Sunday, December 2, 2012

Al Qaida-linked group Syria rebels once denied now key to anti-Assad victories
When the group Jabhat al Nusra first claimed responsibility for car and suicide bombings in Damascus that killed dozens last January, many of Syria’s revolutionaries claimed that the organization was a creation of the Syrian government, designed to discredit those who opposed the regime of President Bashar Assad and to hide the regime’s own brutal tactics. Nearly a year later, however, Jabhat al Nusra, which U.S. officials believe has links to al Qaida, has become essential to the frontline operations of the rebels fighting to topple Assad. Not only does the group still conduct suicide bombings that have killed hundreds, but they’ve proved to be critical to the rebels’ military advance. In battle after battle across the country, Nusra and similar groups do the heaviest frontline fighting. Groups who call themselves the Free Syrian Army and report to military councils led by defected Syrian army officers move into the captured territory afterward. The prominence of Nusra in the rebel cause worries U.S. and other Western officials, who say its operations rely on the same people and tactics that fueled al Qaida in Iraq – an assertion that is borne out by interviews with Nusra members in Syria. Among Nusra fighters are many Syrians who say they fought with al Qaida in Iraq, which waged a bloody and violent campaign against the U.S. presence in that country and is still blamed for suicide and car bombings that have killed hundreds of Iraqis since the U.S. troops left a year ago. According to Nusra members, some of the group’s leaders, including the emir, or top ruler, in Syria’s Deir al Zour province, are Iraqis. The group’s prominence makes clear the dilemma of Syria’s revolutionaries, as well as those who might provide support to them. Though members of Nusra operate independently of the other rebel groups that have taken up arms _ and particularly those that are calling for elections if Assad is deposed _ it is increasingly clear that their operations are closely coordinated with more secular rebels. Some Syrians say that Nusra’s importance is a result of the West’s failure to support those secular rebels. But the closeness of the coordination between Nusra and other rebels makes it difficult to support one without empowering the other. Nusra leaders argue that the West should not fear their rise in importance. “The West must not fear Islam _ when Islam is in power, all people will live peacefully,” said Iyad al Sheikh Mahmoud, the leader of a recently founded Jabhat al Nusra group in this central Syrian city of about 30,000. Before becoming the leader of Nusra’s group here, Mahmoud had been part of Ahrar al Sham, another group of fighters that has branches across the country and subscribes to a similar ideology. “There is no difference at all between the ideology of Ahrar al Sham and Jabhat al Nusra,” Mahmoud said, indicating that he had largely changed groups for the opportunity to lead one. Like Nusra, Ahrar al Sham is also not aligned with the military councils. Nusra’s rise is most evident in Syria’s north and east, where anti-Assad forces have recently been racking up impressive military gains. Gone are the days just five months ago when Nusra’s actions seemed limited to car and suicide bombings. Now, Nusra fighters are organized in battalion-sized groups that are often armed with heavy weaponry. On a trip to Syria that spanned most of the month of November, a journalist found Nusra’s fighters on every frontline he visited. In the country’s largest city of Aleppo, they were advancing on the army to try to take key intersections. In Maarat al Numan, a strategic city on the highway between Aleppo and Damascus, they were laying siege to a military base. In Ras al Ayn, in the country’s northeast, they captured a strategic border post, allegedly summarily executing a number of Syrian soldiers they had trapped on a base there in the process. In Deir al Zour province, in the country’s southeast, they were at the fore as rebels captured parts of Syria’s oil infrastructure and laid siege to an artillery base near the city of Mayadeen in hopes of capturing the weapons inside. “Our financial support is greater than other groups, and our faith makes us more effective fighters,” said Mahmoud, explaining why the group had grown so quickly. He said the financial support came from individual donors, not directly from any government. The mujahedeen groups also appear to have clearer structures than the military councils, whose leadership is sometimes less than obvious as newer defectors of higher rank demand control from less senior officers who’ve been fighting against Assad longer. Car bombings have also increasingly killed civilians in Damascus neighborhoods sympathetic to the government. The first operation Mahmoud’s group supported was a suicide bombing by a Libyan man against an army base north of here. Mahmoud said he saw no reason to hold elections if Assad falls. “Eighty percent of Syrians want Islamic law,” he said. Many fighters said they were aware of the accusations about Nusra’s links to al Qaida. But they generally discount the importance of those ties when speaking with journalists. “In Europe, they consider all Muslims terrorists, not only Jabhat al Nusra,” Mahmoud said. Still, there are moments when Nusra’s ideology shines through. “When we finish with Assad, we will fight the U.S.!” one Nusra fighter shouted in the northeastern Syrian city of Ras al Ayn when he was told an American journalist present. He laughed as he said it and then got into a van and drove off, leaving the journalist unable to ask whether it had been a joke. In Ras al Ayn, the burning of a liquor store by Nusra fighters frightened Syrian Kurds and Christians living there, and the group has come into direct confrontation with Kurdish militia members in the area who’ve said they are willing to negotiate with moderate rebels but will not allow groups like Nusra into the territory they hold. There are tensions developing between local military councils and Nusra and other non-aligned groups. On Saturday, one group planning an attack in the Qalat al Mudiq area was asked by the military council to call it off, to avoid endangering a local truce that holds in the city. In the eastern province of Deir al Zour, Muhammed Mustafa Aboud, the military council commander, said that in meetings with U.S. officials in Turkey and Jordan, the main concerns had been “Nusra and al Qaida.” “We say to them they are small groups and they are not very powerful and it’s your fault because if you had supported FSA they wouldn’t be here now,” Aboud said. “Eighty percent of Syrians are moderate Muslims . . . the West is too afraid of these groups.”

Turkish Kurds, police clash at funeral

Israel: A diplomatic defeat
Israel suffered a diplomatic setback at the United Nations last week. All the explanations, excuses, wisecracks and circumlocutions by government spokespeople and Likud members can't obscure the bitter truth. The General Assembly vote making the Palestinians a nonmember observer state put Israel's stark isolation on display - isolation we haven't experienced since the Sinai Campaign of 1956. This fact should worry anyone who cares about Israel's well-being. The people must not be deceived. The events of last Thursday are a warning sign for the future. They are not a yellow caution light but rather a blinking red light that only an irresponsible person would play down. It was clear that the Palestinian request for upgraded UN status would attract a majority vote, even a large majority. But Israel was counting on a "moral majority" - a bloc of 20 to 30 countries including Western democracies - to support us and oppose the Palestinian request. That's the way things happened in the past. Not one EC member or other West European country supported the United Nations' notorious resolution in 1975 equating Zionism with racism. Unfortunately, that's not what happened this time. Only eight countries, including four small Pacific island nations, sided with Israel and opposed the resolution. One European country - just one - voted with us, while most of the European Union, including France, Spain and Italy, supported the Palestinian request. This is particularly serious because there was no solid justification for the Palestinian request. The request was a violation of the Oslo Accords, whereas it's clear that "Palestine" lacks the minimum traits required of a country. The vote supporting the Palestinian bid is first and foremost a protest vote by Western countries against the Israeli government's bad policy in recent years. This is the rotten result of the actions of the government and Likud's leaders. The prime minister declares his support at the Knesset, the UN General Assembly and the U.S. Congress for a Palestinian state, as well as his devotion to a two-state solution. But the world is unwilling to accept this when his senior ministers, let alone Likud MKs, speak and act to prevent such a solution. Continued construction in the small and isolated West Bank settlements beyond the settlement blocs is an unnecessary provocation and portrays the prime minister as someone who doesn't speak the truth and undermines Israel's credibility. The results of the Likud primary had a considerable effect on the UN vote. The rejection of the moderates and the ruling party's rightward transformation into an entity controlled by Moshe Feiglin, Danny Danon, Miri Regev and Zeev Elkin convinced the world that there was no one to talk to. That is, no one among the Israelis, not the Palestinians. Some people will surely play down the UN's importance - and in fact the United Nations isn't the important issue here and the General Assembly vote won't achieve any significant changes on the ground. Important is the international community and countries around the world. Israel isn't Burma and can't survive in the long term as an isolated country cut off from the Western world. The Israeli people will have a chance in the January 22 election to change Israel's course before it's too late. A legendary leader of the National Religious Party, Haim-Moshe Shapira, used to say that every electorate gets the leaders it deserves. Let's hope Israel's voters make sure they elect leaders who deserve it.

Lady Gaga - American Music Awards Bad Romance

Punishing American students

Education officials in some states are attempting to discriminate against U.S.-born students whose parents are in this country illegally. For several years now, a handful of states have tried to control illegal immigration by enacting laws that explicitly ban young undocumented immigrants from receiving reduced in-state tuition to public colleges and universities. That was bad enough. Now, education officials in some of those states are stooping even lower and attempting to use the same strategy to discriminate against U.S.-born students whose parents are in this country illegally. Thankfully, state and federal courts have intervened and put an end to those misguided policies. Earlier this year, a New Jersey judge tossed out a rule in that state that denied American-born students financial aid if their parents were not legal residents. And a federal judge in Miami has thrown out a Florida regulation that required students under the age of 25 and born to parents in the country illegally to pay higher, out-of-state tuition. U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore noted that the regulation created a "second-tier of citizenship." It should not take a federal judge to remind Florida lawmakers or education officials that children born in the United States, under whatever circumstances, are fully American. Nor is it clear what those public officials hoped to gain by punishing American students such as Noel Saucedo for the sins of their parents. Born in Miami, Saucedo attended high school there and had hoped to enroll at Miami Dade College after being offered a full two-year scholarship to the school. His scholarship was greatly reduced, however, when his parents couldn't provide proof of their legal status in this country. School officials then raised his tuition to four times what a resident of the state would pay. Saucedo dropped out. And who gained from that episode? Fortunately, Florida's Board of Education has reconsidered its foolish and unconstitutional policy and agreed not to appeal Moore's decision. Whether that reflects reconsideration or just recognition of legal realities, at least it snuffs out a policy that did much harm and no good. Making it harder for promising students to attend college doesn't discourage illegal immigration, but it does deprive states of educated workers who can compete in a global economy.

Immigrants lead plunge in U.S. birth rate

It makes sense that since the start of the recession, the birth rate in America has been declining. In 2011, it dipped to the lowest rate ever recorded: 63.2 per 1,000 women between 15 and 44, the prime childbearing ages, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That plunge was led by immigrant women, according to a Pew Research Center analysis released Thursday. The birth rate for U.S.-born women declined 6% between 2007 (when the recession began) and 2010. However, the rate for foreign-born women plunged 14%, more than in the 17 years before the downturn. Both foreign- and U.S.-born Hispanic women had larger drops in birth rate than any other group, Pew found. That correlates with larger percentage declines in household wealth for Hispanics than in white, black or Asian households. Among women from Mexico, the country from where the largest number of U.S. immigrants come, the birth rate fell by 23%. "If you apply the common sense lens here, when it comes to decisions about when to have children, how many and how to space them, the economy clearly matters," said Bill Albert, spokesman for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Even so, Albert warned that any single reason is unlikely to explain an issue as complex as national fertility rates and as profound and personal as the decision to have children. He said other factors - including people choosing to get married at a later age and a 48% decrease in teen birth rates since their peak in 1991 - may also be playing a role in the decline of the nation's overall birth rate. The drop reversed a trend in which immigrant mothers were responsible for a rising share of births in the United States, Pew found. In 2007, for instance, foreign-born mothers accounted for 25% of U.S. births, compared with 16% in 1990. In 2010, that share dropped to 23%. The Pew report's co-author, Gretchen Livingston, said birth rates among foreign-born women have been higher than native-borns for a variety of reasons. The 2010 birth rate for foreign-born women was 87.8 per 1,000, nearly 50% higher than the rate for U.S.-born women, the Pew report said. Of the 4 million births in America, 930,000 were to immigrants. Many new mothers are Hispanics, who traditionally have had more children than U.S.-born women, Livingston said. Immigrants are less educated on average and are more likely to be married. Some bring with them cultural norms from their homelands that can dictate a necessity to have several children. "What we see with immigrants coming into this country is, they tend to reflect birth rates in their own country," said Robert Walker, president of the Population Institute in Washington. In some cases, immigrant family sizes can rise as income levels go up in America. The gloomy economy in the past few years has clearly played a role in having fewer children, he said. Among the Pew study's other findings: • A majority of births to U.S.-born women (66%) in 2010 were to white mothers, while the majority of births to foreign-born women (56%) were to Hispanic mothers. • Teens account for a higher share of births to U.S.-born moms (11% in 2010) than to immigrants (5%). That number is linked to the age profile of immigrants. • Immigrant women accounted for fully 33% of births to women 35 and older in 2010. Livingston pointed to how the overall birth rate of the United States has stayed relatively constant compared with that of some European nations that have experienced declining populations. Immigrant women in America, she said, have held that number up. The Pew Research Center's projections indicate that immigrants will continue to play a large role in U.S. population growth: Immigrants arriving since 2005 and their descendants will account for 82% of U.S. population growth by 2050. The report said this about the future: "Even if the lower immigration influx of recent years continues, new immigrants and their descendants are still projected to account for most of the nation’s population increase by mid-century." It's difficult to say how birth rates will be affected when the economy improves and people feel fatter in their pocketbooks. Population experts say it's a fair assumption that the birth rate may go up again. One thing is for sure: The face of America will look very different in a few decades.

Afghan politicians struggle to script 2014 transition
Late last month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai received the blueprints for a new home he hopes to occupy in 2014, vacating his official residence at the Arg — the royal citadel built in 1880 after British troops levelled the historic Bala Hisar Fort. There appears to a blueprint for little else concerning the country’s looming political transition, though — least of all the critical question of who might move into the Arg once Mr. Karzai leaves. Even as the first snow of the winter falls on the Hindu Kush mountains, Mr. Karzai’s opponents are huddled together in Kabul to shape the course of the 2014 presidential election, the last that will be held before western troops leave the country. They are facing up to a bizarre reality: the next President may be picked to represent Afghans who don’t vote — not those who do. “For all of us,” says key Opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah, “the challenge is to ensure the integrity of the political system and the legitimacy of government after 2014. That will be the key to Afghanistan’s future.”
The princes-apparent
Leading the race to represent Afghanistan’s southern Pashtun tribes in the Arg are two men who cut their political teeth trying to kill each other: Muhammad Umar Daudzai, now Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Pakistan, and Hanif Atmar, Mr. Karzai’s former Interior Minister. Mr. Daudzai was a member of the Hizb-e Islami militia of Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, elements of which still battle the government. Mr. Atmar lost his leg fighting the Hizb-e Islami during the savage 1987 battle of Jalalabad when he was serving in Afghanistan’s communist-era intelligence service, the Khidmat-e Etelaat-e Dawlati. For both men, their élite ethnic-Pashtun credentials are key. Even though an estimated 48 per cent of Afghanistan’s population now lives in its relatively secure cities, few are likely to vote in the insurgency-hit southern and eastern countryside. In 2009, voter turnout was independently estimated at just 30 per cent; this time around, it will almost certainly be lower. Ensuring the new President enjoys nationwide legitimacy means picking a candidate who speaks for ethnic-Pashtun dominated southern and eastern Afghanistan. The former Afghan Foreign Minister, Abdullah, who picked up 31.8 per cent of the vote to Mr. Karzai’s 47.48 in the 2009 elections, leads arguably the most powerful of these northern formations. Backed by key Opposition ideologue Yunus Qanuni, Mr. Abdullah represents the most visible political face of the pre-9/11 anti-Taliban resistance. There are other influential contenders. Ahmad Zia Masood, brother of anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Masood, in alliance with the Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, has a powerful rival block. The cerebral former Afghan intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh, constitutes a third pole. Ethnic Hazaras, a traditionally underprivileged community who have leveraged post-9/11 aid to emerge as one of Afghanistan’s most dynamic and educated communities, will also play a key role. Hazara leaders like Muhammad Mohaqiq —whose predecessor Abdul Ali Mazari was stripped, mutilated and dropped to his death from a helicopter by the Taliban in 1995 — have been bitterly critical of Mr. Karzai’s efforts to seek peace with the Pakistan-based jihadist group. Mr. Daudzai, Mr. Karzai’s former chief of staff, hopes his Hizb-e Islami connections will help him position himself as a buffer between the Taliban and the north. He has also, sources in the President’s staff say, received informal assurances from both Pakistan and Iran of their support for his candidacy. In 2010, The New York Times alleged that he was the manager of an Iran-funded slush fund for Mr. Karzai, which was used to bribe “Afghan lawmakers, tribal elders and even Taliban commanders to secure their loyalty.” Mr. Atmar, who was Interior Minister until he was sacked by Mr. Karzai in 2010, also hopes his anti-Taliban credentials will make him acceptable to the powerful political groupings of the north.
Other hopefuls
A welter of second-string candidates hopes to cash in if these two heavyweights fail. The former United States Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, and scholars Ashraf Ghani and Ali Jalali are exploring the possibility of securing opposition backing for a presidential bid. So is Mr. Karzai’s brother, Abdul Qayyum Karzai. Last week, Mr. Karzai initiated meetings intended to hammer out the terms of the political transition. Mr. Abdullah Abdullah led a delegation of 21 parties — five of them in government — to seek guarantees of a fair election. Mr. Ahmad Zia Masood, held a similar dialogue. “No one knows just where the pieces are going to fall,” a senior Afghan politician told The Hindu, “but for the first time since 9/11, a serious dialogue between political actors inside the country has begun. We can only hope all of us show the wisdom that is needed to go forward.”

West needs new view on China: Kevin Rudd

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Michael Rudd said that despite value differences and misunderstandings, the West should engage more with a rising China, and a new strategic roadmap between China and the United States should be developed as both sides have more in common than it seems. Rudd, who serves as a member of the Australian parliament, said in a recent exclusive interview with Xinhua that China and the United States (and the West in general) should have more engagement based on common principles and common interests regarding the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region and the world. There are obstacles to remove, according to Rudd. The label some Western countries attach to China as a "risk" to global economic stability does not reflect the reality. Second, labels are not helpful for anybody, to solve global economic and security issues, said Rudd, who is proficient in Mandarin and has travelled, lived and worked in China on nearly 100 occasions over the last 30 years. Despite differences in values, and despite misunderstandings which exist in almost every domain, basic Chinese values and Western values have more in common than it seemed at a first glance, said Rudd. China's strive for harmony and balance is also existent in the Western parliamentary system. "Parliaments have been created to balance different interests in society," he explained. Harmony and balance are concepts that also exist in multilateral institutions within the world order. Because China is in a period of transition, it is the time for engagement. "The U. S. and the West often expect China to take the initiative, but engagement must come from Western and other powers as well." The debate about China's future in the world is not just the sound of one hand clapping. The attitude and the actions of the rest of the international community can also have a profound effect, he said.Rudd said that as U.S. President Barack Obama will soon start his second term, and China now has a new Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, "both leaders must come together to work on a strategic road map in order to tackle global issues like trade liberalization, global security and global warming." This strategic road map includes the efforts of both countries to familiarize themselves with each other, a realistic program to make the international system work, U.S. acceptance of China's peaceful rise, and China's acceptance of the continued U.S. strategic presence in the Asia-Pacific, as well as a common commitment to a principle of non-use of force in the resolution of regional disputes, according to Rudd. Rudd praised the model of the East Asia Summit in pursuing common security and the economic development of the region. In the past, Asia has had no such institutions to prevent or reduce the possibility of any individual incident leading to escalation across the rest of the region, Rudd said. With the expansion of the East Asia Summit last November to include the United States and Russia, all the major powers of this region can sit around a single table at summit level with an open mandate on political, security and economic matters. Thus, confidence-building measures, greater military to military communications, joint exercises as a common response to natural disasters as well as common commitments to open economic cooperation are now possible, he said. In order to ease tensions through misunderstandings, Rudd proposed the concept of a candid friendship, which means that both sides tell each other in which fields they disagree without questioning the fundamental friendship and respect between nations. "You may be right or may be wrong. No one is right all the time. The key principle is recognizing these potentially vast areas we have in common while being open to and respectful about those areas where we may disagree."China and the West for example may clash in Africa where both have economic and political interests. "But isn't it good for the peoples in Africa if both sides invest in the continent?" Rudd asked, in order to show again the common denominator in an area which is often regarded as one of increasing rivalry between both sides. Asked about China's future development, Rudd said China's biggest challenge in the next few years is its transformation to a growth model based more on domestic consumption, the services sector, a greater role for private business and less carbon intensive energy consumption. "In general, I am optimistic about China's future development," he said, adding that he believes China's new leadership has the considerable experience and great wisdom in tackling the economic reforms and global security challenges that lie ahead.

West Bank hails return of Abbas after UN

Backlash on Kalabagh Dam

Kalabagh Dam (KBD) cannot be built on the order of a court. The decision to build this controversial yet important dam can only be made through consensus and on a political platform, said Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in an interview to a local television channel. Minister for Information Qamar Zaman Kaira has pointed out that the Council of Common Interests (CCI) and not the court is the right forum to decide on a political issue such as KBD. The backlash against the Lahore High Court’s (LHC’s) verdict in favor of building KBD has unsurprisingly provoked a storm. Now the question is whether the LHC had the mandate to give any judgment on an issue like KBD. The Peshawar High Court Bar Association (PHCBA) has passed a resolution against this very notion and has sought an answer on this from the lawyers’ fraternity. Even the Supreme Court is invoked by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government to take suo motu notice of the judgment of the LHC so that the matter of KBD does not further become a cause of friction and is finally buried then and there. And if for any reason there is room for legal contention then no other forum other than the SC could give any ruling on it. The uproar following the decision of the LHC in asking the federal government to comply with the CCI’s 1991 and 1998 decisions to build the KBD, has once again proved the complexities of the issue, lying not so much in resolving the energy crisis but resolving the conflicting ethnic and provincial concerns of the disagreeing forces. Another equally disturbing question is why would the LHC pass a judgment on such a sensitive issue on the eve of the general elections, when the political atmosphere is heated with issues of alliances and allegiances among the political parties for a future political setup. In this precarious time, especially when in Pakistan for the first time in its history we would see the completion by an elected government of its tenure, any division between the federating units on provincial lines could be detrimental to the success of democracy. The resolution of the PHCBA has already marked the LHC’s verdict as tilted heavily toward Punjab. It has even raised the issue of alienating other provinces by not seeking their point of view before passing the judgment. Such observations would only reopen old wounds that had not been healed but ignored in the spirit to move ahead for the sake of democracy. Even if the dam is renamed as suggested by the LHC, which reinforces the court’s tunnel vision vis-à-vis KBD, the simmering debate of one province taking the lead over the others and the fight of my water versus yours would not go away. It is the mindset, and not the dam per say, that has been further darkened owing to the literal desertification of Sindh in the last twenty or so years since the CCI has last given its decision over the development of KBD. Things have changed; a lot of water has flowed down the rivers since 1998. Let this change be reflected in our deliberations. The courts are best advised to leave the arena of political wisdom for the political parties to contest.

Five killed as Taliban attack U.S. base

Afghans Begin New Exodus, Often At Great Cost
Convulsed by war and civil strife for decades, Afghanistan has experienced some of the largest ebbs and flows of migration anywhere in the world.
It began with the Soviet invasion in 1979, which sent millions of Afghans fleeing to Iran and Pakistan. When the Taliban were driven from power in 2001, many Afghans began returning home. Now, the country has hit another milestone: For the first time since 2002 and the beginning of the current war in Afghanistan, the country has a negative migration rate — more Afghans are leaving than returning. The uncertainty of what Afghanistan will look like after 2014, when the NATO forces leave, has many Afghans heading for the exits, or at least trying to, and some are paying huge sums of money to get out any way they can. Aziz Momand is a 30-year-old taxi driver in Kabul. Sitting in his road-worn Toyota Corolla wagon in the center of the city, he explains his desire to leave. "I have concerns that 2014 is arriving and people talking that maybe the situation get worse," he says. "Already business is down." Momand says he's been thinking of leaving for the past year, ideally to a Scandinavian country where, he says, asylum policies are liberal. He says it's too difficult to get a visa, so he's been speaking with people about smuggling his family to Sweden. "The first step is to go to Iran, then somebody smuggles us to Turkey, and then to Greece, and then to other parts of Europe," he says. The only problem with this approach, Momand says, is that to get his whole family out, it will cost nearly $50,000 — a fortune for most Afghans. "If I have that much money, I would have already been there," he says. Even if he does get the money together, there's no guarantee his family will make it safely to Sweden or avoid deportation. "The smugglers, they do their own propaganda. It's a business, and so they are saying, 'It's easy to get here; we'll make sure you have a great future,' " he says.
The Latest Outward Flow
It's just the latest wave of emigration in Afghanistan's turbulent history. At the height of the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, the UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, estimates that there were more than 6 million Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan alone — and almost 1 million more in other parts of the world. According to the UNHCR, Afghan refugees accounted for slightly less than half the world's total refugee population. By the early 1990s — after the Soviet withdrawal — an estimated 2 million to 3 million Afghans had been repatriated, though the rise of the Taliban meant that at the same time, others were fleeing. The last major shift in the flow of migration occurred after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. In 2002 alone, about 2 million Afghans returned, according to the UNHCR. Now, that flow has reversed once again. Marco Boasso heads the International Organization for Migration office in Afghanistan. He says concrete data about the numbers of Afghans leaving today are hard to come by, especially given the criminal nature of trafficking. "What we do know is that the arrivals in Europe are unprecedented," he says, noting that arrivals in Europe during the Soviet occupation and civil war were just 20 percent to 30 percent of today's numbers. Boasso doesn't think the country will fall apart after NATO troops withdraw in 2014, and the IOM is pushing the government to create economic opportunities for people to stay in Afghanistan. Still, he says exodus will continue. "We will see more movement of people ... in 2014 because anxiety is there; there is a lot of uncertainty," he says.
Burgeoning, And Pricey, Black Market
Embassies in Kabul are reluctant to discuss on the record whether more Afghans are applying for visas. Many European countries don't issue visas in Kabul, and Afghans have to travel to Iran or Pakistan to apply. Turkish officials did say they have made the application process more cumbersome to discourage all but serious travelers. But there's another option for Afghans flush with cash: buying visas. NPR's Afghan reporters visited several travel agents in Kabul, and were told that Turkish visas can be bought under the table for $4,100. Russian visas are $17,000. West European visas are most prized and cost at least $25,000. These are real visas, the reporters were told, but none of the agents would explain how the visas are issued and who gets paid off along the way.

What Palestinian Nonmember State Means At United Nations

The admission of Palestine as a nonmember state in the United Nations is far more than a symbolic vote. For the Palestinians, the move gives them an important boost of international legitimacy in their quest for independence. For Israel and its key ally, the United States, it is a diplomatic setback with potentially grave implications.

Here is a look at how key players are affected by Thursday's vote:
The vote benefits the Palestinians on many levels. Domestically, it gives embattled President Mahmoud Abbas a boost in his rivalry with the Hamas militant group. As peace efforts have flagged, Abbas has steadily lost popularity with the Palestinian public, while Hamas is riding high after battling Israel during an eight-day flare-up in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip this month. Internationally, it puts Abbas and the Palestinian agenda back at center stage. The vote grants Abbas an overwhelming international endorsement for his key position: establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. With Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu opposed to a pullback to the 1967 lines, this should strengthen Abbas' hand if peace talks resume. It also opens the door to the Palestinians joining U.N. agencies, most critically the International Criminal Court, where they could use their newfound status to press for war crimes charges against Israel for military operations and construction of Jewish settlements on occupied territories. On the downside, the vote does not change the situation on the ground – a point Israelis have repeatedly stressed in an effort to blunt any appearance of defeat.
The vote amounts to a massive international show of displeasure with Israel, particularly over its continued construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. While Israel is used to lopsided U.N. resolutions against it, even key allies are expected to abandon it this time around. Germany, Italy, France and Australia are among the Israeli allies expected to abstain or vote with the Palestinians. Moving forward, the resolution could weaken Israeli claims to keeping parts of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, the section of the holy city claimed by both sides for their capitals. After four years of deadlock in peace efforts, the world seems to be laying the blame on Israel. If opinion polls are correct and Netanyahu, backed by hard-line, pro-settler allies, cruises to victory in upcoming parliamentary elections, he could find himself facing stiff international pressure to make concessions to get peace talks back on track.US: The vote appears to reflect the world's frustration over President Barack Obama's failure to get Israel and the Palestinians to start talking. During his first term, Obama initially spoke out strongly against Israeli settlements and even coaxed Netanyahu into a partial freeze on settlement construction. But after that freeze expired, Netanyahu rejected Obama's calls to extend it and Obama dropped the matter. The mixed messages ended up alienating both Israel and the Palestinians, leaving peace efforts in tatters. After failing to persuade the Palestinians to abandon their push at the U.N., Obama will likely face international pressure to make another diplomatic push in the region.
The Islamic militant group, which rules the Gaza Strip, has been emboldened by the performance of its forces in fighting against Israel this month and its growing acceptance among the new Islamist rulers rising in the fast-changing Middle East. Since capturing Gaza from Abbas in 2007, both sides have largely resisted attempts to reconcile. Thursday's vote is an important reminder that Abbas is still the main address for the international community, and could put pressure on Hamas to reconcile. Perhaps sensing this changing constellation, Hamas lined up behind Abbas' U.N. bid, after earlier criticizing it.

Fears that Egypt is on the way to theocracy

Deutsche Welle
Egypt’s constituent assembly is in crisis: Several of its non-Islamist members have withdrawn in protest over what they say are attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists to establish an Islamist state. It's not just on the streets that Egypt's Islamists and secular-minded groups are clashing. Their different views on the country's future are also being reflected in a dispute over the constituent assembly, which is charged with drafting a new constitution. In the past few weeks almost all the non-Islamists have withdrawn from the assembly. Even the delegates of the country's three main churches have left, in a protest at what they see as domination of the assembly by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists.Mohamed Zaraa is project manager at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights. Besides the Islamists, he says, there are now only delegates of the police and the military left in the assembly: "This will surely compromise the legitimacy of the constitution. However, judging by the statements made by the assembly chairman, the Muslim Brotherhood seems to still be working on the constitution." One of the reasons behind the recent resignations was the time pressure put on the body to finish the drafting. President Mohammed Morsi's latest decree may have given the assembly two more months to complete its work, but a return of the non-Islamists to the body seems unlikely, since the decree not only grants Morsi dictatorial powers, it also stops the courts from dissolving the assembly, thus making it immune to legal challenge. Controversy over the interpretation of Shariah
But there were more reasons for the resignations. Mohammed Zaraa reports that on October 22 a draft constitution was published which was unknown to most non-Islamist members of the assembly. "It seems that there are some people who are working in secret. The drafting is not only taking place in the constituent assembly. There seem to be other players besides the assembly members." The suspicion has fallen on the Islamist organizations.ut the main differences of opinion are related to the future role of Shariah - or Islamic law - in the constitution. The current draft constitution states that "the principles of Shariah" represent the foundation of the legislation. The Salafists had originally demanded the direct implementation of Shariah and not only of its "principles." This would have allowed, for instance, the introduction of punishments such as stoning for adultery. Under pressure from the Salafists, an additional article was integrated explaining in more detail the concept of "principles." Mohamed Zaraa explains the consequences of the new article as follows: "Koran interpretations will be used which are roughly one thousand years old. That will transform our civilian state into an Islamic one." A religious institution above the law?
This concern is shared by both the former speaker of the constituent assembly, Walid Abdel Maguid, and the church delegates who have resigned. The ruling Islamists will likely be able to implement the paragraphs on Shariah - while former ruler Hosni Mubarak also included the "principles of Shariah" in the constitution, he only did so to give it religious legitimacy.According to Mohammed Zaraa, it is up to the Al-Azhar University to decide whether a piece of legislation is in line with Shariah. The university is regarded as the highest authority for interpreting Sunni Islamic law and that would mean that a religious institution would stand above the democratically elected parliament. "When Al-Azhar says that a law is not compatible with Shariah, and Shariah is the main judicial foundation in the country, then that law will be regarded as unconstitutional and not be passed by parliament." The Muslim Brotherhood denies there will be any such link.
Fear of religious police
The current draft constitution contains further sections pointing to the possibility of an Islamic state. In Saudi Arabia there is, for instance, a powerful religious police charged with ensuring compliance with Islamic moral values. For Wahid Abdel Maguid, the Egyptian draft constitution runs a risk of moving in the same direction. According to the former speaker, "One of the most alarming proposals is one which would open the way for the establishment of 'groups to prevent immorality.'" In the light of such provisions, it is not surprising that the non-Islamists have withdrawn from the assembly. The distrust towards the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists has increased even further with Morsi's decree giving him dictatorial power. The liberal, leftist and secular-minded groups in the country are convinced that the Islamists' only aim is to increase their power.

Egypt's judges announce they will refuse to work with President Mohammed Morsi
Egypt's judges drew up new battle lines in the country's constitutional crisis on Sunday, announcing they would refuse to work with President Mohammed Morsi until further notice.
The Supreme Constitutional Court put off a key ruling over whether to order the dissolution of the constitutional assembly after the building was surrounded by Muslim Brotherhood protesters. The deputy head of the court, Egypt's most senior woman judge, said she had received death threats. In a statement later, the Court said it was the "Egyptian judiciary's blackest day on record". "The judges of the Supreme Constitutional Court were left with no choice but to announce to the glorious people of Egypt that they cannot carry out their sacred mission in this charged atmosphere," it said. Following the postponement of the ruling, the liberal opposition to Mr Morsi announced it would move its protests from Tahrir Square to the presidential palace on Tuesday – mimicking the strategy that led to the downfall of ex-President Hosni Mubarak last year.But the Brotherhood has been able to muster much more substantial support for its actions than Mr Mubarak ever managed. Hundreds of thousands of members and followers were bussed in for a rally outside Cairo University on Saturday afternoon, and it was hundreds of these who were ordered to march on to the Constitutional Court on Saturday night to continue their demonstration. "I came here to tell the court to stop interfering with Mr Morsi's legitimate decisions," Ayman Sawi, a member from the oasis city of Fayyoum said outside the court. "The court interfered before by dissolving the parliamentary assembly which was elected by 30 million people. "They wanted to continue by dissolving the constitutional assembly and the upper house of parliament to complete the destruction of the elected establishment." Mr Morsi's declaration of ten days ago putting the assembly's actions and his own decisions above legal scrutiny has divided Egypt more sharply than ever before. Liberals and leftists, secular activists and Christians say that Mr Morsi has turned himself into a new dictator, like Mr Mubarak. Figureheads like Mohammed ElBaradei, the former United Nations atomic energy chief, and Amr Moussa, the former Arab League head and defeated presidential candidate, have formed a new "National Salvation Front" and are refusing to meet Mr Morsi until he rescinds his decree. Mr Morsi's declaration was intended to pre-empt the ruling by the Constitutional Court yesterday, which he believed would go against the assembly. Its statement put the judges clearly on the side of the liberal and secular parties in opposition to Mr Morsi and the Brotherhood. Mr Morsi has refused to back down, and following the assembly's rushing through a new constitution with an Islamist bent on Friday announced a referendum would be held on December 15. "I tell my opponents before my supporters, help me to carry out this responsibility you bestowed upon me in managing the country's affairs," he said in a televised address on Saturday night. "With us all we build the nation." His absolute powers will lapse if the constitution is agreed in the referendum – placing the opposition in a bind since a "no" vote is effectively a vote for those powers to be continued. In a previous interview on Friday, Mr Morsi hinted that "foreign forces" were engaged in a plot to undermine the country's new democracy, reviving a common conspiracy theory circulated by the Mubarak regime. His advisers claim some judges are loyal to the old regime – they previously disbanded the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament, elected in January. Both sides are now gambling on the outcome of the referendum to show which of the two camps, Islamist and secular, has a majority in postrevolutionary Egypt. Tahani el-Gebali, the court's deputy head, alleged she had been threatened with murder as she tried to enter yesterday morning, and that some protesters were claiming they would burn the building down. Mr ElBaradei issued a statement by Twitter. "Judiciary almost entirely crippled," he said. "Where are we headed?"

Liberal media and Obama's second term
For the better part of four years, progressive media has had President Barack Obama’s back. Now that he’s won re-election, it is faced with a choice: Should the left continue always to play the loyal attack dog against the GOP, blaming the opposition at all hours of the news cycle for intransigence? Or, should it redirect some of that energy on the president, holding him to his promises and encouraging him to be a more outspoken champion of liberal causes? Already, there are rumblings of change. In the days and weeks following Obama’s victory, progressive voices, primarily in print media, have made efforts to push the president on key parts of the unfinished liberal agenda - including climate change, drone strikes, troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, civil liberties and gun control. [...] In conversations with POLITICO, some of the left’s most influential voices in media said that, with the concerns of re-election over, they intend to be more critical of the president’s performance and more aggressive in urging him to pursue a progressive agenda as the clock ticks on his last four years in office. “Liberals in the media are going to be tougher on Obama and more respectful at the same time,” Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker’s chief political commentator and a former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, told POLITICO. “He was the champion of our side, he vanquished the foe….. [but] now liberals don’t have to worry about hurting his chances for re-election, so they can be tougher in urging him to do what he should be doing.” “In a tight election, people were sensitive to anything that would jeopardize the president’s re-election,” said Melber. “There’s no question that a second term changes the center of gravity for any administration: There is no reasonable argument that criticism will result in the defeat of Barack Obama.” But many liberal columnists and media pundits also agreed that efforts to focus on the president will likely be overshadowed to some degree by the the familiar attacks on Republicans that fire up the liberal base and draw ratings on MSNBC, the left’s largest megaphone. “There is a level at which coverage of Republican intransigence produces a visceral effect in the audience that is in some ways less conflicted and more pleasurable than critical coverage of President Obama,” said Chris Hayes, the host of MSNBC’s more substantive weekend program, “Up.” “It just produces a different effect in the viewer.” “MSNBC, with all due respect, has not been that strong in terms of talking about closing Guantanamo, about militarization, about this administration’s civil liberties record,” Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor and publisher of The Nation, told POLITICO. “We may address alternative approaches to those issues, but they won’t be the talking points on MSNBC that night.”

Obama hits the links with Bill Clinton

President Obama and former President Bill Clinton hit the golf course on Sunday. Obama is playing his round at Maryland’s Joint Base Andrews and it is the third presidential golf outing here since the Nov. 6 elections, under sunny skies with temperatures around 55 degrees. Clinton went to bat for the president in the just-ended campaign, delivering an well-received endorsement at the Democratic National Convention in September. Their partnership, which was initially rocky in the early days of the Obama presidency, grew stronger after a September 2011 golf game.Clinton is also the last Democratic president to strike a mammoth budget deal with Congress. Obama will likely be discussing the looming “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and spending cuts on the links. Rounding out the presidential foursome are U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic party chairman, who has announced his plans to run again for the governorship of Virginia. McAuliffe lost his bid for governor in 2009, falling to Democratic state Sen. Creigh Deeds, in the primary. McAuliffe is expected to face Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, to replace current term-limited GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell. Cuccinelli is popular with the state’s conservatives after he challenged the legality of Obama’s healthcare reform law. Kirk, the former mayor of Dallas, is widely expected to step down from his post as Obama’s top trade negotiator. Deputy National Security Adviser Michael Froman is frequently mentioned as a replacement. The administration is pressing forward with a trans-Pacific trade agreement and there have been rumblings of a possible free trade agreement with Europe in Obama’s second term. The golf outing comes as deficit-deal talks with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) appear stalemated. Democrats on Sunday pressed for Republicans to raise tax rates on upper-income voters in any deal, while GOP leaders dismissed an initial offer from the White House as insufficient on cuts and entitlement reform. Obama’s golf outings have brought regular criticism from Republicans, many of whom have said he should have spent more time in his first term focusing on the economy and less on the course. During the Republican National Convention in August, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said that Obama was “a good husband and a good father and, thanks to lots of practice, a good golfer.” Obama and Boehner, though, hit the golf links in June 2011, joined by Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R).

Asian Americans enjoy greater representation in Congress

Los Angeles Times
The next House of Representatives will have a dozen members of Asian American and Pacific Islander descent, the largest such caucus in history.
In the days after the election, inner-city schoolteacher Mark Takano flew to Washington, picked up his laptop, office key, voting ID and posed for photos with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — all part of the orientation drill for an incoming member of the 113th Congress. Going from a bipartisan reception to touring the marbled halls of the Capitol, a thought swirled through Takano's head. "The thrill of being elected to higher office comes with a responsibility to represent the least of us," he said. "I feel a real need to work toward equality and dignity for all people." Takano, 51, born and raised in Riverside, is the first openly gay Asian American elected to Congress and part of the new wave of Asian politicians savoring election day success. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is the first American Samoan in Congress, Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) will be the first Asian American woman in the U.S. Senate, and Democrats Tammy Duckworth and Grace Meng become the first Asian Americans to represent Illinois and New York, respectively, in Congress. With Dr. Ami Bera's victory over GOP veteran Dan Lungren in California's 7th District, there will be a dozen Asian Americans in Congress when they are sworn in Jan. 3, a high-water mark, forming the largest caucus of Asian American and Pacific Islander members in any single congressional session, according to the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies. The diversity of winners "sends a message to our young people that there is no ceiling that cannot be shattered," added Sayu Bhojwani, who heads the New American Leaders Project, a group focused on training first- and second-generation immigrants for civic leadership. Takano, who teaches social studies and literature in the Rialto Unified School District, grew up the grandson of a gardener. As a boy, he played football and was lured to politics while watching the Watergate hearings on TV. He attended Harvard University, majoring in government and had thought about going to law school. But he was drawn to the classroom, not the courthouse, and went to UC Riverside to get his teaching certificate. He describes his journey as "just another story America produces that can inspire — this experience taking me from the people's college to the people's house." He hopes his win mirrors a breakthrough for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, adding, "I do feel a responsibility to be a leader there, as I also want to be a champion for the Latino and Asian communities." Both groups, he said, need more access to small-business loans and help implementing the Affordable Care Act. Even with election triumphs, Bhojwani said Latinos and Asians — who make up a combined 22% of the nation's population — should do far better than they do. Numerically, there should be 31 Asians in Congress, instead of 12, and 86 Latinos instead of the current 31, she said. "There's talented people working toward more representation," Takano said. When he's reading "Macbeth" or "Pride and Prejudice" with the multilingual students in his classroom, he reminds them, "You can create and live your own stories."

When – and where – posting the wrong thing to Facebook can get you arrested

The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to examine whether Facebook “likes” are protected as free speech. But in India, police arrested a 21-year-old woman last week for posting a “provocative” message to Facebook, then detained her friend for merely liking the post. Shaheen Dhada’s post inflamed Muslim-Hindu tensions in the small west Indian city of Palghar, the AP reports. Dhada, a Muslim medical student, criticized Mumbai’s decision to essentially shut down much of the city as mourners gathered for the funeral of Bal Thackeray, a controversial right-wing politician. “Every day thousands of people die, but still the world moves on,” she wrote. “Respect is earned, given, and definitely not forced. Today, Mumbai shuts down out of fear, not out of respect.” Within minutes, a rowdy mob gathered around the block at her uncle’s orthopedic hospital and police took Dhada into custody, forcing her to apologize in a written statement. According to the AP, 21-year-old Rinu Shrinivasan was also detained for inciting “religious enmity,” or liking Dhada’s post. While the Hindu reports that both women have since been released without charges, the case calls attention to the unpleasant risks of social media in some parts of the world. Users have credited Facebook and Twitter with launching revolutions, forcing political transparency and freeing information – but they also provide an easy form of surveillance for any government looking to shut down free speech. The Indian government has at times stifled online speech in an apparent effort to prevent the sort of sectarian tensions that have at times led to real violence in the country. It’s not just in India. In China on Monday, courts sentenced a 23-year-old model to nine months in prison after she posted, to the Twitter-like service Weibo, racy photos of herself dressed as a policewoman. (The official, though unconvincing, charge was “police impersonation.”) In July, an Iranian man was arrested after his college-age son joined a Facebook page that ridiculed a Shiite imam. Social media surveillance is hardly limited to Asia, of course: During the 2011 riots in the U.K., the Daily Mail reported that several young women were arrested for posting “invitations to riot,” like “who’s up for it?,” on Facebook. More recently, a federal grand jury indicted four California residents, two of them U.S. citizens, on charges of joining al-Qaeda and planning a terrorist attack. According to an except from the indictment posted on Techdirt, the evidence against them includes a series of Facebook likes, posts and comments. As The Post’s Vivek Wadhwa rightly points out, though, law often lags far behind technology — and both in the United States and abroad, the law is still deciding what constitutes free speech online. Dhada’s case is widely considered a test of India’s new Information Technology Act, which prohibits speech causing “annoyance” or “inconvenience,” among other things. (Online speech is, of course, annoying and inconvenient a great deal of the time.) In the United States, courts are only beginning to consider issues such as whether employees can be fired for liking something on Facebook. For Dhada, however, those changes won’t come soon enough. According to the Hindu, she has deleted her Facebook account and fled Palghar with her family. “First Pondicherry businessman, now 21 year old mumbai girl Shaheen Dhada and her friend Rinu Shrinivasan,” reads a Facebook fan page that has risen in her defense. “Next: all of us… Social media being hijacked by the powerful and the fundamentalists … raise your voice now!”

Temple demolished by builder in Karachi; Hindus react
A century-old temple here was hurriedly demolished by a builder despite a Pakistani court hearing a petition seeking a stay on such a move, triggering protests by the minority Hindu community today. Besides razing the pre-Partition Shri Rama Pir Mandir in Karachi's Soldier Bazar, the builder demolished several houses near it yesterday. Nearly 40 people, a majority of them Hindus, became homeless as a result, The Express Tribune reported today. Following the demolition, the Pakistan Hindu Council organised a protest outside the Karachi Press Club this afternoon. They protested the demolition by the builder and the lack of action on the part of authorities. The Sindh High Court is hearing a petition seeking a stay on any move to demolish Shri Rama Pir Mandir. "They destroyed our 'mandir' and humiliated our gods," an angry man named Prakash was quoted as saying by the Tribune. The demolition team placed the statues of four Hindu deities to one side, but local residents accused them of taking away gold jewellery and crowns that had adorned the statues. Pointing to bruises on his arms, another man identified as Lakshman said, "They hit me with their guns when I tried to stop them. I told them to kill me instead of destroying our holy place." A woman named Banwri said the demolition team arrived at around 11 am while she was preparing breakfast. She rushed outside when she heard the sound of a bulldozer and was given instructions to move her bed, cupboard and other essential items outside her home. "I watched my house go down in just minutes and I couldn't do anything," she said. Banwri said that during the demolition, the area was cordoned off by police and paramilitary Pakistan Rangers. Outsiders were not allowed to enter the area, she added.

New polio strain from Pakistan hits Afghanistan

The Express Tribune
With the Independent Monitoring Board recommending travel restrictions on polio endemic countries, reports of the transmission of a newly-discovered poliovirus strain from Pakistan to Afghanistan is likely to complicate an already tough situation for Islamabad. Two Afghan children, living close to the border with Pakistan, have been paralysed by the Sabin Like (2) poliomyelitis, officials in the Polio Programme told The Express Tribune. The cases were reported from Afghanistan’s Kandahar province two days ago – one in Panjwai district and the other in Spin Boldak, they added. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed the two new cases. According to the officials, genetic sequencing has confirmed the new polio strain originated in Balochistan’s Killa Abdullah district. They said Sabin Like (2) poliomyelitis develops in children with an extremely poor record of routine immunisation – a situation rampant in Balochistan. Since 2006, polio vaccination teams have repeatedly missed an estimated 50,000 children in Killa Abdullah, derailing efforts to eradicate the virus in the country. This is not the first case of poliovirus transmission from Pakistan to a neighbouring country either. Last year, 16 children in China’s Xinjiang province were paralysed after being infected by a polio strain originating in Pakistan. “The paramedic association and health department of Balochistan continues to hold the polio-eradication campaign hostage in Killa Abdullah through unfair demands … It has now resulted in embarrassment for Pakistan before the world community,” an official of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity. WHO senior coordinator for polio eradication Dr Elias Durry said the organisation was monitoring the situation in Balochistan closely. “We are seriously concerned about the new poliovirus strain and are recommending urgent steps to the provincial government to contain the outbreak,” said Dr Durry. The only way to contain the spread of the virus is by conducting three to four high-quality polio vaccination rounds in the infected districts and their nearby areas, he said. Meanwhile, a special WHO delegation, led by internationally acclaimed polio eradication expert Dr Mohammed Mohammedi, has reached Balochistan and is holding indepth discussions with the provincial government over ways to combat the outbreak. “We have asked the provincial government to hold three emergency polio campaigns each in Quetta, Killa Abdullah and Pishin districts during a span of 30 days to control the spread of the virus to other parts of the country,” said Dr Mohammedi, adding that the first campaign in the three districts was scheduled for December 10. Pakistan has reported a total of 56 polio cases this year so far. A massive 181 cases were reported in 2011.

With Help, Afghan Survivor of ‘Honor Killing’ Inches Back

JALALABAD, Afghanistan — It is doubly miraculous that the young woman named Gul Meena is alive. After she was struck by an ax 15 times, slashing her head and face so deeply that it exposed her brain, she held on long enough to reach medical care and then, despite the limitations of what the doctors could do, clung to life. “We had no hope she would survive,” said Dr. Zamiruddin, a neurosurgeon at the Nangarhar Regional Medical Center in the eastern city of Jalalabad who, like many Afghans, uses only one name. After she was brought in, he worked for more than six hours in the hospital’s rudimentary operating theater, gently reinserting her brain and stitching her many wounds. For weeks afterward, she was often unconscious, always uncommunicative and, but for the hospital staff, utterly alone, with no family members to care for her. That is because, if the accounts from her home province are true, she is an adulterer: though already married, she ran away with another man, moving south until her family caught up with them. Locals say that the man who wielded the ax against her, and also killed the man with her, was most likely her brother. That she reached a hospital and received care at all is the second part of the miracle: the villagers, doctors and nurses who helped her were bucking a deeply ingrained tradition that often demands death for women who dishonor their families. Such “honor killings” of women exist in a number of cultures, but in Afghanistan they are firmly anchored by Pashtunwali, an age-old tribal code prevalent in the ethnic Pashtun areas of the country that the government and rights advocates have fought for years to override with a national civil legal system. This year, six such killings have been reported in Afghanistan’s far east alone, more than in each of the past two years, and for every one that comes to light, human rights advocates believe a dozen or more remain hidden. Gul Meena’s story, as best it can be pieced together from relatives, tribal elders and others, gives insight into that deeply entrenched tribal culture. But it is also a story about a society struggling to come to terms with a different way of thinking about women. The Americans and Europeans have put a special emphasis on programs to help Afghan women and raise awareness of their rights. Now, as the Western money and presence are dwindling, women’s advocates fear that even the limited gains will erode and a more tribal and Taliban culture will prevail, especially in the south and east of the country, where Pashtun tribal attitudes toward women are strongly held. It is a credit to many people — villagers, doctors, the police, rights advocates — that they chose to help Gul Meena, overcoming centuries of distaste for dealing with so-called moral crimes. The doctors at the Nangarhar Regional Medical Center who first treated her and cared for her for weeks were aware of her likely transgressions and chose to ignore them. However, the doctors, who say Gul Meena is about 18, were also bewildered about what to do with her. “She has no one; no mother has come, no father, no one from her tribe has come,” said Dr. Abdul Shakoor Azimi, the hospital’s medical director, as he stood at the foot of her bed looking at her. “What is the solution? Even the government, the police, even the Women’s Affairs Ministry, they are not coming here to follow up and visit the patient.” A patient in an Afghan hospital without a family member is a neglected soul. Most hospitals are so impoverished that they offer only the bed itself and limited medical care. Gul Meena lay in her own urine when a reporter first visited her because no relative was there to change her sheets. Hospital staff members were able to tend to her sporadically, but they are overstretched. Without a relative, the patient has no one to pay for drugs, drips, needles or food, no one to bring fresh clothes. Dr. Azimi manages the hospital’s Zakat fund, a charitable collection that all the physicians contribute to, and for the first three weeks of Gul Meena’s care, the fund and individual doctors paid for everything. Many women are not so fortunate and lie in unmarked graves in Afghanistan’s mountains and deserts, but as the culture urbanizes and women begin to consider marrying for love, families and tribal codes are being tested. “As the numbers of these moral cases increase, the severity of punishment decreases,” said Ahmad Gul Wasiq, a professor of theology at Jalalabad University, who also counsels families when there are marriage problems and who had heard about Gul Meena’s case. Gul Meena first arrived in the area, in a village called Kandi Bagh in a rural stretch of Nangarhar, about two months ago, traveling with a man named Qari Zakir. The villagers asked few questions, although the two had traveled south from Kunar Province with just a single bag. That is hardly the profile of a married couple hoping to set up housekeeping in a new place. “Everybody avoids such cases, and doesn’t want to get involved in others’ troubles,” said Hikmat Azimi, 27, who lives in Kandi Bagh and works as a teacher at a nearby agricultural institute. The last time anyone saw Mr. Zakir was about a week after their arrival, on the night before he was killed. He was seen buying a large bag of fruit, it seemed in honor of Gul Meena’s brother. He had turned up a few days earlier, according to villagers’ accounts related by Col. Nasir Sulaimanzai, the head of the Nangarhar police investigative division. Her father had also come but then left, said Mr. Azimi, the villager. The next morning, a distant relative of Mr. Zakir’s who lived in the area knocked on the couple’s door. When no one answered, he climbed over the wall that surrounds most Afghan homes and was met by a scene of carnage: Mr. Zakir lay on a bed, blood clotted black around his neck, his head all but severed. Gul Meena lay on a separate bed bleeding profusely. Her brother had vanished. “I shivered when I saw it,” said Mr. Azimi, who was one of the villagers called in to help. He and others borrowed a car and drove her to the hospital in Jalalabad. For days as Gul Meena lay in the hospital, government entities in Jalalabad held meetings and discussed what to do with her. Her situation was not helped as people learned more specifics. According to villagers and tribal elders as well as her relatives in Kunar Province and just over the border in Chitral State in Pakistan, Gul Meena was married, as was Qari Zakir. So the couple had broken fundamental moral codes as well as Afghan law. According to Gul Meena’s relatives, her family moved to kill her in part because of pressure from her husband’s family. “Her husband’s family came to them and said, ‘If you don’t do this thing, we will come after you,’ ” said a close relative of Gul Meena who asked not to be named because the issue is so delicate. “Her mother agreed to let them kill her in order to protect her sons.” The provincial council, with its overwhelmingly male membership and many people from traditional backgrounds, seemed paralyzed. “We have some tribal customs and provisions that are tough for females,” said Mufti Moin Muin Shah, the chairman of the Nangarhar provincial council, saying he favored following Shariah law, which would have required a trial. He said that maybe only 1 in 20 of his constituents would agree with him — and that the rest would embrace the swift, brutal Pashtun tribal law. Colonel Sulaimanzai, the provincial police official, was recently assigned here from Kabul, and he sees the tribal code as the root of the problem in a case where Afghan civil law should prevail. “What is destroying us is this useless, unofficial justice, these tribal jirgas. The tribal elders, the jirgas, always violate the provisions of the law,” he said. “Many things in this case need investigation: why did she run away from her husband’s house? Maybe he was old, maybe he was impotent, maybe he didn’t feed her,” he added. “They should bring her to the court. We have laws in this country.” One of the few female members of the provincial council that weighed in on Gul Meena’s fate, Angaza Shinwari, insisted that the woman had also been failed by the government and other agencies: “We have lots of NGOs operating in this country and spending a lot of money; how can they not have someone to take care of her?” she said, referring to nongovernmental organizations. “Our Women’s Affairs Ministry office has a lot of employees. Why can’t they send someone to stay with her in the hospital?” For their part, officials with the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs said they were unwilling to move Gul Meena to a shelter, in part because of her continuing medical needs but also because of security concerns. Her attacker is still at large, and the police say they believe he had slipped over the nearby border into Pakistan to avoid arrest. “What if something bad had happened to her, who would have been held responsible for that?” said Anisa Umrani, the provincial head of the women’s ministry office, referring to the common situation in which vengeful relatives try to drag girls from shelters and kill them. “We do have problems dealing with moral crimes. We are scared of dealing with such issues. We are facing threats and danger while dealing with these cases.” Ultimately it was an Afghan-American human rights organization, Women for Afghan Women, that arranged to move Gul Meena from Jalalabad to a safer, better supplied hospital in Kabul, and the organization has paid for 24-hour care, underscoring the crucial importance of the West in supporting women here. She is now physically far better, able to speak, but not to remember what happened to her. “Things are changing, but they are changing slowly,” said Manizha Naderi, who runs the organization that is now caring for Gul Meena. “We’re trying to change the culture, and that takes a long time.” Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting from Jalalabad, and an employee of The New York Times from Kunar Province.

Pak-Afghan Relations: Getting closer

For various reasons, historical, cultural, religious and geographical, it is simple common sense that Pakistan and Afghanistan should be living in peace and harmony with each other, sharing a similar worldview and standing together to face challenges that, in the globalised world of today, overlap, in their impact, states in the same region and even beyond. Hopefully, the two countries are moving towards that end, as the outcome of the visit of Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul to Islamabad on Friday suggests. The decision to release another batch of the Taliban in Pakistan’s custody and Mr Rassoul’s assurance that his country sees relations with Islamabad as the most significant in tackling common challenges point to that end. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and her Afghan counterpart held a joint press conference and talked of other steps they had taken to strengthen Pak-Afghan ties. It is advisable here to sound a note of caution; for relations of the two in the past have not been all that rosy to create the confidence that they would, after all, make it. Kabul has somehow had, even till the recent past, a rather estranged, if not antagonistic, posture towards Pakistan. That makes the going tough. Nevertheless, the journey has to be made and for that Pakistan’s consistent policy of extending a hand of friendship must be appreciated. One would like to believe that Afghanistan as well has come to realise that working hand in hand with Pakistan would serve the interests of both the countries. Indeed, it is also the need of the hour. And the present scenario is ideally suited to turn the corner. The Afghan Foreign Minister’s appreciation of the need to leave behind the legacy of the past is one such pointer. Before the foreign troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, it is necessary for it and Pakistan to make an all-out effort to bring around Taliban to respond to the call of peace, if ethnic bloodletting that is feared to ensue, post-withdrawal, is to be avoided. Pakistan’s decision to set more Taliban free (nine of them were released earlier) would prove helpful in peace negotiations. The ulema conference to be held in Kabul early next year is a link in the same chain and has Islamabad’s full support; it would urge the Taliban to delink themselves from al-Qaeda and be part of the peace process in the larger interest of the country. The changing face of Pak-Afghan relations is also evident from the two countries’ move to form a strategic partnership. Countries having common borders, with the ethnic Pashtuns crossing freely to both sides, countries that are in the throes of fighting a common enemy, need more urgently than ever to turn the concept of strategic partnership into reality. To smoothen the way, relatively minor issues were also sorted out during the visit of Mr Rassoul, who also met Prime Minister Raja Ashraf and COAS General Kayani. It was decided to extend transit trade to Tajikistan and later to other Central Asian States; effect a phased return of Afghan refugees to their homeland; have a visa abolition agreement for diplomatic passport holders; and take measures to check drug trafficking. Pakistan and Afghanistan are brotherly countries, both need each other to have a peaceful existence. At this point in time, Pakistan has a key role to play in seeing Afghanistan’s smooth transition from a war-torn country to a stable nation. The steps underway are a good sign of the coming closer of the two countries to face these challenges.

Shahbaz should take action against banned organisations

Dunya Tv
Inaugurating a passport office here on Sunday‚ Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Karachi and Quetta were being targeted to destabilise Pakistan. He called for joint efforts to root out terrorism and extremism. The minister said the federal government will extend full cooperation to the Punjab government if it decides to launch an operation against outlawed organisations. He said in order to curb the use of mobile phones for terrorism and other crimes‚ the sale of SIMs to unscrupulous persons or at shops has been prohibited. All mobile companies will install Biometrics System in three months. Rehman Malik said extremist leaders Waliur Rehman‚ Mullah Nazir and Hakimullah Mehsud have been critically wounded. Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting‚ Syed Sumsam Ali Bukhari and local PPP leaders were also present.

Safety call after Bangladesh garment factory fire
International garment firms have demanded fast action to ensure the safety of Bangladeshi textile workers, a week after a factory fire killed more than 100 people, a senior industry official in the country said yesterday. Mohammad Shafiul Islam, President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said a 19-member buyers' forum was blunt in suggesting it would "lose confidence" in the country's industry unless change came fast. "Now we want to see proper action towards implementation of compliance issues, instead of commitments," he quoted Roger Hubert, vice-president of Hong Kong-based Li & Fung, as telling the meeting. Hubert, he said, pledged financial support for the families of those who died in the fire. Representatives of Li & Fung and other companies present were unavailable for comment. One report said the garment industry promised to pay the families of the victims a monthly salary for at least 10 years. Rights groups have called on big-brand firms to sign up for a fire safety programme. Islam quoted company officials at the meeting on Friday as saying that while some factories in Bangladesh observed safety regulations, "many of them do not comply with these". The Bangladesh government also said it will give 200,000 takas (HK$18,750) to the families of those who died and 50,000 takas to those who were injured. Last week's fire at Tazreen Fashions, Bangladesh's worst-ever industrial blaze, was blamed by authorities on saboteurs. Police say narrow exits trapped workers inside the nine-storey building, killing 111 people and injuring more than 150. Three employees have been arrested and police say they are being investigated for suspected negligence. Several hundred workers demonstrated outside the gutted plant yesterday demanding what they said was three months in wage arrears. Protesters briefly blocked a highway.

Taliban launched failed attack on joint U.S.-Afghan base

Taliban suicide bombers attacked a joint U.S.-Afghan air base in eastern Afghanistan early Sunday, detonating explosives at the gate and sparking a gun battle that lasted at least two hours with American helicopters firing down at militants before the attackers were defeated. The attackers and at least five Afghans were killed, officials said. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.It was the largest clash at the Jalalabad air base since February, when a suicide car bombing at the gate triggered an explosion that killed nine Afghans, six of them civilians. In Sunday’s attack, two vehicles packed with explosives barrelled toward the main gate of the base around 6 a.m. local time. The first vehicle, a four-wheel-drive car, blew up at the gate, said Hazrat Hussain Mashreqiwal, a spokesman for the provincial police chief. Guards started shooting at the second vehicle before it too exploded, he added. It was unclear if the explosives were detonated by the attackers themselves or by shooting from the guards. Two Afghan students from a private medical school were caught up in the attack and killed, as were three other Afghans working at the base, Mashreqiwal said. He did not know if the base workers were private guards, members of the security forces or civilian employees. Nine attackers took part in the assault in total, he said, three of whom were killed in the suicide blasts and another six gunmen who died in the ensuing fighting that lasted a few hours. Major Martyn Crighton, a spokesman for the international military force in Afghanistan, said that helicopters “were deployed and used” but it was unclear if they were key to killing the militants. The NATO military coalition described the attack as a failure. “We can confirm insurgents, including multiple suicide bombers, attacked Jalalabad Airfield this morning. None of the attackers succeeded in breaching the perimeter,” Lieutenant-Colonel Hagen Messer, a spokesman for the international military coalition, said in an e-mail. He said that the fighting had ended by mid-morning and that reports showed one member of the Afghan security forces was killed. Several foreign troops were wounded, but Lt.-Col. Messer did not give any numbers or details. “The final assessment of what happened this morning is not yet complete, but initial reports indicate there were three suicide bombers,” Lt.-Col. Messer said. In the south, meanwhile, a NATO service member was killed in an insurgent attack, the international coalition said in a statement. It did not provide further details.

Pakistan: In Swat, one doctor for 100,000 people

For around 100,000 people living in Gwalerai there is only one basic health unit (BHU) to cater to their health needs. As staggering as that may seem, it is compounded by the fact that there is only one doctor and one medical technician deputed at the health unit, which does not even equipped with an X-ray machine let alone a medical laboratory. Locals said the BHU does not have the required facilities, especially for treating serious patients, and the patients have to be taken to hospitals in neighbouring Matta or Mingora. Moreover, since the BHU does not have a female doctor, the conservative locals are unwilling to get female patients treated there. Locals have demanded of the health authorities to appoint at least four male and one female doctor at the BHU to cater to the needs of people living of the various hamlets of Gwalerai. They also stressed for equipping the BHU with a laboratory to conduct basic medical tests.
Sohrab, a social activist and resident of Labat village, said in addition to the lack of doctors and facilities at the BHU, it is not operational around the clock. He said the BHU is open only till 2pm. Sohrab said the locals even requested the army to provide them a few doctors but they did not make any promises. “The grimmest issue we face is the absence of a lady doctor [at the BHU],” said Rahim Zada, a resident of Sulantar locality. He said that due to absence of roads in the hilly area, pregnant women have to walk for miles to reach hospitals in neighbouring Matta or Mingora. He said the alternate is to hire a private vehicle for around Rs5,000, but that is unaffordable for the majority of the people. Shah Dawran, a local lawyer maintained, “If people have to go to hospitals in Matta or Mingora for a mere blood or urine test, then what is the use of this BHU?”While a majority of the locals visit the tehsil hospital in Matta for treatment, it too lacks facilities and serious patients have to be taken to Saidu Sharif, which is farther away, said Mian Afzal Jan, a resident of Peshtonrai. He said a number of serious patients have died while making the journey. “We try to do what we can but we do not have the facilities to cater to such a huge population,” said Dr Nizamudin, the only physician working at the BHU since 2008. He said he daily treats around 300 outpatients, “which is no easy task.” He said that a female doctor needs to be appointed at the BHU since more female patients visit it than male. He added if one more fully equipped BHU is be established in Gwalerai, the health problems of the people will be met to some extent. People’s Primary Healthcare Initiative Mingora Coordinator Mohammad Imran said that BHU has no vacant posts, as all nine sanctioned posts are filled. He said that in order to appoint a female doctor at the BHU, the health unit will have to be upgraded, which can only be done on the “special directives of the health minister.”

Laptops and a talk with PM Ashraf for Malala's recovering friends

The Express Tribune
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Sunday called on the two girls who were wounded in the attempt on Malala Yousufzai’s life. According to local sources, a special envoy from the prime minister visited both the wounded girls’ homes. The envoy presented them laptops and other gifts on behalf of the prime minister. Prime Minister Ashraf also phoned the two girls to inquire about their health. He congratulated them on their recovery and the resumption of their studies. Earlier in November, after receiving medical care for a month at the Combined Military Hospital Peshawar, Shazia was sent back to her home. She stated that she had fully recovered from her injuries and was thankful to the Pakistani Army and the government for providing her with optimal medical care. A month after the attack, which sparked a global outcry, young Shazia remained fearless and optimistic. “Islam gives equal opportunity to males and females to get an education, so we will continue our education. Education is indispensable for both men and women as it gives awareness to mankind. I will become a doctor and serve my nation,” she told The Express Tribune. Earlier, Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced that he would recommend the Sitara-e-Shujaat for Shazia and Kainat.

Kalabagh Dam case: KP wants suo motu notice by SC

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has asked the Supreme Court of Pakistan to take suo motu notice of the Lahore High Court’s judgment ordering the federal government to construct Kalabagh Dam. “The Supreme Court should take suo motu notice and declare the judgment null and void,” said provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain while speaking at a press conference here on Saturday. He alleged that the judgment had been passed to safeguard interests of a particular lobby in Punjab at the cost of destabilising federation. He said that it was in the larger interest of the judiciary and federation to scrape the LHC decision in which the federal government was directed on Thursday to implement decisions of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) and build Kalabagh Dam. Terming the LHC decision unconstitutional and unlawful, Mr Hussain said that according to the 18th Constitution Amendment water reservoir could not be constructed without consent of the province where it would be built. He said that the dam project had been controversial since 1953. The minister said that the judiciary was bound to respect decisions of other institutions because three provincial assemblies, including that of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan, had passed unanimous resolutions against construction of Kalabagh Dam. “We respect the judiciary and expect that the judges will show regard for decisions of other institutions,” he remarked, recalling joint resolutions of the three assemblies. He, however, said that the Awami National Party and its coalition partners would not table fresh resolution in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly against the LHC judgment or construction of the dam. “Like Sindh and Balochistan this KP assembly had also passed unanimous resolutions against the dam, so there is no need to pass fresh resolution from the assembly,” he maintained. He said that the decision about Kalabagh Dam was announced at a time when the federal government was launching construction of Bhasha Dam. Mr Hussain said that Ghazi Barotha Hydropower Project case could be reopened which had been constructed on the Indus River downstream of Tarbela Dam. He said that flow of the Indus River had been blocked and diverted to a channel which had dried up the river. He said that vast tracts of fertile land had been rendered barren since construction of Ghazi Barotha dam, which also entailed severe environmental implications. He said that Punjab was using water share of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Technically, the Punjab government should pay water tax to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for utilising its water share, he added. The minister said that the provincial government would not allow Kalabagh Dam construction as this controversial project would destabilise the federation. He said that the LHC verdict could lead to a clash between judiciary and parliament. He urged the judges not to bulldoze decisions of parliament and provincial assemblies. He said that Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had rejected Kalabagh Dam project when he was holding portfolio of water and power, while PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif had also opposed the dam without consensus among the federating units. Meanwhile, the Peshawar High Court Bar Association on Saturday requested the Supreme Court and the federal government to intervene and set at rest the consequential disputes emerging out of the LHC’s decision on Kalabagh Dam. Through a unanimous resolution a general body meeting of the association said that all the stakeholders and federating units of Pakistan except Punjab had not been heard by the LHC while giving this judgment. The meeting, chaired by PHCBA president Abdul Lateef Afridi, resolved that they felt aggrieved at the LHC judgment concerning Kalabagh Dam. “The question of Kalabagh Dam was a controversial issue between all the provinces and it was the Supreme Court alone which could take up the matter and not the LHC. Therefore, the LHC in this regard is bereft of mandate,” the resolution states. The PHCBA considers that such decisions tend to weaken the federation because all stakeholders in the federation have not been heard by the court.