstruction school buildings, according to sources, are scheduled to complete by December 31, 2012. The latest agreement would expand the scope of USAID work in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa education sector to a wider area of the province, taking its school building projects to Peshawar, Swabi, Mardan, and some of the southern districts. In addition to USAID, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is also optimistic about receiving $200 million for reconstruction activities from the United Arab Emirates under the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, according to official sources. “The Abu Dhabi Fund money would be utilised to strengthen Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s communication and education sectors, carrying out development projects in the affected parts,” said an official. The provincial government, added the official, had identified three projects for execution under the Abu Dhabi Fund. These include the proposed construction of Swat Expressway, the establishment of a university at Swat. Besides, some of the damaged buildings of schools and colleges would be reconstructed in the affected parts of the province. “We are waiting for the projects’ approval from the donor,” said the official, adding that the provincial government was in contact with the Economic Affairs Division, Islamabad, to materialise the funding commitment the UAE made after the floods in 2010.

Pakistan: 30 million young children out of school

The Express Tribune
With over 30 million out-of-school children aged between five and 16, the country’s basic education system is far from satisfactory. According to official statistics provided by governmental agencies, Sindh, Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) and Fata are the worse-affected regions in terms of drinking water facilities available for primary schoolchildren — on an average more than half of the schools in these regions lack drinking water amenities. According to the World Food Programme and Ministry of Professional and Technical Training, in terms of electricity, more than 50% schools on average in Sindh, Balochistan and Fata do not have adequate power supply — with only 20% rural area schools in Balochistan and Sindh receiving some sort of power. While Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) are relatively better in this category, typically half the schools in the rural areas of Balochistan, Sindh, G-B and Fata also lack sewerage facilities, including bathrooms for primary schoolchildren. In the rural-urban area classification, there exists a clear schism — almost entirely across the country, urban area schools fare much better in terms of electricity, sewerage faculties, drinking water availability, teacher-student ratio and fifth-grade survival rate. According to Dr Kozue Kay Nagata, Unesco’s representative in Pakistan, over 15 million children between the age of five and 16 are denied their right to free education in Sindh and about 78% rural women in this province remain illiterate. Given United Nations’ assertion that Pakistan spends less than 2.5% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on the education sector, the current state of education in the country hardly seems surprising. The above-mentioned trends exemplify the alarming state of the country’s primary education sector where access to education needs to be expanded through legislation and incentives. UN lauds the Senate Meanwhile, Unesco, which is the specialised agency of the UN system for education, science and culture, has lauded the Senate after the passage of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act. Unesco’s representative in Pakistan, in her statement, felicitated all the senators on tabling and approving the multi-party bill for provision of free and compulsory education to all the five to 16 year-old children in the Islamabad capital territory — with over 70, 000 school-going children out of school in that area. Dr Nagata said that she expects that passage of this “historical bill by the Senate will generate an emulative effect for the provincial assemblies to initiate similar legislation for out of school children in their respective areas”. Meanwhile taking precedence, Sindh Education Minister Pir Mazaharul Haq has given a one-month deadline to the Education Department for the preparation of a Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill for the province.

When money is ‘wasted’ on laptops

The reason behind the sudden increase in BA/BSc and MA/ MSc fees at Punjab University is because of money spent on arranging a laptop distribution ceremony at the varsity. Around Rs10.61 m was spent on staging the political drama by PU VC Professor Dr Mujahid Kamran, when the varsity was already facing a financial crunch, sources told Pakistan Today. Sources in the PU’s Treasury Department said that the varsity had been facing a lot of issues after spending such an exorbitant amount just to please the Punjab CM. They said that they hadn’t received any money from the CDGL or Punjab government for arranging the political ceremony, and the students have ended up paying a high price for the laptops distributed. On the other hand the student community is condemning the CM, who according to them has taken no steps to address the issue of the fees hike. Students said that the CM should inquire as to why he has earned such a bad reputation for himself by spending their money over the laptop scheme. The PU administration has been facing harsh criticism from parents and the student community after having recently announced an increase in the examination fees; and an increase of 20 percent for BA/ BSc and a 10 percent increase in the MA/ MSc admissions fees. Students and parents, who can not afford the additional fees, have all claimed that this is well beyond their means and cannot continue their education because of this. Educationists and students have been questioning the need to increase the fees when earlier the CM raised slogans for providing maximum facilities for the education sector. A reliable source in the PU administration said it was only that particular laptop distribution ceremony that had caused this hike, as they still await funds from CDGL. Students at PU had protested prior to the ceremony, saying that this will end up being a political show only, but the VC had paid no heed. Several educationists believe this was carried out in gratitude for the extension in Dr Kamran’s tenure at PU. It is important to mention here that not only the students but honourable Chief Justice of LHC also took notice of the political drama at that time and at that time court also directed the city government to explain what law allowed it to reimburse PU for the money it spent on a ceremony for the distribution of laptops last month. The chief justice of Lahore High Court took notice of this and directed the city government to explain under what law it was allowed to reimburse PU for the money it had spent on the ceremony last month. The CJ told Dr. Kamran not to pay for the ceremony, but he still went ahead and did it anyway. PU’s acting Treasurer Rao Sharif confirmed that the varsity has not received money from CDGL. PU IJT Nazim Rai Haq Nawaz said that it is a shame that the students’ money was spent on distributing laptops and the VC’s political activities. Sara, a student at PU, said that at the time of the ceremony, LHC had taken notice and requested the CJ to take a suo motto notice of the increase in fee as this decision can close doors for thousands of poor families.

US wants a stable, strong Pakistan

Outgoing US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter on Monday said that the US wanted a stable and strong Pakistan and it would continue supporting the country for the benefit of the people of the region. Talking to a private television channel, Munter said that terrorists were common enemies of Pakistan and the United States. They are a threat to the sovereignty of Pakistan, he added. He said the people and the government of Pakistan were against anti-social elements and terrorism. Munter said that Pakistan-US relations should be based on mutual interests and respect. He hoped that the relations between the two countries would further strengthen with the passage of time. The ambassador said that the US wanted to help civilians and military of Pakistan. “Pakistani politicians are patriotic...the US does not support dictatorial rule in Pakistan,” he said.