NEW DELHI: India on Thursday hiked its defence spending by 21 percent to $42.7 billion and promised that strains on the public finances would not hamper moves to modernise its million-plus military.
The government, one of the world’s largest arms buyers, will raise defence spending to 2.3 trillion rupees ($42.7 billion) for the financial year to March 31, 2014, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said in his budget.
The figure is up a fifth from 2012-13 when the defence budget stood at 1.9 trillion rupees.
“I assure the house that constraints will not come in the way of providing any additional requirement for the security of the nation,” Chidambaram told parliament.
The minister earmarked $16 billion as “capital expenditure” in line with India’s ambitious moves to acquire the latest hardware.
The latest increase is likely to upset nuclear-armed neighbour Pakistan which has fought three wars with India since independence in 1947.
India is on the brink of buying 126 French Rafale fighter jets for $12 billion and is shopping for some 400 combat helicopters worth tens of millions of dollars, as well as artillery, drones and electronic warfare systems.
India and Russia in 2010 agreed to jointly build 250 advanced stealth fighter jets worth $25 billion.
New Delhi is also locally building a nuclear-powered submarine as well as a range of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles which can strike deep inside China.
The two Asian giants fought a brief but a bitter border war in 1962 and despite several rounds of talks the two sides have failed to resolve their territorial disputes.
QUETTA: Ismatullah holds an AK-47 and checks vehicles on the road. “Enough is enough. We have no trust in the security forces anymore and we’ll protect our community ourselves,” says the teenage Shia student.
Extremist bombers killed nearly 200 people in Quetta in the two worst bomb attacks to strike Shia Muslims from the minority Hazara community, just weeks apart on January 10 and February 16.
After each attack, thousands of Hazaras, including women and children, camped out in the bitter cold demanding that the army step in to protect them. The government brokered an end to the protests, but refused to mobilise the troops.
Outlawed extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility and has threatened to exterminate all Shias. Few believe that dozens of men rounded up after the bomb attacks will ever be brought to justice.
The Supreme Court and rights groups accuse the authorities of failing to protect Hazaras and now young men like 18-year-old Ismatullah are taking up arms to defend themselves and their families.
Ismatullah’s best friend was shot dead last June near Hazara Town. He lost more friends when suicide bombers flattened a snooker hall on January 10 and a massive bomb hidden in a water tanker destroyed a market on February 16.
“I couldn’t control myself when I saw scattered pieces of so many children and women of our community,” said the first year college student.
“Our community is only interested in education and business, but terrorists have forced us to take up whatever arms we have and take to the streets for our own security.”
At the moment they operate as volunteers under the name, Syedul- hohada Scouts, registered as part of the Balochistan Scouts Association, an affiliate of the worldwide scouting movement.
For years, young men like Ismatullah have volunteered to protect sensitive events, such as religious processions during the holy month of Muharram.
But their chairman says the threat is now so great that they should be paid full time as an auxiliary to government security forces.
“We have around 200 young men who perform security duties on specific occasions, but most of them are students and workers, and can’t work full-time,” said Syed Zaman, chairman of the Hazara Scouts.
“We are trying to make a system to start their salaries for permanent deployment and also coordinate with the security agencies. Hopefully, we will be able to form a regular force… and salaries in a month,” he said.
Scouts president Ghulam Haider said it was a mistake to rely on government security when the first of two suicide bombers struck at the snooker hall in the Alamdar Road neighbourhood.
“It resulted in another bomb blast minutes after the first one and we lost many more people,” Haider told AFP.
“We didn’t want that to happen again, so immediately after the blast on February 16, we armed our youth to man the streets and entry points, which helped to prevent the chances of a second attack,” he claimed.
Hazara Town, where the market was bombed, is very exposed, in the shadow of the Chiltan mountains and near the bypass which links the Afghan border town of Chaman to Karachi.
While paramilitary Frontier Corps and police patrol the main approaches, they are not visible inside the neighbourhood.
“Security agencies can’t protect us. They don’t know the area because most of them come from outside Quetta. So we’re planning to set up our own permanent posts inside our areas,” said Haider.
The police, however, have their doubts.
“If we start private policing by arming one particular community, it will set the wrong precedent,” said Fiaz Ahmed Sunbal, head of Quetta police operations.
He claimed police were planning to close entrances to Hazara Town, and would recruit 200 young Hazaras to patrol their own areas.
Haider says closing off roads will isolate the community but welcomed the recruitment of Hazara Scouts as a long-term solution.
Others warn that time is running out.
“If they don’t do anything and something happens again, we will take up guns and go out and kill our opponents. There will be open war,” said 26-year-old shopkeeper Zahid Ali.
WASHINGTON: US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives declaring Dr Shakil Afridi a hero.
According to a press statement, the resolution expressed that Dr Afridi is an ‘American hero’ and should be immediately released from Pakistani custody.
The statement said that Americans owe Dr Afridi a debt for helping find former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Congressman Rohrabacher said that Dr Afridi and his family have “paid a terrible price at the hands of our so-called allies – the Pakistani government. We cannot continue to turn our back on Dr Afridi. He risked his life to provide the intel our forces needed to locate and eliminate Osama bin Laden and he now languishes in a Pakistani prison serving a 33-year sentence.
“He has been tortured, his family has been attacked and he is still in a desperate situation. It behooves us as Americans to state in a unified voice to his Pakistani captors, Dr Afridi should be freed.”
The sponsors of the resolution include Representatives Bachmann, Gerlach, Higgins, Hunter, Lummis, Poe, Salmon, Loretta Sanchez and Stockman, the statement added.
Congressman Rohrabacher has previously introduced bills calling for Balochis to be given right of self-determination, and for Dr Afridi to be given the Congressional Gold Medal.
Dr Afridi had been working with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for years before the Bin Laden raid, providing intelligence on militant groups in Pakistan’s tribal region.
He helped the agency hunt down Bin Laden after which he was sentenced to 33 years in prison last year in May for his links to a banned militant group.
ISLAMABAD: Interior minister Rehman Malik has submitted written apology to the Supreme Court of Pakistan in reference to the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) corruption case, Express News reported on Thursday.
The Supreme Court had taken a suo moto action against the corruption charges against PSM.
Rehman Malik’s involvement in the case began when he formulated a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) joint investigation team to investigate the Steel Mills corruption case. This step by the interior minister did not impress the apex court.
The Supreme Court issued a contempt of court notice to Interior Minister Rehman Malik for “unnecessary transfers” of officials conducting the probe, on December 17, 2009.
“I was trying to enhance the scope of investigations by taking this step,” said Rehman Malik addressing a press conference outside the Supreme Court.
He further explained, “I initiated the investigation because National Assembly told me to give details. I presented myself to the Supreme Court because I want to gain respect and not embarrassment.”
“The court has said that they will hear me out later which suits me perfectly as government is set to end in few weeks and I will be free of all duties and present my case properly.”
Rehman Malik avoided saying that he had submitted a written apology and emphasised that he had always respected judiciary and courts and will continue to do so.
On May 16, 2012, a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry directed the director-general of FIA to hand over all investigation records to NAB. The court expressed lack of trust in the investigation conducted by the FIA.
Political leaders from across the spectrum will gather in the capital today (Thursday) to discuss the prospect of talks with the Taliban, in a bid to end violence across the country.
The All Parties Conference (APC) is being organised under the umbrella of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUIF). So far, most political parties have agreed to attend, although Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI) has yet to confirm participation.
According to JUI-F’s provincial spokesperson Haji Abdul Jalil Jan, the party had taken care of all arrangements.
A grand tribal jirga, comprising about 60 elders, will participate in the huddle. The parties will nominate three leaders to attend the jirga proceedings.
“The agenda for this APC is to determine how to bring peace back to Pakistan,” said Jan. However, he refused to comment on whether the jirga will start discussions with the Taliban or look towards government, saying that it is premature to discuss this issue at this time.
This upcoming APC is the second high-powered political huddle aimed at developing a consensus over talks with the Taliban in less than a month.
On February 14, parties gathered in Islamabad under the aegis of the Awami National Party (ANP), which has been under constant attack from militants.
According to the JUI-F, the aim of this APC is to introduce the joint tribal jirga to the political leadership and to garner support for its organic efforts.
Last Thursday, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman told reporters in Peshawar that his party has already briefed the political leadership about the role the jirga can, and should, play. He added that they were already trying to devise ways to talk to the Taliban.
The jirga was formed in December 2012, after a month of long deliberation, with assistance from the JUI-F.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2013.
A cabinet committee decided on Wednesday to regularise nearly 3,600 employees who were hired on a contractual basis.
Earlier, the government has decided to regularise over 20,000 employees who were hired 11 months ago on a contractual basis by different departments, according to a report published in The Express Tribune.
The government has already regularised over 100,000 temporary employees in the past two years, according to official figures. The fresh move may annoy the Election Commission of Pakistan, which has imposed a ban on fresh appointments as well as ‘political’ promotions before the upcoming polls.
“Cabinet Committee on Regularisation has decided to regularise the services of 3,595 employees of different government departments in the country presently working on Contract, Daily Wages and Special Service Agreement (SSA),” said a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.
The cabinet committee was held under the chairmanship of Religious Affairs Minister Syed Khurshid Shah. It approved the regularisation of 3,088 employees of the National Commission on Human Development (NCHD). A total of 504 contract employees were regularised in the Basic Education Community Schools (BECS).
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2013.
Pakistan People’s Party Senator Raza Rabbani expressed concerns on Wednesday over granting permission to the US Army Corps of Engineers to build a Tactical Command and Operations Centre (TCOC) compound at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport.
Speaking on a calling attention notice in Senate, Rabbani said that building the compound would be a violation of the revised terms of engagement with USA, Isaf, Nato and the general foreign policy.
“It (granting permission to US Army to build TCOC) is a violation of the new terms of engagement drafted by the Parliamentary Committee on National Security [and] approved by the joint sitting of the Parliament,” Rabbani said.
Islamabad reportedly allowed US Army Corps of Engineers to build a TCOC compound at the Jinnah Airport in Karachi to exchange information with Pakistan Customs Drug Enforcement Cell regarding smuggling activities in and around the port city.
Reports claimed that the compound would be spread over an approximate area of 7,000 square feet and a 900 square feet building.
According to the terms of the engagement – unanimously approved by Parliament last year – all agreements and MoUs will be circulated to the Parliamentary Committee on National Security. The committee would then make recommendations in consultation with stakeholders and forward it to the Federal Cabinet for approval.
Having failed to respond to the calling attention notice, Finance Minister Saleem Mandviwalla asked for a day or two before he could give an answer – clouding the issue into further doubt.
“If he [the minister] does not know about the issue then who is running the state’s affairs,” Rabbani retorted. Thereby, Chairman Senate Nayyar Hussain Bokhari asked the finance minister to respond to the calling attention notice by Monday.
Pointing out contradictions in the engagement, Rabbani said that the clarification produced by the customs department claimed that US Engineers will build the TCOC and it would be run by Pakistanis. However, a US based website claimed that the TCOC is being constructed with cooperation of both the countries to coordinate and monitor Karachi and the entire coastal belt to curb smuggling, the senator pointed out.
No such permission granted: Secretary
The defence secretary strongly denied on Wednesday media reports that the US army had been allowed to build a Tactical Command and Operations Centre (TCOC) at the Karachi airport.
At a meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Defence, Defence Secretary Lt-Gen (retd) Asif Yasin Malik was asked by members to clarify reports about permission granted to the US army to build the customs facility.
The defence secretary informed the panel that no such permission was given to the US army.
He said the defence ministry had taken notice of the project’s tender released by the US Army Corps of Engineer in the Middle East for the construction of the compound at Karachi airport.
Malik said the defence ministry has approached both the US and concerned authorities in Pakistan to investigate the matter.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, the defence secretary said the tender for the US TCOC had been released in the UAE, and that the defence ministry had nothing to do with the compound or any such project.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2013.
The last three sessions of the lower house will begin with the national anthem.
“It will be the first democratically-elected national assembly to complete its term next month,” Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza announced on Wednesday, while proposing to start the remaining sessions of the lower house with the national anthem.
The purpose of this exercise, according to the speaker, was to gift the elected representative “pleasant memories.”
“The elected representatives will soon return to the masses to win votes. I would want them to take back pleasant memories from this house,” Mirza said.
After Wednesday’s sitting, the National Assembly is left with nine working days and MPs will go back to their constituencies after the March 12 session – the last for ongoing session. On March 16, the lower house is set to complete its five-year term
The speaker appreciated the house for passing a maximum number of legislation during its tenure and said that a majority of the bills were passed unanimously.
Responding to Syed Zafar Ali Shah’s resignation from the PPP, Mirza termed the upcoming polls free and fair, and said that no one is to doubt the credibility of the elections.
Zafar Ali Shah said that President Asif Ali Zardari could try to influence the polls in Sindh to get desirable results and that the Election Commission of Pakistan was under pressure in the province.
“It is impossible to hold free and fair elections in Sindh,” Shah had said.
This apprehension was endorsed by Ghous Buksh Mehar, who said that signs of planned rigging in the province were evident. He urged the house to take notice of the violations of ECP Sindh’s orders.
While speaking on a point of order, PML-N’s Zahid Hamid categorically rejected the impression that his party was creating hurdles for the ECP to slow down the process of verifying lawmakers’ education documents.
He said that Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan criticised the ECP’s letter on the basis of language used in it; however, a wrong impression was created by a section of media stating that the PML-N is creating hindrances in scrutinising nomination papers.
Meanwhile, the speaker said that the issue of non-payment of medical bills to deceased MNA Fauzia Wahab’s family, which is pending with the AGPR, will also be taken up.
Furthermore, she endorsed a demand of the members that Interior Minister Rehman Malik should be present in the house. “Foreign visits can be undertaken some other time. The minister should be present here when the house is in session,” she said.
The speaker also deferred a bill seeking the establishment of Capital University of Science and Technology after several legal and technical issues were pointed out by the opposition.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2013.
It seems President Zardari does not feel good and comfortable with Senator Raza Rabbani. More-loyal type cronies rather keep telling him that once a student activist from Karachi, Raza Rabbani often acts ‘solo.’
He goes an extra mile to appease the opposition and habitually embarrasses the treasury benches by raising objections to government-provided business for the Senate.
His latest crime is articulating ‘technical objections’ in purely legislative terms for overtly opposing the efforts to start the process of establishing a new province in South Punjab from the upper house of parliament. The PPP desperately needs such a move to happen to fire up its base in the “Seraiki Wassaib”. Reliable sources told me that the President felt quite irritated with Rabbani’s conduct in this regard. After being conveyed the Presidential ire, this veteran diehard felt very depressed. To some of his trusted friends, he actively discussed the idea of going back to Karachi to concentrate fulltime on his legal practice after resigning from the senate.
Ms Benazir Bhutto had made him a senator in the early 1990s. From the day one of his reaching there, Raza Rabbani forced parliamentary reporters to listen to him attentively. That eventually helped Ms Bhutto to appoint him as the minister in charge of parliamentary affairs after becoming the prime minister in 1993. He savoured a free hand in that capacity and his leader would often forget and forgive him for being “difficult”.
But Asif Ali Zardari is made of a different material. He demands absolute and blind loyalty. Yet he surprised most reporters and PPP activists by letting Rabbani return to senate for a six-year term in 2011. That certainly proved that in spite of being what he is, Zardari does appreciate the consensus-building potential of some PPP leaders.
Underlining this point, friends and well-wishers of Rabbani keep persuading him to act cool.
Not one of his friends was surprised, however, when the same Rabbani took the floor in the Senate Wednesday to demand nothing but whole truth on the proposed construction of “a Customs Tactical Command and Operations” that is to be constructed in Karachi with funds provided by the US Department of Defense. A curious reporter had found out details of the proposed construction via advertisement placed in some Gulf-based newspapers early this week to attract the interested contractors.
Through a press release, the US embassy in Islamabad has not denied the story per se. It only clarified that the Customs Centre at the Karachi airport was being built on “the request of Pakistan government” and “no US military or other USG personnel will be involved in the construction, operation, or staffing of this centre.”
Being a hard lefty of yesteryears, Rabbani was yet not satisfied. Far more shocking to him was the fact that while heading an all-party Parliamentary Committee on National Security, he had never been briefed on this project.
Finance Minister Mandwiwala annoyed him doubly by casually admitting that even he knew nothing about the construction of a Customs House in Karachi.
When asked by various members of the parliamentary committee on defence later in the day, the secretary defence also conveyed his ignorance over the said construction.
All this compel us to wonder whether someone in both the military and the political leadership really commands and controls things in this country.
Rabbani was indeed justified to throw tantrums in the house, but he and his colleagues still behaved a bit lenient with the Finance Minister. Instead of letting him go with the promise of returning with an answer on Thursday, they should have forced him to go to his chambers and collect the required details by calling the officials concerned.
Politicians of these days have turned shamelessly submissive and forgiving though. Zahid Hamid, a seasoned legislator from the PML-N also sounded pathetic while wailing in the national assembly that he had been put in the category of “legislators with degrees yet not considered valid by the Election Commission.” For many years, Hamid’s father had been posted as Pakistan’s ambassador to Beirut so Zahid Hamid also had his schooling there and they do not hold exams for Matric and FA in Lebanon. Zahid Hamid was eventually accepted for having a BSC degree from the prestigious university of Cambridge.
Later, he was qualified as a lawyer in Britain as well. The clerks of Election Commission continue to suspect his credentials, though, and he sounded hurt and helpless in seeking a clean chit from them while pleading in the National Assembly.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2013.
The European Union (EU) has decided to resume imports of Pakistani seafood to its markets, marking another step forward in improving EU-Pakistan relations, according to a statement issued on Wednesday by the EU ambassador.
The decision puts an end to a six year long voluntary ban of exports of seafood products to the EU by the Marine Fisheries Department of Pakistan.
The voluntary ban imposed by the fisheries department was the result of the EU Food and Veterinary Office identifying serious deficiencies in the official control system for seafood, including the traceability and hygiene at various stages of the industrial process.
Starting from March 12, two major companies which have been approved by the Marine Fisheries Department will begin exporting the products. Other local companies can then seek to be certified to export seafood to the European bloc, which is Pakistan’s largest trading partner.
“This is a real breakthrough that should also inspire other industries in Pakistan to increase their exports to EU markets,” said the EU Ambassador to Pakistan Lars-Gunnar Wigemark.
“It is the result of the EU’s and Pakistan’s joint efforts to facilitate increased trade by meeting EU product standards. Resuming Pakistani seafood exports to the EU will further promote our already strong bilateral trade relations and support job creation in Pakistan,” he added.
Ambassador Wigemark noted that when the ban was introduced in 2007, Pakistani seafood exports to EU markets stood at 50 million euro (Rs6.5 billion) per year.
He stated that there was potential for the figure to rise. Trade in fisheries products will also promote trade diversification – exports to Europe have so far remained focused on textiles.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2013.x