News & Current Affairs

March 7, 2010

Pakistan officers suspended over UK boy kidnap

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 3:34 pm

Pakistan officers suspended over UK boy kidnap

Four police officers in Pakistan have been suspended over the handling of the kidnap of a five-year-old British boy.

Sahil Saeed, from Oldham, was snatched by armed robbers on Wednesday while visiting relatives with his father.

But the police did not initially respond to the family’s emergency call to “Rescue 15”, the Pakistani equivalent of 999.

Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik met Sahil’s father and said he planned to “make an example of” the captors.

Sahil was taken from his grandmother’s home in the Punjab city of Jhelum as he prepared to take a taxi to the airport for his return flight to the UK.

The attackers are said to have demanded a £100,000 ransom for his return.

‘Pray for him’

On Saturday, Sahil’s mother Akila Naqqas pleaded for his safe return, saying she would forgive his son’s captors if they released him.

Sahil Saeed

Sahil Saeed was taken by robbers after a raid on his grandmother’s home

She also said Sahil had never been apart from either herself or her husband.

“It’s just a nightmare. I’m not sleeping at all,” she said. “It’s worse at night when I have no-one to comfort me.

“All we can do is just pray for him.”

It is understood several men, including a taxi driver, have been arrested in Pakistan.

The interior minister visited Sahil ‘s father Raja Saeed in Jhelum on Sunday.

Mr Malik told him the police believed the kidnappers were people close to the family, and that they were closing in on the culprits.

“We have certain leads that I would not like to discuss,” he said. “But a warning to those abductors – leave the boy because we are very near to you.”

He also said the kidnap was “humiliating” for Pakistan and the captors would be made an “example off”.

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July 20, 2009

Lessons for Karachi sex workers

Lessons for Karachi sex workers

Zeba Raman is a 28-year-old Pakistani sex worker. Born into the profession in Karachi’s red light district of Napier Road, she plies her trade all over the city.

nadia
I did not know that precautionary measures should be taken during sex
Nadia, sex worker

She is celebrating the launch of an initiative to promote health awareness among sex workers.

“We are now revealed to society,” says Ms Rahman.

But prostitution remains illegal and anathema to many in Muslim-majority Pakistan. It is an ever-present fact of life, but never really acknowledged.

The last two decades, given the increasing Islamisation of Pakistani society, have further reinforced stereotypes about such women.

But the profession has only grown.

Karachi alone has at least 100,000 female sex workers, according to data gathered by local welfare organisations.

Lahore has 75,000 sex workers while the military garrison town of Rawalpindi has at least 25,000.

‘Spirit of openness’

Pakistan’s first workshop on health awareness among sex workers has contributed to a new spirit of openness in the profession.

“Earlier we were doing our jobs secretly, but now we can raise our voice for our rights,” Ms Raman says.

ghulam murtaza
It was very difficult to gather sex workers under one roof. Many were simply afraid of being arrested
Dr Ghulam Murtaza

The three-day event was recently held in Karachi by Gender & Reproductive Health Forum (GRHF) – a local social welfare organisation – in collaboration with the United Nations Fund for Population (UNFPA).

“I am very happy that a number of sex workers attended the workshop,” says Ms Raman.

“This has provided us an opportunity to gather and exchange views and experiences.”

She is not the only one to have benefited.

“I became a sex worker five years back,” says Nadia, 26.

Nadia said that she learned about safe sex measures at the workshop.

“I had heard about HIV/Aids, but I thought that it could only be transmitted through blood transfusions.

“I did not know that precautionary measures should be taken during sex as well,” she said.

Before the workshop, most of sex workers who attended did not know about measures for safe sex, Nadia added.

Dr Ghulam Murtaza is the head of the GRHF organisation and the man behind the workshop.

Ziba Raman

Ms Raman said she drew a lot of confidence from the workshop

The man behind the workshop, GRHF head Dr Ghulam Murtaza , said the organisation was working to create awareness of safe sex among female sex workers.

“It was very difficult to gather sex workers under one roof. Many were simply afraid of being arrested,” he said.

“We offered several incentives and assurances and paid them 1,000 rupees ($20) per day for their attendance,” he said.

“Finally, we succeeded in gathering almost 100 sex workers at the workshop held at a local hotel”.

Most of the sex workers who attended avoided the cameramen there., saying they were afraid of being exposed to their families.

Many said their husbands or family members did not know they were sex workers. They told their families that they work for private firms.

Despite these barriers, Dr Murtaza said the workshop had been successful.

“We have trained some female sex workers. They will now go to their community to create awareness among their co-workers.”

‘Reinvigorated’

The international participants at the workshop were of the view that Pakistan was still relatively safe as far as HIV/Aids was concerned.

I can now continue with my profession with more confidence
Zeba Raman

The UNFPA representative, Dr Safdar Kamal Pasha, said at least 100 HIV- positive sex workers had been found in central Punjab. But the number of HIV-positive women was not high among female sex workers in Pakistan.

“It can be controlled by creating awareness about the disease among sex workers and about usage of precautionary measures,” he said.

The workshop was widely considered to be a success and Dr Pasha said they were considering organising a national convention for sex workers next year.

The sex workers themselves were moved by the workshop.

“Having attended the workshop, I feel reinvigorated,” Zeba Raman declares.

“I can now continue with my profession with more confidence.”

July 19, 2009

Court in Pakistan acquits Sharif

Court in Pakistan acquits Sharif

Nawaz Sharif

Mr Sharif is one of the most popular politicians in Pakistan

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted opposition head Nawaz Sharif of hijacking charges, removing the final ban on him running for public office.

Mr Sharif was found guilty of hijacking then army chief General Pervez Musharraf’s plane in 1999, when he ordered it to be diverted.

Mr Sharif was then toppled as prime minster in a coup led by Gen Musharraf.

He was convicted by the Sindh High Court but he has always maintained that the charges were politically motivated.

Mr Sharif’s government had ordered officials to divert Gen Musharraf’s plane away from Karachi and to a smaller city in Sindh.

While he was imprisoned, Mr Sharif agreed to go into exile under a deal with Gen Musharraf who had taken over as Pakistan’s president.

Mr Sharif ended his exile ahead of the 2008 elections but was prevented from contesting due to the court conviction.

Pakistan’s president and prime minister were swift to congratulate Mr Sharif on the court ruling.

Mr Sharif’s acquittal will be viewed as a positive development which helps strengthen democracy.

It also puts Mr Sharif on an even keel with President Asif Ali Zardari of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Charges against him were withdrawn from court by the earlier Musharraf government in the name of “national” reconciliation.

But the court verdict restores to the political stage a potentially formidable opponent to Mr Zardari, correspondents say.

Mr Sharif has held office previously and can point to substantial political support across the country.

‘Set aside’

In its ruling on Friday, the Supreme Court said there was no evidence to support the charge of hijacking and acquitted Mr Sharif.

A judgement given by a kangaroo court nine years ago has been nullified by an independent and sovereign apex court
Siddique-ul-Farooq, PML-N spokesman

“Looking at the case from any angle – the charge of hijacking, attempt to hijack or terrorism – does not stand established against the petitioner,” news agency AFP quoted from the Supreme Court ruling.

“The conviction and sentence of the appellant are set aside and he is acquitted,” the order said.

The “petitioner had neither used force nor ordered its use and undisputedly no deceitful means were used,” it added.

The five-judge court headed by Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani heard the petition in June, but initially reserved judgement.

Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party has welcomed the order.

“A judgement given by a kangaroo court nine years ago has been nullified by an independent and sovereign apex court in the light of the constitution, law and evidence on record,” PML-N spokesman Siddique-ul-Farooq was quoted by AFP as saying.

In May, the Supreme Court had overturned a ban that prevented Mr Sharif and his brother Shahbaz from running for political office.

The ruling meant that Mr Sharif would be able to stand in elections due in 2013 or a parliamentary by-election before then.

The former prime minister and leader of the PML-N party is one of the most popular politicians in the country.

Pakistan rains kill at least 26

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:54 pm

Pakistan rains kill at least 26

A Pakistani family in their flooded house in Karachi, July 19

Hundreds of families are still living in flooded homes

At least 26 people have been killed in monsoon rain in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, officials say.

Most of the deaths were caused by collapsing walls and electrocution.

The downpour flooded low-lying parts of the city and left most areas without electricity on Saturday night, but power was gradually being restored.

Monsoon rains wreak havoc in Pakistan almost every year. Correspondents say an ageing drainage system leaves parts of Karachi vulnerable to flooding.

Pakistan’s chief meteorologist said nearly 14.7cm (6in) of rain fell on the city on Saturday.

Abdullah, a resident who was standing by the body of his neighbour’s son, said the child had drowned after falling into a drain.

“People pulled his body out of a rain drain which was running very fast,” he told Reuters news agency.

Afghan helicopter crash kills 16

Afghan helicopter crash kills 16

Russian-built Mi-8. File photo

Russian media say the aircraft was an Mi-8 similar to this

A civilian helicopter has crashed in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 16 civilians and injuring five, Nato officials have confirmed.

The helicopter crashed at Kandahar airfield apparently as it was trying to take off, though Nato has ruled out the involvement of insurgents.

Reports from Moscow say the helicopter was a Russian-built Mi-8.

The crash is the second in a week. Six passengers died when a helicopter came down in Helmand province on Tuesday.

‘Not shot down’

Russia’s Interfax agency quoted a spokesman for Russia’s Federal Air Transportation Agency (Fata) as saying the aircraft was a Russian-built Mi-8 transport helicopter.

Map

Fata said it was owned by the Russian air company Vertical-T.

The nationalities of the dead are not yet known.

A statement from Nato’s International Security Assistance Force said: “A civilian contracted helicopter crashed during take-off from Kandahar airfield.

“Emergency personnel are on the scene. There was no indication of the cause of the accident but insurgent action has been ruled out.”

Kandahar airfield is Nato’s largest air base in southern Afghanistan but the BBC’s Martin Patience in Kabul says a lot of civilian aircraft fly in and out so there is no surprise this was a civilian crash.

A Nato spokeswoman, Lt Cmdr Sam Truelove, told the AFP news agency it had been confirmed that all the dead were civilians and no military personnel were involved.

RECENT HELICOPTER CRASHES
14 Jul 2008: Six Ukrainian civilians and Afghan girl die in crash in Helmand. Suspected enemy fire
6 Jul 2008: One UK and two Canadian soldiers die in crash in Zabul province. Enemy fire not suspected
15 Jan 2008: Afghan general and 12 other soldiers die in crash in Herat province. Bad weather blamed
30 May 2007: Seven killed as Nato Chinook crashes in Helmand. Cause unclear

The condition of the injured was not known, she said.

Vertical-T was founded in 1992 and started to work abroad in 1998 in Italy. It has worked in countries including Germany, East Timor, Cyprus, Yemen and Greece, according to the company’s website.

The company’s helicopters are currently carrying out operations in the interests of the UN in Afghanistan and a number of other countries including Congo, Sudan and Pakistan.

The dead in Tuesday’s crash in Helmand were all civilians.

That helicopter crashed near the Sangin military base, with local people saying it had been shot down by insurgents.

Six Ukrainian crew members of the Mi-26 helicopter died, along with an Afghan girl on the ground.

July 16, 2009

Pakistan and India in terror vow

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:51 pm

Pakistan and India in terror vow

Taj Mahal hotel under attack in November

A total of 166 people died in the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008

India and Pakistan will work together to fight terrorism, the countries’ prime ministers have announced.

Meeting in Egypt, they said the fight against their “main threat” should not be linked to wider peace talks.

However, India’s Manmohan Singh later said no dialogue would start until those behind last year’s attacks in Mumbai (Bombay) were “brought to book”.

Relations between the two countries deteriorated after the attacks in which militants killed more than 160 people.

India has accused Pakistan-based fighters from the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba of carrying out the attacks.

Pakistan has admitted they were partly planned on its soil – and vowed to do all it can to bring the suspects to justice.

Climb-down ‘denied’

ANALYSIS
Jill McGivering, BBC News
Jill McGivering,Courtesy
BBC News
Broadly speaking the prime ministers emerged in positive mood. Both sides found agreement on some basic principles.

Crucially, they also agreed to separate their debate about action on terrorism from more general dialogue. That was a key demand from Pakistan – and may make it possible for the mechanism of talks to be revived, independent of India’s continuing demands for tougher action on militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group India blames for the Mumbai attacks.

That apparent concession from India was offset by some tough statements on terrorism. Mr Singh has to face an Indian public which is still angry about the Mumbai attacks and frustrated that, so far, Pakistan has done little to convict those responsible.

Prime Ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan and Manmohan Singh of India made the pledge after meeting in Egypt.

The talks on Thursday – on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement’s summit in Egypt – were the third high-level meeting between the two nuclear-armed neighbours since the Mumbai attacks last November which brought an abrupt halt to peace talks.

“Both leaders affirmed their resolve to fight terrorism and co-operate with each other to this end,” the joint statement of the talks said.

“Prime Minister Singh reiterated the need to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice and Prime Minister Gilani assured that Pakistan will do everything in its power in this regard.”

The two prime ministers agreed to co-operate on the investigation.

Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani meeting in Egypt
Both leaders agreed that terrorism is the main threat to both countries
Joint statement

“Pakistan has provided an updated status dossier on the investigations of the Mumbai attacks,” their statement said.

The two leaders also agreed to “share real-time, credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threat”.

Last week Pakistan said the trial of five men suspected of involvement in the attack on Mumbai’s Taj Hotel was likely to start this week.

In a move likely to please Islamabad, the prime minister’s joint statement said action on terrorism “should not be linked to the composite dialogue process” – which includes talks on the disputed territory of Kashmir.

The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says many in India will see this as a major climb-down in Delhi’s stance.

And moments after the joint statement had been issued, Mr Singh appeared to contradict the joint statement.

He told a news conference dialogue “cannot begin unless and until terrorist heads which shook Mumbai are properly accounted for, (the) perpetrators of these heinous crimes are brought to book”.

July 12, 2009

Shah Rukh honoured to be Dr Khan

Shah Rukh honoured to be Dr Khan

Shah Rukh Khan at the degree ceremony in London, 10 July 2009

Maybe I can keep the robes… ‘I’ve sweated in them’

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan can now call himself “doctor” after being honoured in the United Kingdom for his contribution to arts and culture.

Bedfordshire University conferred the doctorate upon him at a ceremony in London on Friday night.

Khan said he aimed to use the award to help educate underprivileged children.

The actor, who has starred in dozens of films, already has his own waxwork at Madame Tussaud’s and has previously been honoured in France and Malaysia.

‘Top’ award

Khan was able to joke about becoming a doctor after frequent surgery in the past few years, most recently on his shoulder five months ago.

“Interestingly my kids don’t understand this doctorate and believe I will be awarded a stethoscope,” he joked at the degree ceremony.

The star was awarded the doctorate at a top London hotel instead of on university premises north of London because of the summer break.

The university received his nomination from Routes 2 Roots, an NGO that works towards people-to-people contact across the subcontinent, especially India and Pakistan.

Accepting the honour, Khan said he had received numerous awards as an actor but being given an honorary doctorate was the top achievement.

The actor left one of Delhi’s top schools with the best student award – but never finished a masters degree.

So how did he feel about receiving the honour?

“I get the feeling that I should further the cause of those underprivileged children who don’t get the opportunity to educate themselves,” he said, quickly adding that he should perhaps begin with his own children who are “highly uneducated as of now”.

The 43-year-old also added he was most scared of mathematics as a child, and intended to make sure his children were good at the subject.

Khan also joked that he might get to keep his university robes: “I have sweated in them – [they] can’t be returned unless I dry clean them.”

The ceremony was also attended by the famously barefoot Indian painter MF Hussain and British film maker Gurinder Chadha.

Other Indian stars to have been given honorary doctorates in the UK include Amitabh Bachchan, Shilpa Shetty, Akshay Kumar and AR Rahman.

July 6, 2009

US and Russia agree nuclear cuts

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:16 pm

US and Russia agree nuclear cuts

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have reached an outline agreement to cut back their nations’ stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

The “joint understanding” signed in Moscow would see reductions of deployed nuclear warheads to below 1,700 each within seven years of a new treaty.

The accord would replace the 1991 Start I treaty, which expires in December.

Mr Obama said the two countries were both “committed to leaving behind the suspicion and the rivalry of the past”.

Separately, Russia also agreed to allow the US military to fly troops and weapons across its territory to Afghanistan, allowing it to avoid using supply routes through Pakistan that are attacked by militants.

On a range of issues, differences remain between us
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

The two countries also will set up a joint commission to co-operate over energy, and fighting terrorism and drug-trafficking. Military co-operation, suspended since last year’s conflict between Russia and Georgia, will be resumed.

However, on the contentious issue of US plans to base parts of a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe, the presidents merely said they had agreed to a joint study into ballistic missile threats and the creation of a data exchange centre.

‘Frank’ discussions

After three hours of talks at the Kremlin on Monday, Mr Obama and Mr Medvedev publicly signed a joint understanding to negotiate a new arms control treaty that would set lower levels of both nuclear warheads and delivery systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles and bombers.

US-RUSSIA NUCLEAR DEAL
Each country to cut deployed nuclear warheads to 1,500-1,675 (currently 1,700-2,200)
Delivery systems to be within 500-1,000 range (currently 1,600)
Reductions so be achieved within seven years of new treaty
Treaty to be signed before Start I expires in December and include “effective” verification measures

“Within seven years after this treaty comes into force, and in future, the limits for strategic delivery systems should be within the range of 500-1,100 units and for warheads linked to them within the range of 1,500-1,675 units,” the document said.

Under the 2002 Treaty of Moscow, each country is allowed between 1,700 and 2,200 deployed nuclear warheads and 1,600 delivery systems – meaning each side might only be required to decommission a further 25 warheads.

Correspondents also point out that the proposed cuts would still leave the US and Russia able to destroy each other many times over.

A White House statement said the new treaty would “include effective verification measures” and “enhance the security of both the US and Russia, as well as provide predictability and stability in strategic offensive forces”.

Afterwards, Mr Medvedev said the talks had been “very frank and very sincere”, but that they had been, “without any doubt, the meeting we had been waiting for in Russia and the United States”.

“I would like particularly to stress that our country would like to reach a level of co-operation with the United States that would really be worthy of the 21st Century, and which would ensure international peace and security,” he said.

Russians spell out their hopes for Obama visit

But the Russian leader cautioned that there remained “differences on many issues”, most notably on the proposed US missile defence shield.

Mr Obama said he and Mr Medvedev were countering a “sense of drift” and were now resolved “to reset US-Russian relations so that we can co-operate more effectively in areas of common interest”.

“We must lead by example, and that’s what we are doing here today,” he said.

The US president said he was confident a legally binding disarmament treaty would be signed by the end of the year, when Start I expires.

On Tuesday, Mr Obama will meet Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

He said last week that he thought the former Russian president had “one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new”.

“I think that it’s important that even as we move forward with President Medvedev, that Putin understands that the old Cold War approaches to US-Russian relations is outdated, that it’s time to move forward in a different direction,” he told the Associated Press.

Mr Putin responded: “We stand solidly on our own two feet and always look into the future.”

Graph showing US and Russian nuclear weapon stockpiles

July 3, 2009

Deadly military crash in Pakistan

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:32 pm

Deadly military crash in Pakistan

Pakistani military MI-17 helicopter (3.6.09)

Pakistan uses military helicopters widely in the rugged north-west region

Up to 26 Pakistani security personnel are feared dead after an army transport helicopter crashed in the tribal region of Orakzai, military officials say.

Maj Gen Athar Abbas told the news the helicopter crashed on the border of the Khyber and Orakzai tribal region.

The cause of the crash is unclear, although officials said the most likely explanation was a technical failure.

The crash comes as a suspected US drone strike in South Waziristan killed at least 10 militants, officials said.

The Mike Wooldridge in Islamabad says it is understood the MI-17 helicopter had been flying back to Peshawar from the Afghan border region when the pilot put out a Mayday alert.

Map locator

The helicopter then came down “in a hostile area” where it was fired upon by militants, according to officials.

Troops were sent in and exchanged fire with the insurgents.

Military officials said that an investigation into the crash would be carried out.

But our correspondent says it is a serious blow for the Pakistani military as it prepares for the next phase of its offensive against Taliban militants in the north-west tribal belt along the Afghan border.

In the latest fighting, military jets are reported to have attacked suspected Taliban positions in South and North Waziristan.

Unnamed intelligence officials said the drone attack in South Waziristan had targeted a militant training facility.

The region – on the Afghan border – is controlled by Pakistan’s most senior Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

March 30, 2009

US to consult Pakistan on strikes

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 2:35 am

US to consult Pakistan on strikes

US President Barack Obama has said he will consult Pakistan’s leaders before targeting militants in that country.

“If we have a high-value target within our sights, after consulting with Pakistan, we’re going after them,” Mr Obama told CBS television.

But Mr Obama ruled out deploying US ground troops inside Pakistan.

On Friday, the US leader announced a major policy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying the situation on their border was “increasingly perilous”.

Kabul and Islamabad have welcomed the review, but Pakistan has urged the US to halt recent cross-border missile strikes by unmanned Predator drone aircraft.

Pakistan accountability

Mr Obama told CBS television’s Face the Nation that the main thrust of US policy was “to help Pakistan defeat these extremists”.

He noted that Pakistan was a sovereign nation and added: “We need to work with them and through them to deal with al-Qaeda. But we have to hold them much more accountable.”

US drone

Unmanned drone strikes have triggered fury in Pakistan

Senior US military officials have alleged links between Pakistan’s military intelligence, the ISI, and militants on the country’s borders with both Afghanistan and India.

The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says Mr Obama’s remarks suggest the US may be willing to take the one-year-old Pakistani civilian government on board regarding a highly sensitive issue.

On Saturday Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari said his country would not allow anyone to violate its sovereignty, although he did not specifically criticise the US missile strikes as he has done in the past.

He also said Pakistan would not allow use of its soil for militant activity.

Meanwhile, gunmen killed five people, including a district police chief and former local mayor in the troubled North-West Frontier Province, Pakistani officials said.

Abductions

The incident occurred in Lower Dir, near the Afghan border, as militants attacked police chasing them after an attempted kidnapping, said a government official.

In a separate attack in the same province, officials said 11 police officers had been abducted from a checkpoint in the Bara area, near the Khyber Pass.

Tribal areas map

It came a day after Pakistan’s army said troops, backed by artillery and helicopter gunships, had killed 26 militants in the Mohmand area of the restive province.

Earlier on Saturday, the Taleban destroyed 12 parked trucks laden with supplies for Nato personnel in Afghanistan – the latest in a series of similar attacks – near Peshawar, capital of North-West Frontier Province.

Broadcast on Sunday, Mr Obama’s CBS interview was filmed on Friday as he unveiled his new strategy for the region.

He said the border area was a haven for al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters and the most dangerous place in the world.

The strategy includes plans for 4,000 more troops to be sent to Afghanistan, as well as increased development aid for border areas of Pakistan.

It also sets out what analysts say is an ambitious goal of boosting the Afghan army from 80,000 to 134,000 troops by 2011.

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