Saturday, December 15, 2012
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.comPrime Minister Manmohan Singh has made it plain that his visit to Pakistan would materialize only if there is substantive action against the 26/11 masterminds who planned and executed the terror strikes on Mumbai. Singh put across his views when responding to Pakistan interior minister Rehman Malik's reiteration of a pending invitation, saying that he is answerable to the Indian public on the delay in bringing the 26/11 guilty to justice. Malik called on Singh on Saturday morning and brought up Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's earlier invitation to Singh to visit Pakistan, particularly his native Gah village in Chakwal. Malik quoted the PM as having told him, "My people here ask what you have done for the people who suffered during 26/11 attacks." The Pakistani minister said that he sought to assure Singh that the 26/11 trial would be put on fast track once the second Pakistan judicial commission completes its proposed visit to India to cross-examine 26/11 witnesses here. In fact, he later told news agency ANI in an interview that the 26/11 proceddings could conclude within two to three months of the judicial commission completing its investigation. The Pakistani minister's controversy-hit visit to India saw Singh meeting him for a brief 15 minutes, sufficient to complete courtesies and have tea. The substantial part of Malik's visit was limited to operationalizing the visa agreement with home minister Sushilkumar Shinde. Malik's reputation has preceded him as he is seen to be an inveterate publicity speaker although his outspokenness — like over 26/11, Babri Masjid and Kargil — might unwittingly reveal that the current pro-detente stance of the political and military establishment could in part be driven by Pakistan's unsettled western borders. Pakistan's preoccupations in the West may see it wanting to keep the other "front" with India relativ-ely quiet, although its pr-oxies, like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), have chaffed at having to keep a relativ-ely low profile. Malik said he told the Prime Minister that the "people of Pakistan, especially of Chakwal where he was born, want to see him...They want to see this boy who has grown to become the Prime Minister of India and also a world leader. I said that if you don't visit, the people of Pakistan will be disappointed." The point was also put across quite unequivocally when former external affairs minister S M Krishna went to Pakistan in September and met his counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar. Zardari had earlier invited Singh to visit Pakistan, including a visit to Chakwal, on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti on November 28. The Prime Minister, however, declined the invitation, saying that "the time is not yet right". According to sources, Singh decided against the visit due to the slow pace of the 26/11 probe and trial in Pakistan.
indiatimes.comThey listened to chief minister Sheila Dikshit in silence but couldn't hide their disbelief. Speaking on the occasion of the launch of Delhi government's cash-for-food programme, Annshree Yojana, on Saturday, Dikshit argued that Rs 600 - the cash subsidy - was adequate for buying the monthly "dal, roti and chawal" for a poor family of around five. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was on the stage at Thyagaraja Stadium to launch the scheme. Many of the voiceless beneficiaries - who had been herded into the stadium to witness the launch of the scheme which UPA believes will be a game-changer - couldn't swallow this glib remark. As they trooped out of the venue, long after the applause had died down, the women whom the scheme seeks to empower said they didn't need to do any sums to tell you that rations for families with five to seven members would come for Rs 1000-Rs 3000. Asked if Rs 600 was enough, women from a slum in west Delhi said they were under siege - illness, lack of shelter, inflation. The amount of Rs 600 was nothing but a 'sahara' (support), said Maya Devi. 'Cash will give people choice' "Something is better than nothing,"remarked others. Another woman, Ganga Devi, said she spends Rs 3000 on rations every month for a family of seven. "How can I manage it in Rs 600? This is just a support," she agreed. Radha from Rohini showed a bank passbook of her no-frills account and her Aaadhar-UID card to prove that she was indeed a beneficiary. Her husband, Ravi Singh, a daily wager stood next to her. Asked how the couple would use the money, Radha was candid. "I will spend it on the most urgent needs of the family," she said. Experts involved in the planning for the scheme feel that the Rs 600 subsidy will have to be eventually enhanced if one was to be realistic. The scheme seeks to empower the eldest woman of the beneficiary family with a no-frills account where the subsidy will be delivered every month based on the Aadhar-UID number as identity proof. Announcing that Delhi government had set aside Rs 200 crore for funding the Annshree subsidy, the CM said the scheme will ensured that no one goes hungry. "We got a voluntary organization to carry out a study in the target population to see if people wanted cash or ration. We found that 99% people wanted cash as women felt it would give them the freedom to buy what they need. For instance, some women said they could buy medicines if a family member was ill," Dikshit added. About 13,300 people will benefit from the scheme with immediate effect and the government has a target to register a total of 2 lakh beneficiaries. These are being chosen from a state survey of most vulnerable carried out in 2009. The scheme applies only to those who do not get the benefit of subsidized rations under PDS. All beneficiaries will get the subusidy from April 1, 2012 onwards. Cash transfer later in districts not prepared: FM If any of the 51 districts selected by the Centre for the rollout of the direct cash transfer programme from January 1 are not ready with their infrastructure by the end of this year, they will be taken up only later, finance minister P Chidambaram said in Alwar on Saturday. He was addressing concerns that the government seemed to be pushing ahead with a scheme that many local administrations were not ready for.
http://www.secularnewsdaily.comAccording to the latest global poll released by RedC Opinion Poll, part of WIN-Gallup International, a world-wide network of leading opinion pollsters, the number of self-declared atheists in the world has risen by 9% since the measure was last taken in 2005. The massive poll, conducted in 57 countries (not, apparently, including Britain) among 51,000 people asked a single question “Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person or a convinced atheist?” It shows that on average 59% of the world said that they think of themselves as religious, whereas 23% think of themselves as not religious and 13% think of themselves as convinced atheists. Naturally there are enormous variations from country to country. The countries with most self-described atheists are China (47%); Japan (31%), Czech Republic (30%), France (29%), South Korea (15%), Germany (15%), Netherlands (14%), Austria (10%), Iceland (10%), Australia (10%) and Ireland (10%). The most religious countries are: Ghana (where 96% of people define themselves as religious), Nigeria (93%), Armenia (92%), Fiji (92%), Macedonia (90%), Romania (89%), Iraq (88%), Kenya (88%), Peru (86%) and Brazil (85%). One of the most dramatic reductions in the proportion of the population considering themselves religious occurred in Ireland: from 69% in 2005 to 47% in 2012, placing Ireland on the index of religious belief at position 43 out of 57 countries. The poll also showed that the poorer people were, the more likely they were to be religious. One anomaly that the pollsters have themselves questioned is in Turkey, where those who say they are religious is only 23% while those defining themselves as non-religious is 73% (self-defined atheists 2%). Editor’s Note: Americans will be interested to note that in the United States, the “religious” percentage dropped from 73% in 2005 to 60% in 2012, while 5% of Americans now declare themselves atheist. (In the 2008 ARIS survey, fewer than 2% described themselves as either atheist or agnostic.)
A State Department spokesman said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who became sick with a stomach virus a week ago, is recovering at home after fainting due to dehydration and sustaining a concussion. Sarah Irwin reports.
http://www.whitehouse.govToday, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to key Administration posts: Richard J. Engler – Member, Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board Linda A. Puchala – Member, National Mediation Board President Obama said, “Our nation will be greatly served by the talent and expertise these individuals bring to their new roles. I am grateful they have agreed to serve in this Administration, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead.” President Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to key Administration posts: Richard J. Engler, Nominee for Member, Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board Richard J. Engler is the Founder and Director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council, a role he has held since 1997. From 1986 to 1996, he was Legislative Director and Vice President for the New Jersey Industrial Union Council, AFL-CIO. From 1975 to 1985, Mr. Engler was Founder and Co-Director of the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health. Mr. Engler also worked at the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers International Union, AFL-CIO, from 1973 to 1974. He received a B.A. in Political Science and Environmental Studies from Antioch College. Linda A. Puchala, Nominee for Member, National Mediation Board Linda A. Puchala currently serves as a Member of the National Mediation Board, a position she has held since 2009. Ms. Puchala served as Chairman of the National Mediation Board from July 2011 to June 2012. Previously, she served as a Senior Mediator and Associate Director of Alternative Dispute Resolution Services at the National Mediation Board from 2002 to 2009, having served as a Mediator from 1999 to 2002. In addition, Ms. Puchala served as the Staff Director of the Michigan State Employees Association from 1990 to 1999. From 1970 to 1986, she held various roles with the Association of Flight Attendants, including International President, Master Executive Council President, Local Council President, and Member of the Negotiating Committee. She received a B.A. in Business Administration from Cleary University.
Associated PressAfghanistan's president said Saturday that the U.S. and NATO troops transferring security to local forces should leave the country's villages as soon as possible and pull back to their bases. The U.S. has already said that from mid-2013 on, the United States and its allies would operate from fewer bases and that the withdrawal of military supplies and equipment from Afghanistan would accelerate. But the comments from the Afghan leader suggest he would like to see that process gain some momentum. "There will be a change in our relations with the world in 2013," President Hamid Karzai said at the opening of a conference on Afghan foreign policy strategy. "The U.S. and NATO forces are going to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but before that — in 2013 — the transition of security is going to be completed and there will be no military activity of foreign forces in Afghanistan." "We are working to make this transition of security happen sooner. We want all the foreign forces to come out of the villages and go to their bases so the Afghan forces can carry out the security," Karzai said, adding that that after the international forces pull back to their bases, they can gradually return home from there, completing the withdrawal by the end of 2014. International forces have been fighting for more than a decade against the Taliban and other militants who allowed al-Qaida to operate in Afghanistan and plot the 9/11 attacks. Karzai has long stressed that terrorism is not rooted in Afghan villages, but resides in other sanctuaries outside the country — a veiled reference to neighboring Pakistan. "From our vision, the fight against terrorism is not in Afghanistan," he said. "That is why we do not want military operations in our villages, in our houses." Karzai discounted fears that Afghanistan would descend into a civil war of ethnic factions after the foreign combat troops complete their withdrawal. He said he was confident that Afghan soldiers and police can handle security. "I'm completely sure that the withdrawal of international forces in 2014 will give us more opportunity to provide more security," Karzai said. "We are the owners of this country. We should really show that we are the owners of this country." Karzai reiterated his call for national unity and instructed the Afghan diplomats at the conference to return to their assigned countries and present Afghanistan as a proud, sovereign and unified nation. "We are poor, but we are lord of this region," Karzai said. "Our history has proven that we are the lord of this region. ... So wherever you are based, you should act as a lord — a poor lord, but a lord." When they meet during the week of Jan. 7, Karzai and President Barack Obama will discuss the pace of coalition troop withdrawals, efforts to pursue peace with the Taliban as well as the role and size of U.S. military presence in his country beginning in 2015. During a trip to Afghanistan this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta offered no clues about what Obama will decide. Other officials have indicated that the White House is considering plans that call for between 6,000 and 10,000 U.S. troops to stay for several years after 2014 in order to keep Afghanistan on a path toward stability and to prevent al-Qaida and affiliated terrorist groups from re-emerging as a significant force in the country. The U.S. now has about 66,000 troops here, along with about 35,000 from allied nations. No decision on 2013 U.S. troop withdrawals is likely to be announced until after Karzai meets Obama in Washington in early January. The U.S. withdrew 10,000 troops last year and another 23,000 this year. There have been calls in Congress for Obama to accelerate the withdrawal next year, and from commanders' own optimistic assessments of progress, it appears such a speedup could be coming. Some U.S. military officials, however, warn that pulling out too many troops too fast could squander hard-won sacrifices.
U.S. commanders are offering glowing reviews of their 2012 war campaign, upbeat assessments that could be interpreted as leeway for President Barack Obama to order another round of troop withdrawals next summer. Obama faces a tension between calls by Democrats and even some Republicans to wind down the war more quickly and the military's desire to avoid a too-fast pullout that might squander hard-won sacrifices. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has not yet recommended to Obama a specific pace of withdrawals for 2013. But during the Pentagon chief's two-day visit to the war zone this past week, commanders suggested that things are going better than is generally believed by an American public weary of war after 11 years. Maj. Gen. Robert Abrams, for example, cited "astounding" progress in the Zaray district of Kandahar province, where the Taliban once held sway. Abrams, the top coalition commander in southern Afghanistan, said Afghan forces are now "dominating" in that district. He told reporters he foresees a smaller coalition force by next summer, but he was not recommending or predicting any U.S. reductions. He was arguing that Afghan forces are performing so well that they should be able to hold their ground in 2013 with less coalition combat power. No decision on 2013 U.S. troop withdrawals is likely to be announced until after Afghan President Hamid Karzai meets with Obama in Washington in early January. The U.S. now has 66,000 troops in Afghanistan. Panetta announced in Kabul on Thursday that Karzai had agreed to go to Washington the week of Jan. 7 to discuss the pace of coalition troop withdrawals as well as a U.S. military role in his country after December 2014, when the international coalition's combat mission is to end. Obama withdrew 23,000 U.S. troops this year, following a drawdown of 10,000 in 2011. There have been calls in Congress for Obama to accelerate the withdrawal next year, and from commanders' own assessments of progress, it appears such a speedup could be coming. Commanders portrayed the Taliban as fraying and failing, though not defeated. Maj. Gen. Larry Nicholson, the international coalition's deputy chief of staff for operations, said the Taliban had aspired to pull off a series of high-level assassinations in 2012 and regain territory they lost in 2011. "They have failed at every one" of those objectives, Nicholson told reporters. Nicholson also said, by way of illustrating how much things have changed in Afghanistan in recent years, that in the former Taliban stronghold of Helmand province, U.S. Marines are now complaining of boredom because there is so little fighting for them to do. He was not arguing for further U.S. troop reductions in 2013 but observing that if Helmand is a model for Afghanistan, it may show that coalition forces can step back and give Afghan forces the lead role without sacrificing security and giving the Taliban new hope for a revival. Col. Christopher Boyle, the operations chief on Abrams' staff in Kandahar, said the Taliban are facing financial and other pressures. "More and more we are seeing fracturing" in Taliban leadership circles, Boyle said, with factions fighting each other for territory and resources. Abrams did acknowledge that the Taliban will keep "coming back" until there is some sort of reconciliation with the Afghan government. Panetta has not telegraphed his recommendations to Obama on future troop levels. The main message of his visit to Afghanistan, possibly his last as defense secretary, was one of reassurance to Afghans that they will not be abandoned after 2014. And he made a pitch for patience among Americans tired of war. "For the first time since 9/11, we have a chance to achieve the mission that we are embarked upon," Panetta said, alluding to the defeat of al-Qaida and the stabilization of Afghanistan. "To achieve that mission will require a continued commitment, continued perseverance, continued partnership and continued sacrifice on the part of our nations."
EDITORIAL:DAILY TIMESA furore has broken out about corruption charges against politicians across the board. The NAB chief, Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari, has exploded a bombshell by endorsing the figure for daily corruption first put forward by Transparency International (TI) of Rs seven billion per day. Whereas the TI figure was based more on surveys of perceptions than any concrete facts, the good Admiral seems to have a little more wind in his sails when he claims the country is losing Rs seven billion per day due to tax evasion and another Rs 6-7 billion because of direct corruption at both the federal and provincial levels, based he says, on the TI surveys, government and regulators’ reports, proceedings of the Public Accounts Committee, tax collection departments’ input and NAB’s own assessment of mega projects. None of the data that could back up such sweeping generalisations has so far been presented by the Admiral, whose initial estimate has now almost doubled, casting a shadow of doubt about the findings. Irrespective of the government and the opposition’s reactions to the allegations, a number of questions have arisen because of the Admiral’s actions. First and foremost, is it the NAB’s mandate to be indulging in such kite-flying? NAB is charged with going after specific corruption cases, not indulging in dubious ‘research’. Second, as a department of the government, should the NAB chief not have gone to the government with his ‘findings’ instead of creating a controversy by going public on shaky foundations? Last but not least, the timing of his assertions on the eve of the general elections leaves one scratching one’s head as to the purpose or intent behind this ‘bombshell’. Irrespective of the Admiral’s fulminations or his intent, all he has managed to do is feed into a general perception that corruption exists, the quantity remaining difficult to pin down by the very nature of the phenomenon, which afflicts all tiers and levels of the state, from the lowest rung to the highest. However, perception is not proof. It has to be substantiated by concrete evidence. Sweeping statements are no substitute for what is arguably a serious affliction state and society are suffering from. Feeling targeted, the political class has felt more affronted than responded responsibly. If the political class has been put in the dock on the issue of not filing income tax returns, although some of the names being touted have refuted the allegation, the response expected from our elected representatives is that they behave like responsible holders of elected office and plug any gaps that exist in this regard. There are other issues with the current furore. It appears on the surface that the various authors of the corruption reports see ‘evil’ only in the political class. Their omissions are even more significant than those they name. Have they ‘declared’ the military and bureaucracy squeaky clean in focusing only on politicians? Anyone even superficially acquainted with Pakistan’s history will find it difficult to deny the role these institutions have played in siphoning off state resources, in the case of the military, involving big ticket defence purchases paid for by the sweat and labour of the citizen. About the bureaucracy and the lower judiciary, the less said the better. All the surveyors and purveyors of this pseudo-science needed to do was talk to a representative sample of the citizenry and they would have come away better educated about the phenomenon of corruption and the spread of its tentacles through the entire governance structures of the country. Last but by no means the least, some probing questions need to be asked before we get swept away in a frenzy in another dubious controversy. Is corruption universal or confined? Increasingly, the answer may well be that it is tending towards the former. Did corruption begin only now? This is patently a false and ahistorical perception. Corruption has been around a long time, arguably since independence, and the fact that it has grown in depth and reach suggests it is not about to go away any time soon. The tendency of the military to use its periods in power or even in between as license to manoeuvre benefits, the bureaucracy to permanently have its hand in the till, the political class to incrementally treat public office as a means of private gain, all these have acquired unstoppable traction over time. Adding to this sorry picture is the ethos of unbridled capitalism, which glorifies getting rich by any and all means, including the crooked. Unfortunately, the mud-slinging over corruption, past victimisation of political opponents in the name of accountability, and the lack of any meaningful measures to halt the growing trend means that, especially at this juncture when the country stands poised on the brink of a historic democratic transition, the whole furore is unlikely to turn out to be more than a red herring when juxtaposed against the even more serious challenges facing the country.
Editorial:The Frontier PostThat the party which committed to itself to establish an egalitarian society, is conceding in its fourth government that poverty and food insecurity have risen in the tenure of its fourth government, must be seen with a agonizing eye. This candid admission came in a Senate session on Thursday when the Ministry of Food Security accepted that poverty has been increasing in the country since the PPP-led coalition entered the corridors of power. Although not much of data was provided, the World Bank and the UNDP have said that 17.2 per cent of Pakistanis were living below the poverty line in 2007-08. This means that the monthly income of a family rests around $100 a month and this is abysmally low when considered in the backdrop that a few hundred Pakistanis have their money in foreign banks said to be more than $100 billion and affluent people do not pay their taxes. As for food insecurity, the ministry said the number of people falling under the poverty line had been increasing constantly and more than 58 per cent population was food insecure by 2011.The ministry said that the National Nutrition Survey, 2011, conducted by the Benazir Income Support Program, showed that 58 per cent of Pakistanis were food insecure and 29.6 percent of them were suffering with hunger or severe hunger. Both the questions relate to fundamental human rights which comes to low priority in this land the pure. This points out to the failure of the country’s poverty alleviation plan under the World Bank-sponsored Benazir Income Support Programme that is hardly seen helping the needy. The BISP initiated a National Zero Hunger Plan and the prime minister made announcement on March 21 this year. But the plan has no far stepped beyond the announcement stage.Coming to food security plans, the government cannot hopefully succeed when agriculture, that contributes 24 per cent of the GDP, employs 48 per cent of the country’s labour force and contributes about 60 per cent to export earnings, remains a losing activity with mounting prices of fertilizers and other inputs whose cost is much higher that actual yield. Although the government raised the wheat support price from Rs1050 to Rs1,200 per 40 KG, farming activity is not likely to pick up because land holdings, among other factors, are highly unjustified because it is the big landlord who ultimately benefits at the cost of about 90 per cent peasantry. In short, this is only one aspect of an exploitative class-ridden society which leans heavily on the side of the high and mighty and forsakes the weak and the poor, no less than 95 per cent of the population.
Radio PakistanPresident Asif Ali Zardari has reiterated that eradication of Polio is the foremost priority of the government. He was talking to a delegation comprising representatives of international partners against polio eradication which called on him in Islamabad on Saturday. The President said we have made polio eradication campaign a cross party issue and all the political parties and societal forces are now supporting the cause. Referring to situation in tribal areas and some parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa‚ the President said that the Government was making efforts with the support of political and religious leaders and other notables of the areas to reach out even in those areas where inaccessibility and security issues had hampered polio campaigns in the past. The President thanked the international community for complementing the government's efforts to save our children from the menace of polio. He said that the government‚ the people and the children of Pakistan are also thankful to all our international partners who were providing every assistance in complete elimination of the disease. Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said they discussed steps taken for polio eradication during the meeting. The delegation lauded the personal interest of the President towards efforts for eradicating the menace of Polio from the country. The delegation assured their continued support in the cause of eradicating Polio from the country. During the meeting‚ the President also telephoned Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman and requested him to meet the delegation to discuss issues related to resistance in Polio campaign by some on ideological grounds. Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman said that the delegation is welcome to meet him.
Clashes erupted following Friday prayers at the Qaed Ibrahim mosque in Alexandria, where prominent preacher Ahmed El-Mahalawy had urged worshipers to vote 'yes' in the constitutional referendum scheduled for Saturday.
A group of Egyptian youth designed a series of video clips on YouTube campaigning against the draft constitution to be put to vote on Saturday. The clips come along a series of videos called in Arabic “Fahmni” or “Explain to Me,” tackling political and legal concepts and terms. The clips discussed some articles of the constitution in a very simple manner, while pointing out what they consider as ‘legal flaws.’ The videos start by the question, “why are we voting ‘no’ to the constitution?” followed by simplified explanations of the reasons behind rejecting some articles. One clip discussed Article 14 which limits the stipulation on a maximum national wage by stating that exemptions would be regulated by the law. The clip criticizes this article saying it does not set a standard relation between minimum and maximum wage. In another clip, the youth criticized Article 149 which states that the president may issue a pardon or mitigate a sentence. This article, the clip says, will grant President Mohamed Mursi the right to intervene in judicial affairs. The country heads to referendum after weeks of protests and violent clashes between rival camps that left eight people dead last week. Egyptians are to start deciding Saturday whether to adopt a new constitution backed by Islamists, or reject it as urged by the opposition, which claims the new charter does not represent all Egyptians. Recent protests have failed to dissuade Mursi from holding the referendum, which will be staggered over a week.