Monday, January 13, 2014

Videos: Egyptian Belly Dance

Egypt : 'On means and ends'

By Mahmoud Salem
On Tuesday, Egypt votes on the new constitution, which aims to show the world that 30 June has electoral legitimacy, and thus undermine the Muslim Brotherhood’s legitimacy as well. Given that the Yes campaign is on the streets, on TV, in the newspapers, all over the social media and in targeted text messages to phones, and that the few who dare start a No campaign get arrested, it is fair to say that the Yes vote will win handily, since everyone who will go to the polls is planning to vote Yes anyway. The result will be as follows: a constitution that will get a historic turn-out and approval rating, but will not have electoral legitimacy, because, well, it’s hard to claim it is democratic if those who oppose it are getting arrested. Never mind that the state didn’t need to arrest the few No campaigners: historically, there hasn’t been a single referendum that Egyptians have voted No on. Moreover, the majority of Egyptians were planning to vote Yes anyway since they consider it a vote on the return of the MB to power. Instead, here we are, with the means used completely destroying the end desired.
It should be noted that the supreme majority of Egyptians have not really read the constitution, and don’t really care what it says, since for them it’s a “step towards the path of stability”. The majority of the Egyptian middle class – especially those in the lower-middle – are so economically crushed by the chaos of the last three years that they will do anything that brings a semblance of normality (and stable income) back into their lives. They want the constitution to pass and for the presidential elections to be held right after it because “the country has to be ruled”. In many of my conversations in Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods, the consensus I hear is the same: “We are tired. We want to work and raise our kids. We want the economy to get going, for the protests to stop getting into our way and livelihood and for the security to come back.” This is why they are voting yes, and if this sounds to you like the argument they had back in the 2012 and 2011 referendums, well, dear reader, you are not wrong. It’s the exact same argument and rationale. Some things never change around here.
Many are advancing the argument that the referendum and its high turn-out is a vote on Al-Sisi, which is something the Sisi-for-president enthusiasts are keen to propagate and utilise. This is also a means to their end of having the country governed by a strong leader who can bring back law and order and get — nay, force — Egyptians to work again. Those same enthusiasts will not get a rude awakening if Al-Sisi doesn’t run, but rather if he ran and won as expected, thanks to the constitution that they are so eager to pass.
The new constitution states that the new president will not be the high commander of the police; it states that he can’t fire a single minister without parliament’s approval; he can’t appoint a new Minister of Defencee without the military’s consent; he can’t chose the Minister of interior, Justice, or Foreign Affairs without the approval of the prime minister (who gets appointed by the parliament); he can’t declare a state of emergency without the prime minister and parliament’s approval; he can’t send troops overseas without the approval of the National Defense Council and two-thirds of the parliament; and he can’t provide a presidential pardon without the consent of the cabinet. Those who believe that President Al-Sisi would have absolute unchecked power to strongly lead us through those turbulent times will be perplexed the first time they demand his removal of a minister from his position and discover the kind of process he must go through to do that. A strong president indeed.
The one area of policy that President Al-Sisi will be able to set freely will be the foreign policy, which will not be fun for him at all. After all of this talk over “revolution or a coup”, having the defence minister who removed the president become the next president will make it a 100% certified coup, even if he is elected in record numbers. Welcome to strained diplomatic ties, to protests in every country he visits by democracy activists and local MB members. Oh, and how the MB members will love it: a justification for all of their talking points presented on a silver platter. Not to mention: Garbage is not collected? Blame Al-Sisi. Power black-out? Al-Sisi will be cursed. It doesn’t matter that those issues may be under the domain of the cabinet and the PM, the buck stops with the president.
The irony that those who love Al-Sisi the most are the ones who want him to have the worst job in Egypt is not lost on many of us, for it’s the same irony that those who desire a strong-man state are the ones voting Yes on a constitution that will not give them that at all. President Al-Sisi will have all of the responsibility, yet neither the tools nor the power to execute decisions the way he does now, something every presidential hopeful knows. Therefore, they are all collectively promoting Al-Sisi to run: pushing him to be president is the only way to destroy his popularity (and the idea of a strong military ruler) once and for all, and that is their end.

Sisi faces electoral test as Egyptians vote on new constitution

Egyptians are set to vote on their second constitution in as many years on Tuesday and Wednesday in a referendum that is widely seen as the first electoral test for the country’s powerful military chief since he ousted Mohammed Morsi last year. The vote comes just days after Egypt’s army chief, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, gave the strongest indication so far of his intention to run for president.
A “Yes” vote for the new constitution – along with a respectable turnout – would be viewed as granting legitimacy to the political process that has been put in place since Morsi’s ouster in July. “This referendum isn’t only going to be a test of whether people approve of the newly amended constitution. If, as expected, it is a resounding “Yes” then it will give legitimacy – through the ballot box – to the ousting of Mohammed Morsi and the new regime that the army has put in place,” said FRANCE 24’s Kathryn Stapley, reporting from Cairo on the eve of the vote.
In the lead-up to the January 14-15 vote, the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities have been awash with billboards and posters bearing a large tick for “Yes”. Television ads linking the “Yes” vote with stability and security have dominated the airwaves with messages such as, “A Yes to the constitution is a No to terrorism” and “Yes, we love our country”. In sharp contrast, there have been few – if any – visible signs of a “No” campaign on the streets of the Egyptian capital. At least seven activists attempting to campaign for a “No” vote have been arrested earlier this month, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
‘The turnout will be all important’
With the now banned Muslim Brotherhood calling for a boycott of the constitutional referendum, all eyes are on the turnout in the two-day vote. “The turnout will be all important here,” explained Stapley. “The authorities will be looking for a turnout of more than the 32% that voted in the 2012 referendum.” The new, 247-article draft constitution is being offered as a replacement for the suspended 2012 constitution, which was drawn up under Morsi’s term in office. “Those who support this constitution say it’s a vast improvement on the 2012 charter,” said Stapley. “It certainly limits the scope of Islamic law, which rights advocates have been saying is a step forward.”
Criticisms over lack of civilian oversight of military
But rights groups have also criticised the 2013 draft constitution for not providing for any civilian oversight of the military. In a report published over the weekend, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) expressed “profound reservations” about the constitution drafted by a 50-member panel of mostly secular politicians. Among the more contentious clauses are Article 204 – which legalises military trials for civilians – and Article 201, which states that the defense minister must be chosen from the armed forces, thereby precluding the possibility of a civilian defense minister. Civil society activists have also voiced concerns over Article 234, which states that the armed forces must approve the defense minister for the next two presidential terms. In a statement posted last week, the Atlanta-based Carter Center cited “the polarized environment and the narrowed political space surrounding the upcoming referendum, as well as the lack of an inclusive process for drafting and publicly debating the draft constitution” as being of particular concern.
Tight security, supportive electorate
While the Muslim Brotherhood has vowed to stage mass demonstrations supporting a boycott, many observers are not sure if the 85-year-old organisation – which has been labeled a terrorist group – will be able to mobilize its supporters following a government crackdown and the arrests of senior Brotherhood leaders.
Security has been tightened for the two-day vote, with 160,000 soldiers – including elite paratroopers and commandos backed by armored vehicles and helicopters – deployed to protect polling stations and voters. Around 200,000 police officers are also being posted across the country, said the Associated Press, citing an unnamed Egyptian security source. Despite the security fears and criticisms of rights groups, many Egyptians have said they are eager to vote in the January 14-15 referendum, in a country that has grown weary of demonstrations and political upheavals over the past three years.
“It’s a constitution that provides everything for the Egyptian citizen and we want the country to move forward,” said a supporter of the Islamist al-Nour party at a gathering in the lead-up to the referendum. The Salafist al-Nour is the only Islamist party calling on its supporters to back the 2013 draft constitution.
Speaking to FRANCE 24 at a rally on the outskirts of Cairo, al-Nour member and former MP Ashraf Thabet expressed confidence that the draft constitution would be approved.
“I believe that the Egyptian people will go out to vote,” said Thabet. “This vote is a very big step to achieve security and stability for Egyptian society.”

New Jersey governor Christie facing fresh investigations as 2016 presidential bid under threat

Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, was facing two powerful new investigations on Monday that could further erode his standing as he tries to save his 2016 presidential bid from being derailed by the George Washington bridge scandal.
On Monday, Christie's nemesis, John Wisniewski, the Democratic state assemblyman who has been leading the inquiry into whether Christie’s aides conspired to cause traffic chaos at the bridge in an act of partisan revenge, announced the formation of a new super-committee of the legislature that will pursue the investigation “wherever the facts may lead us”. The new body will have the assistance of full legal counsel.
The second investigation disclosed by CNN on Monday involves the federal department of housing and urban development that is looking at whether the New Jersey governor misused relief funds for superstorm Sandy to advance his public profile as he stood for re-election. That investigation is particularly sensitive for him, as much of his appeal as a possible Republican presidential candidate is founded upon the favourable impression he made nationally in his handling of the October 2012 storm.
The launch of the investigations comes at an inauspicious moment for Christie. On Tuesday he delivers his “state of the state” speech in which he will unveil his aspirations for New Jersey over the coming year.
The new super-committee of the Democratic-dominated New Jersey assembly is likely to be granted subpoena powers at a special session of the state assembly on Thursday. Wisniewski said the first subpoenas are likely to be handed down on that day, with an initial target being Bridget Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff who issued the now infamous instruction last August: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”.
Christie sacked Kelly last week, insisting he had been deceived by her into thinking that his office had had nothing to do with four days of traffic mayhem last September inflicted on Fort Lee, the town that sits beneath the George Washington bridge. The town's Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, had previously refused to endorse Christie for re-election – thus apparently incurring the wrath of some members of the governor's inner circle.
Wisniewski told reporters on Monday that it was premature to discuss calling Christie himself to testify before the new super-committee. But he added that “our concern is that there was apparently a massive abuse of power and an attempt to conceal that abuse of power.” He promised a “dramatic overhaul” of the Port Authority, whose board members are divided between appointees of the governors of New York and New Jersey. The “Bridgegate” scandal is throwing an ever-wider net across key members of Christie's team. Almost 2,000 pages of documents released by the assembly on Friday contain the names of several people close to the governor who were informed of the traffic problems caused in Fort Lee early on yet apparently failed to inform him of the furor. They include Regine Egea, Christie's current chief of staff, who on 13 September was forwarded an irate email from the New York official Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority, in which he called the unannounced closure of access to the bridge from Fort Lee “abusive” and a threat to public safety. Another senior official now in the spotlight is David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority and a Christie appointee, who last week was referred to in one email exchange between the governor's team as “helping us to retaliate” against Foye's decision to reopen the closed lanes. “When you have so many people in the governor's inner circle who received information about the fall-out, the traffic jams and the efforts to spin them, it strains credibility that all these people whose job it is to keep the governor informed did absolutely nothing,” Wisniewski said.
The HUD investigation into Sandy concerns the spending of $25m of federal relief money designed to help the recovery of the battered New Jersey shore by attracting tourism back. Federal auditors will explore whether the funds were directed towards a TV advertising campaign that benefited Christie in his re-election campaign by featuring him and members of his family.
Representative Frank Pallone, the New Jersey Democrat who initially asked HUD to investigate the spending of the relief fund, told CNN that the successful TV ad campaign featuring the Christies had cost $4.7m while another proposed series of TV commercials that did not put the governor and his family on screen would have cost just $2.5m. “This was money that could have directly been used for Sandy recovery,” he said.

Bahrain security forces attack religious site

Security forces in Bahrain have attacked another religious site, damaging a revered shrine.
The Al Khalifa regim's forces have vandalized the shrine of Sasaa Sohan al-Abdi, a companion of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), in the village of Askar on the southeastern coast of Bahrain.
According to reports, the building of the shrine has been damaged and its valuable items have been stolen. The Al Khalifa regime’s forces have attacked 38 religious sites since the uprising began in 2011. Bahrain's main opposition group, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, has condemned the regime's assault, saying that it shows the authorities' animosity toward the people.
The Bahraini security forces had earlier threatened the shrine’s caretaker, saying they would cut off his feet if he came to the holy site.
Since mid-February 2011, thousands of pro-democracy protesters have staged numerous demonstrations in the streets of Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa royal family to relinquish power. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invaded the country to assist the Bahraini government in its crackdown on the peaceful protesters.
According to local sources, scores of people have been killed and hundreds arrested.
Physicians for Human Rights says doctors and nurses have been detained, tortured, or disappeared because they have "evidence of atrocities committed by the authorities, security forces, and riot police" in the crackdown on anti-government protesters.

US Team Looks to Continue Resurgence at Sochi Olympics

The United States is a serious contender to top the medals table at the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month after a record-setting performance in Vancouver four years ago, but its prospects on Olympic snow and ice weren’t always so promising.
Following a dismal performance at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Canada, where the US team garnered just six medals, the US Olympic Committee launched an overhaul of its system for financing and training athletes that experts credit with helping vault American athletes to dominance.
The commission, headed by George Steinbrenner, a polarizing professional baseball owner, concluded that “if you want to win medals at the Olympic Games in the winter, you have to devote resource and money,” said Alan Abrahamson, an expert on the Olympic movement who runs the website 3 Wire Sports.
“They decided to start putting some money into the winter sports effort,” Abrahamson, who will serve as a columnist for NBC Olympics during the Sochi Games, told RIA Novosti.
The US medal haul proceeded to climb following the Calgary debacle. The American team won 34 medals as host nation for the Salt Lake City games in 2002, second only to Germany in the total medals count. After a slight retreat at the 2006 Turin Winter Games, where US athletes earned 25 medals, the US team proceeded to set a Winter Olympic record with 37 medals four years later in Vancouver, including nine gold medals.
The US team is predicted to finish fourth in the medals table with 30 medals at the Sochi Games, which are set to run from February 7 to February 23, and tie with Norway for the most gold medals at 14, according to the latest projections by the Dutch sports media company Infostrada Sports. The rise of US Winter Olympians since Calgary is evident not only in their medal haul, but also in the percentage of US entries that result in medals, said Simon Gleave, head of analysis at Infostrada, which crunches Olympic, world championship and World Cup results in formulating its projections.
In 2002, 15 percent of US entries won medals, while 16 percent captured them in 2010, said Gleave, adding that both results were more than double the percentage of entries that medaled in the 1990s. If that rate holds in Sochi, the United States “can expect somewhere around 35 to 40 medals, which is pretty impressive stuff,” Gleave said.
The US team lost one of its biggest stars and medal hopes for Sochi last week when Lindsey Vonn, the most dominant US women’s alpine skier in history and a gold medalist in downhill in Vancouver, announced that a knee injury would prevent her from competing in the Games. Infostrada had predicted Vonn to win gold in the women’s downhill and silver in the women’s super-G. While her exit knocked the US team’s projected gold haul down one medal, its total projected medal count remained steady based on recent performances by other US athletes, Gleave said. Both Gleave and Abrahamson said that if they had to place a bet on the US competitor most likely to win a gold medal, they would go with women’s moguls skier Hannah Kearney, a gold medalist in Vancouver who took World Cup victories in Park City, Utah, last week. “She looks like she’s far further ahead of her competitors than anyone else in the United States’ team,” Gleave said. “ … She wins almost every time she takes part.” In addition to the funding and training revamp since the Calgary Games in 1988, the site of Kearney’s triumphs last week has played a crucial role in the resurgence of US Winter Olympians, said Abrahamson. After Salt Lake City was awarded the Winter Olympics in 1995, the focus of the US winter sports effort shifted to the mountains of Utah from Lake Placid, New York – the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics that saw the US men’s ice hockey team upset the vaunted Soviet squad in the so-called “Miracle on Ice.” “Lake Placid is a sweet, charming little town, but Salt Lake City is actually a real city,” Abrahamson said. The abundance of university sporting facilities, the development of world-class ski facilities in the Wasatch Mountains and an international airport made Utah an ideal hub for training elite winter athletes. The Salt Lake City games also gave US sports fans a firsthand taste for success at the Winter Olympics thanks to athletes like speed skater Apolo Ohno and alpine men’s skier Bode Miller, which helped attract sponsorship for US winter athletes, Abrahamson said.
“All of a sudden you had all of these factors come along, and you had an American team that showed Americans what it was like to win in these sports, and you had an infusion of cash and resource,” he told RIA Novosti. By the closing ceremony at the Vancouver games in 2010, the US skiers and snowboarders had won 21 of the 37 medals that the United States brought home.
Despite strong performances on the slopes, medals have remained elusive for US athletes in two skiing events: cross-country skiing and biathlon.
The only US cross-country skier ever to medal at the Winter Olympics was Bill Koch, who captured bronze in the 30-kilometer race in the 1976 Games in Innsbruck, Austria. That drought could come to an end in Sochi, where Infostrada has projected Kikkan Randall, 31, to come home with a gold for the US in the women’s sprint freestyle. The United States has never won an Olympic medal in biathlon. Tim Burke is widely seen as the US team’s best hope to make the podium in the sport that combines cross-country skiing and shooting. Abrahamson said the US struggles in Olympic biathlon remain “an enduring mystery” to him given how deeply entrenched firearms are in American history and culture.
“You would think that a country that gave the world Dirty Harry and Rambo would be very, very good at biathlon,” he said. “But so far, no.”
Projected Medals Table
Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
Norway 14 12 10 36 United States 14 8 8 30 Canada 11 14 6 31 Germany 10 11 12 33 France 6 3 5 14 Russia 5 6 4 15 Korea 5 5 4 14 Netherlands 5 4 4 13 China 4 4 4 12 Austria 3 8 9 20 Switzerland 3 5 1 9 Sweden 3 3 1 7 Slovenia 3 2 2 7 Japan 2 3 3 8 Poland 2 0 2 4 Czech Republic 2 0 1 3 Italy 1 3 5 9 Great Britain 1 2 3 6 Finland 1 0 7 8 Australia 1 0 2 3 Kazakhstan 1 0 1 2 Latvia 1 0 0 1 Belarus 0 4 0 4 Croatia 0 1 1 2 Ukraine 0 0 2 2
Slovakia 0 0 1 1

Al Qaeda Syria unit executes dozens of rival Islamists

The al-Qaeda-linked Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant executed dozens of rival Islamists over the last two days as the group recaptured most territory it had lost in the northeastern Syrian province of Raqqa, activists said on Sunday. One of the activists, who spoke from the province on condition of anonymity, said up to 100 fighters from the Nusra Front, another al Qaeda affiliate, and the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, captured by ISIL in the town of Tel Abyadon the border with Turkey, the nearby area of Qantari and the provincial capital city of Raqqa, were shot dead.
"About 70 bodies, most shot in the head, were collected and sent to the Raqqa National hospital," the activist said. "Many of those executed had been wounded in the fighting. The fact that Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham are ideologically similar to the ISIL did not matter," he added.
Among those reportedly executed on the weekend was Abu Saad al-Hadram, Nusra Front's commander forRaqqa province who was captured several months ago as tension mounted between the foreign-led ISIL and the more home-grown Nusra. In Raqqa, the only provincial capital under rebel control, activists said ISIL fighters battled remnants of rival Islamist units including the Nusra Front in several neighbourhoods.
To the north, ISIL recaptured the town of Tel Abyad on the border with Turkey over the weekend. Abdallah Farraj, a member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition from Raqqa, said rebels had been able to expel ISIL from parts of the neighbouring Aleppo province, but it would be hard to shake ISIL's hold on Raqqaand rural areas along key supply lines across the north.
"The rebels lack the organisation and the firepower to win. It will be difficult to defeat ISIL without military strikes from someone like Turkey," he said.
Abu Khaled al-Walid, an activist speaking from the border area, said many fighters from Ahrar al-Sham, one of the most powerful Islamist groups, chose not to confront ISIL because the combatants were local people with little enmity for each other. "Many did not see a point in fighting their own relatives. ISIL is now in control of 95 percent of Raqqa and its rural environs. Tel Abyad is also back with it," he said.
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Supreme Court casts skeptical eye on Obama's appointment power

The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness on Monday to rein in President Barack Obama's power to temporarily fill senior government posts without the Senate's approval, a move that would curb his ability to bypass a gridlocked Congress. Most of the nine justices expressed skepticism, during 90 minutes of oral arguments, about so-called recess appointments Obama made to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in 2012. The court is expected to issue a ruling in the case by June that has the potential to shift the balance of power between the White House and the Senate. While both are now controlled by Democrats, Republicans hope to win control of the Senate in congressional mid-term elections in November. The Supreme Court could decide the case in various ways, but even a narrow ruling against the administration could be bad news for Obama in the last two years of his term, especially if Republicans control the Senate. The arguments before the court on Monday dealt with a case in which soft drink bottler Noel Canning Corp is challenging an NLRB ruling against it. The company argues the ruling was invalid because some of the NLRB board members on the panel that issued it were recess appointees picked by Obama. With the intervention of senior Republicans, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business interests, the Yakima, Washington-based company's case has become a much broader fight over the president's ability to make appointments while the Senate is in recess and what exactly constitutes a recess. Obama used his recess appointment power to name three members to the five-member NLRB in January 2012. Democratic and Republican presidents have made many such temporary appointments - valid for up to two years - of officials who otherwise would have had difficulty winning Senate confirmation. Underscoring the political stakes involved in the court case, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has sought to stymie Obama's legislative agenda, attended the arguments. Under McConnell, Republicans had used Senate rules to frustrate Obama's attempts to fill various positions, including vacancies at the NLRB, up until a Senate rule change was pushed through by Democrats late last year. "The president made an unprecedented power grab by placing political allies at a powerful federal agency while the Senate was meeting regularly and without even trying to obtain its advice and consent," McConnell said in a statement afterward. White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler and White House spokesman Jay Carney were also present. Carney told reporters the administration was "confident that the president's authority to make recess appointments will be upheld by the courts." FRAMERS' INTENT DEBATED The administration says it is following the long-established interpretation of the recess appointments clause of the U.S. Constitution, dating back to President George Washington. Noel Canning and its backers say the administration has ignored the original intent of the Constitution's drafters, who included the recess appointments clause to ensure the government could continue to function when the Senate was in recess for months at a time and senators would travel to Washington on horseback. The court could decide the case in various ways, but even a narrow ruling against the government could be bad news for Obama in the last two years of his term. If Republicans win control of the Senate in November, they would be able to reject Obama appointments outright and would have more sway over when to declare recesses. Republicans and business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have long been eager to prevent Democratic presidents from appointing pro-labor members to the NLRB, an independent federal agency which has the power to address unfair labor practices and safeguard employees' rights. These groups were particularly outraged at Obama naming the three NLRB members while the Senate was not conducting business, but was not technically in a recess.
At least one justice appeared to see the dispute as primarily political. Justice Stephen Breyer, an appointee of Democratic President Bill Clinton, said the Constitution clearly envisioned that appointments had to be agreed upon by both the president and Congress. "Now that's a political problem, not a constitutional problem" if the two sides disagree, he said. Despite apparent misgivings about whether the courts should be deciding such an issue, justices from both sides of the ideological divide expressed skepticism about the administration's use of the recess appointment power. Justice Elena Kagan, appointed to the court by Obama in 2010, was one of those critical of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli's legal arguments on the administration's behalf. The administration, for example, says that it is up to the president to determine when exactly the Senate is in recess. But, to Kagan, some of Verrilli's arguments seemed to confirm that "it's really the Senate's job to determine whether they're in recess," she said. Chief Justice John Roberts defended the right of senators to object to appointments they do not like. "They have an absolute right not to confirm nominees that the president submits," he said.
Verrilli's defense was that the way the recess appointments clause has been used over the years has changed in an effort to create a "stable equilibrium" between executive branch and congressional power. If a majority of justices were to buy that argument, the administration could still lose on a narrower ground, but the recess appointment power would not be entirely disabled. Monday's argument indicated that, although there could be a clear majority to rule against the administration on that narrow ground, some justices might be willing to go further. If Noel Canning wins its case, the practical fallout for the NLRB would be limited. In July, a Senate deal paved the way for the confirmation of five board members, marking the first time in a decade that the board had a full complement. If the bottler prevails, those members would have to re-examine some board decisions made by the contested recess appointees.

Pakistan: Time to be angry

Ours is the country where the 15-year old Aitezaz Hussain was left to engage the suicide bomber heading to blow up a school full of students. He sacrificed his life in the process. There is need to honour his courage and his memory. But that is not enough.
We need to ask ourselves how this country became a place so sick that requires ninth graders to demonstrate such courage? We get angry when the researchers place Pakistan amongst the worst places for children to be born. Maybe it is time we get angry at why that is.
Terrorists in Karachi have claimed Chaudhry Aslam, the anti-terror cop who was the bane of their existence. We can cry hoarse paying tribute to his bravery and his determination to lead from the front in full view of death lurking around him.
But he is gone now. He has joined the long list of iconic policemen like Safwat Ghayyur, Malik Saad, Khan Raziq and Abid Ali who were undaunted by the TTP-led terror syndicate and unflinching in their resolve to fight those viciously attacking their compatriots and colleagues.
Aslam, Safwat and Saad were who they were and did what they did not because the state incentivised them, boosted their morale and backed them up, but despite that. They fought tyranny and savagery with the courage of their conviction in full view of the state that continued to dither. They stood up for the state even when the state refused to stand beside them. And that is what makes them true heroes.
Men such as these, who can inspire themselves and everyone around them amidst complete darkness and despondency, are an endangered species.
What lessons would a rational law enforcement official draw from Aslam, Safwat and Saad? That heroism is costly, it claims your life and leaves your family mourning your loss and wondering for the rest of their lives how things might have been had you been around. That there is value in growing old and seeing your kids graduate from college, settle down, get married and have kids of their own. And that value of normal life trumps the value of heroism in a country that has no desire or will to build on sacrifices you render.
Where is the outrage at the tragic loss of Aitezaz or the assassination of Chaudhry Aslam? What kind of a state is one that can neither protect its officials nor its citizens and everyone is left to fend for himself? It is a state with no red lines. There is no loss that is unacceptable. We have seen a schoolgirl shot in the head, we have seen a schoolboy tackle a suicide bomber, we have seen the TTP play with the severed heads of our brave soldiers and assassinate a serving general, we have seen policemen die fighting alone. We have now seen everything. And we are unfortunately getting comfortable with this ugliness. Those opposed to the US mission in Afghanistan did not need to attack Aitezaz and his school. He had nothing to do with the US and its policies. Chaudhry Aslam was not a target because he was directing drones to Fata, but because his job was to protect citizens against terror attacks and he was doing it well. However this started, there is a now a war raging across Pakistan wherein terrorists are attacking innocent citizens and law enforcement personnel trying to protect them. In this war you cannot root for both sides. You cannot mourn the martyred soldiers and policemen who lay down their lives in the line of duty and citizens claimed by terror attacks and simultaneously sympathise with those who plan and execute terror attacks within Pakistan and call them shaheed when killed because they are inspired by hate for the US. The duty to protect the citizens of Pakistan rests squarely with the state of Pakistan and is not contingent on whether the US acts in an agreeable or abhorrent manner.
Whether it is the PML-N or the PTI leadership, it is not OK to continue trotting the globe and issue platitudes about the rule of law, tragic loss of life and need for peace while real people continue being killed in droves. It is also not OK for the PPP, ANP and the MQM — the so-called centre-left parties — to scoff at pro-talkers in private and support the lets-talk-the-terrorists-out-of-terror mantra in public.
A national leadership stricken by fear doesn’t fully explain our pusillanimous response to terror. It is a combination of fear, confusion, incompetence and indifference. The pro-talk all-party conference passed its resolution on Sept 8, 2013. Over four months later have we moved an inch? Talking to the terrorists can only be one component of an effective anti-terror policy. Where is our policy on tracking and eliminating terror funding? Where is our policy on monitoring and cutting off supply of guns and explosives? Where is our policy on disrupting the transit of terrorists from Khyber to Karachi and back? Where is our policy on blockading the supply chain of terrorists to the TTP syndicate?
The distress at Chaudhry Aslam’s death is fitting. In a fight between the state and the terrorist when the state itself picks the side of the terrorist Chaudhry Aslam automatically falls on the wrong side of the fight. All that is left now for society’s protection are more Aitezaz’s, till we run out of them as well.

Bilawal visits Chaudhry Aslam family

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Monday visited Chaudhry Aslam’s residence to offer condolence with his family. Talking to slain officer’s family, he said that Aslam was a brave and fearless officer and never bowed before terrorists. He said; “We are with Chaudhry Aslam’s family in this testing time”.

2014 Best Pashto Song

Kerry and Lavrov discuss possible ceasefire in Syria
Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad (front 2nd left) attends a religious ceremony on the occasion the Prophet Muhamad’s birthday at al-Hamd mosque in Damascus on January 12th, 2014. Photograph: Sana/Reuters
US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov discussed the possibility of ceasefires in parts of Syria, Mr Kerry said today after talks in Paris.
Mr Lavrov said the two also discussed a possible willingness by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to open aid corridors. “We talked today about the possibility of trying to encourage a ceasefire. Maybe a localised ceasefire in Aleppo,” Mr
Mr Kerry told a news conference after talks with Mr Lavrov and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Paris. Mr Lavrov, whose government backs Assad, said Damascus had indicated it might provide access for humanitarian aid to besieged areas. He specifically cited the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta, where 160,000 people have been largely trapped by fighting, according to the United Nations.
“We await similar steps by the opposition,” Mr Lavrov said. The United States is pushing for a series of confidence-building measures in the Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people, in advance of a planned peace conference in Switzerland on January 22nd.
Meanwhile, at least 19 people have been killed in a mortar attack in the central Syrian city of Homs, state media and anti-government activists said.
The official Sana news agency said the rounds slammed into the pro-government Ghouta and Karm al-Shami districts of Homs. It blamed “terrorists” for the attack, employing the term the government uses to describe those trying to topple the Assad regime. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group also reported the mortar attack. Syrian rebels often fire mortar rounds into pro-government areas of cities and towns, while Assad’s forces indiscriminately strike rebel-held areas with artillery, air strikes and surface-to-surface missiles. Syria’s civil war has killed more than 120,000 since the crisis began in March 2011.

CHINA: ' Japan threatens use of force'

Tokyo has risked further escalating tensions with China over the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea by threatening the use of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and mulling amending school teaching manuals over the "sovereignty" of the islands. On Sunday morning, three China Coast Guard vessels carried out patrols in the territorial waters surrounding the Diaoyu Islands, according to the State Oceanic Administration. In response to the Chinese patrols, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera Sunday told reporters, "We can never overlook repeated incursions into territorial waters." The minister made the remarks after observing the Japanese SDF's elite airborne brigade conducting airdrop drills designed to hone their skills to defend and retake remote islands. "We need to make diplomatic efforts on one hand. We also want to firmly defend our country's territorial sea and land with the Self-Defence Forces cooperating with the coast guard," he added. Onodera's mention of the SDF raised concerns over the possibility of military conflicts between Beijing and Tokyo triggered by a clash in the waters near the Diaoyu Islands. Since Japan's "nationalization" of the islets in September 2012, non-military patrol ships from China and Japan have been shadowing each other in the area. Liu Jiangyong, a deputy dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, on Sunday told the Global Times that at the current stage it is unlikely that Japan would send the SDF to resolve the dispute, as Japan's pacifist constitution restricts the use of its military. "However, it is a threatening message by Japan to display its military strength," Liu said. Meanwhile, Onodera also joined the US in criticizing China's new fishing restrictions in the South China Sea. The new regulations adopted by China's Hainan Province on implementing the country's fishing law took effect on January 1. The amended regulations require foreigners and foreign fishing vessels to obtain approval from the central government of China before entering waters under its jurisdiction. "I'm afraid not only Japan but international society as a whole has a concern that China is unilaterally threatening the existing international order" with its new restrictions in the South China Sea and the creation of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea, said Onodera. According to Liu, the Japanese defense minister's comment on China's new fishing law was a move to rally support among Southeast Asian countries to contain Beijing, as several countries in the region are locked in territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea. Separately, Japan's education ministry is planning to describe the Diaoyu Islands and a group of islands in the center of a territorial dispute between Tokyo and Seoul as inherent parts of Japan's territory in new guidelines for middle and high schools, reported Japanese broadcaster NHK. According to the report, the change will be made in a supplement to the government's new guidelines for textbook publishers and teachers. The existing supplement does not contain descriptions about the Diaoyu Islands, and neither do some textbooks. The ministry expects the guidelines will be reflected in textbooks to be published for the 2016 school year and after, according to NHK. "It will intensify the disputes between China, South Korea and Japan. At the same time, Japanese students will be misled by the textbook if they are not clear about the facts and this affects their sentiment toward their neighbors," Liu said.

Iran to implement nuclear deal as Obama repeats Congress sanctions plea

John Kerry says Tehran will start to implement November's 'comprehensive agreement' on 20 January
Iran will begin eliminating its stockpile of highly enriched uranium in eight days' time, after negotiators in Geneva reached an agreement on how to implement the interim nuclear deal reached in November. The six-month deal, under which Iran has agreed to freeze and even curb some nuclear activities in return for an easing of sanctions, will come into force on 20 January.
"As of that day, for the first time in almost a decade, Iran's nuclear programme will not be able to advance, and parts of it will be rolled back, while we start negotiating a comprehensive agreement to address the international community's concerns about Iran's programme," the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said in a statement.
The start-date for the agreement was announced on Sunday by the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who represents the US, China and Russia and France, Germany and Britain, the three European powers who reached the settlement with Iran.
President Barack Obama described the latest agreement as a significant step forward, but immediately renewed his plea for Congress not to introduce a range of new sanctions against Iran, which he said would risk "derailing our efforts to resolve this issue peacefully".
Sunday's announcement, which was confirmed by Iran, marked the culmination of weeks of fine-tuning over the technical implementation of November's interim deal. Senior officials from the EU and Iran met in Geneva on Thursday and Friday, making progress on a framework to execute the nuclear deal that was ratified by participating countries over the weekend. The breakthrough comes at a critical moment for the nuclear agreement, which is coming under growing pressure from hardliners in both Tehran and Washington. November's agreement provides limited sanctions relief to Iran – which, according to US estimates, will provide a $7bn boost to the country's economy. In return, Iran has agreed to freeze its nuclear programme, destroy stockpiles of higher-grade uranium and commit to more rigorous inspections. The Obama administration will hope the details of the implementation of the deal will reassure sceptics in Congress. A senior administration official said Iran had agreed to disable the cascade that produces 20%-enriched uranium before the start of the agreement, and to begin destroying existing stockpiles immediately.
"By the end of the six months, it will all be gone," a second senior administration official said.
In return, world powers will also suspend some petrochemical and auto sanctions on 20 January. However, the bulk of relief will be in the shape of $4.2bn in restricted Iranian assets that will be repatriated to Tehran in regular instalments throughout the six months until the deal concludes in July. Some of those funds are being set aside to be released to Iran as and when it completes its promised destruction of higher-grade uranium.
"We are basically waiting to make certain that Iran has begun to fulfil its commitments, as verified by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], before the funds are made available to the Iranians," a third senior administration official said.
All three officials spoke to reporters on a conference call on the condition of anonymity – a routine requirement the Obama administration places on such calls. They said most of the fine print hammered out in recent days relates to the IAEA, which will begin an expanded series of inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities, providing monthly updates to a joint commission overseeing the agreement. The agreement will last only until July, and officials close to the negotiations say it will almost certainly have to be renewed to give more time for extended talks which, the parties hope, will yield a permanent settlement to end the standoff over Iran's nuclear capabilities. But the deal has received a frosty reception in Washington, where senior Republicans and Democrats are threatening to introduce a bill to ramp up sanctions against Tehran – a move experts say would breach the spirit if not the letter of November's agreement. "Imposing additional sanctions now will only risk derailing our efforts to resolve this issue peacefully, and I will veto any legislation enacting new sanctions during the negotiation," Obama said on Sunday. He added: "With today's agreement, we have made concrete progress. I welcome this important step forward, and we will now focus on the critical work of pursuing a comprehensive resolution that addresses our concerns over Iran's nuclear programme." The White House has so far dissuaded senior lawmakers from pursuing a bill to tighten the sanctions noose on Iran. Despite November's breakthrough, there had been doubts over whether senior diplomats would succeed in agreeing a plan to execute the historic agreement. The enthusiasm that greeted the deal in November has been short-lived and on Thursday Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, used fiery language to criticise the approach of the US – which he called the "Great Satan" – to the negotiations. "The nuclear talks showed the enmity of America against Iran, Iranians, Islam and Muslims," he said. Khamenei's decision to give Iran's reformist president, Hassan Rouhani, space to reach a deal with the US and other powers was crucial to November's deal. When Kerry tried to sell the plan to Congress last month he met a wall of opposition from both parties, who appeared almost entirely unified against the deal, which some argued had endangered the US and its ally Israel. In his statement on Sunday, Kerry echoed Obama's call on Congress to hold back on new sanctions. "Now is not the time for politics," he said.
Any bill increasing sanctions on Iran would likely contain a six-month delay, and only be implemented if the current agreement fell apart. However, it would jeopardise November's deal, which contains a clause in which the US administration committed itself to "refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions" – even though the wording provided some acknowledgement that Obama could not control legislation passed by Congress. In response, a group of Iranian MPs has threatened to propose a bill requiring the Rouhani government to enrich uranium up to 60%, an unacceptable level for the west, should the US decide to impose new sanctions.

Ariel Sharon death stirs conflicting emotions across political divide

By Yolande Knell
In death as in life, Ariel Sharon remains a highly divisive figure.
On Sunday, a steady stream of ordinary people queued up outside the parliament, or Knesset, to snap photographs and pay their final respects after Mr Sharon's coffin was set on a dark marble plinth for the lying-in-state.
"I feel broken-hearted. He was one of a kind, a real leader," said one Israeli woman, visibly upset.
"People have different opinions but I think he was a great man," commented Steve Coven, an American whose son lives in Israel.
"He's had a huge, incalculable effect on Israeli history. He's one of the great, original figures who fought for Israel and helped mould the modern state."
'Colossal mistake'
Many former army colleagues of Ariel Sharon - veterans of the 1967 and 1973 wars - were among the Knesset visitors. "I was a reserve soldier in 1973. When I was down in the south and he took command, we felt this was someone we could trust and who would do the right thing," said Tamir Ezra, from Bat Yam. "Although he was controversial and didn't always obey orders, his decisions turned out for the best." Many Israelis - including Jewish settlers - chose to accentuate the positive. During the 1990s, when he served as housing minister, Mr Sharon oversaw a massive building drive of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. However, in 2005 he lost support on Israel's right when he ordered a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, arguing it was necessary for security and the country's international standing.
"I prefer to remember the Ariel Sharon that established thousands of communities all around Israel, changing forever the landscape of the country," said settler leader Danny Dayan.
"I prefer not to remember the Ariel Sharon of the last years who made a colossal mistake in the disengagement from Gaza."
Israeli historian Tom Segev said that Mr Sharon would be remembered as a founding father of the nation but that many of his actions, as a soldier and statesman, remained highly controversial. "Sharon was a political soldier and a military politician and I think it's this combination of militarism and nationalism which forms his legacy, a legacy which many people here - me included - find more harmful than useful," he told the BBC. On the Palestinian side, Ariel Sharon has been described as warmongering and aggressive. In a New Yorker blog post, the writer, Raja Shehadeh referred to his involvement in the 1982 massacres of Palestinians in Beirut refugee camps and his controversial visit in 2000 to Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, known to Jews as Temple Mount. The walkabout on the contested site infuriated Palestinians, who launched the second intifada (or uprising). Mr Shehadeh believes that the unilateral pullout from Gaza was part of Mr Sharon's attempt to strengthen Israel's hold on as much territory as possible rather than a reach for peace. "He went further than most in his crimes against Palestinian civilians, and further than others in his deception; he showed Israeli leaders that they could retain the tactics of war while calling them efforts for peace, and this is his most corrosive legacy," wrote Mr Shehadeh.
Others have not disguised their visceral hatred.
In the Khan Younis refugee camp in southern Gaza, news of Mr Sharon's death triggered a party where pictures of him were burned. "Every Palestinian, all refugees and families of martyrs and prisoners should celebrate the death of this criminal as many were killed by his hands," said resident Musab Boraim.
"We will never forget those who occupied our land and committed the most heinous massacres against our people."
Almost a decade after Mr Sharon's participation in public life ended, his actions still have a profound effect on the everyday lives of Palestinians and Israelis.
With the revived peace talks again on rocky ground, his death has prompted a round of reflections on whether matters might have been different if he had been able to continue.

" Sunny Leone" Hindi song

Bangladesh: The new cabinet

Can it claim to reflect "People's Will?"
A new cabinet has been sworn in. And like so many times in the recent past, we restate our position that the government of Sheikh Hasina resulting from the elections to the 10th Parliament lacks the popular mandate to lay any claim to it being truly representative of the people. Thus the cabinet sworn in yesterday may have some legal cover but suffers from a serious lack of public mandate.
Furthermore, the party that was coerced, cajoled and enticed to participate in the election has not only formed the opposition but is also represented in the cabinet. Other than war-time cabinet in some special cases, it is probably the first time in the world that an opposition party is also in the cabinet. We also notice that although many of the corrupt and inefficient persons in the erstwhile cabinet have lost their place there are some of those in the cabinet with questionable credentials. However, even if we are to accept the contentious argument of constitutional obligations that compelled holding of the election, that obligation, from the perspective of Sheikh Hasina, has been fulfilled, and therefore, the current dispensation, bereft of "People's Will" behind them, should be changed as quickly as possible. Thus the primary task of the government is to immediately pave the way for a government that would be come through an election reflecting the "Will" of the people and not one that has come to power through a parliament in which majority MPs were elected "unopposed". And the sooner that process is commenced and concluded the better it will be for democracy in the country.

What is polio?

What is polio?
Polio (poliomyelitis) is an infectious disease caused by a virus that invades the nervous system through the mouth (faecal-oral route). Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs. One in 200 infections cause irreversible paralysis, usually in the legs. About one in 10 of those paralysed die.
Who is the most at risk?
Polio mainly affects children under 5 years.
Can polio be cured?
There is no cure for polio, but it can be prevented. Polio vaccine (drops), given multiple times till the age of 5, protect a child for life.
How many oral polio drops does a child need?
A child should get four doses of oral polio vaccine in the first year with supplementary doses till the age of five on the immunisation days.
How is a country declared polio free?
Before a country can be certified polio-free, it should have at least three years of zero polio cases. Since the launch of the 1988 Global Polio Eradication Initiative to eradicate polio, 5 million people - mainly in the developing world - who would otherwise have been paralysed, will be free of polio.

Close to victory: India will officially be declared polio-free from today

A limp is all that sets Ruksha Shah, 5, apart from other girls of her age in her home in Subharara village in the Panchla block of the Howrah district of West Bengal. It’s the only remnant of the polio infection that ravaged her in 2011, which left her right leg a little shorter and weaker than the left. Ruksha’s the last recorded case of polio — on January 13, 2011 — in India, and if the nation’s polio eradication programme stays on track, it may well be India’s last. Being declared polio-free means the virus has died in the environment and new cases, if any, would be caused by infection in another country where infection persists.
“Ruksha is cured though she feels A little pain in the affected right leg when she runs. Earlier, many of us did not take our babies to get polio drops, but now most have understood the deadliness of the infection,” said her father Abdul Shah, a zari embroidery-worker with a monthly income of Rs. 2,000.
HT visited several villages including Subharara, Beldubi, Golpara and Biti Hakola around the Kulai Rural Hospital and found many families have not got their children immunised, which can result in new infection and outbreaks and threaten India’s efforts to eradicate polio. A recent WHO report said pulse polio immunisation-awareness programmes are yet to gain momentum in Howrah and South 24 Parganas district, where about 2,000 polio booths are set up during each vaccination round to immunise children.
Around 500 families are still strongly reluctant to get their babies vaccinated with pulse polio oral drops. On behalf of the government, we, along with UNICEF and NGOs, are conducting regular awareness programmes and have got a positive response from some conservative families." "Many, unfortunately, are still against immunisation,” Dr Prasanta Biswas, polio monitoring officer in charge of Howrah. Religious leaders are regularly invited to raise health awareness. “They have read out the religious texts to persuade villagers to look after their children’s health. Panchla block is the most sensitive area in the state because of the last reported case was from here, but about 5 % of the roughly 30,000 children up to five years who need to be vaccinated are yet to be immunised with polio drops,” said Dr Biswas.

Indian Army chief: If our neighbours break rules, we won't sit quiet

In a strong message to Pakistan and China over ceasefire violations, Army chief Gen Bikram Singh said on Monday that India will not sit quiet if its neighbours break rules on the border. Addressing a press conference here, the Army chief said, "If rules are followed by our neighbors, we follow them too. If rules are broken, we won't sit on it, we will break them too." On Jammu & Kashmir, the Army chief said he was against tampering with Afspa in J&K. "Military viewpoint is that we have to wait for sometime to monitor the situation. Decision only after that," Gen Bikram Singh said when asked for his reaction on Afspa. We have a focused commitment towards enhancing the combat power of the Army, General Bikram Singh said. Speaking on the BDC agreement, the Army chief said, "This agreement will strengthen understanding at LAC level, HQ level and national level." He said there is zero tolerance towards human rights violation in the Army.

Former President of Pakistan Zardari strongly condemns the terrorist attacks on political workers
Former President Asif Ali Zardari Sunday strongly condemned the attack on Advisor to the Prime Minister, Amir Muqam in Shangla, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in which six policemen were killed and several others injured. He also condemned firing on the vehicle of Awami National Party leader Mian Mushtaq, killing him and two of his associates in Budh Bair. Asif Ali Zardari said the terrorists want to impose their distorted and obscured political and religious agenda on the people of Pakistan as they are enemies of country and want to derail democratic system in the country. Condemning the incident, he said that terrorists cannot weaken the resolve of the nation and the security forces to fight terrorism till the end.

Peshawar: Policeman injured in Peshawar explosion

A remote-controlled explosion occurred in Peshawar’s Badbher area Monday where the funeral prayer of slain Awami National Party (ANP) leader Mian Mushtaq Ahmed was scheduled to be held today, leaving one policeman injured, DawnNews reported.
According to the police, security arrangements were being made in Badbher’s Sulemankhel area in the suburbs of Peshawar for the funeral prayers of Mushtaq Ahmed.
A police mobile was transporting a walkthrough gate to be installed at a location when the explosion occurred. Subsequently, one policeman was injured.
Later, speaking to media representatives, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Badbher Faisal Wahid said two to two and a half kilograms of explosives were used in the making of the bomb that triggered the explosion. He said a search operation was underway in the area and 10 to15 suspects had been detained, adding that security was beefed up in the locality. The funeral prayer for Mushtaq Ahmed will be offered at 2 pm today. On Sunday, unknown gunmen shot dead ANP’s Mian Mushtaq along with two others in Peshawar, hours after a bomb attack in another part of the region killed five. The five were killed in two roadside bombs targeting Amir Muqam of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) party. The men killed in the Martoong area of Swat valley, which the Taliban controlled from 2007-2009, were members of Muqam's security detail.

Pakistan is new front line in war on polio

Taimur Khan
Madiha Shah and her cousin Fehmida, both UN-employed polio vaccination workers, were walking home when two men on a motorcycle sprayed them with bullets, killing both women.
Two other polio workers in Karachi were killed the same night by suspected Pakistani Taliban militants, all within 30 minutes.
“Her death has given me more courage to fight this war against polio,” said Gulnaz Shirazi, 32, Shah’s aunt who now supervises a vaccination team in Karachi’s Landhi Town neighbourhood where the women, aged 18 and 46, were murdered in December 2012.
Since September, more than a dozen polio vaccinators or their security personnel have been killed in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) in north-western Pakistan and Karachi in the south. As a result, about 300,000 children have not been immunised in a country that had 91 new cases confirmed last year – more than in the world’s other two polio endemic nations, Nigeria and Afghanistan. The attacks by militants in pockets of Karachi and in the north-west tribal areas threaten to undermine a revamped polio eradication campaign involving tens of thousands of workers that is being rolled out this year by health officials, Unicef and the World Health Organization. Yet despite the threats, those in the front line of that battle remain unbowed.
“Why should I be afraid?” asks Ms Shirazi, whose nephew was killed and whose brother survived a shooting last year. Both were working on the polio eradication campaign.
“My day [of death] is fixed, and God has given me this opportunity to play a role in saving our country’s children,” she said, sitting in a government clinic in Landhi, a mostly ethnic Pashtun neighbourhood that has come under the increasing control of Taliban militants from the country’s tribal areas. Along with polio workers, the militants have killed dozens of members of the local secular political party as they tighten their grip. While Pakistan’s umbrella Taliban group, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has not claimed responsibility for the killing of polio workers, its leaders have banned the vaccine drive in areas under their control. They call the vaccinations a western plot to make Muslims infertile and to spy on the group. In their propaganda, the religious extremists have effectively tied polio to US drone strikes, unpopular among many Pashtuns, as well as the CIA operation to use a fake hepatitis team to take a DNA sample from Osama bin Laden. Karachi is linked to Fata, which had five new polio cases last week, through growing migration as militant violence and army operations displace hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. And this city is likely where the global battle against polio, which costs around US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) annually, will be decided. “The nightmare situation is if polio spreads in Karachi,” said Dr Naqi Bukhari, a WHO official leading the vaccination efforts in the city. “If it spreads here it will spread across the world … it is the only megacity and global shipping port that is polio endemic.” Last year, the WHO confirmed the existence of polio virus for the first time in decades in Egypt, Syria, Israel and China, and found that they were the same strain, which originated in Karachi. It is likely that Pakistani militants who travelled to Syria to fight President Bashar Al Assad’s forces carried the virus to the Middle East, Dr Bukhari said. There is no cure for polio, which causes irreversible paralysis and can kill young children whose breathing muscles are affected. The global campaign to stamp out the virus completely has nearly succeeded, with just 223 cases reported in 2012, a drop from 350,000 cases in 1988, according to the WHO. But if polio continues to spread in Pakistan, and especially Karachi, where five new cases have been confirmed this month, the global rates will begin to rise again.
“Pakistan is the key geographic location in the fight,” Dr Bukhari said.
With a renewed sense of urgency, last year the Pakistani government revamped its strategy to increase the scope and effectiveness of vaccinations. In Karachi, the police were ordered to provide security to all polio teams. But even with 200 policemen, a campaign in the Gadap Town area, where there is a large TTP presence, came under attack by militants last month, though no workers were killed and the police managed to capture the TTP militant who led the attack, Amir Hamza. Despite the renewed efforts, the continuing lack of security is hampering the vaccination drives, said an official who works with a group of local women from Gadap called social mobilisers, whose job it is to persuade families to vaccinate. The official, who asked to remain anonymous, lives under threat from the TTP, and saw Unicef colleagues killed in Gadap in July 2012. “The refusals are increasing now because people are scared, and the quality of the campaign has decreased because of the security issue,” she said. The police help because they can intimidate people into taking the vaccination drops, but they also hurry workers along and sometimes do not allow them to enter houses they feel might be dangerous, she said. A team of female vaccination workers last week went door-to-door in Neelum Colony, a slum of tight alleyways, dirt paths and makeshift homes. The security risk is much lower in Neelum Colony than places like Gadap, but the required police escort failed to show up, and so the women went about their work unprotected. Though the police are receiving training to assist in vaccinations from Unicef and the Pakistan government, Nausheed Kesar, a local health official, said that high turnover of staff is her biggest problem.
“Just today 11 workers didn’t show up, and I also had a group of nursing students who dropped out because their parents were too concerned about their safety,” Ms Kesar said. “If workers who we’ve trained don’t show up, it prolongs the campaign and decreases quality.”
The vaccinators are also only paid the equivalent of $2.50 per day, and many times there are months-long delays in delivering the salaries. Pakistani officials said they plan to double the daily rate, but so far the pay raise has not occurred.
Across Pakistan vaccination rates have reached 90 per cent, with more than 33 million children vaccinated each year. But resistance from deeply religious segments of Karachi’s fast-growing Pashtun population has proved difficult to breach. In the highest-risk areas, both in terms of security and the prevalence of polio, many people are recent arrivals from Fata. In the tribal areas, they lived under draconian colonial-era laws and were subject to collective punishment by the Pakistani government, while receiving almost no services. Their communities have also suffered the most from the US drone war and Pakistan army counterinsurgency operations, which fuels suspicion of the state.
“The government is not interested in doing any work for us, there is no education, we are given nothing at government health facilities,” said Qari Saboor, a Pashtun cleric in Hijrat Colony. “The children get sick from water, which runs on the same line here as sewerage. But they come again and again for polio … why just this focus on polio?”
Because of the security threats across Karachi, the campaigns that are meant to last three days, can drag out for much longer and the refusal rates increase as a sense of annoyance sets in, said the vaccination official in Gadap Town.
“One polio drive is easy. Six times a year is very difficult, even though it is necessary for covering all the children,” said Dr Bukhari. “But polio is not people’s top concern. Security, education and sanitation are.”
On the outskirts of Karachi, a polio team, with the help of paramilitary Rangers, board every passenger bus coming into the city from other provinces, vaccinating nearly 1,000 children a day. On one bus, coming from the Swat valley, a social mobiliser moved down the rows of seats behind the vaccinators. A woman in niqab with two children refused to allow the workers to give the drops. As the passengers watched, she said, “No, this is not good for Muslims, I will not let you give it.” The mobiliser gently tried to persuade the mother, saying that all pilgrims on Haj are given the drops by Saudi Arabian authorities, but she held firm. “You do your work, but I refuse, this is my belief.”
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ولسمشر حامد کرزي د هنګو د اعتزاز حسن زړورتیا ستایلي دي
افغان ولسمشر حامد کرزي د هغه ځوان زړور عمل وستایه چې د خپل ځان په قربانولو سره یې د یو ځان مرګي برید مخه ونیوله. اعتزاز حسن د تیر زیارت په ورځ د خیبر پښتونخوا د هنګو په ابراهیم زو کې په خپل سکول د ځان مرګي برید ګر مخه ونیوله . له ارګ نه په خپاره شوې خبرپاڼه کې ليکل شوي د افغانستان ولسمشر حامد کرزي د اعتزاز حسن بهادري ستایلې، او وایې ترهګري د افغانستان او پاکستان خلکو ته ګډ ګواښ دی چې تر ټولو ډیر قربانیان یې د ډیورنډ کرښې دواړو غاړو اوسیدونکي دي. نن د قامي وطن پارټۍ مشر افتاب احمد خان شیرپاو هم د اعتزاز کلي ته ورغلی وو، او هلته یې د هغه له کورنۍ سره لیدلي. بلخوا پرون د پوځ یو چارواکي بریګیډیر ندیم ذکي د اعتزاز قبر ته ورغلی وو، او هغه ته یې د پوځ د مشر جنرال راحیل شریف لخوا د عقیدت پیرزونې وړاندې کړې. د پاکستان د پوځ مشر جنرل راحیل او وزیراعظم نواز شریف د اعتزاز حسن د قربانۍ او مړانې ستایینه کړی ده.

The Baloch march against enforced-disappearances reaches Khanpur
The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons Long March lead by Qadeer Baloch, Farzana Baloch and other family members of abducted Baloch activists reached Khanpur city of Sindh on Sunday. They started their walk from Ghari Yasen and travelled about 30 kilometres. It was their 31st from Karachi and day 56 from Quetta to Islamabad. Large numbers of Sindhi freedom loving men, women and children including members of JSQM (Bashir Qureshi), JSMM (Burfat), Baloch Qaumi Movement, Sindhi Adabi Sangat, and Pakistan Paramedical Staff, welcomed and join our march on the way. The leader of march, Qadeer Baloch, briefed Sindhi local media about the purpose of the march at different places. He said they started the first phase of their march from Quetta on 27 October 2013 and reached to Karachi on 22 November. The second phase of march was launched on 13 December 2013 from Karachi Press Club to Islamabad; altogether they have walked for 56 days to reach Khanpur today. It is estimated that it will take them about another 30 days to reach UN headquarters in Islamabad. Qadeer Baloch said: “We are marching against human rights violations in Balochistan which include on-going military operations, enforced-disappearances, torture and kill and dump policy of Pakistani state in Balochistan.” He added: “We do not expect justice from Pakistan because it continues its brutalities in Balochistan. People are still being abducted and killed. “We are pinning our hopes to the international community, international media and human rights organisations to raise their voice against state atrocities against Baloch people.” However, he said that so far the international media has also failed to bring the plight of Baloch people to world’s attention. “We have walked for 56 days but not a single media outlet has highlighted our march so far,” Qadeer Baloch told Balochwarna news. It is worth mentioning that yesterday the bullet ridden body of a teenage Baloch school boy was found in Kornadi area of Turbat and five other men were abducted from Dera Bugti area of Balochistan. At least three bodies have reportedly been found in Mastung town of Balochistan today (12.01.2014) The VBMP Long March Team thanked people of Sindh and Sindhi nationalist parties, civil societies, students, Paramedical staff and Baloch residents of Sindh for their continuous support for the VBMP’s walk for justice, freedom and humanity. VBMP team also thanked Baloch and other social media activists for their continuous support to long march and for highlighting human rights violations in Balochistan

Pakistan: Ambivalent on militancy

THE attacks keep mounting, the state keeps dithering, the politicians keep squabbling and the public remains as confused as ever. Yesterday’s attack on PML-N leader Amir Muqam in Shangla is just the latest in a seemingly endless stream of attacks across the length and breadth of the country — and destined to become yet another attack that did not cause an inflection point in the national response to militancy and terrorism. Witness the pusillanimous response of the political class to the bravery of 15-year-old Aitezaz Hussain — so much so that Imran Khan himself has voiced his disappointment at his own party’s government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. And while the prime minister and the army chief have shown some moral courage in recognising the ultimate sacrifice and unimaginable bravery of young Aitezaz Hussain, a more fitting response would be if the state finally developed some clarity on what the Taliban represent and why coexistence with their ideology ought to be unacceptable.
Yet, real change — of the good kind — is nowhere to be seen. So the questions have necessarily become grimmer too. What, exactly, will it take for the state to accept that the dialogue-first option is not a real strategy against militancy? A return to the devastating violence that wracked the country in the late 2000s and early 2010s? While the Taliban have proven they still have the ability to launch physically and psychologically devastating attacks, it is also almost certainly true that the sustained pressure put on them in various pockets across Fata and parts of KP by the military has affected their ability to achieve the level of violence of four or five years ago. Paradoxically, then, does a possible depletion of the Taliban’s capabilities — or at least a disruption of their network — mean that the state is willing to settle for a long-term bloody stalemate now? A stalemate in which neither side is poised to inflict the final blow on the other and one in which society, the economy and national psyche are left in a continually perilous state?
To denounce that possibility as craven surrender or supine leadership would be to miss the point. While those characterisations may well be true, the point at this stage really is to try and understand how a different course can be encouraged. Imran Khan and the religious right have staked out their positions. The PPP, the ANP and the MQM — essentially the secular left — showed their lack of ideas over five years. Now, the PML-N appears sympathetic to the idea of dialogue without necessarily being enthusiastic about it. The army appears itching to take on the TTP, but continues to be ambivalent about the idea of jihad and proxies. Somehow, from those variables, a more effective policy against militancy has to be crafted. But from where exactly is the existential question of today.

Pakistan's Hero Aitezaz Hassan: All recognise valour of Hangu hero but PTI govt

The 15-year-old Aitezaz Hassan Bangash is a hero. He laid his life on January 6 to save his Hangu schoolmates from falling victim to the devil designs of a suicide bomber.
Young Hassan did something that most of us, perhaps, would not even dare think about when a situation warrants. His parallel to none sacrifice is being eulogised by all except for some.
Foreign and local media has covered his valour with professional aplomb
Military authorities have also jumped in as well. Army chief sent in a representative to lay a wreath of flowers on the young hero’s last resting place and asked the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief secretary to recommend young Hassan for Sitara-i-Shujaat, ignoring that the same has already been done by the premier.
Senate has passed a resolution, recognising his and the bravery of Sindh police officer Chaudhry Aslam killed in a Karachi bomb blast on Thursday.
Malala Yousufzai, the internationally acclaimed peace and education activist from Swat, has reportedly announced Rs500,000 for Hassan’s family.
On a much larger scale, the young Bangash scion has become a household name. In family living rooms, friends’ gatherings, social networking sites, political conversations, people just can’t fail to recognise his service to humanity and bravery. Are we missing here something in listing out praise, affection, recognition with which people and institutions have responded to acknowledge the young man’s courage in preferring death over spinelessness? Yes, we are missing someone that is important because of its constitutional responsibility and moral obligation towards its people. Someone that is also important to directly serve an assurance to the young hero’s family, friends, and the whole of citizenry of Hangu and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, reminding them that there is somebody out there to feel their pain, shed tear on their loss, solace them in their difficult time, and stand bravely with them in a time when they need it the most. The silence with which the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has reacted to the young man’s courage or the carelessness with which it responded to the attack on the school is not so astonishing. The provincial assembly offered belated prayers (on Friday) for both Hassan and the Sindh police officer. Had it not been the police officer’s tragic death in a violent Taliban attack, the assembly might not have opted to remember the young hero.
One can put this argument across with certain degree of confidence because the assembly did not pay attention to the Hangu school attack in its sittings held between Monday and Friday: the day the attack occurred and the day the prayers were offered.Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and its major coalition partner Jamaat-i-Islami have over the past several months shown the tendency to protest and explode in condemnation only when a militant is killed in a US drone attack. They beat chest on every such occasion and term it a conspiracy to thwart peace prospects.
PTI chairman Imran Khan’s statement following the Sindh police officer’s murder did not come as a surprise either. The party’s stand towards militancy may not be in line with its own election manifesto, but it is consistent with its attempts to avoid confrontation with Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. There is a growing public perception that suggests the PTI leadership is frightened of challenging Taliban over their violence against humanity. The party supporters might differ with the observation by citing Imran Khan’s recent participation in the polio vaccination campaign in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as a reminder of going against Taliban.
However, Mr Khan’s participation in the vaccination campaign would have meant something really bigger if he had chosen to administer the polio vaccination drops to children in Peshawar or Swabi where the ruthless hands gunned down poor vaccinators in the recent. Instead, Mr Khan chose to administer drops to a grandson of his political ideologue Maulana Samiul Haq at a well guarded rural health centre at Akkora Khattak.
Governance requires a little more than rehashing old ideas to formulate forms and project them as a recipe for change. It also requires more than studying different laws to make a new regulation and claim it to be a new initiative. Laws are important. Equally important is the enforcement. Without strict and effective implementation good laws becomes a burden of history.
PTI has promised to ensure good governance. Its election manifesto serves as a sorry reminder of a document that has apparently lost meaning in today’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
PTI’s latest take on peace is well known. Peace cannot be established unless drone strikes are stopped. What if TTP does not agree to peace talks even if the drone strikes are stopped? TTP has already spoken its mind: its struggle is for the enforcement of Sharia in Pakistan, which means drone strikes are a secondary issue.
We can’t remind Chief Minister Pervez Khattak his role as a protector of the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. But, we can refer to his party’s election manifesto in which it clearly states that “PTI also recognises the scourge of terrorism and its devastating effect on Pakistan and its citizens.” Isn’t Aitezaz a victim of terrorism? Doesn’t he deserve justice? Shouldn’t we arrest the masterminds, who planned the ghastly attack on Hangu’s school?
These are the questions the answers to which are lost deep in PTI-led provincial government’s silence over the consistency with which terrorists have targeted people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since its taking office in June last.

Pakistan: Orya Maqbool Jan’s attack on Jinnah

By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Jinnah’s idea of Islam was of social justice and equality and never of narrow-minded interpretations by the orthodoxy
Famous civil-servant columnist Orya Maqbool Jan continues to claim — like a broken record — in column after column that Jinnah’s August 11 speech was made up by secret forces who were Lord Conwallis’ followers and who were secularists. His original claim was based on the fact that he looked through the record of the Civil and Military Gazette and he could not find it; hence the great civil servant concludes it must not exist. The Hindu, apparently, is not a reliable source because, well, it is ‘The Hindu’. Similarly, the record of the Indian Constituent Assembly with Indian legislators referring to Jinnah’s speech was also ‘tampered’ with I suppose. Jinnah papers have the complete record of the speech in Jinnah Papers Volume IV Appendix IX, Item 4: President’s address, but you guessed it — according to Orya Maqbool Jan that is tampered with as well. He claims that the Constituent Assembly debates are also made up, because, well, they were published on October 9, 1948 after Jinnah’s death.
He then claims erroneously that Selena Karim’s Secular Jinnah: What The Nation Does Not Know is his source. Perhaps he should read his source more carefully. Selena Karim questions a quote that Justice Munir had stated in his book Jinnah to Zia, not the Munir Report. This was not about the August 11 speech but Jinnah’s interview with Doon Campbell. The actual quote, which is much longer — which Selena refers to — in fact is even more clearly secular in the real sense of the word. How that becomes relevant to Orya Maqbool Jan’s claim that Jinnah never spoke on August 11 can only be explained when one sees how desperate Orya Maqbool Jan is now having been exposed rather badly.
One wonders what it is about the August 11 speech that bothers people like Orya Maqbool Jan that they would go to such lengths in denying the existence of a speech that really cannot be denied. The issue is obviously of the content. It is too fine for the philistines. Here we have our Quaid-e-Azam, the founding father of Pakistan, the largest Muslim majority state at the time, saying that the religion of a citizen should not matter to the state and indeed going even further and saying that, if this policy is followed, in due course of time, the political distinctions between Hindus and Muslims would cease to exist. To Jinnah’s mind, the question of ‘secular’ versus ‘Islamic’ did not even arise. The issue between Hindus and Muslims was a political question to him. He was schooled in the British tradition and there secularism and religion were never mutually exclusive. Toleration and equality of citizenship were the ideals to be achieved with progress and maturity. This was a constant view that Jinnah held throughout his life. It was there when he was a Congressman, it was there when he proposed the 14 points and it was there again when he warned Muslims against raising sectarian questions and theological debates. Jinnah’s idea of Islam was of social justice and equality and never of narrow-minded interpretations by the orthodoxy.
Perhaps if Orya Maqbool Jan had read Mr Jinnah’s speeches as a legislator in the Indian Central Legislature between 1910 to 1945 he would find many speeches far more ‘secular’ than the August 11 speech. I will, in due course, produce these speeches in public record but suffice to say that Jinnah remained consistent in the principle that the state should, at all costs, remain neutral and impartial on questions of religion. To Jinnah, at least, this was in no way contrary to the principles of Islam. He also said on December 17, 1947, speaking to the last session of the All India Muslim League, that Islam did not endorse an “ecclesiastical state”. Perturbed by this scurrilous claim against Jinnah by a civil servant on the payroll of the state — and who would not be perturbed when one makes such erroneous and patently false claims as Orya Maqbool Jan has done — I called up Dr Akbar S Ahmed who is visiting Pakistan and asked him what he made of this. Dr Akbar S Ahmed, who is an authority on Jinnah and on contemporary Islam, was categorical: “Jinnah did give the speech. I researched it in the course of my Jinnah quartet. The issue of Islamic versus secularism is a false binary. What Jinnah said on August 11 about an inclusive state is perfectly Islamic.” He suggested that Orya Maqbool Jan should read the Meesaq-e-Medina, where Jews and Muslims are described as one ummah or community. Maybe he feels that too is made up.
Jinnah’s August 11 speech, call it secular or Islamic, was one of the most remarkable speeches ever given. It shows the immensity of his vision and his idea of Pakistan. It calls for an inclusive society where no bars are placed against anyone on the basis of religion, sect or caste. It was the crowning glory of a passionate career devoted to constitutional advance and progress. The real reason that it bothers Orya Maqbool Jan is that it goes against the narrow minded and fanatical worldview our mighty civil servant holds. An opponent of democracy, Orya would sooner have the Taliban ruling Pakistan. To Orya, Islam is incompatible with democracy. To Jinnah, democracy was “in the blood of every Musalman”. Well too bad; Jinnah, the founder/maker of Pakistan, was a liberal democrat all his life. No amount of mental gymnastics and odious claims by dishonest civil servants can change that fact, try as they may. Now that is what hurts people like Orya Maqbool Jan so much. As for Pakistan, for now the Oryas, dime a dozen, have managed to thwart Jinnah’s magnificent vision; not for long though. Ultimately, truth will triumph, Inshallah.