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Raiding hideouts: Police arrest a target killer

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 14:44

KARACHI: District Malir police claim to have arrested on Sunday a member of a banned religious outfit, allegedly involved in half-a-dozen cases of targeted killings in the city. During the course of interrogation, the suspect Hasan Abbas confessed to have been involved in target killings in various localities, including Khawaja Ajmair Nagri, Shah Faisal Colony, Soldier Bazaar, Ibrahim Hyderi and Malir City area, said SSP Dr Najeeb Ahmed. The accused was arrested from Malir when the police raided his hideout, following a tip-off, he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Blame game: Govt’s flood relief effort claims are ‘false’

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 14:43

SUKKUR: The chairperson of the Jeay Sindh Mahaz (JSM), Riaz Chandio, said he visited different cities and towns of the Ghotki district, during which he observed that all the claims made by the government regarding rescue and relief work are false. He claimed that nothing has been done to minimise the suffering of the people. The residents of the affected villages are conducting evacuations on their own, because there is no one to rescue them, he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2015. 

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Charity: CM donates Rs50m for Chitral relief

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 14:42

KARACHI: Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah expressed sorrow over the casualties and devastation caused by torrential rains in Chitral and announced a donation of Rs50 million for the relief and rescue works for the people. In his statement, the chief minister sympathised with the families suffering from heavy rains and floods, assuring them that the Pakistan Peoples Party stands with them in this difficult time. He also contacted the opposition leader in the National Assembly, Khurshed Shah, and asked him to convey his sympathetic sentiments to the affected people of Chitral.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Ecological suicide

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 14:14

The mounting evidence that we are moving along the fast track to ecological suicide can no longer be denied. A new word ‘endling’ has been coined to describe an individual which is the last of its species. There are too many recorded tragedies of endlings who issued mating calls, but there was no one left to answer them. In Cut From History, author Eric Freedman writes that “It is deep-to-the-bone chilling to know the exact date a species disappeared from Earth. It is even more ghastly to … know that nobody knew or cared.” Elizabeth Kolbert details the depressing facts in her book entitled The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. She estimates that about half of the species of plants and animals currently in existence will die out by 2050. This is not due to any natural catastrophe, but rather due to destructive effects of human activities.

Human beings use the world’s atmosphere as an open sewer for the daily dumping of more than 90 million tonnes of gaseous waste. Unless we can urgently change this pattern, the resulting rise in global temperatures will melt polar ice, resulting in permanent and catastrophic changes. According to reputable climatologist James Hansen, the man-made pollution already in the atmosphere traps as much extra heat energy every 24 hours as would be released by the explosion of 400,000 Hiroshima-class nuclear bombs. The resulting rapid warming of both the atmosphere and the ocean, which Kolbert notes has absorbed about one-third of the carbon dioxide we have produced, is wreaking havoc on earth’s delicately balanced ecosystems. It threatens both the web of living species with which we share the planet and the future viability of civilisation. “By disrupting these systems,” Kolbert writes, “we’re putting our own survival in danger.”

The most recent parallel to the current mass extinction occurred some 66 million years ago when a six-mile-wide asteroid collided with earth, wiping out the dinosaurs, and vast numbers of plant and animal species. Today, Kolbert documents a similar mass extinction event, which is happening in the geologic blink of an eye. The present extinction rate in the tropics is “on the order of 10,000 times greater than the naturally occurring background extinction rate”. This time, we cannot blame a giant asteroid. We have caused this catastrophe by altering environmental conditions on our planet so swiftly and dramatically that a large proportion of other species cannot adapt. Our own future is at risk as well, since we have fundamentally altered the fragile climate balance which fostered the flourishing of the human civilisation.

The earth’s water cycle is being dangerously disturbed, as warmer oceans evaporate more water vapour into the air. Global humidity has increased by an astonishing four per cent in just the last 30 years, causing larger and more frequent floods and mudslides. The extra heat is also absorbed in the top layer of the seas, which makes ocean-based storms more frequent and more destructive.

Our oceans, a crucial food source for billions, have become not only warmer but also more acidic than they have been in millions of years. We have overloaded their capacity to absorb excess heat and carbon pollution, causing destruction of entire ecosystems like coral reefs and rainforests. The same extra heat pulls moisture from soil in drought-prone regions, causing deeper and longer-lasting droughts.

Food crops are threatened by the disruption of long-predictable rainy-season-dry-season patterns, and also by the growing impact of heat stress itself on corn, wheat, rice and other staples. The melting Arctic ice cap is changing the heat absorption at the top of the world, which will lead to dramatic world-changing and irreversible climate change. In particular, the melting ice will accelerate the rise in sea level and drown low-lying coastal cities and regions. Everywhere the intricate interconnections crucial to sustaining life are increasingly being pulled apart. The individualist free-market system encourages all to pursue short-run growth without regard for long-term consequences. The Frankenstein’s monster that we have created in the form of corporations is running on its own steam, pursuing profit without any social responsibility. Without making radical changes, we cannot avoid the complete “Collapse” that Jared Diamond has so graphically warned about.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

The medium-term outcome of the nuclear deal

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 14:06

Iran is a complex country placed right in the middle of a highly complex world. It is surrounded by a number of states openly hostile to it. Tehran reacted to the sanctions imposed on it by the West and the United Nations by supporting a number of militias, including the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Mehdi Army in Iraq. It has also been a strong supporter of the beleaguered regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. While the monarchies of the Gulf, in particular Saudi Arabia, were openly suspicious of Iran’s intentions in the region, they found themselves on the same side as Tehran in dealing with the rise of the extremist Islamic Caliphate, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (IS). All this is likely to change as a result of the transformation of the Iranian economy in the next decade and a half. This is the period during which the large powers would like to see Tehran to take a number of actions to give comfort to the world outside that had no intention of going nuclear.

Most analysts agree that it will take 10 to 15 years before the impact of the July 14 deal with Iran becomes fully apparent. The sceptics paint a dark picture. They are of the view that once the period of vigilant and intrusive inspection is over, Iran will go quickly nuclear, acquire several weapons and the systems to deliver them, and begin brandishing the new weaponry to have its way in the region. It would thus become a dominant player in the region but its rise will be challenged by other governments. Not only that, Israel, perhaps supported by Arab monarchies, could opt for military action to contain Iran. Militarisation of the area, already underway, will pick up pace.  The July agreement, therefore, lost the leverage that had been obtained to influence Tehran. A slight tightening of the sanctions screw would have yielded more rewards — the objective should have been to eliminate altogether any probability of Iran going nuclear, not just postponing it.

It is interesting that in the long interview President Obama gave to the journalist Thomas L Freidman to explain why he had used so much of his political capital to sign the deal with Iran, the president focused entirely on the impact it will have on curtailing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. He brushed aside the belief that the deal will have consequences beyond the nuclear field. He limited the scope of the impact in order to focus on the criticism that he had not negotiated an airtight agreement. “Don’t judge me on whether this deal transforms Iran, ends Iran’s aggressive behaviour toward some of its Arab neighbours or leads to detente between sects. Judge me on one thing: does this deal prevent Iran from breaking out with a nuclear weapon for the next 10 years and is a better outcome for America, Israel, and our Arab allies than any other alternative on the table?”

I offer an outcome of the deal that is more far-reaching than the one suggested by President Obama in his Freidman interview. Let us speculate what could result from the deal 15 years hence, by the year 2030. That will be the time when the restrictions imposed by the deal on Iran would have run their course and the country will be required to abide by the framework to which it had agreed when it signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). By that time, Iran would have fully established itself as a responsible and political regional power. The economy would have revived; it would not only have overcome the slack resulting from years of sanctions, but also begun to make full use of its enormous energy resources and human resource potential. Growing at an average of 10 per cent a year — up from the depressed growth rate of only 3.0 per cent at this time — its economy would have quadrupled in size, reaching a total output of $1.75 trillion at today’s prices. It would have added another 22 million to its population, reaching 100 million by 2015. Per capita income would have reached $17,500. By 2015, the rate of unemployment had reached the worrying level of 20 per cent, affecting especially women (20.3 per cent unemployed) and youth (24 per cent unemployed). Economic growth and restructuring of the economy will bring down the unemployment rate to five per cent. It was the high rate of unemployment that no doubt persuaded the regime to agree to the terms of the 2015 deal with P5+1.

Although Iran has the second largest reserves of natural gas and the fourth largest oil reserves, it would have diversified its exports away from energy products to manufacturing and modern services. Nonetheless, it will become the central hub of intra-continental gas and oil pipelines linking not only its own energy fields but also that of with Central Asia with China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline confined to the cold storage would have been revived and linked with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Four non-Arab Muslim states — Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan — will probably establish a sub-regional economic and trading arrangement.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Post-judicial commission politics

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 13:59

The report of the judicial commission rejected the complaints of the PTI and several other opposition parties that the May 2013 general elections were rigged and manipulated. By declaring these elections a true and fair reflection of the mandate of the electorate, the judicial commission provided legal legitimacy to the 2013 election and the electoral victory of the PML-N. The PTI is now facing a major political setback.

The judicial commission, however, has not resolved the issue of political acceptability of the results of the elections. It was not only the PTI that had complained about the election results; several other political parties, including those that supported the PML-N in the context of the protest by the PTI, also questioned the legitimacy of the election results. The legal legitimacy given by the judicial commission will not change the opinion of all these political parties regarding the elections. Therefore, the general elections and the PML-N’s ascendancy to power will continue to be questioned on political grounds by many political activists and parties.

The report of the judicial commissions represents a conservative and status quo-oriented approach. It took advantage of the terms of reference to downplay irregularities and procedural violations, including non-authentication of votes and multiple voting by one person, and declared these elections fair and free on aggregate. The second term of reference sought to know if the elections were manipulated in a “systematic effort by design”. The judicial commission assigned priority to ‘systematic’ or ‘by design’ manipulation over other issues that had undermined the credibility of the elections. It was clear during the proceedings of the judicial commission that systematic and planned rigging would not be proved. As the PTI could not prove systematic manipulation by an institution, government or political party, the judicial commission was able to confirm the first and third terms of reference, giving legal legitimacy to the elections.

Although the commission noted procedural and other violations in the elections, these could not influence the opinion of its members because they confined their inquiry to the issue of systematic and planned manipulation. In a way, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), as well as judicial and other officials on duty on polling day have also got a clean chit because procedural irregularities were not given weight.

The advice by the judicial commission to improve the management of the elections is not expected to carry much weight because if the elections represented the true and fair mandate of the people despite a host of deficiencies, why rectify those shortcomings? Why should the government or the ECP worry about these issues when these are not relevant in determining the credibility of the electoral process? The PML-N will focus on the legal aspects and the PTI and other political parties on political dimensions, thus reviving their mutual conflict. It will be three or four months before this conflict takes a definite shape. By that time the flood season and local bodies elections would either be over, or postponed.

The PTI cannot return to the slogan of electoral manipulation. It will have to explore new ideas to attract people other than its core supporters. The PTI derives major support from the middle and upper classes. It can no longer ignore the populace from the lower strata of society. New sets of issues are required to attract this section of the population. The PTI needs to pay attention to its organisational and internal discipline problems, and Imran Khan should use caution in making political statements and avoid returning to the old habit of public displays of sympathy for the Pakistani Taliban. He should adopt a non-ambiguous position on social and economic inequities in society, privatisation of state assets, and religious extremism and militancy. It would not be advisable to revive the dharna strategy of 2014. New strategies like public meetings and mass-level mobilisation need to be considered. Another issue pertains to the PTI working with other political parties. Its strategy of ‘solo flight’ requires a review.

The PPP’s declining fortune will not be retrieved as long as its leadership protects its interest by identifying with Nawaz Sharif. It faces organisational and leadership crises in Punjab that have turned it into a feeble and directionless political entity. Its activists are depressed and dismayed.

The ruling PML-N needs to change its policy of doling out state funds as gifts from the prime minister or the chief minister of Punjab. Instead, it should invest financial and administrative resources in coping with the energy shortages and the declining industrial output. Unless these two issues are addressed on a priority basis, the problem of poverty and under-development cannot be tackled in Pakistan.

The PML-N’s approach of conceding policymaking and implementation space to the military may work as long as the military-Rangers action is confined to Karachi where the PML-N has hardly any direct political stake. If the military decides to adopt a similar approach to control militancy, corruption and administrative inefficiency in Punjab, the PML-N will find it difficult to pursue stable relations with it.

Any attempt to retrieve the political initiative from the military can threaten the already fragile and semi-functional democracy in Pakistan.

While the PTI and the PPP need to revise their political strategies, the PML-N needs to recognise that its current triumph will prove to be short-lived if it continues to pursue its ongoing narrow and personalised governance based on the traditional sultan model. It needs to prefer professionalism to political loyalty and adopt socioeconomic policies that benefit the common people on a permanent basis, rather than pursuing glamorous construction projects that have much scope for corruption. The current floods will increase popular discontent against the ruling party, and serve as the backdrop to another confrontation between the government and the opposition.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Emerging diplomacy

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 13:48

“Even with your adversaries, I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes, and if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran,” stated Barack Obama after the US signed a nuclear deal with Iran. Obama has been using the end of his final term to push forward with bold diplomatic moves. Where his predecessors stood firm on outdated positions, he has opened the door to mending relationships. Not only did the US sign a nuclear deal with Iran last week, it also restored diplomatic ties with Cuba. The two countries have reopened their embassies after a span of 54 long years. Time will tell if these two events will signify a permanent change in the way US foreign policy is conducted or if the next administration or opposing political powers will sabotage possible outcomes as some rivals have already threatened to do.

Obama may be acting on his own will or perhaps he’s been inspired by the vocal opinions of American voters. Many welcomed a winding down of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts after more than a decade of foreign wars waged in their name. Reports of CIA designed coups, and private US companies like Black Water and Lockheed Martin raking in record-breaking profits from security services and weapon sales worldwide made the conflicts even less palatable. When the president opened up air strikes in Syria to a vote in Congress, the outpouring of opposition to the idea was deafening. Multiple representatives said that 99 per cent of phone calls to their offices were against military action.

History shows that many US leaders have struggled with the war machine since the Second World War. Dwight Eisenhower, a former general, famously warned of a rising influence as he departed office in 1961 when he said, “… we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” George Bush exemplified what Eisenhower cautioned against by selecting Dick Cheney to be his vice-president (VP). Cheney was an outgoing CEO of Halliburton at the time, but retained stock options worth $18 million and continued to collect nearly $2 million in deferred payments from the military contractor while serving as VP. Those figures may sound like a lot of money, but the compensation represented less than one hundredth of a per cent of the $50 billion in contracts awarded to Halliburton and their subsidiaries during the Iraq war.

Obama won the presidential election on the promise of ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he has scaled back military action in those regions. US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been reduced to the status of ‘advisers’ and private security contractors. However, through an increased reliance on unmanned aircraft to carry out its will in other nations, the US can’t exactly be viewed as a pacifist. With presidential elections looming, the nuclear deal with Iran and the restoration of Cuba-US relations might be viewed as a last effort to create a legacy or it may be a sign of change to come where the US government gives diplomacy preference to military intervention.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

And the truth remained

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 13:40

Now that the Judicial Commission has given its report and the prime minister has ordered that it be made public, the expectation is that the government now focuses on more important things like good governance and a fight against corruption. Or possibly combat poverty or have a system in place to bring relief to those suffering on account of natural disasters.

Having said that, if recent statements by the PM and his younger brother are anything to go by, we are not really sure whether the report will allow us to move ahead. One recalls with some consternation how the country remained in limbo between August and December last year as the PTI dharna brought the country to a standstill. Let us hope not to repeat those episodes.

So far, the triumph has been of the PML-N and its allies. In a hastily arranged address to the nation, a visibly relieved Nawaz Sharif welcomed the report which he claimed had absolved his party of allegations of rigging in the 2013 general election. But the speech was somewhat below expectations.

Our PM talked about his party more than about the country. “Our hands were clean. We gave them everything because we were convinced of our innocence,” he told us, adding “The truth remained the truth and falsehood was defeated.”

One may recall that the deal was that the Nawaz Sharif government would resign if the allegations levelled were proven to be true. So it must have come as a relief to the prime minister that he will now be able to complete his tenure, barring any more unexpected dharnas or surprises. But what’s the plan now, Mr PM?

What we have seen is that the PM seems to be moving back once again. For example, the move by Punjab chief minister Shabaz Sharif demanding an inquiry into who was behind the dharna will only result in more mud-slinging and confrontation. This will get us nowhere.

All that remains is that Imran Khan and his party accept the on-ground reality and work towards the next general elections if they are to look for a change of government.  This is easier said than done.

In his first public reaction to the verdict of the inquiry commission, Imran Khan demanded that the PM apologise to the nation “since the verdict had vindicated PTI’s demand of an inquiry into the May 2013 general election.” This makes us all a bit confused. Have no lessons been learnt?

What is more worrisome for us is not that we are unclear on who has been vindicated but that there stand two claimants to the victory stand. But then again, in the way politics is played in Pakistan, all this remains part of the game.

In the words of my colleague Fahd Hussain, all that matters now is 2018. In his column which appeared earlier in this paper, he has given advice to the PTI leader to keep his eye on the ball. Let us hope that Imran Khan’s party is able to deliver in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province where they have been given a mandate so that they have something to showcase at the time of the next general elections.

On a larger scale, what is the plan for taking Pakistan forward? The PM has undertaken in his post-report speech that the lot of the people in Pakistan will be better off by the end of the tenure of his government if compared to when he took office. Possibly this may hold true for the people of Punjab and KP provinces, but for the rest of Pakistan it is a sheer myth. Sindh continues to be run on an ad-hoc basis by a coalition of forces of which the leadership does not even reside here. So much for ownership of the province.

Our nation continues facing all sorts of challenges. Contrary to what our politicians and some scientists will have us believe, global warming is not a world conspiracy. We are once again facing the spectre of floods and all the death and destruction that goes with it. As has happened in the past, our government has been unable to make adequate provisions to save lives and help people. We now need to tackle the real problems our country is facing. If we don’t, it will be back to square one in 2018, if not worse.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

An unhealthy nation

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 13:22

It is becoming clear that problems that emerged following the devolution of powers that occurred post-18th Amendment have still not been dealt with in an efficient manner. As is the case with education, which has suffered with the devolution of budgets and responsibilities, so it is with health services. By devolving money and responsibility to the provinces, none of whom were ready in terms of capacity to absorb the cash or the additional administrative burdens that go with it, there has been a loss of a ‘national vision’ in respect of shared aspirations for improving healthcare provision. Devolution has rendered the federal agencies and departments working with health, in large part, inoperative, mainly because their roles and responsibilities are now unclear. This is especially true of the Ministry of National Health Services Regulation and Coordination, which needs to review its policies across the board and reformulate a national action plan.

The body is not helped by the fact that the provinces are not as yet up to speed regarding legislative and administrative structures in respect of health. There is a wide disparity between the progress of each province in completing these key tasks. The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) have mostly been missed by Pakistan, and they are to be replaced in 2016 by Sustainable Development Goals, which are no more likely to be met than were the MDGs. There is an urgent need for the creation of a national vision document for health. Currently, there are indications that health care spending at the provincial level is actually dropping, aggregating nationally to 0.4 per cent of GDP. This has potentially catastrophic implications. The failure to have developed a national vision is also impacting on a range of international responsibilities that Pakistan has as a result of being a signatory to treaties that carry a national reporting requirement. With no cross-provincial uniformity in reporting standards, quality assurance of medicines and regulation of health professionals, Pakistan is failing in its obligations. This is a failure of vision that blinds us all.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Deceptive freedom

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 13:13

Our media may on the surface look free. We have, over the years, seen a rapid multiplication of news outlets, notably of TV channels, and also of FM radio stations. But there is a deception in this. While talk shows, discussion programmes and news bulletins may seem to display a great deal of media freedom, the reality is quite different. In essence, there are topics that few dare discuss and as the Paris-based organisation, Reporters Without Borders, reported in its latest publication, there have been an increasing number of attacks on media professionals in Pakistan. A few weeks ago, a journalist in Balochistan was murdered in his home; before that, there have been numerous other killings of journalists all over the country. In all, 56 journalists in Pakistan have been killed since 1992 according to international monitoring groups.

In some cases of violence against journalists, criminal mafias and political elements appear to be responsible; in others, the hand of terror outfits cannot be ruled out. The purpose, of course, is to silence voices and prevent the truth from emerging. The state has essentially failed in its duty to offer journalists the security they need to pursue their profession without fear of death. The current state of affairs has meant that fewer media professionals are willing to risk exploring stories which may be of huge public interest, but bringing them into limelight may put lives in jeopardy. Government organisations do not help matters either. Media advisories, something Pakistani newspapers have been familiar with since the earliest days of the country’s inception, continue to come in, in essence acting as a warning against what can be written and what should be avoided when it comes to certain issues. Restricting freedom in this manner inflicts more harm than good. Journalists, whether they operate in remote parts of the country or in mega cities, essentially have no protection. This makes them the easiest of targets and the attacks on them act to eliminate dissent in a society desperately in need of free, open discussion and a wider range of thought.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th,  2015.

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Musharraf among ‘great personalities’ in Indian school book

Sat, 07/25/2015 - 04:57

Former president Pervez Musharraf has been cited among “great personalities” in an Indian school book.

The book for students of grade three of a private school in India’s Jabalpur area hails the former military ruler among “great personalities” and even features a picture of his.

However, the institution, Christ Asha School, has withdrawn the book following strong objection from the District Bar Association (DBA) in Jabalpur. The bar association complained to district authorities about Musharraf’s cameo in the book.

The inclusion of Musharraf shocked Indian authorities as the former military chief was largely responsible for the Kargil War in Kashmir.

Read: Going for the jugular: India will never forget Kargil war, says Musharraf

“The book written by Pankaj Jain and published by Gayatri Publication has put Musharraf’s picture among the portraits of six great personalities,” officials of the DBA were quoted as saying.

They added, ”This is highly objectionable. Under the Musharraf regime in Pakistan, the Kargil War took place, in which many Indian soldiers lost their lives.”

Commenting on the irresponsibility of the central education departments, the officials said, “It is a folly on the part of the state and central education departments that a lesson is being taught to children at this tender age which shows Musharraf as a great personality. This amounts to playing with the future of the children.”

Read: A divided house: Musharraf to try uniting Leagues

A petition was filed by the DBA to the district magistrate in which they sought action against the writer and publisher of the book. The publisher, however, claims that its content was in accordance with the syllabus of National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT).

The magistrate then wrote a letter to the NCERT and state departments to look into the issue and said, “The departments concerned will make a call on it.”

Further, the principal of the school, Manorama Awasthi, confirmed, “When the content of the book was brought to our notice, we immediately withdrew it.”

This article originally appeared on One India

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Obama says ‘Africa on the move’ in landmark Kenya visit

Sat, 07/25/2015 - 04:57

NAIROBI: US President Barack Obama declared Saturday that “Africa is on the move”, praising the spirit of entrepreneurship at a business summit in Kenya as he kicked off a landmark visit.

Obama arrived in Kenya late on Friday, making his first visit to the country of his father’s birth since he was elected president.

“I wanted to be here, because Africa is on the move, Africa is one of the fastest growing regions in the world,” Obama said.

US President Barack Obama sits alongside his step-grandmother, Mama Sarah (L) and half-sister Auma Obama (R), during a gathering of family at his hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, July 24, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

“People are being lifted out of poverty, incomes are up, the middle class is growing and young people like you are harnessing technology to change the way Africa is doing business,” Obama told the entrepreneurship summit in his first official engagement in Nairobi.

The US embassy itself warned the summit could be “a target for terrorists”, but Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, sharing the stage with Obama, said the event showed a different side to Africa.

“The narrative of African despair is false, and indeed was never true,” Kenyatta said. “Let them know that Africa is open and ready for business.”

A massive security operation was under way in Nairobi, with parts of the usually traffic-clogged capital locked down and airspace also closed for the president’s landing on Friday and his scheduled departure late Sunday for neighbouring Ethiopia.

Top of the list of security concerns is Somalia’s al Qaeda-affiliate, the Shebab, who have staged a string of suicide attacks, massacres and bombings on Kenyan soil. Two years ago a Shebab assault on the Westgate shopping mall in the heart of the capital left 67 dead.

Obama said he was delighted to be back.

“It is wonderful to be back in Kenya,” Obama said, also drawing cheers and applause by greeting the summit with a few words of Swahili. “I’m proud to be the first US president to visit Kenya, and obviously this is personal for me. My father came from these parts.”

Barack Obama Sr was a pipe-smoking economist who the US leader has admitted he “never truly” knew. He walked out when Obama was just two and died in a car crash in Nairobi in 1982, aged 46.

Excitement has been building in Kenya for weeks, with the visit seen as a major boost for the east African nation’s position as a regional hub — something that has taken a battering in recent years due to Shebab attacks and political violence that landed Kenyan leaders in the International Criminal Court.

The visit is also the first ever to Kenya by a sitting US president, and at least 10,000 police officers have also been deployed to the capital.

Kenyatta greeted Obama as he stepped off Air Force One late Friday. The president’s half-sister Auma was also on the tarmac to welcome him and travel in the bomb-proof presidential limousine, nicknamed “The Beast”, for the drive to the hotel in the city centre, where Obama dined with members of his extended Kenyan family.

Counter-terrorism will be a key topic for discussion in bilateral talks with Kenyatta on Saturday afternoon.

Nairobi was the scene of one of al Qaeda’s twin 1998 US embassy bombings, and Kenya is now the target of frequent Shebab attacks, while the country’s Muslim-majority regions are facing a major recruitment drive by the extremists.

The United States is a key security partner for Kenya, which has troops in Somalia as part of the African Union force, and US drones frequently target Shebab fighters — killing the group’s previous leader last year.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, pictured on June 27, 2015, said gay rights would not be on the agenda when US President Barack Obama visits the country. PHOTO: AFP

A presidential visit to Kenya had been put on hold while Kenyatta faced charges of crimes against humanity for his role in 2007-08 post-election violence. The ICC has since dropped the case, citing a lack of evidence and accusing Kenya of bribing or intimidating witnesses.

Kenyatta, however, has signalled that his controversial Deputy President William Ruto, still on trial at the ICC and outspokenly homophobic — having describing gays as “dirty” — would be present when government officials meet Obama.

Asked earlier this week whether gay rights would be discussed, Kenyatta insisted it was “a non-issue”, but Obama, in an interview with the BBC just ahead of the visit, said he was “not a fan of discrimination and bullying” and that this would be “part and parcel of the agenda”.

Read: Gay rights ‘non issue’, Kenyan president says ahead of Obama visit

On Sunday Obama will meet with members of Kenya’s civil society, who have complained of growing restrictions in the country. He is not scheduled to visit his father’s grave in the village of Kogelo in western Kenya, and bemoaned the heavy security restrictions earlier this month.

“I will be honest with you, visiting Kenya as a private citizen is probably more meaningful to me than visiting as president, because I can actually get outside of the hotel room or a conference centre,” Obama said.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Monsoon troubles Nepal quake survivors three months on

Sat, 07/25/2015 - 04:51

KATHMANDU: As dark clouds loomed overhead, Rabi Baral hurriedly secured his tent to the ground at a camp for victims of Nepal’s earthquake, three months after the disaster upended his life.

The 7.8-magnitude quake on April 25 destroyed the 41-year-old’s home and left him without a job, forcing him and his young family to take refuge in a makeshift camp in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu.

“The rain has made life even more difficult, but we have no choice right now,” Baral told AFP.

Read: Toll in devastating Nepal quake rises to 1,341: Police

As his wife Parwati nursed their 18-month-old son, Baral said he was desperate to return home to the hills east of Kathmandu but was too afraid to risk travelling on quake-hit roads that now face the threat of landslides triggered by heavy rains.

“We are in limbo right now. I am counting days for monsoon to end so we can plan ahead,” he said.

Three months on, Nepal is still reeling from the impact of the earthquake that killed over 8,800 people and flattened nearly 600,000 homes, leaving thousands in desperate need of food, clean water and shelter.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), landslides are already hampering delivery of relief supplies to mountainous villages and there are concerns that the monsoon could trigger an outbreak of diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases.

Edwin Salvador, Emergency and Humanitarian Technical Officer at WHO Nepal, told AFP that the agency had already delivered three months’ worth of medicines to remote villages at risk of landslides to ensure adequate supplies in the event of an emergency.

“After the earthquake hit, we were thinking forward to prepare for the monsoon,” Salvador said.

“There hasn’t been a health crisis so far, but preparedness is key. We are working closely with the community to prevent any such outbreak,” he added.

Nepal’s economy — one of the world’s weakest even before the disaster — was hit hard by the quake, with the country’s annual GDP forecast to grow just three percent, the lowest in eight years.

Growth prospects have plummeted in crucial sectors like agriculture and tourism, with the disaster destroying crops and triggering deadly avalanches at Mount Everest base camp and on the popular Langtang trekking route, which remains closed to visitors.

In a bid to lure foreign visitors back, Nepal recently called in international experts to assess the safety of the popular Everest and Annapurna trekking routes.

Engineers from Miyamoto, a US-based firm, found that the Annapurna route was largely unaffected, with only six of 250 guesthouses assessed showing repairable damage. They plan to release their findings on quake-hit Everest next month.

“Our priority right now is to send out a positive message that Nepal is safe for travel,” said Tulsi Gautam, chief of Nepal’s tourism department.

“If we use this time to reassure our visitors, I am sure that tourism will bounce back in our next peak season which begins October,” Gautam added.

According to the government’s estimates, the Himalayan nation will need around $6.7 billion to fund rebuilding, with donors already offering pledges worth $4.4 billion for reconstruction.

The government wants reconstruction funds to be channelled through a new state body, raising concerns that bureaucracy and poor planning will delay rebuilding.

One month after the government pledged to lay out a clear roadmap to recovery at a donors’ meet, Kathmandu is yet to set up the new body, while homeless victims have received just $150 out of a promised $2,000 to rebuild their houses.

“The new fiscal year has just begun. We are in the process of establishing the reconstruction authority,” said Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat.

“We are at the beginning of the reconstruction phase. Our ministries are preparing rebuilding plans”, Mahat told AFP.

The remittance sector was one of the rare areas that saw growth even after the quake, with money transfers increasing by 11.2 percent to $5.55 billion in the first 11 months of this fiscal year, according to Nepal’s central bank.

Every year, thousands of young people leave Kathmandu in search of jobs in India, South East Asia and the Gulf nations, keeping the economy afloat with the earnings they send home.

After the disaster, many Nepalis are looking overseas to secure the funds they need to rebuild their lives, with quake survivor Baral saying that he hopes to go to India to find work.

“Where else will the money come from? I have a family to take care of, I have to rebuild,” he said.

The post Monsoon troubles Nepal quake survivors three months on appeared first on The Express Tribune.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

The first look of Katrina Kaif, Saif Ali Khan in ‘Phantom’

Sat, 07/25/2015 - 04:46

After setting the box office on fire with his last release Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Kabir Khan is finally out with the dramatic first posters of his much-delayed film Phantom, reported IndiaToday. 

Bruised, unkempt hair and blindfolded. This is the first look of Saif Ali Khan and Katrina Kaif in Kabir Khan’s much-anticipated film Phantom. 

Read: Saif shrugs off ‘love jihad’ notion

The director took to micro-blogging site Twitter to share the first look of both the actors in Phantom.

Coming soon… PHANTOM

— Kabir Khan (@kabirkhankk) July 23, 2015

Here it is… PHANTOM first look

— Kabir Khan (@kabirkhankk) July 23, 2015

Since the first pictures from the film sets went viral in 2013, Phantom has created a frenzy among fans. The delay in the release of the film has kept Phantom in headlines for past two years.

After Race 2, this is the second time that Katrina and Saif will share screen space. Phantom is a spy-action-thriller in which Saif is reportedly playing a spy while Katrina will essay the role of a photo journalist.

Read: KJo and Ash working together after 17 years

Based on post 26/11 Mumbai attacks and global terrorism, Phantom has been shot in Beirut, Turkey, Canada, Mumbai, Kashmir and Punjab. The film will hit the screens on August 28.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

At least 55 killed as Saudi-led warplanes hit Yemen’s Taiz: Saba

Sat, 07/25/2015 - 04:36

SABA: A Saudi-led airstrike on Yemen’s Taiz killed at least 55 people and left tens injured, Houthi-controlled news agency Saba said on Saturday.

A coalition of Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, has been bombarding Iran-allied Houthi forces in Yemen since late March in a bid to reinstate President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has fled to Riyadh.

The Saba agency quoted a local source in Taiz as saying that the bombing targeted the Mokha area inhabited mostly by engineers and workers of a power station and some displaced families.

The number of casualties is expected to rise as rescue services are still working in the area and several of those injured and transferred to nearby hospitals are in serious condition, the source said.

The frontlines of Yemen’s war shifted to the favor of the Gulf Arab coalition earlier this month when in coordination with forces loyal to Hadi they managed to drive the Houthis out of the southern port city of Aden and much of the surrounding areas.

Since then warplanes have been landing in Aden airport carrying equipment necessary to help re-open the facility which had been shut down by the fighting.

Aden and the other southern provinces have been largely inaccessible to UN food aid, and about 13 million people – more than half the population – are thought to be in dire need of food.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Three bullet-riddled bodies found in Quetta

Sat, 07/25/2015 - 04:12

QUETTA: At least three bodies were found Saturday morning in Dasht Kudan area of Balochistan’s Turbat District.

Balochistan Levies official, Abdul Qadeer, while speaking to The Express Tribune confirmed that passers by in the area came across the bodies in Dasht Kudan after which Balochistan Levies were informed.

“The victims received bullets in their chest and legs,” the official said, adding that the reason behind the killings is not yet known.

Read: Year-to-date: 83 mutilated corpses found in Balochistan

The deceased were shifted to the District Headquarters Hospital Turbat where they were identified as Kahir Mohammad, Shabit and Gul Mohammad. The three men are said to be residents of Dasht Kudan and had recently relocated to Turbat City.

Balochistan Levies personnel and district administrations official arrived at the scene and cordoned off the area. Further, a case has been registered against unknown persons and investigation is underway.

The Vice Chairman of Human Rights Commission Balochistan chapter Advocate Tahir Hussain announced last month that as many as 83 mutilated bodies were recovered this year in Balochistan.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Federer and Wawrinka in Swiss Davis Cup return

Sat, 07/25/2015 - 04:11

PARIS: Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka have made themselves available for Switzerland’s Davis Cup World Group playoff match against the Netherlands in September.

“We are of course very happy for this positive decision so early in the day,” a post on the SwissTennis website read. “It will allow us to prepare for this playoff under the best of conditions.”

The two Swiss stars won Switzerland’s first Davis Cup crown last November when they defeated France in Lille.

But they missed the first round defeat against Belgium this year to concentrate on their play in the Grand Slam events, Wawrinka taking full advantage to win the French Open.

There was also the matter of qualification rights for next year’s Rio Olympics with both players needing to play at least one Davis Cup tie before next summer to be eligible.

The winner of the tie from September 18-20 in the week after the US Open will stay in the 16-strong World Group with the loser dropping down to the second tier.

SwissTennis said that a decision on where the match would be played in Switzerland would be taken at a later date.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Indian firing on LoC injures one civilian

Sat, 07/25/2015 - 04:10

At least one person was injured as India’s Border Security Force (BSF) resorted to ‘unprovoked’ firing along the Line of Control in Chirikot sector on Saturday morning.

“A civilian, Muhammad Wasim, of Polas village was seriously injured due to the firing,” Radio Pakistan reported quoting an official.

Read: Five killed in Indian BSF firing near Sialkot: ISPR

Pakistan and India have constantly exchanged gunfire in the last week. Four people have been killed by the firing of Indian border security forces on civilian populations on the Pakistani side in recent days. Five more have been left injured by the unprovoked attacks.

Renewed tensions along the Line of Control in Kashmir and the working boundary in Sialkot, as well as the intrusion of an Indian ‘spy’ drone into Pakistani territory, have thrown the fate of crucial talks between the national security advisers of Pakistan and India in the doldrums.

Read: Amid border tensions, Nawaz sends mangoes to Modi

Further, last week a team of United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) visited the villages most affected by Indian shelling. They visited Saleh Pur, Chaprar & Malane in Chaprar Sector in Sialkot and met wounded civilians and witnessed Indian atrocities on the civil population.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Bajirao Mastani: No rivalry between Priyanka and Deepika

Sat, 07/25/2015 - 04:09

PRIYANKA / DEEPIKA: Versatile actor Priyanka Chopra, who will share screen space with Bollywood’s reigning queen Deepika Padukone for the first time in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani, shares a special bond with her co-actor, reported IndiaToday 

People usually think that Bollywood divas can’t be friends, but it is definitely not true when it comes to these two lovely ladies. And Priyanka’s latest gesture goes on to prove how close the two actresses are.

Read: One can’t explain my relationship with Ranbir Kapoor: Deepika Padukone

When PC ordered some dance gear for herself for Bajirao Mastani, she could not stop herself from ordering another one for her new best friend Deepika.

Shampa Sonthalia, who is choreographing the two actors in Bajirao Mastani, said that there is no rivalry between Priyanka and Deepika. “There is simply no competition between the two. Priyanka and Deepika are very good friends. Priyanka had ordered some dance kit for herself and she ordered an extra for Deepika.”

The two gorgeous actresses will be seen in a dance face-off in Bajirao Mastani, and the two are currently busy wrapping up the last schedule of the film. Priyanka had earlier posted a picture of the two wearing ballerinas from the film sets, calling themselves “BalleRanis”.

Read: Deepika to sport royal style in ‘Bajirao Mastani’: Anju Modi

We ain't no ballerinas.. #BalleRanis do it in style! say what @deepikapadukone

A photo posted by Priyanka Chopra (@priyankachopra) on Apr 29, 2015 at 1:47pm PDT

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

NASA spacecraft shows Pluto wrapped in haze, ice flows

Sat, 07/25/2015 - 03:57

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA: A stunning silhouette of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft after it shot past the icy orb last week show an extensive layer of atmospheric haze, while close-up pictures of the ground reveal flows of nitrogen ice, scientists said on Friday.

New Horizons became the first spacecraft to visit Pluto and its entourage of moons and so far has returned about 5 per cent of the pictures and science data collected in the days leading up to, during and immediately following the July 14 flyby.

The hazy atmosphere of Pluto, backlit by the sun, is seen in this breathtaking farewell photo taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on July 15, 2015 just after its historic flyby of the dwarf planet. PHOTO: NASA

The latest batch of images includes a backlit view of Pluto with sun, located more than 3 billion miles away, shining around and through the planet’s atmosphere.

Analysis shows distinct layers of haze in Pluto’s nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane atmosphere. The haze extends at least 100 miles (161 km) off the surface.

Read: NASA discovers Earth-like planet orbiting Sun’s ‘cousin’

“This is our first peek at weather in Pluto’s atmosphere,” New Horizons scientist Michael Summers, with George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, told reporters during a teleconferenced press briefing.

The strange surface of Pluto is clear in this view from New Horizons of the dwarf planet’s southern region of Sputnik Planum, where two mountain ranges rise up from icy plains and cratered terrain has been covered by ice. PHOTO: NASA

As the tiny particles fall to the ground, they may trigger chemical reactions that give Pluto its reddish hue, he added.

The haze layer, which extends five times farther than predicted by computer models, was not the only surprise. Pressure measurements show the total mass of Pluto’s atmosphere has halved in two years.

“That’s pretty astonishing, at least to an atmospheric scientist. That tells you something is happening,” Summers said.

More details will come over the next year as New Horizons sends recorded data back to Earth.

NASA also released new images of Pluto’s surface, with telltale signs of a wide range of geologic activities including a Pluto version of glacial ice flows.

With surface temperatures just shy of 400 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (-235 degrees Celsius), Pluto is too cold for the ice to be made of water. Instead, Pluto’s surface ice consists mostly of nitrogen.

This annotated image of Pluto’s Sputnik Planum region identifies what appears to be flows of exotic nitrogen ice on the surface of the dwarf planet. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took this image of Pluto during a flyby on July 14, 2015. PHOTO: NASA

“We knew that there was nitrogen ice on Pluto … and we imagined that nitrogen was sublimating, or evaporating, in one place and condensing in another place. But to see evidence for recent geologic activity is simply a dream come true,” said New Horizons scientist William McKinnon, with Washington University in St. Louis.

“Recent” in geological terms does not mean yesterday, he added. Based on the lack of impact craters, scientists suspect the surface of Pluto is less than a few hundred million years old, a fraction of the solar system’s 4.6 billion year age.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News