Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Russia is among the world’s heaviest smoking countries, outranked only by China, India and Indonesia, according to a new report out Wednesday.
Robert Gates' new book is getting bad reviews from former colleagues in the Obama administration. Former White House chief of staff William Daley not only disputed Gates' criticism of President Obama and aides, he criticized the fact that Gates had it published while Obama is still in office. "This rush to do books by people who leave an administration while the administration is ongoing, I think, is unfortunate," Daley told CBS This Morning. Daley added: "I think it's just a disservice, to be very frank with you." White House press secretary Jay Carney, echoing a statement the administration put out Tuesday night, said Obama simply disagrees with Gates' criticisms, particularly those of Vice President Biden. In his forthcoming memoir -- Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War -- Gates writes that Obama lost faith in his Afghanistan plan, according to excerpts in The New York Times and Washington Post. There is also criticism of members of Congress and of the George W. Bush administration. While Gates accused the White House of meddling with and micro-managing the military, Carney said Obama encourages different aides to voice a full range of opinions. Obama "expects to hear competing points of view," Carney said. The spokesman also noted that Gates writes that Obama made the "right" decisions about initially sending more troops to Afghanistan. Carney also said Obama has not read Gates' book, which goes on public sale Tuesday. Carney opened his briefing with a joke: "Read any good books lately." Former White House senior adviser David Axelrod, speaking on NBC's Today show, said he was surprised by the Gates excerpts. "He always indicated he had a good working relationship with the president," Axelrod said. Gates does praise Obama at points, but the criticism is drawing most of the attention. "The controlling nature of the Obama White House, and its determination to take credit for every good thing that happened while giving none to the career folks in the trenches who had actually done the work, offended Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton as much as it did me," Gates writes, according to an excerpt posted by The Wall Street Journal. President George W. Bush appointed Gates to the Pentagon in 2006. Obama asked him to stay on after the 2008 election. Gates retired from the Defense Department in 2011. According to the excerpts, Gates is sharply critical of Biden. While calling the vice president a "man of integrity," Gates also says he has been "wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades." On CBS, Daley said that Obama has been "very committed" to the troops in Afghanistan, and "the policy of trying to decimate al-Qaeda." The White House responded with a written statement, via National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden: "The President deeply appreciates Bob Gates' service as Secretary of Defense, and his lifetime of service to our country. Deliberations over our policy on Afghanistan have been widely reported on over the years, and it is well known that the President has been committed to achieving the mission of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaeda, while also ensuring that we have a clear plan for winding down the war, which will end this year. "As has always been the case, the President welcomes differences of view among his national security team, which broaden his options and enhance our policies. The President wishes Secretary Gates well as he recovers from his recent injury, and discusses his book. "The President disagrees with Secretary Gates' assessment – from his leadership on the Balkans in the Senate, to his efforts to end the war in Iraq, Joe Biden has been one of the leading statesmen of his time, and has helped advance America's leadership in the world. President Obama relies on his good counsel every day."
On his eighth trip to fight with the rebels in Syria, in August, Abu Khattab saw something that troubled him: two dead children, their blood-soaked bodies sprawled on the street of a rural village near the Mediterranean coast. He knew right away that his fellow rebels had killed them. Abu Khattab, a 43-year-old Saudi hospital administrator who was pursuing jihad on his holiday breaks, went to demand answers from his local commander, a notoriously brutal man named Abu Ayman al-Iraqi. The commander brushed him off, saying his men had killed the children “because they were not Muslims,” Abu Khattab recalled recently during an interview here.
It was only then that Abu Khattab began to believe that the jihad in Syria — where he had traveled in violation of an official Saudi ban — was not fully in accord with God’s will. But by the time he returned to Riyadh, where he now volunteers in a program to discourage others from going, his government had overcome its own scruples to become the main backer of the Syrian rebels, including many hard-line Islamists who often fight alongside militants loyal to Al Qaeda.
The disillusionment of Abu Khattab — who asked that his full name be withheld because he still fears retribution from jihadists — helps illustrate the great challenge now facing Saudi Arabia’s rulers: how to fight an increasingly bloody and chaotic proxy war in Syria using zealot militia fighters over whom they have almost no control. The Saudis fear the rise of Al Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria, and they have not forgotten what happened when Saudi militants who had fought in Afghanistan returned home to wage a domestic insurgency a decade ago. They officially prohibit their citizens from going to Syria for jihad, but the ban is not enforced; at least a thousand have gone, according to Interior Ministry officials, including some from prominent families. But the Saudis are also bent on ousting Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and his patron, Iran, which they see as a mortal enemy. Their only real means of fighting them is through military and financial support to the Syrian rebels. And the most effective of those rebels are Islamists whose creed — rooted in the puritanical strain of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia — is often scarcely separable from Al Qaeda’s. Abu Khattab, a slight-figured man with bulging eyes and the scraggly beard of an ultra-orthodox Salafist Muslim, embodies some of these paradoxes. He now volunteers here once a week to warn young men about the false glamour of the Syrian jihad at the government’s rehabilitation center for jihadists. “There is a shortage of religious conditions for jihad in Syria,” he said. Many of the fighters kill Syrian civilians, a violation of Islam, he added. But as Abu Khattab talked about Syria, his own convictions seemed scarcely different from the jihadists he had carefully denounced (two officials from the Interior Ministry were present during the interview). He made clear that he considered Shiite Muslims and Mr. Assad’s Alawite sect to be infidels and a terrible danger to his own people. “If the Shiites succeed in controlling Syria, it will be a threat to my country,” Abu Khattab said. “I went to Syria to protect my country.” At times, his sectarian feelings seemed to outshine his unease about the excesses of some of his more extreme comrades. He did not deny that he had often fought alongside members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the brutal jihadist group affiliated with Al Qaeda. Abu Khattab also mentioned proudly that he is no stranger to jihad. He fought as a teenager in Afghanistan (“With the government’s permission!”) and, a few years later, in Bosnia. He chose not to fight the Americans in Iraq “because there are too many Shiites there,” he said, with a look of distaste on his face.Yet this is a man who lectures inmates at the rehabilitation center every week about ethics and war. The center, like many Saudi institutions, has been somewhat embarrassed by the contradictions of Saudi policy with regard to Syria. Although the center incarcerates some men who have been arrested for trying to travel to Syria, last summer the nephew of Abdelrahman al-Hadlaq, its director, was killed while fighting there. His mother posted statements on Twitter saying she was proud of him. More recently, the center suffered an even more stinging disappointment involving one of its best-known graduates, a reformed jihadist named Ahmed al-Shayea. He became famous in Saudi Arabia after surviving his own suicide bombing in Iraq in 2004, a bombing arranged by militants with Al Qaeda’s Iraqi branch. Mr. Shayea was burned and disfigured, but after months in the hospital he emerged and proclaimed himself cured of the jihadist mind-set. He was known as the “living suicide,” and in 2009 the American author Ken Ballen devoted an entire chapter to a glowing portrait of him in his book, “Terrorists in Love.” In November, Mr. Shayea slipped out of Saudi Arabia to Syria, where he is now fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. He proudly trumpets his return to jihad on his Twitter feed, which features a picture of him clutching a rifle with his mangled hands. The Saudi authorities say that they have urged their citizens not to go to Syria, but that they cannot keep track of every Saudi who wants to go fight there. “We try to prevent it, but there are limits to what we can do,” said Mansour al-Turki, a spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry. “You cannot prevent all young men from leaving the kingdom. Many of them travel to London or other places, and only then to Turkey, and Syria.” Abu Khattab’s path to Syria was similar to that of many others here and across the Arab world. He read about the uprisings in 2011, but it was Syria that touched his heart. It was not just because of the bloodshed, he said, but because his Sunni brothers were being killed by Alawites and Shiites. When he first went, in the summer of 2012, he flew directly from Riyadh to the Turkish city of Antakya, near the Syrian border, he said. There were other Saudi men heading for the battlefield on the flight with him, he said, and no sign of a Saudi government effort to monitor or restrain them. In Turkey, he found many other foreign fighters, and Syrian rebels who were eager to take them to the battlefield. “They especially like Saudis, because the Saudis are more willing to do suicide operations,” he said. Over the next year, Abu Khattab said, he returned to Syria seven more times, usually on holidays, leaving his wife to care for their four children and staying for 10 days to two weeks each time. He fought with a variety of groups, seeing battle many times — in Aleppo, in Homs and in the countryside of Latakia, near the coast. He wielded a Kalashnikov rifle most of the time, but sometimes a heavier Russian-made machine gun known in the field as a 14.5. Gradually he became disillusioned with the chaos of the battle. He often found himself among men who openly branded the rulers of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states as infidels, deserving slaughter. He said this bothered him, but it did not stop him from returning to the battlefield.
In the end, it was the slaughter of innocents that made him decide to quit, he said, and a broader feeling that the rebels alongside him were not doing it for the right reasons. “If the fight is not purely to God, it’s not a real jihad,” he said. “These people are fighting for their flags.” But there was another reason he gave up the fight. “Bashar has started to put Sunnis on the front line,” he said of Syria’s leader. “This is a big problem. The rebels do not want to fight them. The real war is not against Bashar himself, it is against Iran. Everything else is just a false image.”
A powerful arctic blast of air has swept across much of the United States, causing temperatures to plummet so low that thousands of schools had to shut down and millions were forced to stay indoors. As VOA's Brian Allen explains, a weather pattern called "polar vortex" is causing the dramatic drop in temperatures.
U.S. Weather: Here's an explanation of the polar vortex weather phenomenon causing the extreme cold snap in the US.
Here's an explanation of the polar vortex weather phenomenon causing the extreme cold snap in the US...
Temperatures were expected to be 25 degrees to 35 degrees Fahrenheit (14 to 19 degrees Celsius) below normal from the Midwest to the Southeast, the National Weather Service said. PJM Interconnection, the agency that oversees the electric grid supplying the mid-Atlantic and parts of the Midwest, said electricity suppliers were struggling to keep up with surging demand as the cold forced some power plants to shut. "This particular cold is far-reaching, and most of our neighbors are experiencing the extreme conditions we are," said Michael Kormos, executive vice president for operations at PJM Interconnection. Oil refiners were also hit, with Marathon Petroleum Corp and Exxon Mobil Corp both experiencing cold-related outages. In Oklahoma, a depleted supply of propane due to extreme weather led Governor Mary Fallin to declare a state of emergency, waiving licensing requirements for out-of-state transportation companies to allow them to bring in propane. Homeless shelters and public buildings took in people who were freezing outside. Daniel Dashner, a 33-year-old homeless man who typically sleeps under a bridge on Milwaukee's south side, said he opted to seek a spot at a shelter on Monday night. "Usually if I have four or five blankets, I can stay pretty warm, but when that wind is blowing, I don't care how many blankets I have, the wind blows right through me," he said, as temperatures dropped to minus 6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 21 degrees Celsius). The extreme cold won't last much longer, according to AccuWeather.com. The frigid air and "polar vortex" that affected about 240 million people in the United States and southern Canada will depart during the second half of this week, and a far-reaching January thaw will begin, according to AccuWeather.com. COLD'S BROAD REACH Major U.S. cities were in the grip of temperatures well below freezing, with Chicago seeing 2 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 17 C), Detroit 0 F (minus 18 C), Pittsburgh 5 F (minus 15 C), Washington 19 (minus 7 C) and Boston 15 F (minus 9 C). New York's Central Park recorded the lowest temperature for the date, 4 Fahrenheit (minus 16 C), rising to 9 F (minus 13 C) on Tuesday afternoon with wind chills making it feel much colder, meteorologists said. At New York's Bowery Mission homeless shelter, the 80-bed dormitory was full on Monday night and 179 other people slept in the chapel and cafeteria, officials said. Schools in Minneapolis and Chicago were closed for a second day on Tuesday, although Chicago plans to reopen schools on Wednesday. Cleveland remained below freezing after temperatures fell to minus 11 F (minus 24 C) on Monday, breaking a 130-year-old record. Impassable snow and ice halted three Chicago-bound Amtrak trains on Monday, stranding more than 500 passengers overnight in northwestern Illinois. In the normally mild south, Atlanta recorded its coldest weather on this date in 44 years, as the temperature dropped to 6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 14 degrees Celsius), while temperatures in northern Florida also briefly dropped below freezing, though the state's citrus crop was unharmed, according to a major growers' group. Among the deaths reported was a 51-year-old homeless man in Columbus, Georgia, whose body was found in an empty lot after spending the night outdoors. Two men died in Westerport, Massachusetts, while duck hunting on Tuesday when their boat capsized, dropping them into a frigid river, officials said. A third man was rescued. A large avalanche in backcountry outside the Colorado ski resort area of Vail killed one person on Tuesday and caught up three others who survived and were being rescued, officials said. Avalanche danger in the area was rated as "considerable" due to high winds and recent heavy snows, said Spencer Logan, forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Four cold and storm-related deaths were reported around Chicago and an elderly woman was found dead outside her Indianapolis home early Monday. AIRLINES STRUGGLE The cold snap could cost the U.S. economy up to $5 billion, when lost productivity and lost retail sales are accounted for, estimated Evan Gold, senior vice president at Planalytics, which tracks weather for businesses. He said about 200 million people in major cities might face "bill shock" for heating. The deep freeze disrupted commutes on Tuesday, with icy or closed roads and flight delays. Some 2,380 U.S. flights were canceled and 2,912 delayed, according to FlightAware.com, which tracks airline activity. Airlines scrambled to catch up a day after the cold froze fuel supplies, leading to flight cancellations, many at Chicago O'Hare International Airport. Hardest hit were travelers who had booked trips on JetBlue Airways Corp, which on Monday halted its flights at New York's three major airports and Boston Logan International Airport overnight. Flights had resumed by midday on Tuesday. Tuesday proved too cold even for some polar bears. At Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, a 14-year-old female polar bear named Anana mostly remained in her indoor enclosure, where temperatures are 40 F (4 C), said zoo spokeswoman Sharon Dewar. She said that in their native environment, polar bears build up a layer of fat to help them through the Arctic winter of long periods of sub-zero temperatures. In Chicago, however, she said "we don't create that fat layer in zoo animals because that would normally not be something they would be comfortable with."
VACILLATION, confusion, indecision — or maybe governments have been unable to understand that the truth will eventually come out. And so it was on Monday that the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee was informed by the minister and secretary of petroleum and natural resources that the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline can neither be built on the Pakistani side nor can gas flow through it without attracting sanctions imposed by the US and the international community for doing business with Tehran. This after years of hemming and hawing, first by the PPP government and for months now by the PML-N rulers. Even now, however, neither Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi nor Petroleum Secretary Abid Saeed have specified precisely which sanctions — US or UN — affect the pipeline, how they affect the IP pipeline plans and whether there is any discretion available that can allow Pakistan to make a case for an exemption that is much needed by its desperately energy-starved economy. It would also be reasonable to ask if Pakistan’s ties with Saudi Arabia — which has gone into paroxysms over the recent deal between Iran and the P5+1 group — are part of the equation of the Pakistani government. Surely, Saudi Arabia’s intense rivalry with, if not outright animosity towards, Iran will have caused policymakers there to fret at the idea of an important new economic link between Iran and Pakistan at this point in the history of a tumultuous Middle East and Persian Gulf. Tricky as it may be for Pakistan to navigate all the geopolitical cross-currents affecting the pipeline, that is surely not an excuse to pretend every once in a while that movement on completing the pipeline is in fact taking place while in reality doing little to identify and protect the country’s economic interests. Failure on the diplomatic front is one thing (and it’s surely a failure to not explicitly explain what the sanctions-related issues are and to refrain from mounting a campaign for permissible exceptions) and failure on the domestic energy planning front quite another. If the IP pipeline cannot be completed, what are the government’s medium- and long-term plans to bridge the enormous gap between supply and demand for gas? Construction of an LNG terminal may be under way as Mr Abbasi told the Senate committee, but the multibillion-dollar contracts for gas to be signed have yet to materialise. And given the enormous subsidies that gas consumers here are granted, how will the government truly be able to charge four to six times the existing gas costs without succumbing to manipulation by the usual special interests? Or is there really no way of ramping up domestic exploration for gas, despite pricing, security and province-centre constraints? Promising good and timely policies does not translate into real policies, as the government seems to be hoping.
The Express Tribune NewsMinisters of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government are protecting those involved in power theft in the province, alleged Minister of State for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali on Wednesday. Addressing a press conference from the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco) media centre, Ali demanded an explanation from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairperson Imran Khan for his ministers’ alleged involvement in power theft. Naming MPAs Fazle Ilahi, Shah Farman, Ahmad Zari and Khalid Khana among others, the state minister accused these lawmakers of failing to ensure that the people in their constituencies paid their dues to Pesco. “Around 90% of the users in their constituencies are defaulters,” he said. Ali requested the lawmakers to help the federal government in recovering the billed amount from defaulters. The minister also said that certain areas bordering Peshawar have become no-go locations for Pesco employees who cannot carry on with their work because of security threats. Stressing that the no-tolerance policy against power theft is for everyone, Ali warned of disconnecting power supply to Bannu if line losses are not reduced. Responding to these accusation, PTI MPA Farman told Express News that the Pesco chief was the root of all the corruption and losses. He questioned why the federal government did not replace the chief of Pesco when the chiefs of all other power companies were removed. Farman accused Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) of protecting the corrupt staff of Pesco.
What's happening in the western Iraqi province of Anbar could easily be repeated in Afghanistan by the end of this yearThe takeover of the western Iraqi province of Anbar by al-Qaeda militants should serve as a timely reminder to Western leaders of the risks they will face as they seek to wind down combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of this year. During the bitter sectarian violence that erupted following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, cities such as Fallujah and Ramadi, located in the heart of Anbar, became synonymous with the bloody insurgency waged by al-Qaeda and other militant Islamist groups to prevent the West from achieving its goal of establishing democratic government. The insurgents were eventually defeated when the local Sunni Muslim tribes turned on these fanatical interlopers during the so-called Anbar Awakening, and helped the US-led coalition to defeat the extremists and drive them out of the country. So the fact that the black flag of al-Qaeda is again to be found flying over these Sunni strongholds constitutes a serious setback for all those who seek a peaceful, democratic and prosperous future for Iraq. There are many factors that have contributed to this unwelcome development, not least the failure of Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Shia prime minister, to complete the delicate process of reconciliation, bringing Kurds and Sunnis back into the political mainstream. This has opened the way for Sunni extremists fighting in neighbouring Syria to re-establish themselves in Iraq’s Sunni heartlands, with all the implications that could have for the country’s future stability. Nor has the situation been helped by President Obama’s cavalier decision to withdraw American forces in 2011, without reaching an agreement with Baghdad that would have allowed the US to maintain a residual military presence, thereby enabling Washington to continue to influence Iraq’s political development. Mr Obama likes to tell supporters that ending the deeply unpopular Iraq war was one of his key foreign policy successes: but it will not look like that if al-Qaeda regains control of territory where thousands of young Americans lost their lives fighting to bring peace to Iraq. As Western forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan this year, there are mounting concerns that the mission there could suffer a similar fate. A recent National Intelligence Assessment published in Washington predicts that, in the absence of political reconciliation with the Taliban, insurgent groups are likely to reoccupy territory vacated when international forces complete their withdrawal. Western leaders must ensure that the sacrifices made in Afghanistan have not been in vain. Otherwise, as with Iraq, their failure could soon come back to haunt them.
Pakistan Christian Congress announces its course of action for 2014 regarding the issues of Pakistani Christians such as dual voting rights and abolishing of blasphemy laws.Pakistan Christian Congress PCC have solemnly broadcast their preparation to form a special Fund on international level; to confront the existing electoral system in Pakistan which according to them: seizes their right to elect their representatives on reserved seats in the parliament along with demand of blasphemy laws to be annulled. In addition to these, Pakistan Christian Congress PCC will also move an added petition this year, with the United Nations offices in New York, United Nations Human Right Commission in Geneva and the United Nations Refugee Commission to approve “Refugee Status” for Pakistani Christians on the grounds of legitimate genocide of Christians in Pakistan. President of Pakistan Christian Congress- Dr. Nazir S Bhatti said in a statement issued from Central Secretariat of PCC: Pakistani Christians are excluded from mainstream politics of Pakistan with imposition of Joint Electorate denying Article 226 of constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan and all other articles which guarantee equal democratic rights to them. I will personally ravel to Geneva to submit PCC petition for Refugee Status to Pakistani Christians with UN offices and to present memorandums to Amnesty International, Human Right organizations in UK and in EU on situation of Christians in year 2014. Dr. Nazir Bhatti continued: The right to elect Christians representations in National Assembly, Provincial Assemblies and Local governments with Christian votes instead of Selection by Muslim leaders will only empower Pakistani Christians equal rights in Pakistan. What’s more the PCC Chief affirmed that: PCC is only representative body of Pakistani Christians but alliance with likeminded other regional groups to secure Christian rights cannot be dismissed in year 2014. - See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/dual-voting-rights-and-abolition-of-blasphemy-law-on-2014s-agendasays-pakistan-christian-congress/#sthash.LXArKjLT.dpuf
FUMING and frothing they demand Musharraf be made an example of for his act of treason. They give long sermons on the virtues of democracy and on the curse of military dictatorship. Can anyone disagree? Certainly not. Surely the ghost of Bonapartism has to be buried once and for all to make democracy secure in this holy land. But the irony is that the faces of many of those calling for the head of the disgraced former military ruler on TV talk shows and in newspaper statements are too familiar for us to forget their past association with various military rulers. They form a long list of crusaders, and include politicians of all hues, retired generals, retired bureaucrats and, not to be left behind, TV presenters and right-wing newspaper columnists. Treason, they shout, must not go unpunished. Musharraf, the sole sinner, must be condemned. What about his partners in crime? No, there weren’t any. He was the only perpetrator. But didn’t we have another military dictator not long ago by the name of Gen Ziaul Haq who executed an elected prime minister? There is scornful silence. Gen Zia was a pious man who worked for the glory of Islam, some would say. Musharraf is a traitor because he sold out to the Americans and betrayed the jihad. But wasn’t Gen Zia also closely allied with the ‘infidel’ Americans? That was for a holy cause comes the reply. Hypocrisy is the name of the game as the knives are out for the man in the dock. What an irony that these children of dictatorship have now turned champions of the rule of law and democracy, seeking to launder their own sins. How can one miss retired Lt-Gen Hamid Gul pontificating on the attributes of justice and democracy? Ubiquitous on almost every TV channel nowadays, the former ISI chief notorious for his political manipulations during his heyday is one of the biggest proponents of a trial of Musharraf for subverting the Constitution. Is it not amusing to see a Zia loyalist talk about the sanctity of the Constitution, which was shredded to pieces by his mentor? It seems so surreal that the retired general, who unabashedly defends the Taliban challenging the Pakistani state and the militant group responsible for killing thousands of innocent people, wants retribution. It is so obvious that support for the treason trial by the likes of Hamid Gul is not based on any principle and least of all on love for democracy; it is more about retrogressive ideology. Those who supported Gen Zia’s dictatorship are now shouting themselves hoarse for Musharraf’s blood — actually for his action against Islamic militants and insurgents in the tribal areas and certainly not for his acts of subversion. Then there is a born-again democrat, a top bureaucrat who served in successive military governments before his retirement in the late 1980s. His role, as an advisor to the then president, in the ouster of Nawaz Sharif’s first government in 1993 is well known. I remember his interview in a BBC documentary days after the Oct 12, 1999 coup hailing the military takeover. Our salvation lies with military rule, he argued. But now he is one of the most fervent advocates of putting the leader of that coup on trial. Is this change of heart for real or is it political opportunism? Many of those who remained closely associated with the Musharraf regime till the end are now securely ensconced in the new political order — some of them part of the treasury benches and even members of the federal cabinet. It was most shocking, however, to see a retired general and a key member of Musharraf’s original team joining the condemnation of his former friend and leader. Once the country’s strongest man, Musharraf today stands isolated, deserted by his old associates and followers. Such is the game of power politics in this Islamic republic. Indeed Musharraf must be held accountable for his illegal, unconstitutional actions, but justice should not be selective. The trial must not be seen as an act of revenge against one person. It is convenient for the political leadership and judiciary to restrict the trial to the Nov 3, 2007 action. It is not in their interest to go back to the original sin of Oct 12, 1999. There are too many skeletons in their closets. It was the judiciary that had legitimised the coup and an elected parliament later indemnified all the actions taken by the military-led government. It is also a fact that almost all opposition political parties had welcomed the overthrow of the Sharif government. And months later, a majority of the ousted PML-N joined the military government. The renegades under the banner of PML-Q became the face of the new order and shared power for five years. Legislators then re-elected Gen Musharraf in uniform for a second term and approved his decision to impose emergency. It is highly unlikely that the trial would reach any conclusion. But even if by chance the former military ruler is convicted, it is not going to block the way for any future adventurers as most political pundits believe. We need to change the political culture where usurpers are welcomed. Someone recently posted a picture from the past of Gen Zia flanked by Nawaz Sharif and Manzoor Wattoo who is now Punjab provincial chief of the PPP on Facebook. That says a lot about our political leadership, past and present.
THE EXPRESS TRIBUNEA professor in Rawalpindi was shot dead on Wednesday morning, Express News reported. According to details, Imrani was a professor at the Hashmat Ali College and was targeted by unidentified armed men. The attackers were riding a motorbike and targeted Ali in the city’s Sadiqabad area. The professor succumbed to bullet wounds and died on the spot. Police failed to reach the crime scene in time while the students of the professor gathered around his body.
http://en.shiapost.com/On Tuesday in another incident of target killing, unidentified gunmen shot dead a Shia Muslim in Peshawar. Sardar Waqarul Hassan was a bank manager. He worked in Habib Bank Limited-Abresham Garan branch. On Tuesday evening when Waqarul left the branch to leave for home, as he headed towards the car park unidentified attackers opened fire at him. He died on the spot while as the attackers managed to escape without retaliation. A police official from the Kabuli Police Station said “He was a resident of Gulbahar and belonged to the Shia sect. Without any doubt, it was an incident of target killing.” The Shia killing in Pakistan is getting worse with every passing day. Now the prominent leaders of Shitte are target of these terrorists. Government claims of looking in this serious issue but no development is seen on grounds.
Former journalist Surendar Vallasai to provide advice on minorities affairsBilawal Bhutto Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, has appointed a Hindu ‘untouchable’ as his adviser, an unprecedented office for a low caste Hindu in this conservative society. Surendar Vallasai, a former journalist, who later joined the media cell of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was appointed as Bilawal’s adviser on minorities affairs. The patron-in-chief of the PPP has appointed six other PPP activists as advisers who would brief the leader on their respective fields, while Valasai would keep the leader abreast on minorities issues in Pakistan. “My appointment as adviser to the patron-in-chief came as a surprise to me as I had never expected such a huge responsibility,” Valasai said. Pakistan lists 40 scheduled castes and tribes including Bheel, Bagri, Balmeke and Menghwar and its constitution guarantees equality among all citizens and disapproves any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed or religion. However, the equality is not practised on the ground and minorities, especially the scheduled castes, face highly discriminatory behaviour. Valasai, the son of a poor mason, had to quit his studies for a mass communication qualification midway and started working as proof reader for English daily Sindh Express in 1990. He later became a reporter at the newspaper. After joining PPP Media Cell in 1997 at Bilawal House, Valasai worked closely with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and would update her on the news covered in Sindhi, Urdu and English newspapers. Valasai said that Bilawal had a loving heart and mind for the weak and oppressed members of the society, especially minorities. In Christmas wishes to the minority Christians in Pakistan, Bilawal tweeted: “I want to see a Christian PM [prime minister] in Pakistan in my lifetime.” Pakistan’s constitution allows only a Muslim to hold the office of prime minister and president in the country.
Pakistan’s corruption problem remains serious and a major impediment to good governance. Last year Nawaz Sharif made a triumphant return to Pakistan when he was re-elected as Prime Minister for a third (non-consecutive) term. He rode to success on a wave of frustration directed at the previous establishment, which had been dogged by accusations of corruption and abuse of office. In line with his campaign promises, Sharif has said, on the government of Pakistan’s homepage, that “curbing” corruption “ranks very high on the agenda.” But new figures on tax evasion released last month show that Sharif, nine-months into the job, still has a long way to go to make good on his pledge to clean up Pakistan’s politics. Last year, Transparency International, in their annual survey of corruption across the globe, ranked Pakistan 127 of out 177 countries, a slight improvement on 2012 when the country languished at 139. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index covers “abuse of power, secret dealings and bribery.” On a scale from 0 (“highly corrupt”) to 100 (“very clean”) Pakistan scored 28 – the same as Russia, Mali and Lebanon. Compared to its South Asian neighbors, Pakistan sits beneath both India (ranked 97/177) and Nepal (ranked 116/177), and scored only one point more than Bangladesh. The only country in the region that Pakistan bested was Afghanistan, which, with a score of 8/100 on transparency, is ranked 175/177 (jointly with Somalia and North Korea) as one of the world’s most corrupt states. Though imperfect, the Transparency International ranking points to the scale of the problem. The World Bank, in its global governance index, finds that across four categories – government effectiveness, regulatory quality, the rule of law and the control of corruption – Pakistan has been on a downward trend since 2007. These lamentable findings are reflected in surveys of public opinion. In a 2011 Gallup Poll, 81 percent of Pakistanis felt that government corruption was “widespread.” Figures uncovered last month by Pakistan’s Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), an independent research group, shed fresh light on the complexities of corruption. The data was drawn from Pakistan’s Election Commission, an independent body that compiles the financial declarations and tax statements of political candidates. According to the CIR, almost 50 per cent of Pakistani lawmakers pay no tax at all, and more than 1 in 10 have never registered with tax authorities. Those that do pay contribute negligible amounts. 2010 figures from the Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency estimate that legislators in Pakistan have a net worth, on average, of $800,000. And yet, according to the CIR’s report, many pay less than $100 in tax, with some contributions as low as $17. According to Reuters, less than one per cent of Pakistani citizens file tax returns, giving the country a 9 percent tax-to-GDP ratio – one of the lowest in the world. The Express Tribune reports that the cost of corruption to Pakistan’s economy amounts to $133 million per day, $66 million of which is evaded taxes. This endemic tax evasion has encouraged a race to the bottom. As Umar Cheema, the author of the CIR report complains, “if politicians don’t pay taxes themselves, they [lose] the moral authority to impose taxes on others.” Rampant corruption threatens to undermine the flow of billions of dollars of investment and aid into the country. Combatting corruption is one of the conditions of a $6.7 billion IMF aid programme, and there are reports that major donors, such as the UK, are reconsidering their aid commitments in light of the country’s persistent failure to combat corruption. Pakistan’s energy sector has had funds leeched out of it, resulting in an energy crisis that is stunting the country’s economic growth. Deep distrust of Pakistan’s policy elite and concerns over security have further eroded investor confidence. With an ailing economy, Pakistan’s government can ill afford to allow these streams of finance to dry up. Most of the key players in Pakistani politics have been hounded by allegations of corruption. 2013, however, marked a comprehensive changing of the guard: Sharif’s fêted return was the country’s first ever civilian transfer of power, and the anointment of more moderate figures to head the country’s military and judiciary are changes that many hope mark the end of a period of apathy on the issue of corruption. Fingers have been pointed at Sharif in the past over claims of financial impropriety, but he is sending all the right signals now. Again on the homepage of the government of Pakistan’s website he writes, “The menace of corruption has thwarted all efforts aimed at institution building and improving public service delivery.” He is aware of the problem. Let us see what, if anything, he does about it.
He returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile last March amid a media circus, death threats and boasts of reclaiming the presidency he once seized in a bloodless coup. But Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s days in Pakistan appear to be numbered now that the former strongman has spent nearly a week in a military hospital complaining of health problems while avoiding a court appearance on treason charges. The special court hearing the case on Tuesday began reviewing a medical report saying the 70-year-old Musharraf was suffering from blocked arteries, a spinal cord problem and hypertension. Musharraf’s wife, who lives in Dubai, has asked Pakistan’s interior ministry for permission for him to travel abroad for medical treatment, and officials close to the country’s security services said he could depart within days. “It is good for everybody — including Musharraf — that he would go out of the country,” said a senior security official in Islamabad, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. While his possible destination remained unknown, analysts said the former president and army chief’s presence in Pakistan has become a political headache for the 6-month-old civilian government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. By attempting for the first time to prosecute a former senior military figure, Sharif’s government has ignited tensions with an all-powerful army establishment that is loath to see a former leader humiliated in a civilian court, experts say. Army leaders were said to be frustrated with Musharraf’s decision to return to Pakistan last year, but last week he was swiftly admitted to the military hospital in Rawalpindi complaining of chest pains. Musharraf had been due to appear in court on the treason charges that day after missing two earlier appearances due to what his lawyers termed security threats. The timing of his hospitalization, after he had appeared to be in good health in media appearances, fueled widespread speculation that the military was determined not to let Musharraf stand trial. The charges, which carry the death penalty or life imprisonment, stem from 2007, when Musharraf responded to mounting political opposition by suspending Pakistan’s constitution and imposing a six-week state of emergency. Sharif “wants to use him as a bargaining chip to get more leverage against the military, but things could go worse if he keeps on going tough on Musharraf,” said Raza Rumi, a political analyst in Islamabad. The former army chief, who seized power in 1999 and ruled until 2008, was one of the staunchest allies in President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism. Musharraf broke with Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, accepted billions in U.S. military and economic aid and permitted U.S. warplanes to launch strikes against suspected Taliban-allied Islamic militants in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas. The final months of his rule were marked by a series of constitutional crises, and he left power in August 2008 with the threat of impeachment hanging over him. Athough he returned to Pakistan with plans to run for president, his political support had all but dried up in his absence and he immediately was confronted with legal challenges stemming from his eight-year rule. In a hearing this week, prosecutor Akram Sheikh accused Musharraf of intentionally defying the court and called on the judges to issue a warrant for his arrest. Ahmed Raza Kasuri, Musharraf’s lawyer, replied that the prosecutor was merely trying to embarrass Musharraf, saying, “We will not tolerate the humiliation of our army.” Analysts said that Musharraf’s departure for medical reasons increasingly seemed to be the only way to resolve the standoff between the government and the army over his fate. "Musharraf's safety is part of the army's core interests, while with every passing day it would become tougher for the government not to try him," said Ayesha Siddiqa, a security and political analyst. “The political temperature would keep on rising as long as his case remained pending.” http://www.latimes.com/world/worldnow/la-fg-wn-musharraf-may-be-leaving-pakistan-20140107,0,7441027.story#ixzz2pnBuuF2R