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Public health: Measles fight hamstrung by resource crunch

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 04:17


The Balochistan government has been making tall claims about its renewed focus on health and education, yet it is dragging its feet over the release of its due share out of a total amount of Rs137 million needed to launch a campaign against measles.

This communicable disease has so far killed 13 children in Balochistan this year, while at least 480 cases have been reported across the province.

There has been no campaign against measles in Balochistan since 2012. And that campaign too was a poorly launched one that did not have the desired effect.

Predictably, there was an outbreak of measles in 2013. The disease killed 43 children and affected 789 others in 2013. There has been just 16 per cent coverage against the nine preventable diseases in the immunisation campaign across Balochistan to date.

According to the Balochistan Health Department, in merely 16 per cent children are fully immunized against the nine preventable diseases — measles tuberculosis, pertussis, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, meningitis, hepatitis B, influenza and measles. The situation in Balochistan, compared to the other three provinces, is precarious.

In Balochistan, 111 children out of 1,000 live births die before reaching the age of five years, and 97 of these children die before reaching the age of one year. A majority of the children under the age of five are chronically malnourished.

The Global Alliance for Vaccine (GAVI) has committed to arrange 52 per cent of the share (for the present campaign that will cover children aged six months to five years, while the provincial government has to arrange 48 per cent of the share. But GAVI will withdraw its share if the government fails to allocate its due amount, reveal sources.

When The Express Tribune contacted the health department, it said that the government will release the amount soon, pointing out a funding crunch.

“The immunisation programme had been drastically affected after the 18th Amendment, because such programmes were funded earlier by the federal government, and ran under a project for a specific period,” said Health Secretary Arshad Bugti, adding that the international donors release funds after the government announces its share regarding immunisation campaigns.

He said that the law has been enacted in this regard and government will soon release the amount.

“The health department will soon launch an immunisation campaign against measles; there has been no campaign due to the lack of funding,” he told The Express Tribune.

Balochistan is the only province which could not arrange its share for measles campaign while the other three provinces have already allocated the amount.

The PC-1 was developed and submitted but has not been approved because the funds that had to be arranged from the non-development sector are not there.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Pakistan urges UN to play role in defusing LoC tension

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 03:11

NEW YORK: Pakistan’s permanent representative to United Nations urged the body to play its role in defusing tension on the Line of Control (LoC), Radio Pakistan reported on Saturday. 

Pakistani Ambassador Masood Khan called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in New York today and informed him about the situation on LoC and the Working Boundary.

Khan urged UN to play its role to end ceasefire violations which have killed at least 12 Pakistanis since October 6.

Unprovoked Indian firing has triggered an exodus of people from the villages near the border.

Clashes occur regularly along the LoC as well as the Working Boundary. However, the latest shelling has been unusual in its intensity and frequency.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Power deal with China: Govt balks at plea for special payment guarantees

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 02:55

Hours before a high-level delegation is set to leave for China, Islamabad has turned down Beijing’s demand for extraordinary payment guarantees to protect its investment in the power sector.

The move follows Beijing’s reluctance to sign power purchase agreements due to the government’s inability to resolve the circular debt issue.

The decision to treat the Chinese investors at par with other investors was taken in a meeting of a Committee constituted by prime minister to resolve issues related to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Power Projects.

Officials revealed that Beijing had requested a special reserve fund for its investors to pay them within 30 days of power purchase. The move was designed to stave off circular debt.

“The Committee was of the view that framework of investment in the power sector under the current power policy provides adequate guarantees for domestic and foreign investors on the basis of a level playing field,” a handout issued by the Ministry of Finance stated.

Officials further revealed the committee also rejected the demand of Chinese investors to waive off duties on imported coal that will be used to run the power plants. China is also demanding tax rebates, which is not acceptable to the government, they added.

The decision came hours before a Pakistani delegation is set to leave for Beijing to discuss the modalities of power purchase agreements ahead of PM Nawaz Sharif’s visit to China. The delegation is expected to convince Chinese investors to bring investment under the present regime, said the officials.

Clarifying the government’s position, a senior official of ministry of finance said “Except once, we have never defaulted on our obligations, therefore Chinese investors should not worry about payments of power purchases.”

He said the circular debt was because of delay in payments.

Pakistan offers one of the best investment regimes in the world but chronic energy shortages, security problems and red-tapism has kept the foreign investors at bay. Under the present investment regime, both the investment in power sector and rate of return are protected. China plans to setup about 10,000 megawatt power plants in Pakistan.

Earlier in a meeting, safeguarding the investment by foreign companies similarly was the priority of the government, he added.

Assuring the Chinese investors of a conducive environment, the minister said his country would continue to pursue investor-friendly policies, adding that energy projects were the prime feature of the Pak-China Corridor and would be facilitated in every possible manner.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Warming up: Aziz to visit Kabul to invite Afghan president

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 02:39


The prime minister’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz will be visiting Kabul on Sunday to deliver a formal invitation to new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to visit Pakistan, the foreign ministry said on Friday.

Aziz, who would be visiting Kabul as a special envoy of the prime minister, would hold discussions with regard to the timing and preparations of the visit of the Afghan president, it added in a statement.

Aziz would also meet with the Afghan National Security Adviser and exchange views on bilateral and regional issues. According to the foreign ministry, the visit was part of Pakistan’s substantive engagement with the new Afghan leadership.

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have been tense over the past few months due to growing mistrust between the two neighbours on the issue of dealing with militant threat. With the formation of the new unity government in Kabul, Pakistan is hoping that relations between the two countries would normalise.

Meanwhile, at a weekly news briefing, Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam welcomed the recent development regarding CASA-1000 project, hoping the agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan would help further promote regional connectivity.

Talking about the ongoing tensions along the Line of Control (LoC) and Working Boundary, the spokesperson urged India to sit on the negotiating table to discuss all bilateral disputes, including Jammu and Kashmir.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Guardians of the sea: PM Nawaz vows to boost maritime defence

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 02:28


Pakistan desires peace and tranquillity both within and outside its borders to meet much-needed socio-economic development goals, said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday.

At the inauguration ceremony of the new building of Pakistan Naval War College (PNWC) in Lahore, Sharif said, “Pakistan will never compromise on its sovereignty. We cannot afford to be distracted in fulfilling our national objectives.”

The premier added the country is going through defining moments in its history as its armed forces battle extremism and militancy. He expressed hope the naval college would continue to foster relations with foreign militaries by training officers from friendly countries and spreading maritime awareness amongst academic circles.

Lauding Pakistan Navy’s role in defending the country, Sharif said a well-equipped navy is integral for the country’s security and economic prosperity. “Despite  resource constraints, the government will work towards strengthening Pakistan’s maritime defence,” he added.

The PM further said sea routes are the jugulars of world trade and any disruption in the waters had the potential to disrupt global economy and impact global security. “We must always remain cognizant of our effective role in the maritime affairs of this region.”

Appreciating the navy’s indigenous construction of warships, Sharif said he said he felt proud of the force for taking the initiative of constructing large warships and potent fast attack crafts through the revival of the Karachi shipyard. He also praised the navy for developing a national maritime policy which is slated to be completed soon.

Speaking about his economic initiatives, Sharif said the government was working towards making Gwadar Port fully functional at the earliest and developing the Gwadar-Kashgar link, under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor portfolio. According to Sharif, some of the most important projects include the construction of an airport, expressway link and a powerhouse in Gwadar.

Earlier, the PM unveiled the foundation plaque of the new PNWC building. The  83,254 square feet building has an auditorium, central hall, 10 syndicate rooms, five war-gaming rooms, three faculty clusters, two conference rooms, a library and several meeting rooms.

The inauguration was attended by Naval Chief Admiral Muhammad Zakaullah, Punjab Chief Secretary Navid Akram Cheema and Punjab IGP Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera.  

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Targets in Pakistan: Only 12% of drone victims identified as militants, says report

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 01:57

Research undertaken by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveals that only 12% of drone victims in Pakistan have been identified as militants.

Moreover, the research also stated that fewer than 4% of the people killed have been identified as members of al Qaeda.

Interestingly, the research contradicts US Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim last year that only “confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level” were fired at.

Of the 2,370 people killed in the US drone strikes since 2004, only 295 were reported to be members of some armed group.

More than a third of them were not designated a rank, and almost 30% are not even linked to a specific group.

The Bureau has a project titled Naming the Dead, which has gathered the names and details of people killed by CIA drones in Pakistan since June 2004.

According to Mustafa Qadri, a Pakistani researcher for Amnesty International, the findings “demonstrate the continuing complete lack of transparency surrounding US drone operations.”

Responding to the Bureau’s investigation, US National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said that the strikes were only carried out when there was “near-certainty” that no civilians would be killed.

“The death of innocent civilians is something that the US Government seeks to avoid if at all possible,” Hayden said.

“In those rare instances in which it appears non-combatants may have been killed or injured, after-action reviews have been conducted to determine why, and to ensure that we are taking the most effective steps to minimise such risk to non-combatants in the future,” Hayden added .

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Cost of development: Margalla Highway realignment risks causing massive deforestation

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 01:40


The Capital Development Authority may have to clear two kilometres of forest land under a plan to link Margalla Highway with Murree Expressway.

Sources privy to the development confirmed that a proposal aimed at realigning a portion of Margalla Highway stretching from Constitution Avenue to Kot Hathiyal — a suburban area some two kilometres from Murree Expressway — is under consideration.

The plan comes on the heels of the Rawalpindi-Islamabad metro bus project, which saw hundreds of trees uprooted in the capital.

Under the original plan, Margalla Highway would end in Kot Hathiyal near Bhara Kahu, rather than directly linking to the expressway.

If approved, the plan would pave the way for destruction of acres of Punjab forest land along the new route. A CDA official said that the authority has decided to take up issue with the Punjab Forest Department.

“We are examining the proposal,” said CDA Director Roads (North) Shahid Mehmood. The suggestion is at preliminary stage, Mehmood said, adding that the CDA’s land survey department had yet to submit a feasibility report with the Planning Wing.

Another senior CDA official, who requested not to be named, said the proposal provides for the road to pass by the Quaid-e-Azam University Department of Physics, enter forest land and bypass populated areas near Bhara Kahu to merge with the entry point of Murree Expressway.

He said the work on the project had been delayed because of the ongoing Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) sit-in.

In April 2014, the CDA floated an advertisement seeking proposals from construction firms for the construction of Margalla Highway from Constitution Avenue to Murree Road. The plan, however, was put on hold for reasons unknown.

The federal government had also assured the city managers of sufficient funds for the project under the Public Sector Development Programme.

The 32-kilometre-long Margalla Highway would connect the motorway with the Murree Expressway. It aims to facilitate commuters heading to Murree by allowing them to bypass bust roads in the capital.

Around 50 per cent of construction work on an 8.5-kilometre patch of the road from GT Road near Sangjani to Sector D-12 has already been completed.

There are, however, a number of disputes over a 14.5-kilometre-long portion, which passes through the north-east edge of the E-series of sectors, which houses numerous military installations.

Meanwhile, tendering is under way for the 9-kilometre-long patch stretching from Constitution Avenue to Murree Expressway.

More than meets the eye?

A CDA official said that the decision to realign the road had been taken as there are a number of encroachments along the third portion of the highway. “It is relatively easy to chop trees rather than demolishing illegal structures,” the official said.

Conversely, CDA Engineering Member Shahid Sohail told The Express Tribune that under the original plan, the road would end near a populated area, namely Kot Hathiyal. “It’s basically a ring road. If it culminates in a residential area, it would not serve its purpose,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Army chief warns against 'aggression' amid Kashmir tensions

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 01:22

KAKUL: Army chief General Raheel Sharif vowed Saturday to thwart any “aggression” against the country, in a thinly-veiled warning to arch rival India after a spate of deadly cross-border firing incidents in Kashmir.

At least 12 civilians have been killed on the Pakistani side and thousands on both sides of the de facto border have fled their homes since October 6, which marked the beginning of some of the worst frontier shelling in years.

“Sentiments of goodwill and amity notwithstanding, let there be no doubt that any aggression against our beloved country will get a befitting response and no sacrifice will be too great in this sacred cause,” En Raheel said, in an apparent swipe at India.

The nuclear-armed neighbours, who have fought two wars over Muslim-majority Kashmir, have traded blame for the recent violence in the disputed Himalayan region.

“We persistently seek peace in the region and beyond,” Sharif said while addressing a parade at a military academy near Islamabad.

But “lasting peace in the region will only come about with the fair and just resolution of Kashmir issue,” he added.

Pakistan Army on Tuesday said it had voiced concern to India at continued firing across the Kashmir frontier and in Punjab province when senior officials from both sides spoke via a special hotline.

Clashes occur regularly along the disputed border known as Line of Control (LOC) as well as along the frontier dividing Indian Kashmir from Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Further, the chief said the people of Kashmir should decide their fate as the quest for peace is the nation’s greatest strength.

“Lasting peace in the region will only come about with a fair and just resolution of Kashmir issue in accordance with the will of Kashmiri people, as enshrined in the UN resolution,” said General Sharif.

Speaking on the war against terrorism, General Sharif stated that Operation Zarb-e-Azb was not merely an operation but a concept and a resolve and a commitment of the nation.

“The commitment is to cleanse Pakistan of the scourge of terrorism

once and for all,” said General Sharif.

The army chief said that the displaced people of FATA would return home sooner than expected as all intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies and military operations were playing a commendable role in the operation.

Concluding his address, General Sharif entrusted the newly trained cadets with the responsibility of leading the country with dignity and honour.



Categories: Pakistan & World News

Comment: Bilawal to restore Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 00:59


Pakistan is under a relentless onslaught and vigorous assault from religious extremism. This religious fundamentalism has penetrated into every institution of the country. The worst affected of these is politics in the country.

The majority of Pakistan’s political parties, either because of ideology or out of fear, have surrendered, falling under the influence of religious extremism. Thinking it better to yield rather than stand up for a moderate Pakistan, these parties have developed direct and indirect working relationships with orthodox and extremist religious outfits to find their way into the corridors of power.

This trend was further strengthened in the last general election when obscurantist religious elements eroding the writ of the state terrorised and ousted all secular forces from the election arena through acts of violence and sabotage in which countless political workers and political leaders voicing moderation lost their lives.

In this suffocating political atmosphere, the minorities are finding it impossible to survive; moderates and enlightened people have started losing hope of living with dignity and peace in the dream that was the Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan.

What is all the more surprising is that all those political forces who have come onto the streets and protested vociferously against rigging in the election are none other than those who greatly benefitted from religious extremism and are the byproduct of religious-fanatic sentiments.

Their indignation is actually a covert protest against their ‘masters and mentors’, criticising them for failing to get the required majority so that they could rule the country. In other words, the on-going fight is actually between two factions of the same school of thought, both of which are protected and promoted by religious extremism. Therefore, whoever wins or loses in this contest, the ultimate losers will still be the moderates.

Moderation and liberal values are a virtue and instinct that PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has inherited from his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and mother Benazir Bhutto. Both leaders believed in humanity and co-existence. Their commitment to the people of Pakistan was above all such prejudices. Bilawal Bhutto being highly educated and trained by Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari has the capacity to steer the country out of fundamentalism and to lead it according to the vision and injunction of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Pakistan is beset with ceaseless internal challenges like poverty, illiteracy, energy shortage, unemployment, crimes against women and so on. However, the most pervasive challenge is to free society from the malevolent religiosity nurtured under the dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq and his protégés.

This extremism has poisoned the new generation and given further fillip to the clandestine internal and external support being given to the remnants of General Zia, whether they are sitting in the corridors of power or out protesting on the streets of Islamabad.

This nexus will do nothing but further destroy the young generation by extending support to them in the name of laptops or `reforms’ or `Naya Pakistan’. The nation needs the Pakistan that the Quaid-i-Azam founded in 1947 and which was strengthened by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by giving it a consensus constitution in 1973 and the democratic Pakistan which Mohtarma Shaheed Benazir Bhutto founded on the basis of reconciliation and also laid down her life for the sake of democracy.

Bilawal Bhutto has the capacity and the vision to lead the nation, particularly the younger generation, to make a modern and moderate Pakistan. The Pakistan of Mr Jinnah in which all religious minorities would enjoy equal rights. The Pakistan of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in which rapid and massive industrialisation would boost the crippled economy. The Pakistan of Mohtarma Benazir in which women’s empowerment would enhance their role in nation building.

The Pakistan of Bilawal Bhutto would be purged of religious bigotry and fanaticism. The nation, particularly the younger generation which constitutes 60 per cent of the population, cannot be misguided by mere slogans. They know the sanctimonious protesting forces in collaboration with extremists have a clandestine agenda to impose their autocratic extremist views in the country. Their agenda is destined to destroy the system and mentally paralyse and enslave the young generation. This is a part of international conspiracy which they want to implement.

The appearance of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is a clarion call against the extremist forces. The moderate citizens of Pakistan need to strengthen Bilawal to cleanse society of the bigots who want to destroy this beautiful country with their orthodoxy.

Today, Bilawal will follow in the footsteps of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and make history by addressing the largest public meeting ever held in the political history of Pakistan.

The PPP believes in the peoples’ power and Bilawal wants to reaffirm this pledge and strengthen his bond with the people of Pakistan. This rally is not simply a show of political strength but a commitment to the selfless service to Pakistan, its people. It is also a commitment with the father of the nation to restore and reclaim his Pakistan, the one that he had founded in 1947.

The writer is Provincial Minister for Information, Government of Sindh

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Consultations: Ensure transparency, participation of all citizens in electoral reforms

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 00:56

Participants of a conference on Friday called for transparency, accountability and participation of all citizens including women, minorities and persons with disabilities in the electoral reforms.

A set of recommendations were put forward by rights activists at a conference on Civil Society Perspective on Electoral Reforms.

The conference arranged by the Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO), demanded introduction of provincial election authorities in the light of the 18th Amendment and emerging needs of local government elections management.

They also stressed the need for appointing ECP members through the provincial assemblies similar to the process as adopted in appointment of chief election commissioner.

Addressing the participants, Zafarullah Khan of the Centre for Civic Education stated that electoral reforms need serious legislative process and it is welcome step that the parliamentary committee is seeking recommendations from citizens and civil society.

Regarding the accountability and transparency of electoral processes, Hassan Nasir of Democracy Reporting International (DRI) insisted that the independence of ECP should be ensured by removing presidential approval for introducing new rules.

However, “independence of ECP should be coupled with requirements of accountability and responsiveness” he added.

“Without acknowledging voters and political parties as primary stakeholders of the electoral process, any reforms process would only be narrow and limited” said Muddasir Rizvi of the Free and Fair Elections Network (FAFEN).

He also demanded structural reforms in the functioning of ECP and related processes.

Participants also demanded removal of all barriers and discrimination against minorities and asked the joint parliamentary committee to conduct comprehensive review of provisions related to rights of minorities.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

A year on: FST becomes operational in capital

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 00:44


Though the Federal Services Tribunal (FST) has recommenced its operation in the capital after a yearlong hiatus, the offices in Lahore and Karachi have yet to see any progress regarding vacancies in the bodies.

The FST is essentially the bureaucracy’s courtroom — a government body that addresses grievances or complaints of federal government employees above grade-17, mostly CSS officers.

Te authority had been inactive since August last year due to lack of members.

Justice (retd) Sheikh Ahmad Farooq took charge as the new Federal Services Tribunal (FST) chairperson in August.

The FST was made defunct on March 25, 2013 after a three-member Supreme Court (SC) bench headed by then-chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry declared all appointments at the federal and the four provincial tribunal offices illegal.

The Supreme Court then ordered the governments to reconstitute the tribunal after making the necessary amendments to the governing act — the Services Tribunal Act of 1973 – but the government failed to comply with the orders till very recently.

Just after the chairperson’s appointment, the hunt began to fill the rest of the vacancies on the tribunals. There are two members each in the FST’s Lahore and Karachi offices and six in Islamabad. Two benches have been constituted in Islamabad which comprise of four members and are headed by the chairperson.

One bench is being headed by Justice (retd) Sheikh Ahmad Farooq and Justice Aafaq Hussain, while the other bench comprises of Sessions Judge Rafique Hussain and Justice Arshad Ali.

The delay in reactivation has caused unnecessary suffering for a number of civil servants whose cases are awaiting hearings.

FST Registrar Mian Gulzar Hussain told The Express Tribune that there are about 6,000 pending applications, “almost 800 in Lahore, 500 in Karachi and the rest are in Islamabad”.

According to another official, cases regarding alleged wrongful suspension or dismissal of employees will be given priority. Besides almost 1,300 cases are pending in Lahore and Karachi.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Changes to land cover: Foresters get training on use of technology to monitor forest degradation, land use

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 00:34


Experts have called for setting up a modern academy to impart training to foresters on use of satellite for monitoring forests and land use.

They were speaking at a five-day training programme based on REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) satellite land monitoring system to help understand the changes to the land cover features.

The training, organised by the WWF in collaboration with the Climate Change Division and the National Centre for Rural Development (NCRD), was a blueprint for thrashing out an effective action plan for a National Forest Monitoring System (NFMS) in the country.

Around 35 people from provincial forest departments, Suparco, Urban Unit, academia and non-government organisations (NGOs) attended the training, which also aimed to take the REDD+ preparation further by capacity-building of government functionaries, academics, NGOs and the private sector to enable them use satellite systems for monitoring forests and the land use.

Experts presented various satellite-based studies on forests mapping and projects in several countries and regions with an emphasis on developing a national monitoring system with transparent and reliable information on forest cover in the country.

They said that the new system will help identify areas of abrupt change and the rate and extent of annual deforestation besides identifying illegal logging.

NCRD Director General Dr Zafar Iqbal Qadir said that the training participants learned the skills as how the technology could be used to save the forests from degradation.

Inspector General Forests Mahmood Nasir called for setting up a full-fledged REDD+ academy to effectively implement the Cancun Agreement.

He said that focal persons would be appointed at district level to disseminate information and train foresters.

Forestry Officer FAO, Remi D’Annunzio trained the participants. Certificates were also distributed among the participants.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Karsaz blast anniversary: Zardari pledges to fight extremist mindset

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 00:25


Co-Chairperson Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari has reiterated his pledge to continue the fight against the militant and dictatorial mindset that is challenging the country today, as he prepared to observe the seventh anniversary of the October 18 attack on the welcome convoy of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The former president said while remembering those deceased from the tragic incident, we need to rededicate ourselves to fighting “new forms and manifestations of dictatorship” along with extremism, and one way to do so is to strengthen parliament.

“The struggle has not ended. A great threat today is from those who are seeking to assault democracy in the name of democracy itself… Parliament is our shield against dictatorship. Let us reiterate our resolve to strengthen the parliament,” he said in a message.

Zardari said his late wife returned to Pakistan despite threats because she pledged to save the country from the threats it faced by extremists and dictatorship, adding that “the enemies of democracy and Pakistan” cowardly attacked her caravan resulting in deaths of nearly two hundred people.

Presenting a tribute to those who were affected by the twin bombs that evening, Zardari said “on this day we salute the courage, devotion and loyalty of martyrs and fans of democracy who laid down their lives or were wounded while protecting Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. They have raised our hopes and steeled our determination.”

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Letter to PM: Khursheed seeks payout for slain journalists

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 00:16


Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah has written a letter to the prime minister, urging him to address the issue of compensation for families of those who lost their lives in the line of duty in Balochistan.

Shah on Friday wrote to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asking him to announce a special package for the families of the journalists – many of whom have been assassinated in Balochistan. Along with the letter, Shah enclosed a list of journalists killed over the past eight years.

Around 40 journalists have lost their lives – 30 of whom lost their lives in target killings since 2008-09, according to Quetta-based senior journalist Saleem Shahid.

Pakistan is among the countries considered the most dangerous for journalists to work in, especially the militancy-hit provinces of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).

“During a visit to Quetta on Saturday October 11, 2014, a delegation of journalists headed by Saleem Shahid had a meeting with me. During the meeting, the matter regarding compensation to Balochistan-based journalists killed in target killings was also discussed,” Shah wrote in the letter addressed to the premier which was made available to the media.

“The deceased family deserves to be helped out because journalists perform their duties in a very risky and dangerous atmosphere and the services rendered by them need to be acknowledged,” the letter further reads.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Govt decides to resume talks with PAT

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 19:34


Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has given his key ministers the go-ahead to resume talks with the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) but not with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), The Express Tribune has learnt.

The nod was given at a high-level meeting of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) held at the Prime Minister’s House on Friday. The meeting also finalised plans to recover losses inflicted by the protest sit-ins of the PTI and PAT in the capital, sources said.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid and Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Abdul Qadir Baloch attended the meeting which was convened to discuss the prevailing political situation in the country.

Resumption of talks with PAT

Sharing details of the meeting, sources said that the team of PML-N’s core ministers agreed to immediately restart negotiations with PAT to wind up its sit-in in Islamabad. The government, they said, is set to resume talks with PAT today (Saturday) and will pick up from where negotiations had collapsed before Eidul Azha. Ahsan Iqbal will lead the negotiating team while PAT negotiators will be led by the party’s general secretary, Khurram Nawaz Gandapur, sources added.

According to sources, talks between the government and PAT had hit deadlock over the quashment of 11 cases against PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri. Currently, there are over 40 cases lodged against Qadri, of which 11 deal with serious offences such as the killing and torture of police personnel and attacks on state institutions.

This time, however, talks will begin with a broader spirit to end PAT’s protest as soon as possible, sources said.

On the other hand, participants of the meeting decided against resuming talks with the Imran Khan-led PTI, believing that its protest would soon fizzle out. According to sources, the interior minister gave the PTI just three months before the party would exhaust its support.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Ahsan Iqbal confirmed the decision to resume talks with PAT and said that he was hopeful the party would end its sit-in before its October 19 gathering in Lahore. “There are just a few unresolved issues with PAT. These will hopefully be resolved soon,” he added.

Asked about talks with the PTI, Iqbal said their sit-in was ‘almost over’ and had devolved to just a ‘musical function’. He added that the PTI was also unwilling to talk with the government as it was holding public gatherings across the country.

Recovering losses

During the meeting, the prime minister also decided to send a high-level delegation to China on October 21 to make arrangements for his own visit to the country in the first week of November, sources said. They added that in order to make up for the losses inflicted by the sit-ins, the participants of the meeting decided to expedite the finalisation of the ongoing schemes and development projects.

Hashmi’s defeat in Multan

The meeting participants fixed responsibility for Javed Hashmi’s defeat in the NA-149 (Multan) by-elections on the former PTI president’s conduct, according to sources. They said the prime minister was told that despite the best efforts of the PML-N team helping Hashmi, the latter’s injustices against the party’s local leadership hampered his own election campaign.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

JCP meeting: Six additional judges get 1-year job extension

Sun, 10/12/2014 - 05:03


The Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) on Saturday proposed another one-year job extension for six additional judges of the Lahore High Court (LHC).

The six additional judges awaiting confirmation of their services are Justice Mahmood Ahmad, Justice Arshad Mahmood Tabassum, Justice Tariq Abbasi, Justice Chaudhry Muhammad Masood Jahangir, Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan and Justice Sohail Iqbal Bhatti. They were appointed as additional judges for one year in October 2013 and their tenure will expire on October 29.

Sources told The Express Tribune that the commission unanimously decided to give another one-year extension to the six judges. “The commission also considered appointing additional judges should for two years in future,” the sources added.

The commission also agreed to summon a special meeting very soon to discuss amendments in JCP rules 2010.

Expressing reservations over the powers of JCP chairman (the chief justice of Pakistan), Pakistan Bar Council, on March 15, 2013, had submitted a proposal seeking the transfer of the chairman’s powers regarding the appointment of judges of superior courts to the commission. Regarding the appointment of 11 new judges in the LHC, sources said that the JCP has rescheduled its meeting and the matter will be decided on October 17 now, instead of October 2. The JCP will also decide the appointment of five judges of the Peshawar High Court during the said meeting.

The issue of reappointment of two judges sacked in July 2009 is also expected to come up for discussion, sources told The Express Tribune. They had been appointed on the recommendations of the then ‘de facto’ chief justice, Abdul Hameed Dogar.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Malala to become honorary Canadian

Sun, 10/12/2014 - 04:59

OTTAWA: Malala Yousafzai will travel to Canada to become an honorary citizen, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Friday, the day when the 17-year-old education rights campaigner was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

Malala was named an honorary Canadian a year ago and will visit the country on October 22 to receive citizenship, Harper said. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Malala and India’s Kailash Satyarthi for championing children’s rights.

“On behalf of all Canadians, I want to congratulate Malala… and Satyarthi for their wonderful work for humanity, for their tireless efforts in favour of children’s rights, and for bringing the causes they cherish to the attention of the whole world,” Harper said in a statement.

“I am also pleased to announce that Malala will be visiting us here in Canada on October 22, 2014. We look forward to pursuing our collaborative efforts on children’s education.”

Malala is only the sixth person to become an honorary Canadian; others include the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Picking up clues: Crime scene weaves a tangled web

Sun, 10/12/2014 - 04:49


“I could hardly breathe after seeing the blood pouring out of my mother’s abdomen on our door step after she was shot,” said Ali, the youngest son of 45-year-old Shabana Malik, who was shot at her home in Cantt View Colony on September 5. Ali insists that his mother was killed by a man pretending to be an income tax officer.

Shabana was responsible for a vaccination team in Moorat, Fateh Jang, and had previously survived a murder attempt after unidentified men riding a motorcycle shot at her in July this year.

She is survived by her five children and husband, Malik Muhammad, who runs an army canteen. The man responsible for her death, Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi, was “like a member of the family,” Ali said. Zahoor is friends with Nasir, a van driver who would take Shabana’s children to school before she would head off to work at the hospital.

“He asked my mother to help with his son’s admission to the Army Public School and even helped us when our house was being constructed,” Ali said. “We trusted him as we would a father.”

However, police officials say Zahoor conspired to kill Shabana as she had been in a relationship with him and was now blackmailing him.

“Initially, my father objected to Zahoor’s increased involvement with our family,” Ali said. “But then he took an oath in front of our family, saying he thought of my mother as his sister.” Shabana gave Zahoor several installments of cash for the purpose of buying a plot of land and also invested in his property, and ghee and cooking oil business. On the day of the murder, Zahoor came to Shabana’s house and told her that he would hand over documents for the purchase of a plot later that day.

Police said four culprits, including Zahoor, were arrested in a raid earlier this month. Investigation Officer Yasir Rabbani told The Express Tribune there was a property dispute between Shabana and her killer, but did not give further details.

He said Zahoor was involved in both attacks on Shabana; in July, he hired two men to attack her on Girja Road while she was en route to the Basic Health Unit in Moorat where she was in charge of a polio team. Rabbani said Zahoor then used Nasir Iqbal, another person, to find two men, Sarmad Javed and Raja Noushad, who would attack Shabana a second time. He said that the two culprits Zahoor and Nasir Iqbal are now in police custody on a three-day physical remand.

SHO Westridge police station Malik Tahir also confirmed the arrest of two culprits.

Rabbani alleged that Shabana’s family did not cooperate in the investigation and police uncovered Zahoor’s role in the murder through Shabana’s mobile phone records.  He said Zahoor and Shabana had been in a relationship for several years. “During investigation, Zahoor claimed that Shabana had been blackmailing him and demanding money for some time,” Rabbani said. “He wanted to get rid of her, because his wife was getting suspicious about their relationship.”

Ali says the family has not been able to meet the four arrested men in order to identify his mother’s killer, who was reportedly paid by Zahoor to shoot Shabana. “We are scared that Zahoor will influence or bribe the police as he is influential and has contacts with MNAs and MPAs,” said Ali.

A police official, on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that a sitting MNA of the ruling party is trying to influence the police investigation in order to save the mastermind, Zahoor. This was the sole reason that the police officials were hesitant in showing the arrest of the culprits initially, he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

International Day of the Girl Child: As Pakistan toasts Malala’s win, activists plead for introspection

Sun, 10/12/2014 - 04:45


Fourteen-year-old Zeba wakes early in the morning with her younger siblings Saira and Hina. The girls get dressed, comb their hair and leave their home at 7.30 am; they are not headed to their school, but to help their mother who works as a maid at several houses in the capital.

“There is a girls’ school here in Bhara Kahu village, but our parents believe that girls should not be sent to school, but should be trained to do household chores,” Zeba said. “We work from 7.30 am until 6 pm, and we eat roti with leftover curry during this time.”

Their village is located on the northeastern outskirts of Islamabad, not too far from Parliament House and Prime Minster Secretariat. Zeba’s mother is the sole bread-winner in the family as her father is a daily wage labourer and it has been many days since his last job. “We want to go to school, we want to drink milk and eat an egg in the morning and we want to play with our friends,” Zeba says. Education, health and nutrition – the right to access these fundamentals is denied to millions of girls in Pakistan like Zeba, Saira and Hina, largely due to poverty and a lack of awareness.

“In a conservative society like Pakistan a girl usually has to face discrimination right from the moment her family learns that a mother-to-be is pregnant with a baby girl,” said Country Representative Rutgers World Population Foundation (WPF) Qadeer Baig as Pakistan marks the International Day of the Girl Child, commemorated annually by the United Nations on October 11. The theme for 2014 is focuses on empowering adolescent girls in order to end the gender-based violence.

“Violence against children remains culturally entrenched as children in Pakistan undergo physical violence, sexual abuse, trafficking and acid attacks,” reported Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc) in 2013. “Girls in Pakistan aged 14 to 25 years are the most likely target of acid attacks and in 2013 a total of 150 acid attacks against women were reported around the country.” The report adds that there were 3,861 cases of child sexual abuse reported from different parts of the country in 2012.

Girls’ education

While civil society activists and educationists came together on Saturday to commemorate International Day of the Girl Child, they paid tribute to Malala and also acknowledged that while Pakistan is honoured by her win, the country still has many hurdles to overcome in the education of its women.

“As we celebrate the honour bestowed on Malala and on Pakistan, we are humbled by the dismal figures of female literacy and school enrolment in our country. A single voice, however strong, is not sufficient to effectively challenge the misogynist practices that plague our society. Instead, we need a concerted and joint effort across political lines, religious divides and civil society to bring an end to the brutal denial of education to women,” said Member National Assembly (MNA) Shaista Pervez Malik.

Pakistan has emerged as 113th of 120 countries in a global literacy ranking. The rate of female literacy among young women is 61 per cent, as compared with 79 per cent for males of the same age. Moreover, more than 40 per cent of girls who drop out of schools do not re-enroll. In many rural areas, as schools are located at a distance, families remain hesitant to allow their girls to commute. Some cannot afford the cost of the commute.

In Balochistan, 66 per cent of children between the ages of 5 to 16 do not attend school, with girls far outnumbering boys in this regard, according to nonprofit organisation Alif Ailaan. “At least 60 percent female children are out of schools while male children are 34 percent who are not going to schools,” said Sajid Hussain Changezi, Manager Alif Ailaan, at a press conference in Quetta on Saturday. “Only 23 per cent of girls in the province have ever attended school, as compared with 61 per cent of boys,” he added. At least 35 per cent girls are enrolled at primary schools in Balochistan and merely nine per cent could make to middle school, while four percent to high schools.


Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Common cause: Aseefa offers help in anti-polio fight

Sun, 10/12/2014 - 04:42


A spurt in polio infections this year is helping to forge an unlikely alliance between the daughters of two political foes – incumbent Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the late Benazir Bhutto.

Aseefa Bhutto Zardari came up with the initiative this week as she offered assistance to Maryam Nawaz Sharif in freeing Pakistan of polio.

The initiative showed up on the social media website, Twitter as well, wherein Aseefa urged Maryam to ensure that the federal government diligently works to provide lady health workers with security especially during polio campaigns.

“I urge Maryam to take more of an active role. I am willing to help in any way for a polio-free Pakistan,” she said. “Our war against polio should not become a byline to sit-ins and petty politics. We need to act now or face isolation.”

Aseefa was the first child in Pakistan to be administered polio drops by her mother. She became Pakistan’s goodwill ambassador for polio eradication in 2012.

The team-up could also be seen in the larger context of a thaw in relations between the PPP and the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. Both the ruling party and main opposition party are at the receiving end of a bitter campaign started by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek whose leaders have accused them of being venal and complicit in preserving a sham democracy.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

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