Sunday, October 6, 2013

Global Economy: Stakes start rising over Washington gridlock

The world is watching Washington's showdown over the federal budget and debt ceiling with the same feelings of horror, disbelief and ghoulish fascination that a slow-motion car crash produces. The Republican-led House of Representatives is on a collision course with the Democratic White House. Both sides know the damage that would be inflicted on the country if the Treasury runs out of money later this month, risking an unprecedented debt default.
So one of them is sure to blink and swerve away. Aren't they?
Well, they haven't yet. Hard-line Republicans opposed to Obama's healthcare reform have already forced a shutdown of non-essential government functions since October 1 by blocking new spending authority. "They're doing that, I would say, at the great expense of the average American, the U.S. economy and, to some degree, the global economy," said Jason Ware, chief analyst at Albion Financial Group in Salt Lake City. After media reports that House Speaker John Boehner would work to avoid default, even if it meant relying on the votes of Democrats, as he did in August 2011, Boehner stressed that his party would continue to insist on budget cuts as a condition of raising the borrowing authority. For the issuer of the world's reserve currency, whose interest rates form a global benchmark, to default would be nothing short of catastrophic, according to the U.S. Treasury. That is why investors, though they have been selling stocks as a precaution, still believe a deal will be struck. "You can come back from a government shutdown. You cannot come back from a default on the debt," said Ware.
The standoff is already damaging America's standing - a point that U.S. policy makers can expect to hear this week from finance ministers attending meetings in Washington of the Group of 20 leading economies and the International Monetary Fund. "In view of the latest political failure, a replay of the 2011 summer drama seems likely, which is certainly a concern for U.S. foreign creditors," China's state-owned Xinhua news agency said in an editorial last week. The United States would join non-exalted company if the unthinkable were to happen. Angola, Argentina, Cote d'Ivoire, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Gabon, Greece, Grenada, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Paraguay, the Solomon Islands, Venezuela and Zimbabwe have all defaulted or restructured their debt in the past decade, according to the GlobalWorks Foundation, a pro-trade non-profit group in Washington. If there is a silver lining to the fiscal fiasco, it is that the Federal Reserve could see fit to wait even longer before reducing its bond buying from $85 billion a month. "They may delay this farther if the impact of the shutdown on the economy is greater than expected," said Petr Zemcik, director of European economics at Moody's Analytics in London.
The Fed cited fiscal uncertainty among the reasons for its surprise decision last month not to start withdrawing its extraordinary monetary stimulus. The minutes of the central bank's September 17/18 meeting will be released on Wednesday and will cast new light on the central bank's thinking. "Even if we resolve this, there'll be a dent to economic activity and confidence that will give them ample latitude to say we won't taper in December," Albion Financial Group's Ware said. Bricklin Dwyer at BNP Paribas in New York reckons a two-week shutdown could reduce annualized GDP growth by as much as 0.3 or 0.5 percentage points. Markets so far have been complacent about the impact, he said in a note. The global economy is at least in better shape to withstand U.S. turbulence than it was earlier this year. In a quiet week for data, Germany, France and Italy are all likely to report a rebound in August industrial production. That would reinforce expectations that the euro zone logged a second consecutive quarter of growth in the July through September period. One of the ironies of the shutdown is that the Fed has no government data for now to help it judge the economy's path. This puts a premium on other sources. Chief among them this week will be the University of Michigan consumer sentiment index for October, which economists expect to show a dip. The third-quarter U.S. corporate earnings season also gets under way. Forecasts have come down sharply in recent weeks with profit growth now expected at just 4.5 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

US credits Syria's Assad over chemical weapons destruction

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime deserves credit for complying with a chemical weapons deal, US Secretary of State John Kerry has said. He was speaking after international monitors said the destruction of Syria's stockpile had begun. The mission was established under a UN resolution, which was passed after a deal between Russia and the US. The resolution followed international outrage at a chemical weapons attack near Damascus in August. "The process has begun in record time and we are appreciative for the Russian co-operation and obviously for the Syrian compliance," Mr Kerry said after talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Indonesia. "I think it's extremely significant that yesterday, Sunday, within a week of the (UN) resolution being passed, some chemical weapons were being destroyed. "I think it's a credit to the Assad regime, frankly. It's a good beginning and we welcome a good beginning," Mr Kerry added.

Dear President Obama: don't cave to the GOP's extortion politics

Michael Cohen
The shutdown is political blackmail. If Democrats give in, the GOP will keep putting the US democracy and economy at risk
To a casual observer of American politics the ongoing government shutdown and prospect of a cataclysmic debt default in the next two weeks may look like just another round of "DC dysfunction" between two parties hopelessly polarized and ideologically divided. It's not. While the government shutdown is nominally about the Republican crusade against Obamacare, the issues at stake are far bigger than one law or even one president or one Congress. In reality, the psychodrama playing out in Washington is about the future of democracy in America. And no, I'm not exaggerating. Unless the GOP's brand of extortion politics is thwarted, America's democratic institutions will be so badly subverted that the nation will simply find itself in the position of staggering from one manufactured crisis to another with potentially both political parties threatening economic and political Armageddon if they don't get their way. That is, quite simply, no way to run a democracy and it's why the only option facing President Obama and the Democratic party is to win this showdown and force the GOP to concede defeat. It's important to understand at the outset that US democracy, for all of it many flaws, is one based on the idea of political compromise. In a system with so many obstacles to legislative outcomes – two houses of Congress, a separate executive branch and tons of minor obstruction points in each institution – there really is no other way to get things done. That has dramatically changed in just the past few years. It's not that compromise was always achievable in the past (the failure to break the Southern block on civil rights legislation is an obvious example), it's that the search for common ground has simply been thrown asunder, replaced instead by extortion politics. For example, traditionally, raising the debt limit has been something of a pro forma exercise in Congress, done multiple times (sometimes begrudgingly) to ensure that the federal government can continue to issue debt and thus pay its obligations. But beginning in 2011, the Republican party came to see the debt limit as a tool for what they could not accomplish either at the ballot box or through the legislative process – namely an instrument for political blackmail. The result was a set of protracted negotiations between Congress and the White House in the summer of 2011, all conducted with the prospect of debt default (which would occur if the debt limit was not raised) hanging over the head of official Washington. The result was the Budget Control Act, a pernicious piece of legislation that trimmed the federal budget by billions of dollars and led to sequestration – a set of mandatory spending cuts that has hamstrung the economic recovery and caused untold and unnecessary distress for millions of Americans. Unsatisfied with just that policy outcome, Republicans are now upping the ante – and using not just the debt limit but also the budget to get their way. Once upon a time, government shutdowns occurred because both parties could not agree on budgetary priorities. Ironically, that isn't even the issue today as both sides have agreed on the basic parameters of a continuing resolution to fund the US government. Rather this is about Obamacare, which Republicans have been unable to thwart though the legal, elective or legislative process (and satisfy their goal of denying healthcare coverage to millions of Americans). So now Republicans are holding the federal government as a hostage to get Democrats to agree to any possible concession that would weaken Obamacare. First their goal was fully defunding the legislation; then it was delaying it a year; now it appears to be repealing certain parts of the bill, including the employer subsidies for their own congressional employees' health care coverage (because nothing says compassionate conservatism like screwing over your own employees to make a political point). But the GOP brinkmanship over Obamacare is nothing compared to what they are asking for this year in return for raising the debt limit. Unlike 2011, when they were demanding a dramatic reduction in government spending, they are now insisting on the full implementation of their policy agenda.
No, I'm not exaggerating.
Here are the GOP's demands for extending the nation's debt limit and preventing an economic catastrophe that would derail the fragile US recovery, likely spark a recession and fundamentally weaken America's economic competitiveness and in turn, national security:
One year debt limit increase
-Not a dollar amount increase, but suspending the debt limit until the end of December 2014 (similar to what we did earlier this year). -Want the year-long to align with the year delay of Obamacare.
One year Obamacare delay
Tax reform instructions
-Similar to a bill we passed last fall, laying out broad from Ryan Budget principles for what tax reform should look like. -Gives fast track authority for tax reform legislation.
Energy and regulatory reforms to promote economic growth
-Includes pretty much every jobs bill we have passed this year and last Congress -All of these policies have important positive economic effects. -Energy provisions: Keystone Pipeline, Coal Ash regulations, Offshore drilling, Energy production on federal lands, EPA Carbon regulations -Regulatory reform: REINS Act, Regulatory process reform, Consent decree reform, Blocking Net Neutrality
Mandatory spending reforms
-Mostly from the sequester replacement bills we passed last year -Federal Employee retirement reform -Ending the Dodd-Frank bailout fund -Transitioning CFPB funding to Appropriations -Child Tax Credit Reform to prevent fraud -Repealing the Social Services Block grant
Health spending reforms
-Means testing Medicare -Repealing a Medicaid provider tax gimmick -Tort reform -Altering disproportion share hospitals -Repealing the Public Health trust Fund As Jonathan Chait points out, this is basically Mitt Romney's economic agenda. If that name doesn't ring a bell, Romney is the Republican presidential candidate who lost last year's presidential election by around 5 million votes. What Republicans are doing here is basically saying to the president (the guy who won by 5 million votes) "implement our policy agenda or we will cause a catastrophic debt default".
That isn't governing. It isn't democracy. It's a shakedown.
That Republicans would even risk the possibility of default to get their way should, in an ideal world (or at least one in which Americans paid more than passing attention to their government), invalidate their credentials as a political party. Since that's unlikely to happen, the only appropriate course of action for President Obama and the Democrats to take is not simply to resist the Republican's ransom demands, but, in fact, to force them to cave in and pass a clean debt limit extension. If they don't, Republicans will do it over and over and over again. Just as they are doing it again right now after they got a quarter loaf from the president in 2011. Moreover, what reason would there be for Republicans to ever moderate their politics? They wouldn't even need to win presidential elections. As long as they could hold on to their majority in the House (a majority lubricated by gerrymandered and polarized districts that encourage Republicans to take even more radical positions to appeal to their conservative supporters), they could simply hold the country hostage every couple of years to get their way. This debate is not your garden-variety political crisis. It's the battle for the long-term viability of American democracy, and it's a battle that the Democrats simply must win even if it means risking default. And no, I'm not exaggerating.

Kerry: 'Terrorists can run but they can't hide'

Syria ready for talks but not with terrorists: Assad

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad says he is ready for a planned international peace conference on the crisis in his country but stresses that he will not negotiate with terrorists. “We don't have conditions except that we reject to negotiate with terrorists” unless they lay down their arms and condemn calls for a foreign military strike against Syria, Assad said in an interview with the state-run Tishreen newspaper. “The main condition is that the solution should be a Syrian one and the dialogue is political ... but if the dialogue was with weapons so why would we go to Geneva?” he said. Assad pointed out that the biggest victory for Syria could be achieved by overcoming the foreign-backed militancy, saying, “Yes, we can achieve this victory ... and the first and bigger victory today is for us to eliminate the terrorists.” "What is important is to believe in this victory ... when faith exists inside all of us that we are capable of achieving victory, certainly we would achieve that victory,” he added. Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since 2011. According to the UN, more than 100,000 people have been killed and a total of 7.8 million of others displaced due to the violence. On May 7, Russia and the US agreed to convene an international conference on Syria which is likely to be held in Geneva in mid-November. The event will serve as a follow-up to an earlier Geneva meeting held in June 2012. However, the date of the event keeps slipping as Syria’s foreign-backed opposition coalition remains divided over taking part in the second round of Geneva talks. They have repeatedly refused to take part in the conference unless Assad steps down.

U.S: Shutdown’s roots lie in deeply embedded divisions in America’s politics

By Dan Balz, Published
The government shutdown did not happen by accident. It is the latest manifestation — an extreme one by any measure — of divisions long in the making and now deeply embedded in the country’s politics. At some point, presumably, the current standoff will end. The federal government will reopen, the ceiling on its borrowing power will be lifted and some stalled legislation could pass. Some sense of normalcy will return to official Washington. But it also could be a new normal, as confrontation remains commonplace and true compromise rare. Meanwhile, the ideological, cultural and political differences that led to this moment of extreme governmental dysfunction are almost certain to shape elections and legislative battles in the near term. That is the conclusion of politicians, political strategists and scholars who have been living with a deepening red-blue divide in America that they say has made this era of politics the most polarized in more than a century. However bad it may have seemed in the 1990s, the last time there was a shutdown , or after the contested presidential election in 2000, or a decade ago during a divisive war, the fundamentals are worse today. Some may rightly blame politicians in Washington for behaving badly, but in reality the clashes in the nation’s capital reflect conflicting attitudes and values held by politically active, rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats across the country. Add to that a faction of conservatives in the House who are determined to disrupt business as usual and the current stalemate in Congress becomes almost unavoidable. The bonds that once helped produce political consensus have gradually eroded, replaced by competing camps that live in parallel universes, have sharply divergent world views and express more distrust of opponents than they did decades ago. Many activists describe the stakes in apocalyptic terms. Pete Wehner, an official in the White House under President George W. Bush, said there is now a huge premium among the most conservative wing of his party to fight for the sake of fighting. “People feel like we’re losing our country,” he said. “That’s not my view, but it is the view of a lot of people, and it moves them to be pugilistic, to be more combative and more confrontational. They believe there’s a huge amount at stake.” In the states, the red-blue divisions have for now produced governments largely controlled by one party or the other. In Washington, they have produced a divided government and could continue to do so for some years to come. Nothing in politics is permanent, but Democrats now enjoy some advantage in the electoral college competition, while the alignment of congressional districts gives Republicans the upper hand in controlling the House. Divided government has resulted in a breakdown in governance. Another major factor in the current stalemate is the degree to which the country has polarized around the Obama presidency. Conservatives see the president as someone who came to office preaching unity and post-partisanship but who has been, as one Republican put it, a hyperpartisan with an agenda deliberately designed to increase the power of the federal government. There is virtually no middle ground when it comes to assessments of President Obama. There seems to be no easy way out of all this, absent some large external shock to the system. But the system has been shocked any number of times over the past two decades — from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to the massive recession in 2008 — and each time has quickly reverted to partisan conflict. Nor did the election of Obama in 2008 or his reelection in 2012 bring about any real truce. In fact, it has resulted in the opposite. In the current standoff, Republicans are more at risk of suffering any political fallout or public backlash. That is because of the insistence by hard-line conservatives in the House, who are deeply opposed to Obama’s Affordable Care Act, that their leaders adhere to the tactics that led to the shutdown. Many Republicans outside the House, and some inside, are uneasy about the shutdown and fear it could badly damage the party. Still, most of them share with the hard-liners the same hostility to the president, his health-care law and the bulk of his agenda. Their disagreements are more over tactics of shutting down the government to stop the new health-care law, not ones of philosophy or ideology. Democrats, for their part, are determined to hold the line in this and future battles. That is why a solution to the shutdown and the debt ceiling does not lead to a resolution of the issues that separate the parties. “I don’t really see a way out of it in the very short term,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University who has written extensively on polarization. “We’re stuck in it. There was a time when it was possible for the parties to work together, because the divide between them was much smaller. Now we’ve gotten to the point where it’s almost impossible.”
Emergence of a trend
The 2012 election between Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney was billed as a great debate between competing views of government and a moment when voters could signal a clear direction for the country. Instead, the election continued the status quo in Washington, with neither a slackening in partisanship nor a narrowing in the philosophical gap between the parties. If anything, it reinforced rather than eased the divisions that existed. Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California at San Diego, described 2012 as “the most partisan, nationalized . . . election in at least six decades.” Over the past two decades, the percentage of self-identified Republicans and Democrats who support their party’s presidential nominee has ticked higher and higher. In the past three elections, according to American National Election Studies data cited by Jacobson, 89 or 90 percent of Republicans and Democrats backed their party’s nominees. Three decades ago, those percentages were considerably lower. What made 2012 more significant was the degree to which voting in House and Senate elections followed a similar pattern. In each case, nine in 10 partisans backed their party’s candidates for either House or Senate races. The 2012 election represented a high point for trends that have increased polarization. In the 1980s, another period of divided government, a quarter of the electorate voted for president one way and the House or Senate another way. In 2012, only about 11 percent of voters in the ANES studies cited by Jacobson said they split their tickets. What’s important about this is that there is now almost no intersection between the coalition that elected the president and the one that elected the majority in the House. Members of Congress have far less incentive to compromise with a president of another party if they know they are not dependent in any significant way on that president’s supporters. “If you look at the people who elected Obama and the people who elected the Republicans in the House, there’s very little overlap,” Jacobson said. “They owe their victories to very different constituencies, to folks who are pretty divided on every political issue.”
Darker reds, deeper blues
For comparison purposes, look at the makeup of the House at the time of the last government shutdown, in late 1995 and early 1996. Then, 79 Republicans came from districts won by Bill Clinton in 1992’s presidential race — a third of the entire GOP conference, according to David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. Today, just 17 — fewer than 10 percent — are in districts won by Obama last November. (There are only nine Democrats in districts won by Romney.) The Cook Report team has created an index to measure the partisan leanings of every congressional district. What the most current analysis shows is the degree to which members of Congress represent even more ideologically polarized districts than in the past. At the time of the last shutdown, Wasserman said, not quite one-third represented districts where the Republican vote was 10 points or more above the party’s national average. Today, more than half of them are in such districts. But it is not just that Republican districts have become redder. Democrats’ districts are bluer, as well. In 1995-96, the median Democratic seat was about 6.7 points more Democratic than the national average. Today, that figure has jumped to 11.2 points. Wasserman notes that the partisan leanings of the median Democratic district actually rose more than in the median Republican district. That doesn’t mean Congress is locked in concrete. Twice in the past four elections, the House has undergone a change in party control. What those shifts did not produce, however, was any easing of the partisan warfare. What frustrates many Democrats is the fact that their House candidates actually won more popular votes in 2012 than the Republicans — 1.4 million more — but still ended up in the minority. Many cite redistricting practices as the major culprit and call for reforms that would take the redistricting process out of the hands of partisan state legislators, which advocates say would produce far less polarization in Congress. While it is true that the takeover of state legislatures by Republicans in 2010 gave the party some advantage in the redistricting wars, there is a consensus among those who have studied the makeup of the House that redistricting is a smaller factor than is sometimes popularly described. “In 2012, redistricting was not actually the crucial factor in Republicans’ ability to hold the majority,” said John Sides, a political science professor at George Washington University whose blog, The Monkey Cage, appears on The Washington Post Web site. “And the increasing polarization happens mainly between redistricting cycles, not because of redistricting.” One reason for the shape of things is the distribution of the population. Democrats are now packed more closely in urban areas. Republicans are more evenly distributed across suburbs, exurbs and rural areas. That means Democratic House candidates win by large margins, but many of those votes are in essence wasted. For many years now, more congressional districts favored Republicans than Democrats. But that advantage is more important today because loyalty to party has a greater influence on how people vote. The bunching of Democrats in urban areas is clearer from a look at county-by-county results from last year’s presidential election. Obama won just 705 of the nation’s 3,153 counties. But Rhodes Cook, an independent analyst of political trends, points out that the president won “the bulk of those counties that really mattered.” Obama won 35 of the 39 counties with populations of 1 million people or more. He won those counties by a margin of 8 million votes. He lost the rest of the country by about 3 million.
An unprecedented gulf
Ideological polarization in the House is wider than it has ever been. The last time it approached today’s levels was after the Civil War, in the late 19th century. Nolan McCarty, a political science professor at Princeton University, has helped chart those changes, along with the scholars who first created the index, Keith Poole of the University of Georgia and Howard Rosenthal of New York University. Calling the period during Reconstruction “a highly polarized time,” McCarty said: “Our measures today are far worse than we observed then. We’re almost at the point where we can’t measure further increases.” Today, there is almost no overlap between the voting behavior of the most conservative Democrats in the House and the most liberal Republicans. That’s in part because there are few ­moderate-to-conservative Democrats and ­moderate-to-liberal Republicans left in the chamber. It also is a reflection of the fact that members from districts that are more evenly balanced ideologically now vote the way their colleagues from highly ideological districts vote. In other words, there is a big difference in the way Republicans and Democrats represent relatively neutral districts. “Even in districts that turn over a lot, the gap between Republicans and Democrats in those districts has grown tremendously,” McCarty said. Much of this has resulted from well-documented changes that have made each party more homogenous than in earlier eras. Two shifts account for many of these changes. The first is the realignment of the South, which has become solidly Republican. The second is the realignment outside the South with the decline of the liberal wing of the Republican Party in the Northeast and Midwest. The parties also are more divided racially than before. The Republican Party is almost entirely dependent on white voters. Nine of every 10 votes Romney received were from white voters, according to exit polls. Democrats are increasingly dependent on support from nonwhite voters. Obama got 44 percent of his votes from nonwhite voters. The GOP base, reflected most recently in the rise of the tea party, has become strongly anti-government. At the same time, the Democratic coalition is more pro-government, and many of its constituents are dependent on government programs. It is little wonder that there is scarce common ground between the parties on issues about the size and scope of government. Many polls in the past few years have charted the growing divide between Republicans and Democrats in their attitudes about government’s role. Republicans have shifted more to the right than Democrats have shifted to the left, but on both sides passions are stronger than they were two decades ago. “The two parties long ago ceased to agree on the policies that promote economic growth and the appropriate role for government in society,” said William Galston of the Brookings Institution. “It is this increasing divergence on fundamentals around which the American political system has reconfigured itself.” Polarization on the rise For many conservatives, the word “compromise” in Washington means a continuation of the direction government has taken since the New Deal, only a little slower. The tea party members in the House want to change course entirely. In this battle, they are re­inforced by a constituency now more powerful than party committees, or what is often called the party establishment. This new group includes conservative activists at home; talk radio and television hosts; and outside groups such as Heritage Action and the Club for Growth. They can threaten apostates with primary challenges, a danger of much more concern to incumbents in safe districts than a general election. Divided government at a time of polarization frustrates governing and makes short-term fixes more difficult. The power of the most conservative faction in the House to create the current stalemate over funding the government underscores the risks of the new alignment. The absence of a center in today’s politics significantly complicates coalition building. “How do you build a coalition from the center out when there’s no one in the middle?” Abramowitz asked. “Reaching across the aisle means reaching pretty far.” There are some reforms to the political process that might bring modest improvements over time. Making redistricting less partisan would be one step but probably would not produce dramatic changes. Some advocate open primaries, though the jury is out on the significance of such a move. In the Senate, there has been talk of reforming the filibuster to prevent the abuses seen in recent years, but this change seems unlikely. What the future holds is subject to debate. Depending on how the shutdown-debt ceiling battle ends, it could shake the status quo, creating a voter backlash — right now Republicans are more blamed for the standoff than Obama and the Democrats. It could help to resolve the intraparty GOP conflict that has been simmering since the 2012 election as Republicans argue over how to win back the White House. Or it could result in yet another lowering of confidence in government and political leaders. Much lies in the hands of the public. If at some point enough Americans decide they no longer want a country as divided as it is now, they could vote to give one party overwhelming control of the machinery of government. That has happened before in the country’s history. Maybe the aftermath of the shutdown will produce that kind of decisive shift. If not, then the status quo could stretch through several more elections.

Zardari urges govt to review offences carrying death penalty

Former president Asif Ali Zardari has urged the government to thoroughly review the offences in which death penalty is awarded in the light of religious obligations and conditions prevailing in the country. “The proponents of death penalty often argue that Islam ordains it. According to a large number of eminent religious scholars, Islam provides for death punishment only for murder and fasad fil arz (mischief on Earth) but in Pakistan over two dozen offences carry death penalty. This makes it necessary that the list of offences carrying death penalty is reviewed,” Mr Zardari said in a statement released by his spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar. He said the PPP would support the government in carrying out a review of the list of offences. The former president said Pakistan had also signed and ratified a number of international agreements that obligated it to accept the international human rights mechanisms. “The second protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by Pakistan, calls for abolition of the death penalty and cannot be ignored for too long,” he added. Mr Zardari said capital punishment was irreversible and no remedy was available if it’s established later that the executed person was innocent. “The nation has still not recovered from the after effects of the execution of Pakistan’s first directly elected prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto through dubious and politically motivated proceedings,” he said. Mr Zardari said that even in countries with strong and efficient justice systems, death penalty had been abolished on the ground of possibility of wrong conviction.

Warlords and politicians vie to lead Afghanistan

An array of former leading government figures and warlords have registered as candidates for Afghanistan's presidential election, hours before the process was set to close on October 6. The registration process has been marked by deals among regional strongmen, Western-trained technocrats, and tribal leaders in what is described as intense political maneuvering. Leading candidates include former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani and former Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak. President Hamid Karzai's brother, Qayum Karzai, and former Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul are also expected to register. Other prominent candidates include Afghan Salafi leader Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf and the former governor of the eastern province of Nangarhar, Gul Agha Sherzai. After vetting the nominees, the Afghan Independent Election Commission is expected to issue a final list of candidates on November 16.

Karzai Is Planning to Be There for a Successor. Right There.

With less than a year left in his final term, President Hamid Karzai insists that he is eager to leave the presidential palace and lead a quieter life. It turns out, though, he may just be moving next door, to a lavish new home yards from the complex that has been the seat of his power for more than a decade. According to Afghan officials, Mr. Karzai’s new home will be an old, European-style mansion that, once renovations are done, will be roughly 13,000 square feet. And the scale would befit the new role he is said to desire: guiding whoever fills his old job, as a presidential adviser for life. As a clue to how Mr. Karzai, 55, might try to retain his influence, and security arrangements, the new estate in the heart of Kabul may be Exhibit A. But Western and Afghan officials examining the political scene here say there are a host of other ways Mr. Karzai is already working to influence the 2014 election. The vote is deemed critical for the Afghan government to keep its hold over the country with the American-led coalition ending its mission next year and negotiations on keeping some foreign forces here after that at an impasse. Mr. Karzai has consistently placed loyalists in roles crucial to managing and securing the coming vote, raising concerns about the potential for fraud. Most Afghans now in positions of influence owe their jobs, and often their riches, to the president. And even as Mr. Karzai has publicly sought to appear above the fray as presidential candidates have announced their campaigns, it is widely acknowledged that none of them would be in the running if not for Mr. Karzai’s tacit acceptance, or at least ambivalence. Whether he will be able to handpick a pliable successor is one of the chief questions hanging over the coming election. The conventional wisdom among both the Afghan elite and Western diplomats is that he can, and that whoever he decides to support will become the front-runner, in part because Afghan politics have few of the trappings of a democracy. There are no polls to be dissected, no political parties of any significance, no platforms or policy proposals. For candidates, what matters “are your networks and allies, your ‘vote bank’ ” — that is, your ethnic or regional base — “and how much money you can liquefy for the campaign,” wrote Kate Clark and Gran Hewad of the Afghanistan Analysts Network in an essay published recently by the research group. Afghanistan is run on patronage, and Mr. Karzai, who wields sweeping powers under the Afghan Constitution, has spent the past 11 years deciding who gets the best jobs and who gets the most money, with the two outcomes often coinciding. In many ways, Mr. Karzai has approached the presidency much like an old Afghan tribal chief, a role that his family holds in the Popalzai tribe of the Pashtuns. Even his fiercest critics acknowledge he has excelled largely by doling out favors and cash to keep ethnic, regional and personal rivalries in check and bring old warlords into line. Fazal Ahmad Manawi, a former election commission chief and no fan of Mr. Karzai, said the country needed him to help the next president manage. All former Afghan leaders have been killed or have fled, he said. “God forbid, if President Karzai leaves Afghanistan, then this will create another problem and achievements will be lost,” Mr. Manawi said. To skeptics, including some current and former officials within his inner circle, that is exactly the problem. The government is far too centered on Mr. Karzai, and he has solidified his hold over Afghanistan’s electoral machinery in the past year, they said. He is now carefully weighing whom to back in the race, in hopes of becoming the power-broker-in-chief after leaving office, in the estimation of Afghan officials and some Western diplomats. Mr. Karzai will certainly have the kind of palatial home needed for the part. The spot selected sits just beyond the grounds of the Arg, a former royal palace that spreads across 83 acres in the center of Kabul and now serves as the presidential seat. The property is hidden behind high walls and security barricades. Afghan officials familiar with the plans say it includes buildings previously used by the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence service. The renovation of old buildings and the construction of new ones, including a reception hall, began more than two months ago, said Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for the president. Mr. Faizi said that the location was selected for security reasons, and that Mr. Karzai would only help the next president if asked. Omar Zakhilwal, the finance minister, said in an e-mail that the property was being prepared for Mr. Karzai as part of the government’s legal obligations to any former president. Part of the land already belonged to the government, and it was being rented by the United Nations, which cleared out in June. The rest was purchased from a private owner, Mr. Zakhilwal said, adding that the government, not Mr. Karzai, would own the estate. Mr. Zakhilwal did not provide additional details and declined to say how much the project would cost. But other officials said the private owner was the family of Mohammad Daud Khan, Afghanistan’s first president. His story provides good reason for Mr. Karzai to seek a loyal successor. Mr. Khan took office in a 1973 coup that deposed his cousin, King Zahir Shah, and abolished the monarchy. Five years later, Mr. Khan and more than 20 of his family members were killed in another coup. The cynical view of Mr. Karzai’s postelection plans is that his main goal is to protect his family and others close to him, many of whom have amassed fortunes in the past 11 years. But a number of people who have worked closely with Mr. Karzai, including some who are now critics, say that he sincerely sees himself as having his people’s best interests at heart and is needed to help ensure Afghanistan’s stability. In the meantime, he has assiduously placed loyalists in roles crucial to the election. Last month, Mr. Karzai chose Umar Daudzai, who served as Mr. Karzai’s chief of staff and ambassador to Pakistan, to be the new interior minister. The Interior Ministry controls police officers, many of whom were accused of aiding the substantial vote rigging that marred Mr. Karzai’s re-election in 2009. Over the summer, Mr. Karzai named nine new members of Afghanistan’s election commission to replace commissioners who had served their terms. Experts said most of the new members have ties to the palace. Mr. Karzai also resisted a push by Parliament to have foreign experts sit on a separate commission charged with adjudicating electoral disputes. In 2009, the five-person commission included three foreign experts, and it disqualified tens of thousands of votes, forcing Mr. Karzai into a runoff against his top competitor, Abdullah Abdullah, who eventually dropped out of the race. Mr. Abdullah recently announced he would run again. He is the most prominent candidate to formally enter the race so far, and the leading opposition contender. But the focus remains on who will emerge from Mr. Karzai’s inner circle. Ashraf Ghani, a close adviser to Mr. Karzai who ran for president in 2009, also announced his candidacy, as did Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf, a former Pashtun warlord accused of involvement in war crimes. Neither is considered a favorite of Mr. Karzai. Mr. Ghani suggested as much in an interview on Wednesday, saying he had asked the president to remain neutral. The two names mentioned most often as the president’s likely choices are Qayum Karzai, his brother, and Zalmay Rassoul, the foreign minister, who is seen as polished and palatable to the West, and weak. Neither has yet registered, and President Karzai has privately said that his brother should not run, according to another brother, Mahmood, and other Afghan officials. Still, Mahmood Karzai, who has often been publicly critical of his presidential brother, said he thought the president would come around. Qayum Karzai, he said, would certainly seek guidance from the current president if elected. “No one knows Afghanistan like he does,” Mahmood Karzai said. Whoever President Karzai supports “will have a big advantages.”

Balochistan Earthquake: How Jihadists Convert A Tragedy Into An Opportunity

The Baloch Hal
By Saifullah
The recent earthquake has brought backward areas of Balochistan an irrevocable havoc, affecting almost twenty-five thousands families. Balochistan Chief Minister, Dr. Malik Baloch, confirmed this after his brief visit to London. However, the worst has yet to come. In the backdrop of the post-earthquake relief operations, Jihadist organizations are setting up an unprecedented and somehow a successful network of recruitment in the Baloch areas under the disguise of rescuing the long lamented Baloch brothers. In fact, the army, after the failure of its earlier strategies to keep aloof the Baloch youth from joining ranks of the separatists, has deployed Jihaid-humanitarians such as the Jamat-u Dawah, as a new strategy to achieve the desired results. And to our surprise, this strategy has turned out to be a successful one. Balochistan has a long history of natural catastrophes; earthquake, a particular one, is because of the fault lines this region has which in turn is an effect of unstable plate tectonic movements. In 1935, Quetta witnessed a horrible earthquake with all its buildings collapsed to ground. Only the then cantonment separated from the city by deep canal, where the whole city sewerage gets it outlet, survived. However, the recent earthquakes, tracking from the one that happened a couple of years ago in Ziarat – a picnic and historical spot – and following years, a dreadful one that stuck Mashkhel, adjacent to Pak-Iran boarder, has been accompanied by a number of Jihadi-militant organizations establishing their network in the region. The Jamat-ud Dawah was one of the organizations which surpassed other organizations even the then government in helping out the earthquakes affectees. Even today, by travelling through those areas, tents, disposable shelter homes and the likes, over which the Dawa name is conspicuously written, vindicates the organization’s active participation in working for rehabilitation of the affectees. Moreover, it was Dawah that took precedence over other NGOs and the Pak Army to record their name as the first organization that went to Mashkhel and helped the quake victims. This development is of great significance – because of its ‘bizarreness’ – that an organization like Dawah, accused of sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir, has established its network both in Pashtun and Baloch populated areas; Ziarat and Mashkhel, respectively. For, Dawah which primarily aims at waging Jihad against India in Kashmir with the help of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, had never been ‘headache’ of neither of Pashtuns nor Balcohs. On contrary, it is the province wherein distribution of power and economic resources’ belongingness are more contested – which are ‘boarder confined concerns’ – instead, as is the case in Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, in particular, where Jihadis’ ‘trans-boarders expansionary’ vision finds conducive environment. The Baloch youth intermeshing with the Dawah network testifies that the network has just gained its monument. With a massive destruction inflicted by the nature, Dawah is trying its best to turns the devastation unleashed by the nature into an opportunity for its two pronged strategy: to rescues and rehabilitate the affectees invoking empathy for their ‘strayed’ brothers – the Balochs – and to translate the ‘deceitful’ humanitarian image into a resort by establishing network of the Dawah. Sequences of the developments implicates that Dawah is increasing its activities and deepening its presence in the previously ‘unconquered’ region under the tacit affirmativeness of the military. Establishment of Dawah in Balochistan, if am not speculating into a remote and far less possibility, will serve two functions: first, it will prove, as it is, a successful strategy deployed under the patronage of the military to prevent the Baloch youth form joining separatists’ ranks. Second, the military can use, in future, the Dawah in par with other militant Jihaidi organizations, now working in Balochistan. The later development is a very unique but not unusual: with the severing loyalties of other Jihades, based in Balochistan and operating across the border in Afghanistan, Dawah – a most reliable organization which our military can trust – can be deployed anytime against the ‘other’ Jihades to undo their ‘pernicious’ intentions against Pakistan. Adding into the misery of Balochistan, lamenting not only a massive fund raising campaign for the affectees by leading news channels, however there are exceptions, focusing too much on the two premiers’ meeting but also the news channel missed the opportunity to criticize our military for pampering organizations like Dawah – this time in Balochistan – that has sabotaging impact on the peace talks between India and Pakistan. Lastly, besides paying attention to schism between the province and center, the public must also pay attention how our military is covertly breeding afresh generation for militancy.

Who bombed Pakistan's Christians?

A Christian church, a crowded market, a bus full of government employees — these are some of the latest targets in Pakistan’s increasingly violent domestic war, which pits diverse militant groups against a government that seems powerless to rein them in. On Thursday, militants attacked a rival group in northwest Pakistan, killing more than a dozen people. Most of the assaults are attributed to “the Taliban,” although that term covers a multitude of sins in the Afghan-Pakistan corridor. A militant group calling itself Jundullah, meaning Soldiers of God, claimed responsibility for the attack on the Christian church in Peshawar on Sept. 22, which killed at least 85. Jundullah says the bombing was payback for Muslims killed in the US drone war — a continuing source of anger in Pakistan. Jundullah is thought to be one of dozens of splinter groups under the umbrella of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, the organization generally known as the Pakistani Taliban. But TTP disavowed Jundullah, saying that the alleged bombers had no links to the Taliban. TTP has also distanced itself from the market attack on Monday, which killed at least 42 and injured more than 100. Given the current state of militancy in Pakistan, which has seen a proliferation of myriad groups with similar names and overlapping goals, it may be all but impossible to tell, with any degree of certainty, whether Jundullah is part of the Taliban network. Even less certain is what the Pakistani government can or is willing to do to stop the violence. After all, it was the country’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence organization, the ISI, that provided the support that gave the Taliban its start. As noted journalist and author James Fergusson told Radio Free Europe, “There is a very good expression in that part of the world that when the ISI created the Taliban they created a tiger — the question is whether they have the tiger by the head or by the tail.”
The rise and fall (and rise?) of the Afghan Taliban
The word “Taliban” conjures up the bearded, black-turbaned militants who swept to power in Afghanistan in 1996. They imposed a brutal regime that confined women to their homes, kept girls from schools, forced men into the mosques to pray five times a day and blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas. They had cut their fighting teeth during the anti-Soviet jihad, generously supported, along with other mujahedeen groups, by the United States and Pakistan. Once the Soviets left, in 1989, and Afghanistan descended into civil war, the ISI maintained its links with the group of religious students known as the Taliban as they battled the warlords who were tearing the country apart. Pakistan’s calculus was simple: They wanted to have a regime in place they could deal with or even, perhaps, control. “Elements of Pakistan's intelligence agency … provided the Taliban with advisers and materials in their battles with rival warlords, ensuring a friendly government that controlled most of Afghanistan,” according to a report published by the Council on Foreign Relations in 2008. The Taliban were chased out of Kabul by the US invasion in October 2001, as Washington sought to punish the Afghan regime for harboring Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. But they did not stay gone; by 2005 they had mounted a robust insurgency that continues to this day.
A cozy relationship
The Afghan Taliban is largely a nationalist organization focused on driving out the foreign armies and regaining power. It still enjoys fairly good relations with Pakistan, something that makes the US unhappy. Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his closest advisers are almost certainly living in Pakistan. They are referred to as the “Quetta shura,” after the Pakistani town where they’re believed to be based. Pakistan is a major recipient of US aid, and is seen as a major ally in the fight against terrorism. The Congressional Research Service says, since 1984, the US government has pledged more than $30 billion in direct aid to the country. About half of that’s been for military assistance, and more than two-thirds of it appropriated after 2001. Given this perceived partnership, Washington would like for Islamabad to be a little less hospitable to fighters who are making life difficult for US and allied soldiers in Afghanistan.
Haqqani network
This is especially true of the Haqqani network, a group of Afghan militants loosely allied with the Taliban, under the leadership of Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin. The network is believed to be responsible for some of the most daring and high-profile attacks in Kabul, including the storming of the Serena Hotel in 2008 that killed six. The Haqqanis are close to Pakistan’s government, which has resisted calls to go after the militants within its borders, US officials say. “It’s fairly well known that the … Inter-Services Intelligence agency has had a long relationship with the Haqqani network,” former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told a Pakistani newspaper during a visit in 2011. “Addressing the network is, from my perspective, critical to the solution set in Afghanistan.” The Afghan Taliban members share their Pashtun ethnicity with their Pakistani brothers-in-arms. Both groups are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim. Both are hostile to foreigners and neither is overly sympathetic to the Shia sect of Islam. But there the similarity ends. It is, in fact, quite misleading that the Pakistani militants, who arose later and have a very different worldview, call themselves “Taliban.” “The fact that they have the same name causes all kinds of confusion,” Gilles Dorronsoro, a French scholar of South Asia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said in a New York Times interview. In fact, says writer and researcher Alex Strick van Linschoten, who has lived among the Taliban fighters in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, the name is about all they share. “To be honest, the Taliban commanders and groups on the ground in Afghanistan couldn’t care less what’s happening to their Pakistani brothers across the border,” he said.

Pakistan: Mr Khan in Wonderland

The chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Imran Khan, has penned an article in this newspaper – Dialogue: the best of difficult options – explaining his position on the Taliban threat. It’s good that Khan has presented his position in writing, which can be scrutinised and debated. He opens his spell with a reference to East Pakistan, informing us that the events leading to “the breakup of our country, left me with a strong conviction that military operations are never a solution to any problem, least of all one involving one’s own people”. This is a very loose ball. While the now-Bangladeshis wanted to secede for political reasons, the Taliban, far from wanting to secede, actually want to conquer this state. They are not saying ‘you go your way and we shall ours’. They want us to surrender and give up our land. Perhaps, we should set aside this fundamental difference for the sake of making room for Khan’s two-staged operative objection about use of force against own people. My position on the normative aspect of this statement is not far from Khan’s. I shall go a step further and say that the use of force even against another state must be an option of last resort. This should establish two facts: one, it is never a happy situation where one might have to resort to the use of force; two, one may yet do it and states have done it, not just against other states but also against internal threats. I may also indicate to Khan that the secession of East Pakistan, in the final analysis, came because of an external military push. It is a counterfactual but perhaps he should give a thought to the question of whether East Pakistan could have seceded without that massive military help. Finally, and because the argument above must not be misconstrued as taking away from the socio-political and economic grievances of East Pakistan, it is important to note that the debacle in that wing was not a military one. In taking a snapshot view of what happened in East Pakistan, Khan is losing the longer, political trajectory that led to the use of force, even if we grant, with hindsight, that that policy in its details and planning could have been better, if not entirely different. But, as I have argued above, it is equally imperative to see whether without a full-fledged Indian invasion of East Pakistan, we would have seen the secession. A good example of that is Occupied Kashmir. Khan then goes on to say that he “stood firmly with those who opposed Musharraf’s Balochistan operation and earlier the sending of the military into Waziristan”. I agree. Balochistan was best dealt with politically. But Baloch sub-nationalism is again a secessionist threat. It cannot be put in the same category as the Taliban threat. As for sending the military into Waziristan, Khan makes two mistakes. One, it is factually incorrect to say that the army was never deployed to the tribal agencies before 2004. He should read the history of 7 Division and the raising of XI Corps with the addition of 9 Div. His other mistake is to imply that the tribal agencies should be left as an anachronism. Khan, perhaps unknowingly, is correct in assuming that the military, initially, was quite unaware of how to deal with the situation. The fault was General Musharraf’s. The operations conducted between 2004 and 2007 were flawed in many ways, alternating between suing for peace and using force without much thought to the politico-strategic ends of either. Moreover, Khan continues to suggest that the tribal areas were an idyllic place into which the state inducted the serpent. That is absolutely incorrect. Al-Qaeda and other sundry foreign fighters had ingressed into the area. They were not only using the tribal areas as sanctuaries but also planning and executing attacks from Pakistani territory into other states and inside Pakistan. That situation needed to be addressed. While one can criticise the conduct of the operations, to imply that operations were the cause of what we face today is to reverse causality rather arbitrarily. This war did not begin in 2004. Its enabling environment started shaping in the early eighties with the two policies of Islamisation at home and support for the Afghan mujahideen. The extremism begotten of one began to complement the jihadist millenarianism of the other. Groups and individuals nourished in this environment began to think and act supra-state. Khan’s party represents the state and the state simply cannot accept actions and motives that go beyond and above it. This means, first, that Khan’s starting point for this conflict on the historical tragedy is flawed and, second, that this mindset will not vanish when the last American troops pull out of Afghanistan. If anything, unless we adopt domestic and regional strategies to root it out, including but not exclusively through the use of force, the situation is likely to get worse. Khan seems “convinced that peace cannot be restored in Pakistan through continuing military operations”. I hope he is right. But he needs to appreciate the situation rather than situating the appreciation. That brings me to another point that Khan and his party stalwarts raise – ie, military operations have not been effective. Having witnessed many of these operations, I can assure Khan that the physical landscape of the tribal agencies and frontier regions today is very different from what it was in 2007 and 2008. The relevant point, however, is this: why has the physical dominance of these areas so far not entirely resulted in social-psychological and economic-fiscal dominance, which is the only way to successfully build the strategic triangle? The answer to that will not come by focussing merely on military operations or their perceived ineffectiveness but by asking the question of how and why other elements of national power could not be harnessed and employed to make use of the space that was created by military operations. Why, for instance, has the state not addressed the threat of reprisals that were to inevitably come in the urban centres and which required, and still do, the creation of effective counter-terrorism police units to work in collaboration with a capable police force? Formulating a strategy requires, foremost, a full evaluation of the responses available to the state and answering the question of whether the state, in fact, has utilised them. In our case, that has not happened. There’s much else that can be debated in Khan’s article but there’s never enough space. He keeps comparing situations – like Ireland – with the one we have here when they were/are strategically, historically and ideologically very different. Even in the case of Sri Lanka, while most of us know about and refer to the Tamil problem, no one seems to know or remember another problem, much more like ours: Sinhala extremism by the JVP. In any case, the examples he gives either refer to foreign occupations or to secessionist movements. Pakistan is neither in illegal occupation of its territories nor is the TTP a secessionist force. Finally, his defence of the proposal to open a TTP office by using the term ‘stakeholders’ in the resolution that came out of the government-sponsored conference is at best naïve, at worst, dangerous. The TTP is not a legitimate stakeholder in power-sharing like perhaps the Afghan Taliban whose office Khan keeps referring to and who are, again, fighting combined armies of states foreign to Afghanistan. Talking to the TTP, therefore, is meant – or should mean – for the state to reassert its authority, not accept the legitimacy of the TTP’s criminal actions. Offering the TTP an office, even before determining the bargaining zone and establishing the state’s maximum reservation point, is to reverse the order of negotiation theory. I understand Khan’s frustration. I don’t doubt his sincerity. But he must understand the complexity of what’s happening and why. (I wish it were as simple as a mere reaction to drone strikes, which is another topic altogether.) Even more, he should know that we are in this for the long haul.

Pakistan: Inordinate delay in LG polls

Sad as it is elected provincial governments, both the previous and the present ones, have been reluctant to cede power to the grass roots level. Foot dragging on holding elections to this third tier of government continues under one pretext or the other. The election Commission of Pakistan has informed the Supreme Court of Pakistan that it cannot hold local bodies elections in 2013 for the simple reason that the pre-poll preparations by provinces are not complete yet. It may be recalled that following the 2008 elections, one by one the then provincial governments had dismissed local bodies replacing them with the colonial era commissionerate system. They kept ignoring the constitutional provision to hold fresh elections and hand over control to local representatives of the people. The Supreme Court, taking suo motu notice of the irregularity in April last year, ordered the governments to hold elections on the same day in June. Still, the resistance continued. The excuse used was incomplete voters' lists even though by-elections were regularly held for assembly seats that fell vacant either because of death of a member or disqualification on account of a fake degree. That being the background, it is hardly surprising if the court is exasperated over inordinate delay in LG polls - this time on account of federal and KPK governments' slow progress in passing the required law. A three-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry reminded the federal and provincial governments on Thursday that "the general public at the grass roots level must be allowed to participate in the democratic system, which is possible only if they take part through their representatives in the local government elections." The KPK government has taken as long as it has to pass the necessary legislation because it is in the process of making a radical change in the old system, converting 957 union councils into 35,000 village councils representing 8,000 people, each. Which is a much welcome change aimed at genuine grass roots empowerment. Necessary fresh delimitation work is to take time. The KPK Advocate General told the court that that is the reason the provincial government is reluctant to give a specific timeframe for the elections. There is no valid justification whatsoever for the federal government's failure to decide the schedule for LG polls in the capital territory. The court has said the governments have to make some stopgap arrangements, "especially when the constitution gives a way out." The way out is to issue ordinances pending legislation. There is no constitutional obligation, nonetheless, for the provinces to hold LG elections on the same day. KPK's issue should not hold back the other three provinces or Islamabad. They must go ahead to announce firm dates instead of giving the court vague assurances, Sindh government says it is 'likely' to hold the elections by November 27 and Balochistan sometime around December 7. Punjab has set a date, December 14, for the electoral exercise, though after passing a law that takes away vital administrative functions and financial independence from the LGs. It seems that a better way to deal with this foot dragging would be for the court to set a timeframe and seek compliance.

Practice of extortion on the rise in Peshawar

Salman Yousafzai
Taking extortion has become on the most dangerous practices in the country. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in general and Peshawar in particular have also been badly affected by this menace. Sources in police department said that the traders of provincial capital have so far given millions of rupees as extortion money to the extortionists. These criminals have become so powerful that some reports suggested that they had also demanded extortion money from one of the influential person in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. The police sources also claimed to have arrested two persons for threatening the important political figure of the province. The extortionists were few years back were associated only with Karachi but now they have started their criminal activities in Peshawar with businessmen and high profile people as their victims. Mostly the extortionists called traders from the numbers of Afghanistan and Waziristan. The Afghanistan numbers can be used easily as different telecom companies are providing roaming facilities. The Peshawar High Court though have ordered immediate stop to providing roaming facilities to Afghan companies in Pakistan. A resident of Peshawar who is running a travel Agency informed The Frontier Post on the condition of anonymity that he received calls from unidentified extortionist last week demanding extortion money, however, at last he informed police about the incident and give the number of extortionist to Gulberg police but they no action was taken against the criminals so far. While contacted officials of Gulberg Police Station said that in such cases they only lodge FIR after tracing out the accused. The sacrifices given by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are not a hidden fact and the bravery of our policemen will always be written in golden words as large number of cops had been martyred in war against terrorism. However, they lack modern equipments like GSM locaters when it comes to tracing out the terrorist especially for those who involved in collecting extortion money, mobile snatchings and kidnapping for ransom. Waqar Ahmad, city police spokesman, told The Frontier Post that the tender of purchasing GSM locator was approved however, still waiting for Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and Interior Ministry approval. He said, through GSM locater they easily traced out the location of culprits within hours adding that due to lack of the technology they take help of Investigation Bureau from where they got the records of cell phones which take two to three days. While answering a query DSP Waqar Ahmad informed that they purchased that technology on around 7 crore rupees, saying, they had experts for using this technology. Sources added that militants group mostly used their volunteers for collecting extortion money and through these volunteers they assassinate their victims who rejected to fulfill their demands or kidnapped these traders or others while the assailants volunteers also even not know the exact situation that why they killed the traders or someone else. During last few months, many traders and businessmen of province, including Peshawar, Nowshera, Sawabi and Mardan, received threatening calls and letters from banned groups and demanded of extortion money, however, who rejected to give the money the militants kidnapped the traders or they placed bomb near their houses. During the Ramzan in Peshawar dozens of low intensity bomb were exploded near the houses of many high profile people which not claimed lives but give signs of warning to that people. The practice is increasing with each passing day. Unconfirmed reports said that more then hundreds businessmen and traders given billion of rupees extortion money to banned groups. The mostly businessmen who gave extortion money in Peshawar were doing their business on University Road, Saddar, Ghur Mnadi, People Mandi, Ram Pura and other trading markets. Traders of Swabi were also become victim of extortionists, however, this alarming situation is calm down to some extant in that area by law enforcers but not completely. Police also arrested many such criminals who demanded of extortion money but such elements were still present in province and collecting money. According to security agencies officials, local criminals, former fighters of banned groups and present banned organizations militants were involved in such crimes. An official of Intelligence Agencies said that a local person of the area performed his duty as informer of militants and give information about their victim about his trade, location timing of coming towards home etc. Few days ago police also arrested the extortionists who earlier working for banned group of Taliban in Bajawar Agency, however, it is not cleared about the arrested men that he had the support of his bosses or not. Sources revealed that earlier, extortionists contacted with traders for money through their mobile no of Waziristan and Afghanistan local numbers but with the passage of time they started phone calls from local phone numbers and mostly they send letters to traders for demanding money. Sources further informed that the extortionists also have their workers in every city who received the demanded money from their victim. An official of intelligence agency informed that few months ago a high profile and political leader from Swabi also received such threatening calls from extortionist; however, he refused to give the money adding that after his refusal banned outfits sent two militants for his assassination. They further revealed that bosses of two volunteers told them that the political leader belong to Qadyani sect that why the volunteers become ready to killed that person, however, fortunately, police arrest the said volunteers and foiled the attack. SP City Ismail Kharak informed the Frontier Post that they arrested several extortionists red handed while they were planting the bombs and their operation is also underway to traced out such criminals, but he lamented that "whenever the extortionists demanding money from 10 traders only one or two person secretly informed the police while others did not cooperate with police". He appealed the traders and other high profiles to cooperate with police in this regards to get rid from that abuse. A trader of Peshawar said that one change was observed in the regime of present government of PTI that is "extortion money", adding that traders of the city did not hear the name of extortion money in previous government. He further said that several traders leave the city due to increasing the incidents of extortion saying that they will also leave their business in the city if such incidents will continue. He demanded of Chief Minister to take solid steps for the eradication of this abuse from the city.

Pakistan: Ignominious retreat

Under pressure from the Supreme Court (SC), the government had little option but to withdraw its September 30 notification regarding the massive increase in the electricity tariff. While withdrawing the notification that had been declared by the SC as illegal, beyond the purview of the government, and which should rightfully have been left to the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) to issue, the government has now requested NEPRA to review the tariff of the distribution companies and KESC. During the proceedings, the three-member bench headed by Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry took not just the government, but also its Minister for Water and Power Khwaja Mohammad Asif and NEPRA Chairman Khwaja Naeem to task. The minister was embarrassed by being reminded by the CJ that he had argued during the rental power case before the SC that the federal government has no authority to influence the decisions of NEPRA. The CJ then went on to ask him why he was giving up his earlier stance. Khwaja Asif was only let off the hook once Attorney General Muneer Malik confirmed that the September 30 notification was indeed being withdrawn. NEPRA's Khwaja invited the wrath of the court when he tried to plead the case of the government, arguing that since it had already determined the tariff and bills according to the raised rates had been sent out to consumers, the decision should be allowed to stand. The CJ was severe on Khwaja Naeeem, questioning whether he was holding a government brief. During the proceedings, Justice Jawwad Khwaja once again raised the issue of the failure of the government to collect outstanding bills of Rs 441 billion, choosing instead to further burden honest bill payers through increased tariffs. Justice Khwaja termed this nothing less than exploitation under Articles 3, 14 and 24 of the constitution. Now while the wound is self-inflicted because of a surprising ‘memory lapse’ on the part of Khwaja Asif regarding the proper method, body, procedure for notifying tariffs, and the government has retreated before the correct focusing of the SC on the illegality involved, this should not be read as meaning that the government has abandoned its plan to increase tariffs. Khwaja Asif is trying to frighten the public by warning that the NEPRA review will mean even higher tariffs, while some analysts think this is a smokescreen for the government’s real intent to get NEPRA to do its ‘dirty’ work for it by re-notifying the same increases. Meantime the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has, in the name of filling the gap of General Sales Tax (GST) not being collected on over 40 items at the dealers, distributors and wholesalers’ stage of the supply chain, decided (reportedly in collaboration with the manufacturers) to raise the rate of GST at the manufacturing stage by 2 percent to 19 percent. This, according to reports, is because the manufacturers expressed their inability to print the retail price on all products, which would then have formed the basis for GST at the retail and intermediate stages of the supply chain. The manufacturers further argue that they cannot print a retail price that applies to the whole country since retail prices vary from market to market due to a variety of reasons. So now, as a result of the new move, the manufacturers will pay 19 percent GST; the intermediate and retail stages will pay nothing; documentation of the economy that could have been helped by the printing of retail prices on all products will suffer one more big setback; and the consumer will no doubt be subjected to higher prices on the excuse that GST has ‘gone up’ by 2 percent. This end result is foreseeable, judging by how the markets usually respond to such steps. All the ‘sophisticated’ arguments of the FBR regarding the measure not amounting to any new taxation cannot hide the ugly reality that price rises can be expected for all the listed items and a sympathetic rise in all products across the board. This will be one more ‘gift’ of the government to the masses groaning under backbreaking inflation, not to mention unemployment, law and order and terrorism. The government’s economic policy thrust seems focused on passing the burden of the economic crisis onto the shoulders of the already suffering masses. This may help the government and its business friends in the short term, but it has serious implications for the former in political terms.

Pakistan: Nawaz's style of governance irks party members

Some in the ruling party openly, and some discreetly, have begun expressing concerns over concentration of powers in the Prime Minister Office. Sources in the PML-N have told Dawn that there’s considerable resentment in the party against what they call the prime minister’s over-reliance on bureaucracy. The sources said that even some ministers had protested over lack of control of their ministries. According to them, the PM Office not only keeps close tabs on all ministries but also intervenes in their routine affairs. “The federal cabinet exists only on paper; on the ground every government department is being micro-managed through bureaucrats, both serving and retired,” said a senior PML-N leader. Ministers are not even allowed to hire personal secretaries of their choice. A minister had a ‘shouting match’ with a senior cabinet colleague over the matter and threatened to quit the portfolio if demand for a secretary of choice wasn’t accepted. Similarly, ministers have been barred from appointing and transferring staff in their departments without prior approval of the PM Office. The prime minister recently turned down requests from two ministers for transfer of their secretaries. “By all means, it’s a highly centralised government and the PM Office is at the centre of all powers. The concept of decentralisation of power and collective responsibility, which forms the core of the parliamentary form of government, doesn’t exist here,” said another PML-N leader. He confirmed that ministers were not allowed to run their ministries independently. During cabinet meetings, he said, the ministers dared not ask any question, what to talk of offering views that differed from those of the premier. According to him, this is the sole reason why ministers don’t take interest in attending the proceedings of parliament and answering questions. During the last National Assembly session, the treasury benches were assailed by the opposition for ministers’ absence from the house. “Why should ministers go to the house and set themselves up for tough questions when they can hardly do anything worthwhile in their ministries,” argued the party leader. At the moment, the prime minister is holding portfolios of important ministries like foreign affairs, defence, communications and law. Meanwhile, the PML-N leadership is known for running highly centralised governments. From 2008 to 2013, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif single-handedly ran the provincial government. However, this time he has shared some of his powers with his son Hamza Shahbaz. On the other hand, the chief minister is sharing the burden of his elder brother at the centre. He regularly attends meetings of the water and power ministry and the planning division. Besides the PM Office, Shahbaz Sharif also keeps tabs on the federal departments. A federal government official confirmed that bureaucrats had been instructed to regularly send progress reports on federal government departments to the chief minister. The prime minister’s tendency to prefer bureaucrats over politicians is also evident in the appointment of his advisers and special assistants. Three of his four advisers and special assistants — Tariq Fatemi, Sartaj Aziz and Khawaja Zaheer — are former bureaucrats. Only Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, who has been appointed as special assistant to the prime minister and enjoys the status of a federal minister, is a politician. However, Mr Zehri’s is a totally different story. Mr Zehri was a strong candidate for the post of chief minister of Balochistan, which eventually went to Dr Abdul Malik Baloch of the National Party. The prime minister rewarded Mr Zehri with the status of federal minister only to placate him, according to the sources. Since the general elections, many senior party members have been sidelined. PML-N’s Secretary General Iqbal Zafar Jhagra is still waiting for some important assignment. Initially, there were reports that he would be made governor of his home province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. If a senior member of the PML-N is to be believed, Mr Jhagra even finds difficulty in holding a meeting with the prime minister, who is the party’s president. “What message are we sending to the party’s rank and file who remained loyal to the party leadership during Gen [Pervez] Musharraf’s rule,” a party leader said. He criticised the present lot of prime minister’s advisers who were deliberately not allowing genuine party workers to go near the PM Office. The PML-N leader also recalled how the party loyalists were ignored when the prime minister picked former British lawmaker Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar as the Punjab governor. Earlier, Rana Iqbal was tipped as governor, but he was made speaker of the Punjab assembly instead. Former Sindh chief minister Syed Ghous Ali Shah, who went through difficult times during the Musharraf regime, met a similar fate. Mr Shah resigned as president of the party’s Sindh chapter in August, after the party refused to accommodate him in the federal government. “Once in power, the party workers expect respect from their leadership, both in terms of reward and recognition. But that’s missing from our government,” said the party source. Worse still, no sincere effort was made to address Mr Shah’s grievances, he added.

Nawaz missed no chance to topple PPP government

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Qamar Zaman Kaira Saturday dispelled the impression that Pakistan Muslim League-N played a friendly opposition during PPP rule, saying ‘Nawaz Sharif did not waste even a single chance to topple our government’. “He (Nawaz Sharif) had himself gone to the court in black suit to send the government packing,” Kaira said while talking to media men here. The PPP leader said that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif used to ridicule the then president Asif Ali Zardari and all the government departments. Shahbaz Sharif kept spitting venom against the then PPP-led government, he added. He said the PML-N secured the mandate by telling lies to the people, as all their promises proved to be a lie. “While they (PML-N) made it even more difficult for the masses to survive by introducing additional taxes of billion of rupees, they failed to impose any tax on their associates,” Kaira regretted.

PPP fully supports govt to end terrorism: Khursheed
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly says terrorists and extremists have virtually paralyzed the national economy.Opposition leader in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah has said that the PPP is providing full support to the government to eradicate terrorism and extremism from the country. Talking to media in Faisalabad‚ he said the government has the full authority and powers to decide what course of action should be taken to save the nation from this menace. He said terrorists and extremists have virtually paralyzed the national economy besides promoting bad image of the country at international level.

Malala Yousafzai: The Bravest Girl in the World

In this exclusive excerpt from her autobiography, I Am Malala, young activist Malala Yousafzai recounts the day she was shot by the Taliban.
In a country that’s seen more than its share of violence, the fate of one teenager might not seem to count for much. But somehow Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan has managed to become an international inspiration. She was only 11 when she took on the Taliban, demanding that girls be given full access to school. Her campaign led to a blog for the BBC, a New York Times documentary (watch it below), and a Pakistani peace prize. But all that was only a prelude to even more extraordinary events. Last October, Taliban assassins attacked Malala, then 15, on her way home from school, shooting her in the head. Here, Malala describes that day and offers her hopes for the future. Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, wasn’t the best of days to start with, as it was the middle of exams—though as a bookish girl I didn’t mind them as much as some of my classmates did. That morning we arrived in the narrow mud lane off Haji Baba Road in our usual procession of brightly painted rickshaws sputtering diesel fumes, each one crammed with five or six girls. Since the time of the Taliban, our school has had no sign and the ornamented brass door in a white wall gives no hint of what lies beyond. For us girls, that doorway was like a magical entrance to our own special world. As we skipped through, we cast off our head scarves and ran helter-skelter up the steps. At the top of the steps was an open courtyard with doors to all the classrooms. We dumped our backpacks in our rooms, then gathered for assembly under the sky, our backs to the mountains.
The school was founded by my father before I was born, and on the wall above us, “Khushal School” was painted proudly in red and white letters. We went to school six mornings a week, and as I was in Year 9, my classes were spent chanting chemical equations or studying Urdu grammar, writing stories in English with morals like “Haste makes waste” or drawing diagrams of blood circulation—most of my classmates wanted to be doctors. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would see that as a threat. Yet outside the school lay not only the noise and craziness of Mingora, the main city of the province of Swat, but also those, like the Taliban, who think girls should not go to school. Because it was exam time, school started at 9 instead of 8 that morning, which was good, as I don’t like getting up and can sleep through the crows of the roosters and the prayer calls of the muezzin.I slept in the room at the front of our house. The only furniture was a bed and a cabinet that I had bought with the money I’d been given as an award for campaigning for peace in our valley and the right for girls to go to school. On some shelves were the gold-colored plastic cups and trophies I had won for coming first in my class. There were a few times I had not come out on top—both times I was beaten by my class rival, Malka-e-Noor. I was determined it would not happen again. The school was not far from my home and I used to walk, but since the start of the last year I had been going with other girls in a rickshaw and coming home by bus. It was a journey of five minutes along the stinky stream, past the giant billboard for Dr. Humayun’s Hair Transplant Institute, where we joked that one of our bald male teachers must have gone when he suddenly started to sprout hair. I liked riding the bus because I didn’t get as sweaty as when I walked, and I could chat with my friends and gossip with Usman Ali, the driver, whom we called Bhai Jan, or “brother.” He made us all laugh with his crazy stories. I had started taking the bus because my mother worried about me walking on my own. We had been getting threats all year. Some were in the newspapers, and some were messages passed on by people. I was more concerned the Taliban would target my father, as he was always speaking out against them. His friend and fellow campaigner Zahid Khan had been shot in the face in August on his way to prayers. Our street could not be reached by car. I would get off the bus on the road below, go through an iron gate and up a flight of steps. Sometimes I’d imagine that a terrorist might jump out and shoot me on those steps. I wondered what I would do. Maybe I’d take off my shoes and hit him. But then I’d think that if I did that, there would be no difference between me and a terrorist. It would be better to plead, “Okay, shoot me, but first listen to me. What you are doing is wrong. I’m not against you personally. I just want every girl to go to school.” I wasn’t scared, but I had started making sure the gate was locked at night and asking God what happens when you die. I told my best friend, Moniba, everything. We’d lived on the same street when we were little and had been friends since primary school. We shared Justin Bieber songs and Twilight movies, the best face-lightening creams. Moniba always knew if something was wrong. “Don’t worry,” I told her. “The Taliban have never come for a small girl.”When our bus was called, we ran down the school steps. The bus was actually a white Toyota truck with three parallel benches. It was cramped with 20 girls and three teachers. I was sitting on the left between Moniba and a girl named Shazia Ramzan, all of us holding our exam folders to our chests. Inside the bus it was hot and sticky. In the back, where we sat, there were no windows, just plastic sheeting, which was too yellowed to see through. All we could see out the back was a little stamp of open sky and glimpses of the sun, a yellow orb floating in the dust that streamed over everything. Then we suddenly stopped. A young bearded man had stepped into the road. “Is this the Khushal School bus?” he asked our driver. Usman Bhai Jan thought this was a stupid question, as the name was painted on the side. “Yes,” he said. “I need information about some children,” said the man. “You should go to the office,” said Usman Bhai Jan. As he was speaking, another young man approached the back of the van. “Look, it’s one of those journalists coming to ask for an interview,” said Moniba. Since I’d started speaking at events with my father, journalists often came, though not like this, in the road. The man was wearing a peaked cap and had a handkerchief over his nose and mouth. Then he swung himself onto the tailboard and leaned in over us. “Who is Malala?” he demanded. No one said anything, but several of the girls looked at me. I was the only girl with my face uncovered.
That’s when he lifted up a black pistol. Some of the girls screamed. Moniba tells me I squeezed her hand. My friends say he fired three shots. The first went through my left eye socket and out under my left shoulder. I slumped forward onto Moniba, blood coming from my left ear, so the other two bullets hit the girls next to me. One bullet went into Shazia’s left hand. The third went through her left shoulder and into the upper right arm of Kainat Riaz. My friends later told me the gunman’s hand was shaking as he fired.
In the year since that fateful day, Malala has undergone a recovery that is nothing short of miraculous. The bullet narrowly missed her brain, and doctors at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, where she was brought in a medically induced coma six days after the attack, marveled that she was able to stand within a week of her arrival. Malala underwent multiple surgeries and spent nearly three months in the hospital (which specializes in treating wounded soldiers), though mercifully it was found she had suffered no major permanent neurological damage. The ordeal did, however, solidify her will: “It feels like this life is not my life. It’s a second life. People have prayed to God to spare me and I was spared for a reason—to use my life for helping people.”

Malala Yousafzai Describes Moment She Was Shot Point-Blank by Taliban

Before Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban assassin, she told her best friend, "Don't worry. The Taliban have never come for a small girl." In Malala's new book, the 16-year-old worldwide symbol for peace and education details the day she was shot point-blank on her way home from school.
Malala was 11 years old when she took a stand against the Taliban, who had issued an edict that all girls' schools should be closed. She began advocating for the right to go to school, writing an anonymous blog for the BBC and appearing in a New York Times documentary.Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, ran a girls' school in the SWAT Valley, and had been targeted for death by the Taliban. And Malala's increasing visibility put her at risk as well. "I wasn't scared, but I had started making sure the gate was locked at night and asking God what happens when you die," Malala wrote in her autobiography "I Am Malala," excerpted in Sunday's Parade magazine. Before the shooting, Malala wrote that she considered what she would do if a terrorist jumped out and shot her. "Maybe I'd take off my shoes and hit him," she wrote. "But then I'd think that if I did that, there would be no difference between me and a terrorist." "It would be better to plead, 'Okay, shoot me, but first listen to me. What you are doing is wrong. I'm not against you personally. I just want every girl to go to school.'" On Oct. 9, 2012, Malala was on the bus on her way home from school when a "young, bearded man" stepped into the road. Her best friend, Moniba, thought it was a reporter wanting to talk to Malala.
The bus was a white three-bench Toyota truck with 20 girls and three teachers packed inside. The masked man approached the vehicle and demanded, "Who is Malala?" No one said anything, but several girls looked at Malala. She was the only one with her face uncovered. "That's when he lifted up a black pistol," she wrote. "Some of the girls screamed. Moniba tells me I squeezed her hand." "My friends say he fired three shots," Malala continued. "The first went through my left eye socket and out under my left shoulder. I slumped forward onto Moniba, blood coming from my left ear, so the other two bullets hit the girls next to me ... My friends later told me the gunman's hand was shaking as he fired." The bullet narrowly missed Malala's brain and she was taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, six days after the attack. She spent nearly three months in the hospital and underwent numerous surgeries. Now Malala and her family are living in Birmingham and she is back at school. She spent her 16th birthday giving a speech at the United Nations and has become the youngest person to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. She has also founded the Malala Fund, a nonprofit organization that advocates for and supports girls education around the world through grants and partner collaborations. Malala is dedicated to devoting her life to her cause. "It feels like this life is not my life. It's a second life," she said. "People have prayed to God to spare me and I was spared for a reason -- to use my life for helping people." "I Am Malala" will be in bookstores Tuesday, Oct. 8. In addition to the U.S., the book will be published in 21 countries. Click here to learn more about the book.