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    1. ashaz
      A 2.89-trillion-rupee budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year has been announced, bringing with it a projected deficit of a whopping five per cent of GDP.

      The government has promised much: reforming the existing tax structure to make it more equitable, moving towards taxing the agricultural sector and improving the tax-to-GDP ratio. The budget also calls for an end to subsidies to the power sector and brings in massive stimulus packages to prop up the stuttering textile sector and regions ravaged by violence.

      The question remains, can it deliver? How many of the economic projections used to inform the budget-making process were simply wishful thinking, and how many were based in fact? Can the government finally use the crisis facing the nation to move us towards sustainable growth or will we see a future dominated by more bailout packages and special aid deals?

      Dawn.com invites you to weigh in on the federal budget.
    2. ashaz
      The Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority raised the prices of petroleum products on Thursday following a presidential ordinance. The hike came a day after the Supreme Court suspended a government-imposed carbon surcharge in an effort to keep the price of petroleum products low.

      The price hike means that petrol will now be available at Rs 62.13 per litre while kerosene is now priced at Rs 59.35 per litre.

      Is the ongoing petroleum price see-saw a clash of perceptions between the executive and the judiciary? What does the price hike indicate about government priorities? Are local petroleum prices tied to the international market, or is this price hike a result of IMF requirements for Pakistan?
    3. ashaz
      On Tuesday, President Asif Ali Zardari asked leading businessmen and industrialists to work with the government to find a permanent solution to nationwide power shortages. He asked private sector entrepreneurs to brainstorm ‘out-of-box’ solutions to the ongoing power crisis, admitting that rental power projects contracted by the government could only address immediate energy needs.

      President Zardari invited the businessmen to weigh in on the idea that energy investors form a company which could offer shares to the general public to raise capital. In turn, the private entrepreneurs suggested addressing circular debt, harnassing solar energy and hydel generation.

      Do you think the private sector can help the government counter the country’s power crisis? What would you have suggested as a solution to the energy problem if you had been invited to brainstorm ideas with the president and prominent entrepreneurs?

      The views expressed in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.
    4. ashaz
      It has been the usual practice of Pakistani politicians facing harassment or more intense persecution at home to look for safety and comfort in London. Following his ouster from the presidency in October 1958, Iskander Mirza lived there for the rest of his days.

      The pension he received from Ayub Khan’s government did not go far and he worked in a middle management position in a hotel to supplement his income. He chose to remain silent on the affairs of Pakistan.Altaf Hussain, the MQM boss, has been living in London for a number of years now. He directs the affairs of his party in Pakistan from his offices in London. Other leaders, Benazir Bhutto among them, resided in London for periods of time. They commented on political developments in Pakistan and, while in London, tried to guide their followers back home.

      Gen Pervez Musharraf has been residing in London, for some months and it is hard to say when he will return as doing so at present could be hazardous to his life and limb.

      Revisiting recently the Nov 3 emergency the Supreme Court ‘invited’ (not summoned) Gen Musharraf to appear before court to explain his action. Considering that his Oct 12, 1999 coup and subsequent rule have led certain parties to call for his trial for treason under Article 6, it is easy to understand why he is inclined to stay on in London. He, accordingly, chose to ignore the Supreme Court’s invitation.

      Had he returned to Pakistan and appeared in court, what could he have said? I imagine something along the following lines: ‘Yes, I executed a coup d’état on Oct 12, 1999 and I imposed emergency rule on November 3, 2007. Yes, in taking these actions I violated the constitution. But this honourable court validated my violations as extra-constitutional measures that had become necessary and, therefore, proper. So, what is there for me to explain? In validating my violations the court followed its own tradition: it had validated similar, if not worse, violations committed by Gen Ziaul Haq, and Gen Ayub Khan. The chief justice of this honourable court is judging an action of mine which entailed his own dismissal. He is acting as a judge in his own cause.’

      This reasoning was not presented to the court which examined Gen Musharraf’s imposition of emergency and held that it had been contrary to the constitution and so were many of the actions that flowed from it. The court declared that Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar’s appointment as chief justice had been unconstitutional and illegal as was that of the other judges who had taken oath under the PCO.

      Thus, Chief Justice Chaudhry and his colleagues cleaned up their own house. A distinguished lawyer from Pakistan mentioned to me the other day that so thoroughly sweeping had the operation been as to have left the Lahore High Court with only seven judges (instead of more than 50 that it normally has).

      The court has not gone beyond judicial house-cleaning. It did not touch Musharraf’s remaking of the country’s political system. It did not void the ordinances he had issued following the emergency and left it to parliament to do with them as it might deem fit. It repudiated some of Musharraf’s actions but did not hold him guilty of a crime and did not award him any punishment.

      It may now be appropriate to take note of the damage caused by Gen Musharraf’s violations. Apart from the fact that he overthrew an elected government, set up a dictatorship and militarised the country’s governance, he amended its constitution on a huge scale and, in the process, mutilated it. Second, he weakened the nation’s political institutions by dissolving, suspending or ignoring them.

      Following the general elections of February 2008, political forces in parliament and civil society demanded President Musharraf’s impeachment. With an elected government in place, he had lost much of his former authority and power by this time. Weakened and harassed, he resigned as president in August 2008. He resided in the Army House in Rawalpindi for a time and then moved to London where he now lives.

      One may wonder how the general is occupying himself in London. Reports have it that he has been delivering speeches at various places on extremism and militancy and Pakistan’s ongoing fight to eradicate them. The president of a public relations firm said that he could command between $150,000 and $200,000 for each appearance. If this is the case, it would seem he is doing well for himself. The likelihood is that speaking invitations coming his way will decline, for he has probably exhausted the subject of extremism and his expertise does not include much else.

      During the months preceding his retirement he discounted speculation that at some point he might enter politics. In fact he did have a strong association with Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and other leaders in PML-Q. He continues to have their support. He was recently reported to have met some and might have consulted them about his prospects in the politics of Pakistan a few years from now.

      The writer is professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts.
    5. ashaz

      Is there a difference between Muslim history and Islamic history? I found myself asking this question while seated in a university course titled, ‘History of Islam till 1258,’ with an emphasis on political and economic issues. Our professor, a non-Muslim, had been dealing with Muslim students’ complaints about the way Prophet Muhammad was portrayed during the course. Many of us wanted to know why the impression that most Muslims had of their prophet was not being privileged in the lectures.

      Meanwhile, in another course, a professor of mine is having a hard time was trying to find evidence to support the theory that Muslims had perpetuated criminal activities during the battle of Badar. Hearing the professor’s academic argument, I couldn’t help but point out that this reading of events was contrary to my Muslim heritage and could be perceived as offensive. In response, the professor claimed that my view was idealistic and that, as a historian, she was compelled to view the prophet as just another human being. When pressed, she also explained the problem of working on Islamic history using the minimal, non-Muslim textual evidence that is available – some historians feel Muslim accounts lack credibility because they are necessarily biased. Of course, her argument implied that the non-Muslim accounts were unbiased, which is not necessarily the case.

      As an increasing number of Muslims – from Pakistan as well as other countries – head to the West to attend colleges and universities, it is probably worth considering the dynamic that exists when Muslim students study Islam and its history at secular institutions.

      Many of us are quick to exalt the virtues of secularism as it promotes a neutral value system that is projected as the most suitable for educational purposes. Few articulate the fact that secular education, too, emerges from a particular bias and promotes a belief system that leaves the spiritual aspects of religion outside the classroom door. It comes as little surprise that some that some academics who undertake studies at such institutions equate religion with myth. As a result, Muslim students are forced to reconcile the ‘Muslim’ history they were exposed to in their home countries with the ‘Islamic’ history that is presented in esteemed lecture halls. For students who have a weak grounding in their own religious history and values, the process of reconciling divergent ‘facts’ is even more difficult.

      This is not to say that studying Islam from non-Muslims is an exercise in futility. The question here is, how can western, secular institutions approach Islam in a way that accommodates for the fact that some students are practicing Muslims holding a different perception of the essence of Islam?

      Individuals such as Ahmad Abdul Ghani, an American national and graduate of the Lahore University of Management Sciences, prefer to focus on the positive aspects of western-based Islamic education. Having mastered five languages, he recently graduated from Darul Uloom and now feels ready to make the most of studying Islam in the West. Ghani drew inspiration from one of his professors at LUMS, Asif Iftikhar, who, after completing an MA in Islamic studies from Canada’s McGill University, claims:

      I think it is important to have a solid academic affiliation with Muslim scholars whose basic purpose is not just knowledge for its own sake but knowledge for the purpose of knowing God’s wish to enable them to do His command. With one’s knowledge base firmly grounded in this manner, I see no harm in studying in Western universities especially with the purpose of lending a helping hand to Muslim scholars in responding to the intellectual onslaught against Islam.
      Iftikhar’s perspective gets at the heart of the difference between western and eastern Islamic education: the former is concerned with an academic pursuit divorced of sentiment and practice, whereas the latter deem sentiment and practice to be essential. Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with questioning Islam and its injunctions bereft of personal bias. Yet, there is a thin line between conducting an academic exercise and imposing a secular reading – even if it contradicts the teachings of a faith – on Islam (or any other religion for that matter). In my opinion, then, while western academia undoubtedly has the potential to help Islamic research progress, it is in itself insufficient for developing genuine Islamic thought.
    6. ashaz
      PAKISTANBaitullah Mehsud is dead

      By Ismail Khan

      Saturday, 08 Aug, 2009 | 05:00 AM PST |

      PESHAWAR: Pakistan’s most dreaded Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US Predator strike, a senior security official confirmed.

      ‘This is one hundred per cent. We have no doubt about his death,’ the official said, requesting he not be named. ‘He is dead and buried.’

      The US is believed to have shared with the Pakistani authorities a video feed of the drone strike which, according to credible sources, has left no room for doubt that the most feared man in Pakistan was indeed dead.

      One of the missiles, according to the sources, hit the roof of the upper-storey of the house, killing Baitullah and his younger wife for less than a year.

      ‘He was clearly visible with his wife,’ a senior security official, who saw the video footage, said. ‘And the missile hit the target as it was. His torso remained, while half of the body was blown up.’

      The strike also hit the vehicle that had brought Baitullah to the house of his father-in-law Malik Ikramuddin who had been shuttling between his son-in-law and the government to negotiate a new peace deal.

      The Taliban immediately shut down the three telephone lines in Zanghara and threw a five-kilometre security cordon around the area to block the leakage of news about the death of their leader.

      The news of Baitullah’s possible death was in the air since Wednesday’s drone attack that according to initial reports had killed his wife and father-in-law.

      On Thursday night information that he too had been killed had started coming out of the Mehsud territory in bits and pieces, and throughout the day it remained the only topic of discussion within the country.

      Initially, the government was quite reluctant to openly confirm the news. In his uncharacteristically cautious remarks Interior Minister Rehman Malik said he had information but no evidence to suggest that the TTP leader had in fact been killed.

      A few hours later, the first confirmation of sorts came from the foreign minister. ‘Yes my intelligence sources have confirmed that he has been killed,’ Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters in Islamabad. But he too qualified it by saying that it needed to be authenticated through other means.

      A report suggested that Baitullah might have been buried in Nargosha area of Shabikhel — a place his father had abandoned after developing a blood feud before moving to Bannu to serve as a prayer leader in a mosque in Landi Dhok.

      It is understood that the strike to take out Baitullah was the outcome of a joint Pakistan-US intelligence operation that may, according to some officials, indicate a new level of trust between the often mutually suspicious intelligence agencies of the two countries.

      The Taliban have withheld an announcement about the death of their leader, pending nomination of his successor, amid intelligence reports that a Mehsud militant shura met for the third day running at a secret location in Ludda in the volatile South Waziristan to nominate a new leader.

      The meeting short-listed three candidates but stopped short of naming one, suggesting a power struggle among main contenders, a senior government official said.

      Waliur Rehman, a deputy to Baitullah, is said to be leading the list with majority of shura members siding with him.

      The forty-something Wali is Baitullah’s cousin and an Alizai Mehsud by tribe and hails from the village of Tangi in Serwekai.

      The next on the list is the young, brash and aggressive Hakeemullah Mehsud, until very recently Baitullah’s commander for Kurram, Orakzai and Khyber tribal regions before he was recalled to South Waziristan to face off a possible military operation.

      Hakeemullah, who once worked as Baitullah’s driver, was considered to be very close to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan leader and was widely considered to be his likely successor.

      ‘Baitullah had groomed him well for the task,’ a senior military official said. ‘He could be a natural choice, but his shooting-from-the-hip attitude may actually down his chances.’

      The third in the line of serious contenders is little known 50-year-old Azmatullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander in Barwand.

      ‘The failure by the shura to quickly come up with a Baitullah successor indicates a power struggle within the key players,’ a senior government official said.

      ‘It’s not just the key players within the Mehsud clans wanting the mantle of leadership, the Ahmadzai Wazir militants in Wana and the Utmankhels’ leader in Miramshah would like to take on the mantle. They are lobbying and jockeying for power,’ the official said.

      ‘And I think the Haqqani-Al Qaeda network will play a pivotal role in the whole process,’ the official said, referring to Siraj Haqqani, son of veteran Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani.

      The young Haqqani, often referred to as Khalifa Siraj, is Mullah Omar’s pointman for North and South Waziristan. Baitullah had taken oath of allegiance to Khalifa Siraj, who had helped the 37-year-old gain leadership of the Taliban in South Waziristan at the expense of the one-legged former Guantanamo detainee, Abdullah Mehsud.

      But government and security officials watching the scene unfolding in South Waziristan say Baitullah’s death is a major setback for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

      ‘This is a big setback for them. Baitullah was a phenomenon. It will take them a considerable time to regain their composure,’ the security official said.

      ‘The man has taken a lot of secrets with himself and for any successor will need a lot of time to rebuild and re-establish various linkages and connect the dots,’ the official said.

      ‘He was the Osama bin Laden of Pakistan,’ remarked a senior analyst. ‘Consider the damage his death would cause to his movement.’

      The TTP has suffered major setbacks in Bajaur, Mohmand and Swat and the death of Baitullah will further dent its strength, the official said. ‘It may now longer be the TTP that we knew,’ he remarked.

      Still some security officials warned it was too early to write off the TTP. ‘You will have to wait to see who succeeds Baitullah before making any presumptions. A lot will depend on the character of the man who steps into Baitullah’s shoes. There will be call for blood and revenge from the rank and file of the Taliban and then he will also have to establish his credentials and leadership. So there may be some fireworks in the offing,’ one official remarked.


      Copyright © 2009 - Dawn Media Group
    7. ashaz
      The self-styled ‘Mother of Parliaments’ has been brought into such disrepute that it is doubtful that it will escape sweeping changes. —AFP/File photo As the corrosive drip-drip-drip of parliamentary sleaze continues in its third week, one can feel the political and constitutional landscape in Britain shifting. According to one estimate, as many as half the MPs in a house of 646 will not return to Parliament after the next elections. These are due within a year, but Gordon Brown is coming under growing pressure to announce them earlier.

      The logic behind fresh polls is that this Parliament has become so heavily tainted by recent revelations of unjustified and venal expense claims that a fresh mandate is needed.

      Leading this demand is David Cameron, leader of the opposition Conservative Party. But obviously, he would call for elections as he is currently sitting on a 20-point lead over Labour. One reason for his current ascendancy has been his strong handling of the crisis: he has been tough to the point of ruthlessness with his party members who have been caught with their hands in the till.

      The call for early elections is echoed in newspaper columns and editorials, as well as virtually every political discussion on radio and TV. The level of public anger has reached such a pitch that MPs are heckled and jeered when they appear on TV talk shows such as BBC1’s flagship programme Question Hour with David Dimbleby. Many of them face open hostility in their constituencies; so much so that ten have either been forced to announce that they will stand down in the next elections, or have done so voluntarily. The Sunday Times has estimated that many more heads will roll, and hundreds will either not be given party tickets, or will simply not run.

      The biggest scalp claimed by the scandal thus far is that of Michael Martin, the first Speaker of the House of Commons to be forced out in over three hundred years. So far, two members of the Cabinet have been scarred. Shahid Malik, the first Muslim minister in Britain, has been suspended because he accepted a rented residence in his constituency from a businessman at far below its market rent. He also claimed 2,600 pounds for a plasma TV. Other senior figures in the government fear losing their positions in the Cabinet reshuffle that is widely expected after the local and EU parliamentary elections due early next month.

      One reason Gordon Brown has been viewed as reacting to events rather than acting decisively as his Tory rival has done is that he is the head of the government while Cameron is leader of the opposition. Brown cannot throw cabinet colleagues out without increasing the demands for fresh elections. A depleted Cabinet will demoralise his party while encouraging his opponents. And a snap election is the last thing Brown would like to see, given the recent opinion polls that show the Tories at around 45 per cent, with Labour languishing at 25 per cent, not that far ahead of the third placed Liberal Democrats.

      At the heart of the scandal is the system of allowances that MPs are allowed to claim. In theory, these are aimed at compensating them for the nature of their duties, but in reality, it was found politically expedient to raise allowances over the years, rather than vote for an outright increase in the basic income of an MP that stands at 64,000 pounds. Over time, many MPs came to view their allowances as part of their salary package. A lax system of checking their claims encouraged this laissez faire attitude, and old-timers in the House taught newcomers the ropes of claiming expenses.

      So misused did the system become that the most absurd claims were lodged with the House Fees Office: one Conservative MP claimed 1,600 pounds for a duck house that was supposed to float in his pond. And when he was exposed, he expressed his fury at public intrusion into his personal affairs, forgetting that he was asking the same public to pay for his toys.

      The self-styled ‘Mother of Parliaments’ has been brought into such disrepute that it is doubtful that it will escape sweeping changes. Proposals range from writing down Britain’s hitherto unwritten constitution, to reducing the number of MPs. And this is another reason pressure for fresh elections is building up: many people are convinced that until a new bunch of MPs are sitting in the House, no meaningful debate can take place.

      It is hard to convey the anger sweeping the country. Ordinary people out of jobs due to the recession see red when they are given fresh details of what their representatives have been up to day after day. None of the major parties has escaped without being tarred by the scandal. Even two members of the House of Lords have been caught up in another scam to do with being exposed for offering to push through legislation that would have profited certain interests. Even though this revelation came as part of a newspaper sting operation, it does reveal the vulnerability of individuals to temptation.

      Gordon Brown has a year to pull a rabbit out of the hat. He must be hoping against hope that somehow, the balance will tilt in his favour. Having waited for so long to become prime minister, there is no way he will call fresh elections a day before he must. The immediate danger he faces is that the results of next month’s local and EU parliamentary elections will be so dismal that there might be calls from within the Labour Party for him to step down. Polls indicate that Labour would not lose so badly under another leader as it would under Brown. Alan Johnson’s name is being mentioned as an alternative.

      The next year will see many changes in Britain. It is virtually certain that the Conservatives under David Cameron will form the next government. A new speaker is about to be elected. Half the House is expected to be changed, the biggest turnover since Labour’s landslide victory immediately after the Second World War. But Cameron may find he has been handed a poisoned chalice: with the economy on its knees and unemployment hitting historic highs, governing Britain will be difficult at best. Already, the country has been downgraded from its triple A rating because of the huge debt it has incurred to prop up its banking sector. Worse economic news is sure to follow.
    8. ashaz
      The mystery of crop circles By Irfan Husain
      Wednesday, 05 Aug, 2009 | 07:59 AM PST Locals have been known to inform enthusiasts about the appearance of a crop circle to attract tourists, and some farmers charge entrance fees to permit outsiders on to their fields to photograph fresh patterns. —File photo Contrary to the long-term forecast made by the Met Office in the UK earlier this year, we are not enjoying the ‘barbecue summer’ the weather experts had promised us. Indeed, apart from a couple of weeks in June, it has been rainy, cloudy and cool much of the time. Wimbledon enjoyed some warm weather for its annual tennis tournament, and strawberries and cream were consumed by the bucket, but since then, it has been pretty wet and miserable.

      However, while the newspapers have been full of letters and reports about the ****** climate, your correspondent from Devizes in deepest Wiltshire is perfectly happy with the cloud cover. Having read reports about the hot summer in Pakistan and the inevitable power breakdowns, I, for one, am not complaining.

      Traditionally, weather is the central topic of conversation here, and rarely does a day pass without a neighbour making a reference to it as we meet briefly. ‘Lovely day!’, or more frequently, ‘I do hope it’ll clear up in time for the start of the test match…’ The weather gurus and their forecasts are dissected at dinner parties, and people moan about the rain at the weekend when they had gone to a coast resort.

      This preoccupation with the weather can partly be explained by the quick changes that can take place in the course of a day. In Pakistan, I recall blazingly hot summers in Lahore when for weeks at a stretch, the daily forecast in the Pakistan Times read: ‘Hot and dry with variable sky.’ Unable to afford an air-conditioner, I failed to appreciate the poetry of the forecast as I sweated through many an unbearable May and June.

      Believing the promise of a ‘barbecue summer’, tens of thousands of Brits decided to spend their summer vacations here (for so-called ‘staycations’). Many booked cottages or hotels along the coast, and others planned holidays on trailers. They must be cursing their luck as persistent showers and cool, cloudy days have prevented holiday-makers from swimming and sun-bathing. Travel agents report a sudden surge in enquiries and bookings for trips abroad as the Met Office has been forced to revise its long-term forecast.

      Another, more dependable, feature of the English summer is the appearance of scores of crop circles. This odd phenomenon, first recorded in the 17th century, is the overnight emergence of strange, often highly complex, patterns in fields containing standing crops. While they normally seem to prefer wheat and corn fields, they do occasionally appear in different crops. Crop circles have been reported in Australia, Russia, Japan, Georgia and the United States.

      Although they have often been brushed off as the work of hoaxers, many contain some curious features that are hard to explain. For one, some of them are so large and complex that it is hard to believe that they could have been created in the dark in a single night. At least one was nearly 800 feet across, and contained a series of intricate patterns. Some of them are reported to consist of plaits of wheat stalks woven together. At several sites, minute iron filings have been detected, and at others, the wheat stalks show signs of expansion.

      Although some crop circles have been claimed by pranksters, the majority remain mysterious oddities. One strange feature is that very few have been caught making them, although if people have been creating such elaborate patterns in the dark, they would need light to work in. Farmers would have spotted torches, as would passers-by.

      An entire cottage industry of crop-circle tourism has emerged with enthusiasts and experts making their way from one new pattern to another. Wiltshire is a popular site for them, and I have seen several crop circles recently. Farmers get furious at their appearance as not only do they suffer the loss of their crop destroyed in their creation, but also have to put up with the tourists who inevitably show up to take pictures.

      Many people ascribe the phenomenon to the proximity of ancient burial sites. Others claim that certain weather conditions cause these odd patterns. But the most popular explanation is that aliens make them in an attempt to communicate with us. Some claim seeing UFOs (unidentified flying objects) in the areas in which crop circles have appeared the next day.

      Locals have been known to inform enthusiasts about the appearance of a crop circle to attract tourists, and some farmers charge entrance fees to permit outsiders on to their fields to photograph fresh patterns. This commercialization has strengthened the view that the whole thing is an elaborate hoax. However, this does not explain why crop circles have been spotted across the world, or indeed the size and complexity of some of the patterns. Although most crop circles have appeared overnight, there are reports of some of them being formed spontaneously in broad daylight. Here’s an eyewitness account of one such phenomenon seen by a group of people on Starr Hill in Wiltshire: ‘Suddenly the grass began to sway before our eyes and laid itself flat in a clockwise spiral, just like the opening of a lady’s fan. A perfect circle was completed in less than half a minute, all the time accompanied by a high-pitched humming sound.’

      Several how-to-make-crop-circle guides have appeared on the Internet. These show how it is possible to create circular patterns by using ropes and planks, but still do not make it possible to make designs of the size and intricacy of many circles that have been photographed over the years.

      A quick Google search will show viewers how much interest this phenomenon has generated. One YouTube video purports to show a circle being created by a flying white globe that is described as a UFO. But it is impossible to tell whether the video is genuine.

      Not surprisingly, the whole crop circle mystery has attracted the usual group of UFO buffs, nutters and people with lots of time on their hands. They have created several websites and filed hundreds of blogs in which they have given their take on the phenomenon. Fortunately, more serious researchers have also focused on the crop circles, and their research makes for interesting reading. So whenever you have a bit of time, visit some of these websites.
    9. ashaz
      WASHINGTON: The International Monetary Fund on Friday said it had approved an additional 3.2 billion dollar loan to Pakistan to help the country weather the global economic crisis.

      The IMF said the extra funds for the loan program to Pakistan would ‘help the country address increased balance of payment needs’ and increase the total loan to 11.3 billion dollars.

      The IMF executive board also approved an extension of the loan to the end of 2010, an additional three months, and the payment of a third instalment of the loan of 1.2 billion dollars, the multilateral institution said in a statement.

      Four billion dollars had already been disbursed, as part of a program to help Pakistan weather the global crisis.

      The board decisions were made after IMF completed its second review of its loan, a so-called Stand-By Arrangement, originally approved last November.

      The country approached the IMF last year for a rescue package as it grappled with a 30-year high inflation rate and fast-depleting reserves that were barely enough to cover nine weeks of import bills.

      ‘The macroeconomic outlook for 2009/10 remains difficult, and the external position is subject to considerable downside risks,’ said Murilo Portugal, IMF deputy managing director, in the statement.

      The extra IMF aid ‘will help mitigate these risks and enable the implementation of the government’s fiscal program; however, this financing is temporary and should be used as a bridge until the revenue reforms bear fruit.’ The board also agreed that part of the additional funding ‘could be used to finance priority spending until the disbursements of donor support pledged for 2009-2010 are received.’ The IMF approved Pakistan’s request for waivers for failing to meet certain criteria, including a budget deficit that is 0.9 percent of economic output and continued weakness in banking supervision and tax policy.

      ‘Pakistan’s economy has continued to stabilize,’ Portugal said.

      He welcomed Pakistan’s progress in reforms in the financial sector and the foreign exchange market and in strengthening the social safety net.

      ‘These achievements are appreciable, considering the security developments that resulted among others in the large number of internally displaced persons, the global economic recession, and the difficult domestic political environment.’—AFP
    10. ashaz
      OVER the last few days, the Pakistani media has been full of reports about the mob violence that took seven innocent Christian lives in Gojra.

      Given the revulsion all decent people have felt, the government has been forced to move: provincial and federal ministers have visited the area; compensation of five lakhs for each life lost has been announced; and the district police chief has been transferred.

      In short, we have gone through all the familiar motions. With practised ease, the bureaucracy has swung into action after the murders and arson were long over. Had they shown such alacrity to forestall the incident, many people would have been alive today. While I have read several newspaper reports about the killings, the following email from Father Bonnie Mendes made particularly poignant reading:

      ‘Dear Irfan,

      Somebody sent me your email. Working as I was in villages, I hardly read newspapers. However, at this time I am based in Bangkok working as regional coordinator of Caritas Asia. It is part of the whole global Caritas Internationalis with its headquarters in the Vatican….

      ‘You must have heard of all that has happened in Gojra…. At a Christian village in Korian Chak 362 JB, Gojra tehsil, district Toba Tek Singh (places I have worked for a long time), kids got hold of some social studies and Urdu textbooks and cut pages to throw in welcome to the groom coming to the village. News spread that an Arabic text was also cut up. Talib Masih, father of one of the boys, was called before the baraderi. He explained everything and how illiterate children had done it to welcome the party. He apologised. The matter ended there.

      ‘Rumours still were spreading and some armed groups came and attacked the two chapels in the village, torched them and burnt the Christian houses. That was bad enough. Federal and provincial ministers came. Only one Muslim officer came to assess the damage. That was all. He too did not condole for the loss. Instead he asked others who came to leave for security risks. They answered: we will die with our people.

      ‘Two or three days later, a mob came and attacked the Christians in the town of Gojra. Seven died. They used whatever they had to defend themselves, including rifles used for hunting. They ran out of ammunition. Houses were gutted.

      ‘The police would not register the FIR.

      ‘Funerals could not be held. People said first register the FIR, the police wanted to dilute the case and then register the FIR without the names of those identified by the Christians.

      ‘The funerals could not be held. Pressure kept growing. The people took the coffins and kept them on the rail track. Rail tracks were blocked. People sat on the railway lines. In the end the FIR was registered. The funeral was done by Bishop Joseph Coutts at 9.30 pm on Sunday.

      ‘People wanted Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to come. He was busy giving awards to students. They were given Rs300,000 each. The victims only Rs500,000 each. Life is cheap, it seems.

      ‘The sad part is that the police were warned and allowed this to happen.

      ‘Thank you for your continual support.

      Fr Bonnie Mendes’

      Reading these details, I could imagine the anguished screams of the people being burned alive and the helpless fury of families unable to help sons, brothers and fathers.

      I am often sent emails by readers claiming to be ‘proud Pakistanis’. How can one be proud to be a Pakistani when incidents like the one at Gojra occur with such sickening regularity? Recently, several houses belonging to Christians were torched in Kasur. I have little doubt that soon another tragedy involving one minority community or another will play itself out on the national stage. Politicians will wring their hands, some official will be made the scapegoat, and so on till the next tragedy.

      Ever since the blasphemy laws were imposed on Pakistan by Gen Zia nearly three decades ago, our country has become an increasingly dangerous place for non-Muslims. Hundreds of cases have been registered against hapless Christians and Hindus. Ahmadis have not only been declared non-Muslims, they have been actively persecuted for their beliefs.

      If Muslims in the West were treated as we treat non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan, there would be loud accusations of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim discrimination. And despite this widespread and rampant discrimination against our minorities, we have the gall to lecture the world about our peaceful values.

      One recurring theme in the media commentary about the Gojra tragedy is how Zia’s blasphemy laws have encouraged the persecution of the minorities. Anybody with a grudge to settle or some property to grab can swear he saw a non-Muslim desecrate the Quran. Inflaming a mob of bigots is an easy matter for the local mullah who is often in on the scam.

      What most commentators have not said is that this pattern has continued unchecked because nobody is ever punished for these crimes. I, for one, am unaware of any mullah or a member of a lynch mob who has been successfully prosecuted for his role in barbaric acts like the ones at Gojra. Often, as now, the police do register a case, but once the media spotlight has been turned elsewhere, life returns to its grim norm for the minorities.

      While the dilatory tactics employed by the law and order agencies as well as our lower courts are par for the course, civil society has not played its role either. Although the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan maintains a record of anti-minority crimes as well as other violations, the fact is that the media’s and the public’s attention span and memory are very limited.

      If we are serious about protecting our minorities, we will need to get serious about prosecuting those responsible for incidents like Gojra. But both our politicians and our Bonapartes fear religious parties and militias too much to actually throw their leaders in jail. The fact that Musharraf as well as his civilian predecessors and successors have lacked the will and the courage to undo the blasphemy laws is a sad comment on the grip the religious right has on our jugular.
    11. ashaz
      PESHAWAR: Born in 1972, Baitullah Mehsud had to suffer an early childhood dislocation when he moved, along with his father, from his Nargosha village to Landi Dhok in Bannu, close to the South Waziristan tribal region.

      His father served as a Pesh-Imam (prayer leader) in a mosque in Landi Dhok before moving to Miramshah in North Waziristan and there also he led prayers in a mosque. Baitullah got a little religious education in Miramshah’s Pepal Madressah.

      And it was in Miramshah where Baitullah is believed to have come into contact with Taliban militants who persuaded him to join them in the fight against the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.He fought well in Afghanistan and established himself as a fighter, a senior security officer, who himself belongs to the Mehsud tribe, recalled.

      Baitullah returned to his native South Waziristan after the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime in November 2001.

      He shot to prominence after the notorious Taliban commander in South Waziristan, Nek Mohammad, was killed in a missile attack in Wana in June 2004. But he keep a low profile when the one-legged former Guantanamo detainee, Abdullah Mehsud, reined supreme in the Mehsud territory.

      His real chance to claim leadership came soon after Abdullah kidnapped two Chinese engineers in October 2004. Miffed that the fiery militant commander had picked up an unnecessary fight with Pakistan’s security forces, a shura of the local Taliban removed Abdullah Mehsud and handed over the command of the Taliban in South Waziristan to Baitullah.

      Known for his cool-headedness, the military hailed Baitullah’s ascension, called him a soldier of peace and signed the Sara Rogha agreement with him in February 2005.

      The peace agreement collapsed in a matter of months, with both sides accusing each other of violating its terms, leading to the beginning of hostilities that took a huge toll.

      Baitullah proved himself a tough warrior, taking due advantage of a territory that was native and treacherous, by defeating two successive military operations.

      He catapulted to the limelight when he took hundreds of Pakistani soldiers hostage in August 2007. It was perhaps because of this singular feat that militants in the length and breadth of Fata at a 20-member shura meeting chose him as leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in December 2007.

      Baitullah unleashed a wave of suicide bombings in Pakistan. Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani once told journalists that the TTP leader was behind almost all attacks inside Pakistan.

      According to a UN report, Baitullah was behind 80 per cent of the suicide bombings in Afghanistan.

      He gained in stature to the extent that The Time magazine rated him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Not to be left behind, The Newsweek described him as more dangerous than Osama bin Laden.

      Accounts vary about the actual strength of his force, but intelligence agencies put the number of his fighting force at 20,000 to 30,000, including 2,000 to 3,000 foreign militants, mostly of Central Asian origin – Uzbeks and Chechens.

      He ran a number of training camps, including those indoctrinating suicide bombers – a weapon – he once called his own atom bombs.

      A short-stocky man, Baitullah suffered from diabetes that once prompted reports of serious illness and then death in late 2008. Much to the disappointment of many, the man bounced back to host a big feast of lamb and rice to celebrate his second marriage to a daughter of the local influential tribal leader, Malik Ikramuddin. He, however, remained issueless.

      According to one account, he was also the ghost writer of a book in Urdu, Carvan-i-Baitullah Mehsud, using the pen-name of Abu Munib. In the book, he described his ideology, war strategy and details pertaining to his movement.

      The United States had announced a $5 million bounty on Baitullah’s head in March this year. But it took Pakistan several months before making up its mind to declare him as Pakistan’s enemy number one and announce a reward of Rs50 million for his capture, dead or alive, in June.

      Trouble began to emerge for the TTP leader when the government announced the launching of a military operation against him in June. No ground offensive was launched and the government changed its tactics to use air strikes and artillery, besides imposing an effective economic blockade to stop fuel and food supply to the area. Thousands of Mehsuds fled the area.

      He was under pressure both from within his own Mehsud clan, which wanted him to ease it off with the government, and his commanders who egged him on to fight off the military. For the first time, his decision and thought-making process was shaky, an official familiar with the situation in the area said.

      He wouldn’t stay in one place for two months and would constantly change places. His nerves were on edge, he remarked.

      It is useless to run away. I know some day, one day they will come and get me, one senior official quoted Baitullah as telling a fellow Mehsud tribesman.

      Little did the man, described by a senior security official as someone with fox-like instincts to sense danger, suspect that he was exposing himself to a missile target by relaxing with his younger wife on a roof in Zanghara, South Waziristan.
    12. ashaz
      Security forces continue to battle militants in the NWFP. — Photo by Reuters Pakistan
      ‘India being blamed to justify military action’ ISLAMABAD: Fifteen militants were arrested from different areas of Swat, three of whom have surrendered before the security forces, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.

      According to the ISPR, three militants voluntarily surrendered before the forces along with their weapons at Arambagh, DawnNews reported.

      Nine of these militants were arrested from the Sambat and Bodigram areas, near Matta Tehsil. Some stolen jewellery was also recovered from the house of a militant commander near Charbagh.

      Meanwhile, in Dir, security forces apprehended Dr Mohammad Rasul Khan, a government employee at Batkhela Hospital. Khan was allegedly facilitating and harbouring militants.
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