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Could your healthy diet make me fat?

50 min 51 sec ago

Some people eat as little fat as possible to lose weight and stay healthy, while others avoid carbohydrates. A vegan diet (with no animal products) and the paleo diet (with lots) both have enthusiastic devotees. One popular diet encourages intermittent fasting, another frequent small meals. Who’s right?

Perhaps they all are, according to the new field of “personalised nutrition.”’

Low-fat diet doesn’t work in long run: study

This month, an Israeli study of personalised nutrition was heralded by a media frenzy. “This diet study upends everything we thought we knew about ‘healthy’ food,” claimed one headline. The study suggested that dieters may be mistakenly eating a lot of some foods, like tomatoes, that are good for most people, but bad for them. And it raised the possibility that an individualised approach to nutrition could eventually supplant national guidelines meant for the entire public.

Personalised medicine has already become well established in clinical practice. We know that the effects of some drugs vary from person to person and that genetic analysis of tumors can help doctors select the best cancer treatment for a particular patient. Despite the recent fanfare, we have also known for a long time that people respond differently to specific foods based on their genes, past health or other factors.

What does this mean when it comes to obesity, the most important nutrition problem today?

Unfortunately, standard diets typically fail to produce significant long-term weight loss. But those average outcomes mask tremendous individual variability. For instance, while a clinical trial published in 2005 of 160 adults randomly assigned to the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers and Zone diets reported modest results in all groups after one year, individuals in those groups experienced weight changes ranging from a loss of 35 pounds or more to a gain of 10 or more.

This variation is commonly attributed to behavior. Some people are simply more motivated and compliant with their assigned diet than others. But suppose the people who did poorly on the low-fat Ornish diet would have done well on the low-carbohydrate Atkins diet because of their biological makeup, and vice versa? If we knew that ahead of time, we could assign everyone the diet that’s best suited for him or her.

This is what the Israeli study intended to explore. Investigators at the Weizmann Institute of Science used specialized devices to monitor continuously the blood sugar of 800 adults. The data showed that blood sugar after meals varied among the participants in ways that couldn’t be explained by what they ate alone. The investigators devised a computer-based algorithm taking into account many non-dietary characteristics, including body weight, blood sugar first thing in the morning and even the type of bacteria in the intestines — to predict more accurately what would happen to blood sugar after a specific person ate a specific food.

Since high blood sugar after eating is strongly associated with the risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, the study’s results now have people talking about whether a computer app might someday help us prevent chronic disease. Should you eat tomatoes, apples or chocolate? Input your characteristics and get a personal prescription for optimal health.

Diet lacking soluble fibre can lead to weight gain

Blood sugar isn’t the only way to predict an individual’s predisposition to obesity-related problems. Insulin may be an even more powerful determinant. The pancreas releases insulin after you eat, and that hormone directs incoming calories into storage sites in liver, muscle and fat tissue. A few hours later, insulin levels fall, and calories re-enter the bloodstream for use by the body. This is why people with Type 1 diabetes who receive excess insulin predictably gain weight, whereas those treated with too little insulin invariably lose weight, no matter how much they eat.

The amount and timing of insulin release after a meal differs substantially from person to person. To assess this difference, researchers give volunteers a bottle of glucose to drink and measure their insulin levels 30 minutes later — the test is called the “insulin-30” level.

In a study published in 2007 in JAMA, my colleague Cara B. Ebbeling and I randomly assigned young adults to 18-month diets that were low either in fat or in processed, fast-digesting carbohydrates (called a low “glycemic load” diet). We found that individuals with high insulin-30 did better on the low-glycemic-load diet — losing 10 pounds more than they did on the low-fat diet. This suggests that people with this characteristic should really focus on cutting highly processed carbohydrates out of their diet. Individuals with low insulin-30, on the other hand, lost about the same amount of weight on both diets.

In another study published in this month’s issue of the journal Obesity, we found that people with high insulin-30 lost more muscle and less fat on a standard low-calorie diet. Their metabolisms also slowed the most when they lost weight, which means they would be likely to regain the weight in the long term.

The good news is that a person’s susceptibility to weight gain may not be written in stone. After a month on a low-carbohydrate diet, the high insulin responders were able to tolerate more carbohydrates without their metabolisms slowing down so much (though we don’t know how long this protective effect lasts).

Low-fat diet won’t make you slimmer in long run

Many other aspects of biology, genetic and acquired, undoubtedly influence how we respond to diet. But in the end, the Israeli study provides little reason to believe that a complicated 21st-century technology will work any better than a simple dietary prescription pioneered decades ago. We don’t need an app to control post-meal blood sugar; we just need to eat fewer processed carbohydrates.

Analyses of large groups of people followed carefully over many years, like the Nurses’ Health Study, suggest that many cases of diabetes and heart disease can be prevented by adhering to a few straightforward dietary practices. For this reason, it’s critically important that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015, scheduled for release by the Department of Agriculture in the next few weeks, reflect the latest science. They should jettison the traditional emphasis on low-fat diets, which we now know have no special benefit for body weight or general health, and focus more on the quality of the carbohydrates we are eating.

Despite the hype, personalised nutrition is not ready for practical application in the clinic. But this exciting field of research may help explain why people respond so differently to diet based on biology. In this way, personalized nutrition may build upon, rather than substitute for, national dietary guidelines, providing a common ground for all sides in the “diet war” to declare a truce.

This article originally appeared on The New York Times, a partner of The Express Tribune.

The post Could your healthy diet make me fat? appeared first on The Express Tribune.

Categories: News

Study: Jogging helps you stay sharp!

1 hour 33 min ago

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells that play an important role in learning and memory of adults, new research has found.

The process of developing new brain cells in the adult brain is called adult neurogenesis, the scientists explained.

The researchers found that mice that spent time running on wheels not only developed twice the normal number of new neurons, but also showed an increased ability to distinguish new objects from familiar objects.

Exercise can protect brain against ageing

“Our research indicates that exercise-induced increase in neurogenesis improves pattern separation by supporting unique and detailed long-term representations of similar but nevertheless different memory items,” explained lead investigator Josef Bischofberger, professor at University of Basel in Switzerland.


“Pattern separation is involved in many memory tasks of everyday life. For example, when learning the game of chess, it is critically important to remember the different shapes of pieces like the pawn and bishop,” Bischofberger explained.

Moderate resistance exercise helpful during pregnancy

For the study, the researchers tested two groups of mice that were housed either without (sedentary) or with running wheels (voluntarily running) using a novel object recognition task to assess learning and long-term memory.

The researchers found that whereas distinct objects were remembered and recognized by both cohorts of mice, only the running mice could faithfully distinguish similar looking objects.

Investigators determined therefore that the running mice had developed better pattern separation capabilities than sedentary mice.

5 ways to get muscular without quitting carbs

To investigate further, the researchers looked for changes in the brains of the mice. By using markers that could identify newly-formed brain cells, they found that running mice developed about twice as many new cells.

The study was published in the journal of Brain Plasticity.

The post Study: Jogging helps you stay sharp! appeared first on The Express Tribune.

Categories: News

Weathering heights

1 hour 34 min ago

The global community may be anticipating a climate apocalypse in the future, but for Pakistan doomsday has arrived. A killer heat wave in Karachi, flash floods in Chitral and a mini-cyclone in Peshawar have claimed over a thousand lives in the country this year, demonstrating just how pressing the issue has become.

With natural calamities becoming frequent across Pakistan and in the rest of the world, global leaders are gathering in Paris, tomorrow, November 30, at the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference, better known as COP21, to chalk out a strategy to stop further heating up of the earth’s atmosphere. The conference ambitiously seeks to reach a legally binding international agreement to keep global warming below 2°C, relative to pre-industrial levels.

 Call to action

At the receiving end of nature’s fury, Pakistan can no longer stay in denial and the first step in fixing any problem is admitting the problem exists. However, environmental expert and author of BBC’s Climate Asia report Khadija Zaheer says the task at hand is no longer to prove the existence of climate change but to adapt to and cope with it. “If you speak to farmers and fishermen or even a layman, there is a growing perception that summers are hotter and longer while winters are delayed. In some parts of the country, within the winter months, there have been rapid shifts from intense cold and unseasonal snowfall to unexpected occurrence of frost which affects crops and livestock,” she says. “According to Pakistan’s chief meteorologist, the nature of rainfall has deviated from the seasonally accepted patterns. On one end, we have torrential downpour which causes flooding and stripping of top soil and on the other, we have sparse rainfall,” she adds.

Pakistan and the rest of the world are in no position to continue with the ‘business-as-usual’ mantra as climate change has the power to disrupt livelihoods and create economic and social pressures that will exacerbate over time, Zaheer says. According to a 2015 World Bank report, global warming will reduce the income of Pakistan’s bottom 40% by more than eight per cent. “The severity of poverty impact will vary among countries with Guatemala, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, and Yemen being the worst hit,” states the report.

Being one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, Pakistan is believed to face tremendous costs in terms of water, food and energy security. A review of the past few years strengthens this view; food prices skyrocketed after the 2010 floods destroyed 2.1 million hectares of agricultural land, sending the price of wheat upward by 50%. Along with causing food scarcity, the floods lead to the spread of infectious disease and diarrhoea.

“It is a shame that while the world has climate change at the top of its agenda,

Pakistan’s priorities are different. Reviving the economy and ending poverty are very important issues but we need to understand that climate change will affect each one of these problems,” says environmental lawyer and activist Ahmed Rafay Alam.

Zaheer points there is great disconnect between intention and action despite a well-though out national policy on climate change. “The policy document needs to be translated into actionable programmes that are funded and run by both federal and provincial governments,” she stresses.

 Paris Agenda

In the run up to COP21, developed countries have been raising money to help developing countries adapt to and mitigate climate change. In 2009, the advanced economies formally agreed to mobilise $100 billion per year by 2020 to assist poorer countries fight the effects of climate change. Pakistan should therefore use its vulnerable position as leverage and lobby to secure climate funding raised by the rich countries, says Alam. “In Pakistan, where economic development and reduction in poverty are at the forefront of national policy, it is crucial that our leaders put our case forward in front of the world at the Paris summit,” he says. “Pakistan can lead debates on investment in green infrastructure such as clean energy and better water management practices as well as lobby, individually and with groups of less developed nations, to have rich countries commit to drastic reductions in emission,” he suggests.

Being one of the worst- affected countries, Pakistan must set aside an estimated $10.7 billion each year to adapt to climate change and will need support from the international community to cope with increasing challenges.

Indicators of a warming world

Rise in sea level — It has been estimated to be about 6.7 inches in the last century, however, the rate at which the sea level has risen in the last decade alone is nearly double of that. A 2012 Asian Development Bank report has put Karachi at high risk from the increase in sea level in the Arabian Sea.

Rise in global temperature — Global surface temperature reconstructions show the earth has warmed since 1880 — the period following the Industrial Revolution. Glaciers in Pakistan are constantly melting due to this rise in mercury, affecting water flow and the agricultural crop cycle.

Warming of oceans — Top 700 metres of ocean showed a warming of 0.302°F since 1969. This has been a major cause of cyclones in the Arabian Sea.

Glacial retreat — Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world, including the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa. The Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers in Pakistan have melted up to 35 metres since 1984.

Decrease in snow cover — Spring snow-cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased over the past five decades, with snow melting earlier than usual. Data from Pakistan shows large variations in snow-cover over the years, featuring an increase in the trend from 2008 to 2013.

Extreme events — Heat waves, droughts, floods and storms are becoming common and more intense. The recent drought in Tharparkar, heat wave in Karachi and floods across Pakistan are proof of extreme climate conditions in the country.

Ocean acidification — Acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by almost 30% since the start of the Industrial Revolution. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2bn tonnes/year. Many forms of marine life — especially species that build calcium-based shells — are under threat in Pakistan due to ocean acidification.


Ferya Ilyas is a senior subeditor at The Express Tribune. She tweets @ferya_ilyas

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 29th, 2015.

The post Weathering heights appeared first on The Express Tribune.

Categories: News

Climate change: A season of apathy

1 hour 39 min ago

The Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) document Pakistan has submitted ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris is the shortest one by any country — just one page (350 words). This is even more alarming when one considers how this year has proved to be an unusual one for Pakistan due to unpredictable weather events. A mini-cyclone in Peshawar killed 44 people, heat waves in Karachi killed more than 1,500 people, cloudbursts in various areas of Gilgit-Baltistan affected 35,717 people, while floods across the country killed 238 and affected more than 1.5 million people.

The rising sea level is changing how coastal communities live. PHOTO COURTESY: WWF-PAKISTAN

Kakekhel is not the only one dissatisfied with Pakistan’s INDC document. In fact, many climate experts and environmentalists are criticising the government for failing to submit the INDC in its prescribed format.“While it does mention Pakistan’s commitment to the cause of climate stability, it does not mention the efforts that have been made on both mitigation and adaptation,” said Shafqat Kakakhel, former ambassador and chairperson of the board of governors at Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI). He was speaking at a media training workshop organised by a German political non-profit organisation in Islamabad last month.

Countries across the world have submitted their promises in the form of INDCs to the United Nations (UN), stating their commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Pakistan, on the other hand, did not even submit them by the given date. Instead, it did so at a later date and reaffirmed its lack of commitment, an immense diplomatic embarrassment.

Kakakhel, who also served as the deputy executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and had the honour of being a UN Assistant Secretary General, referred to the zero draft prepared by the Ministry of Climate Change (MoCC). A far more comprehensive document, the draft needs vigorous editing to remove redundancy.

The backbone of a fish in a dried up river bed near Coto Doñana National Park, Spain. PHOTO COURTESY: JUAN CARLOS DEL OLMO/WWF-SPAIN

He also highlighted some errors in the INDC. “The 350-word document contains several incorrect references such as our policies on agriculture, energy and water resources. Unfortunately, Pakistan has not formulated policies on all these vital topics.”That draft also suffered from some omissions such as adverse health impacts and Pakistan’s perspective on loss and damage. “The new document does not list Pakistan’s needs regarding mitigation, adaptation, technology development and transfer and capacity building unlike the INDC documents submitted by all other developing countries,” added Kakakhel.

Kakakhel urged that at the Paris conference, Pakistan should contribute to the efforts made by other developing countries. This can ensure that the outcome of the meeting serves the twin objectives — climate stability and support to developing countries to adapt to the negative effects of climate change, and pursue low carbon development policies.

Plants and vegetation are greatly affected by the impacts of climate change. PHOTO COURTESY:ZAHOOR SALMI/WWF-PAKISTAN

The INDCs were an opportunity to highlight the challenges Pakistan faces in the form of the war on terror and adverse climatic conditions. It could have referred the challenges with regard to the vulnerability of Pakistan, which is not mentioned and could have helped Pakistan’s delegation highlight the case effectively.

Bilal Anwar, the global head for Climate Change Services, Michigan, US, and a researcher, was part of the team which drafted the INDC. He had a unique story to tell at the workshop. “All of us including the MoCC worked hard preparing the INDC document, in compliance with our international commitment. However, the document prepared by us and the one submitted to the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat are entirely different.”

Highlighting the importance of INDC document for Pakistan, Anwar said, “Through our INDC, we could have demonstrated a commitment to reduce our carbon emissions in line with our intended and projected economic growth. This can be achieved by adopting low emissions developmental strategies, which are subject to the provision of required financial and technical assistance by the international community. Unfortunately, by submitting these INDCs, we are not at a stage of controlling the damage at international negotiations.”

When asked about securing funds from the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a fund within the framework of the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) set up as a mechanism to assist developing countries in adapting and mitigating climate change, Anwar had much to say. “We don’t have the capacity to scoop funds from the GCF as we don’t have the capacity to design and implement climate adaptation and mitigation projects. We stand nowhere. Most unfortunate is the fact that in case future mitigation funding in Paris is tied with identified mitigation actions by the countries, Pakistan will lose its moral and probably legal claim to 50% of GCF funding specifically allocated for mitigation.”

Increased silting in rivers is an impact of climate change. PHOTO COURTESY:ZAHOOR SALM/IWWF-PAKISTAN

A climate affected countryAsked whether there is any room for improvement now that the INDCs have been submitted, Anwar said, “It was important to highlight to the global community that in the case of Pakistan, it is important to have access to the required level of funding before our new energy systems and future infrastructure developments are focused on ‘dirty’ fossil fuel technologies.”

Pakistan’s carbon emissions are less than 1% in the global arena, but the country is highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change in the form of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF), cloud bursts, flash floods, droughts, heatwaves, sea intrusion, storms and cyclones.

According to a German think-tank, Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index 2015, Pakistan is ranked among the top 10 countries most affected by the impacts of climate change between 1994-2013. Pakistan was identified as the third most affected country, after Haiti and the Philippines in 2012. According to Germanwatch, Pakistan suffered losses of more than $6 billion in 2012 alone, equivalent to one per cent of the GDP, and a death toll of 662 people.

Increased pollution in urban areas is fueling climate change. PHOTO COURTESY: EDWARD PARKER/WWF-CANON.

The loss and damage mechanism 

Pakistan’s climate vulnerability is further highlighted by the figures provided by the Ministry of Climate Change, which confirm that 22.8% of the country’s area and 50% of its population are at risk due to the impact of climate change. The Planning Commission of Pakistan has acknowledged that from 2010-2014 Pakistan suffered economic damages of over $25 billion due to floods and needs over $26 billion to restore these damages.

There’s a dire need to fully and more aggressively engage in evolving the mechanism of loss and damage. As per the mechanism, Pakistan should be appropriately compensated for what it is bearing in the form of annual floods, GLOFs, cloud bursts, cyclones, sea intrusion and losses in agricultural productivity, as it is not a contributor to climate change.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Vice President Malik Amin Aslam criticised the government for missing the important deadline of submitting the INDC in the first place and, secondly, coming forward with a meaningless one-page document.

“It is an extremely generalised and overly simplistic submission, which really sends a message of poor preparedness and non-seriousness towards the issue. We are economically drained of $6 billion to $14 billion annually due to the impacts of climate change. The INDC casually terms this forced adaptation as an opportunity for investment,” said Malik Amin.

Deforestation of mangroves has made creek communities vulnerable to storms and cyclones. PHOTO COURTESY: WWF-PAKISTAN

Aslam, who is the chair of the Green Growth Initiative in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and also a lead member of the Pakistan’s negotiating team on climate change, further referred to K-P government’s ‘Zero Carbon’ growth strategy based on hydel and renewable power development and investments in enhancing forest sequestration. He urged the federal government and other provinces to follow suit in order to adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change.Aslam further said, “Keeping in view the INDC we have submitted, it will become increasingly difficult to compete with other countries for funds from the GCF, especially when others have very well-researched and focused INDC.”

Glaciologist Dr Dominique Raynaud said international support and solidarity can help Pakistan solve the crisis. “Pakistan’s scenario is comparatively different from other countries, because it is part of the nations emitting a small amount of GHGs but highly vulnerable to climate disruption. Therefore, Pakistan has to adapt to this disruption and mitigate the effects for which it is not even responsible,” said Raynaud, who is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

A lost war?

Pakistan’s economy is losing billions of dollars from climatic events, but only Rs39.75 million was allocated for the Ministry of Climate Change in the 2015-16 budget.

Climate change leads to glacial melt. PHOTO COURTESY: STEVE MORELLO/WWF-CANON

Pakistan has a history of missing opportunities and this might be one of them. Experts say it’s a lost war but maybe it is time to embrace it and live up to its expectations. Although the present situation of Pakistan places it on a weaker position, there’s a dire need to be better prepared in order to adapt and mitigate climate change.The Ministry of Climate Change has finally gotten a minister now that Zahid Hamid has taken charge. Experts question whether Hamid will lead the Pakistani delegation at COP21. If so, does he have any sound understanding of Pakistan’s climate vulnerability case and, most importantly, will he be able to effectively communicate this to the world so that Pakistan can secure some funds for adaptation? These are some questions that are yet to be answered.

However, if our leaders fail to present Pakistan’s case rightfully, it will be an injustice to the mountain communities who are witnessing frequent GLOFs, cloudbursts and landslides; to the creek communities who are facing a rise in sea level, storms, cyclones and sea intrusion; and especially to the farmers of Sindh and Punjab who are witnessing a decline in agricultural productivity. It’s time to act before it’s too late.

Syed Muhammad Abubakar is an international award-winning environmental writer with an interest in climate change, deforestation, food security and sustainable development. He tweets


Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 29th, 2015.

The post Climate change: A season of apathy appeared first on The Express Tribune.

Categories: News

Film review: Mockingjay Part 2 – A fire doused

1 hour 44 min ago

We had our reservations when the film-makers decided to snip Mockingjay into two parts, but the result leaves us on the fence about the decision. On the one hand, dividing the last book into two movies gave film-makers ample room to ensure visual accuracy in terms of how readers experience the book. On the other hand, creating a movie that focuses so heavily on the internal conflict of Katniss Everdeen shifts focus away from other aspects of the story. The rest of the cast, including Julianne Moore, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Woody Harrelson hardly get any screen time. Even when they do, their roles lack the depth witnessed in previous films. That said, the director needs to be given credit for successfully working around the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who passed away in 2014 before filming was complete.

Directed by Francis Lawrence, the final installment focuses solely on Katniss Everdeen and her decision to fight on the frontlines as the rebels take over the Capitol. We see the inner battle that Everdeen faces as she comes to terms with the fact that even as she fights for freedom she is still just a pawn in a larger game. Every happy scene in the film looks like it is out of place in an otherwise dark narrative. Although Jennifer Lawrence nails the straight-faced brooding side of Katniss, the emotional outbursts fail to make any real impact.

Staying true to the narrative may have been a good idea had the final installment of the book been turned into one lengthy film. Telling the story in two parts has rendered the installment too dark and overburdened, with nothing much to relieve us of the unpleasant emotions. How the directors managed to make a film packed with so much action into such a drag is beyond us. A great chunk of the 137 minutes was spent stifling yawns, waiting for the end.

Even though the film-makers have tried to wrap the story neatly in a bow, the atmosphere in the theatre suggested that we were not alone in harbouring the opinion that the film failed to provide us with any real closure. This suggests sticking to the narrative may not have been the best idea in this case. The greatest disappointment, however, lies in the fact that Ms Everdeen does not adorn the striking red outfit, which instantly draws us to the posters, even once in the film.

The final verdict is simple: the film may only be for diehard fans of the books and who have a problem with deviation from the visual depiction of its scenes. Although to anyone who has read the books, the point of stretching the third book into two parts may still be lost.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 29th, 2015.

The post Film review: Mockingjay Part 2 – A fire doused appeared first on The Express Tribune.

Categories: News

Turkmenistan in race against time to become global gas player

1 hour 46 min ago

ASHBAGAT: While the golden domes of Turkmenistan’s presidential palace hint at the country’s fantastic gas wealth, the reclusive Central Asian country remains a slumbering giant in the high stakes game of energy politics.

An ex-Soviet republic of five million, Turkmenistan boasts more gas reserves per capita than any other country bar Qatar. But it has so far proved unable to bring its energy bounty to a competitive market as low prices and technological improvements have expanded options for importers elsewhere.

Turkmenistan begins building $10 billion pipeline to carry gas to Pakistan

And time may be slipping away for the authoritarian regime in Ashgabat with pressure coming not only from more producer nations but also the growth of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Once hailed as a missing piece in energy security puzzles from Brussels to Delhi, only China has established a firm grip over the hermit-like country’s strategic hydrocarbon wealth, while former chief buyer Russia has seemingly turned away.

Beijing’s China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) imports over 30 billion cubic metres of Turkmen gas annually via a pipeline it threaded through neighbouring nations Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in 2009.

Russia’s Gazprom, meanwhile, announced earlier this year its decision to wind down long-standing energy imports from its former Soviet ally, leaving the undiversified Turkmen economy pegged to Chinese demand.

“Here the leverage in terms of any future contract negotiations is very much in favour of the buyer,” says Andrew Neff, senior energy analyst at the global IHS Energy consultancy.

“As long as China keeps ramping up imports, the Turkmen government will keep buying itself marble palaces. If it stops or decides to drive the price down, that country will face real problems.”

Low prices for hydrocarbons and the rise of alternatives to piped gas such as shale and LNG have cast a shadow over two multi-country pipeline projects analysts say would establish Turkmenistan as a key player on the global energy market.

The $5 billion-plus Trans-Caspian pipeline that would funnel gas along the seabed of the Caspian Sea towards markets in Europe and the $10 billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline slated to feed energy-starved populations in South Asia would have a combined capacity of over 60 billion cubic metres of gas annually.

While both links have been endorsed by participating countries they lack critical commercial backing and face competition from other potential links originating in gas-rich Russia and Iran.

At an annual investment conference held in Ashgabat this month, Turkmen officials tried to restore faith in both mega-projects.

Oil and Gas Minister Muhammetnur Halylov described Turkmenistan as a “reliable, stable and responsible partner with a good reputation and high international standing.”

TAPI peace vision: Turkmenistan begins building $10b gas pipeline

Speaking on the sidelines of the conference Charles Hendry, Britain’s former energy and climate change minister, credited “the drive of the Turkmen government” in moving to complete its own sections of both links.

“Europe is going to go on needing gas well into the future,” Hendry, who now chairs the London-based Eurasia Partners Ltd consultancy, told AFP of the Trans-Caspian proposal.

“The more we have that through established, stable routes of supply, the more that will be beneficial.”

But other industry analysts, like Laurent Ruseckas, a senior advisor at Veracity Worldwide, remain skeptical.

“Political will alone does not bring multi-billion dollar projects into fruition. What is the gas price? Subtract from that the transportation costs and factor in construction,” Ruseckas told AFP by telephone.

“Both projects face significant challenges right there before questions of political risk even enter the equation.”

The glut on the global gas market is particularly significant for Turkmenistan, which counts on hydrocarbons for over 80% of total exports and has a debt to CNPC for the construction of the Central Asia-China pipeline still outstanding.

Turkmenistan’s economy has been struggling and earlier this year it devalued its manat currency by a fifth, mirroring central bank strategies in other energy-rich ex-Soviet economies.

Earlier this month an International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission urged the Turkmen government to diversify and create conditions for private entrepreneurship.

It also predicted a growth slowdown of four percentage points over the next two years on the back of low hydrocarbon prices. In 2014, Turkmenistan’s economy expanded by 10% and it is forecast to see growth slow to about 7.0% this year and 6.0% in 2016, according to the IMF.

Pakistan invites Putin for pipeline’s inauguration

While Ashgabat may still be banking on its vast gas wealth to help dig the country out of any trouble, time is not on the side of the Turkmen leadership.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central Asia Daniel Rosenblum  pointed out the challenges, including the growth of LNG production as well as the potential re-emergence of Iran as a major energy supplier if international sanctions are lifted.

“There are many more producer countries than there were on the map, 20, 10 or even five years ago,” Rosenblum said at the oil and gas conference in Ashgabat.

“As the global energy market transforms, the window of opportunity for some projects may begin to close.”

The post Turkmenistan in race against time to become global gas player appeared first on The Express Tribune.

Categories: News

Colorado shooting suspect said ‘no more baby parts’: reports

1 hour 49 min ago

COLORADO SPRINGS: The man accused of opening fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado and killing three people said “no more baby parts” while he was being arrested, NBC News and other media reported on Saturday, citing unidentified law enforcement sources.

The utterance from suspect Robert Lewis Dear, 57, would appear to reference the controversy surrounding the organisation’s health services, which include abortion, and its role in delivering foetal tissue to medical researchers.

It could hint at a possible motive for the rampage on Friday, though NBC reported that its sources said investigators still did not know what had motivated the gunman.

Authorities have not discussed a motive for the attack at the Colorado Springs clinic, which left a police officer and two civilians dead and nine people wounded. Federal law enforcement authorities referred questions to local police. Colorado Springs police could not be reached for comment.

“This unconscionable attack was not only a crime against the Colorado Springs community, but a crime against women receiving healthcare services at Planned Parenthood, law enforcement seeking to protect and serve, and other innocent people,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement.

The wounded included five police officers and four civilians, who were listed in good condition at area hospitals.

Garrett Swasey, 44, who was killed in the attack, was a campus police officer for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs who joined city police in responding to reports of shots fired at the clinic. The father of two served as an elder at Hope Chapel, the church said on its website.

Dear was taken into custody at the Planned Parenthood clinic after an hours-long standoff with police and jailed ahead of a court appearance scheduled for Monday. It was not clear if Dear, a South Carolina native who appeared to have moved to Colorado last year, had retained an attorney.

Vicki Cowart, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said in a statement that the media reports showed that witnesses confirmed that Dear was motivated by opposition to abortion. “This is an appalling act of violence targeting access to health care and terrorising skilled and dedicated health care professionals,” she said.

The shooting was believed to be the first fatal attack at an abortion provider in the United States in six years. The Colorado Springs centre has been repeatedly targeted for protests by anti-abortion activists.

Planned Parenthood came under heavy criticism this year after officials of the organisation were secretly recorded by an anti-abortion group discussing how to obtain human tissue from aborted foetuses.

The videos have triggered protests over the national non-profit organisation’s role in such activities and have become an issue in the 2016 presidential election race as conservatives in Congress seek to cut off Planned Parenthood’s federal funding. Planned Parenthood has strongly denied doing anything illegal or unethical.

In recent years, Planned Parenthood moved its Colorado Springs clinic to a facility on the city’s northwest side that opponents of abortion have called a “fortress.” The Planned Parenthood Federation of America is based in New York and Washington.

At least eight workers at clinics providing abortions have been killed since 1977, according to the National Abortion Federation. The most recent was in 2009 when doctor George Tiller was shot to death at church in Wichita, Kansas.

It said that clinics operated by various groups reported nearly 7,000 incidents of trespassing, vandalism, arson, death threats, and other forms of violence since 1977.

Newcomer to Colorado

Except for his name and age, police have only said that Dear recently resided in rural Hartsel, Colorado, about 60 miles (96 km) west of Colorado Springs. Official records showed that he has a history of brushes with the law.

Dear lived in a trailer parked 50 yards (metres) off the highway, sharing it with a woman who may have been his wife though she rarely left the property, according to Zigmond Post Jr, who lives about a quarter of a mile (400 metres) away.

Post told Reuters that he first met Dear when a pair of dogs escaped from his property and Dear locked them in his yard. Dear was friendly when Post arrived to retrieve the dogs but took the opportunity to complain about President Barack Obama.

“We got the dogs back and everything and as we were getting ready to leave he handed us some anti-Obama pamphlets and told us to look over them,” Post said.

Post said he did not interact with Dear again until Wednesday, when the two men exchanged pleasantries at the post office. “We all live out here because for some reason or another we like our solitude,” Post said. “He seemed like a guy who wouldn’t speak unless spoken to.”

Post said he believed the woman was still living in Dear’s trailer on Saturday morning when police, SWAT teams and firefighters arrived to search it. He said he heard a gunshot from inside before they entered.

South Carolina native

Dear was born in South Carolina and lived in Walterboro during the 1990s and early 2000s. He was married in 1995 to Pam Dear and records showed that he had a son, Taylor Dear.

Court records did not show any criminal convictions for Dear in South Carolina, but law enforcement officers were called on several occasions after complaints about him.

According to the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office, Dear’s wife accused him of assaulting her at their home in 1997, but she declined to file charges against him.

In 2002 he was accused of shooting a neighbour’s dog with a pellet gun, and that same year he was arrested after being accused of hiding in the bushes at a neighbour’s house and leering at her. Court records showed he was charged with peeping to invade someone’s privacy, but the charge was dismissed by a judge and a restraining order was issued against him.

The Colleton County Sheriff’s Office also said that Dear had been arrested for animal cruelty in 2003. No court record was available online for that case.

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Categories: News

Film review: Suffragette – Divine disobedience

1 hour 50 min ago

The powerful are different from those who do not wield power. They guard power with a vicious ferocity; violence, cruelty and brutality come naturally to these people who stop at nothing to retain their dominance over the powerless. The 2014 Model Town, Lahore, massacre, the abuse and murder of religious minorities are but a few examples of the powerful breaking the laws of humanity, religion, society, decency and the Constitution in their depraved bids to retain power.

Sarah Gavron’s powerful and deeply moving Suffragette chronicles the extraordinary efforts of a group of women fighting for their rights in the early 20th Century and the vicious response of powerful authorities determined to deny them the right to vote. Women had virtually no rights in 19th Century England. They were disenfranchised, denied rights over their children, subject to lower wages and given no place in national politics. The role of women was seen to be rearing children, cooking and taking care of the home. The industrial revolution resulted in the full-time employment of large numbers of women. Unequal wages, sexual abuse and unfair treatment in the workplace encouraged, if not forced, women to come together, discuss politics and campaign for equal rights. This was the start of the women’s suffrage movement. A number of fragmented but highly organised campaigns were operating all over England by the end of the 19th Century. At the turn of the century, women’s suffrage was a potent national movement. The movement had two wings, the suffragists and the suffragettes. The suffragists came into being in the 19th Century and believed in using peaceful tactics to achieve their goals. The suffragettes were born in the 20th Century when peaceful campaigning failed to yield positive results. They believed that militant tactics were needed for the success of the movement.

Emmeline Pankhurst was an important leader of the British suffragette movement. Together with her daughters, she founded the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903 and set the stage for increasingly rebellious and decidedly combative campaigning.

Played by the luminous Meryl Streep, Emmeline appears for a short but powerful two minutes in Gavron’s film. Suffragette, thankfully, is not a biopic of Emmeline. It tells the story of the movement using the peripheral and fictional character of a poor working woman, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), who has no control over events in her life but enough determination to make a significant contribution to the movement.

Maud works under miserable conditions in an industrial laundry in early 20th Century London. She is forced to endure sexual abuse, low wages, gross mistreatment and dreadful conditions at work but finds comfort in her warm, if austere, home where she lives with her husband, Sonny Watts (Ben Whishaw), and son, George Watts (Adam Michael Dodd). She gets caught up in suffragist activities, not necessarily by choice, and is introduced to the movement by a co-worker, Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff). Thanks to a growing friendship with Violet and the kindness of pharmacist Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter), she gets involved in the movement. Soon, Maud is marching in demonstrations, participating in clandestine meetings, blowing up homes, attending rallies, planning the cutting of telegraph wires and bombing mailboxes. Her increasingly radical activities result in brutal beatings, surveillance, incarceration, force-feeding, ostracism and, most tragically, the disintegration of her happy family. She ignores the advice of the unsympathetic but concerned inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson), who all but threatens her to mend her ways and, with nothing to lose, becomes a solid pillar of the cause.

Suffragette is a remarkable film; it tells an important story and it tells it well. The nuanced, understated and powerful performance of Mulligan is truly remarkable. Similarly, Carter’s portrayal of a determined woman who does not allow physical weakness to affect her unwavering commitment to her cause is pitch perfect. The supporting cast, most notably Duff, Romola Garai (playing the role of Alice Haughton, the well-bred wife of a leading MP) and Natalie Press (playing the role of a real-life militant activist Emily Davison), not to mention the regal Streep, are at the top of their game in Suffragette. The film makes a wise choice to not depict all male characters as conventional villains. Sonny and Arthur are believable and not entirely evil. The look and feel of the film immaculately captured (mostly with handheld camera) by cinematographer Edu Grau is unnervingly realistic. The astounding work of production designer Alice Normington and costume designer Jane Petrie, together with the muted palette of the film, evoke the stifling atmosphere of a time when women found it impossibly difficult to lead their lives with dignity, freedom and respect. Abi Morgan’s script is well researched, brisk and appropriately grim. The film’s greatest strength is, undoubtedly, its unflinching and accurate depiction of the powerful using fear, intimidation and the strength of the law to suppress movements that threaten their control.

Suffragette, of course, has its shortcomings: a dull score by French composer Alexandre Desplat, an excessive use of contrivance in the narrative, an untampered earnestness, a melodramatic strain and the omission of the role of women of colour in the suffragette movement. Women like Sophia Duleep Singh, Herabai Tata and Mithan Lam’s contributions cannot and should not be ignored. The noticeable, perhaps unintentional, whitewashing of history is unbecoming of a film making a case for fairness, equality and justice.

The suffrage movement was long, painful and fragmented. Gavron’s film focuses on a period of two years when the activists were most militant and the government most ruthless, and ends at a turning point when Emily gets killed after stepping out in front of King George V’s galloping horse, at the Epson Derby in 1913. Her sacrifice made headlines all over the world and attracted attention that electrified the movement.

The choice to tell an unfinished story and end the film on an equivocal note is both brave and smart. It serves as a tart reminder of the fact that the global fight for women’s rights is far from over. Women are still not able to vote in parts of the world and are subject to humiliation, mistreatment and cruelty even today. The powerful continue to guard power with pathological cruelty and people continue to fight for equality, fairness and respect in many countries all over the world. Pakistan, sadly, is one of those countries.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 29th, 2015.

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Categories: News

Art and aspirations

1 hour 54 min ago

Relationships are strange, complicated things. They can make us love deeply; yet, find ourselves hating the same person with equal vigour. Relationships between nations largely stem from their shared histories, but the sustenance and nurturing of these relationships is influenced by political tendencies propagated by the media.

When it comes to complicated relationships, what better example is there than our association with our neighbour, India? The sentiments of masses for India, be it with respect to wars, cricket, political crises etcetera, have always been passionate, albeit varied. Nevertheless, with an on-going exchange of entertainment personalities and the recent handing over of Geeta to her homeland by Edhi Foundation, it is clear that many aim to extend the message of brotherhood and promote a healthy exchange of ideas between both nations.

And what better way to facilitate this healthy exchange than through art? Sanat Gallery, an avid promoter of art across borders, recently invited New Delhi-based artist Manisha Gera Baswani to show her body of work at their space in Karachi. Titled ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’, after a poem by Emily Dickinson, the first thing that came to mind was that this show, among other efforts, could be a small step toward the message of peace between the two nations.


Baswani’s earlier works drew from Indian miniatures and Buddhist murals. Her guru Ramachandran’s vast knowledge of the visual culture of India became a distinctive learning tool for her. Later, one could see Western influences, such as Hollywood icons including James Bond and Elvis Presley, on her canvases along with insects, galaxies, ancient Indian murals and monuments. Her many travels, including a trip to the ruins of Mandu and Jaisalmer between 2007 and 2009, have further influenced her work.As a student at Jamia Millia Islamia University Baswani studied under some big names of contemporary Indian art, including the renowned artist A Ramachandran, whom she considers her mentor and guru. Under him, she received her National Scholarship and Junior fellowship from the Government of India from 1991 to 1993 and from 1995 to 1997, respectively. She also received a scholarship from the French Government to study art in Paris in 1992.

When one sees Baswani’s work on display at the Gallery, one can immediately grasp her connection with nature. Earthy tones of yellow ochre, army green and rust brown are often seen inundating her canvases, with imagery such as vegetal figures, an abundance of feathers and flora and fauna and formations. Often, one can see compositions that vaguely resemble Mughal miniature paintings with occasional geometric forms and divisions. Also, her use of gouache (opaque watercolour on paper) takes one back to a time when this medium was used by artists to create miniature paintings that were patronised by Mughal emperors. This reminds one of the shared histories of Pakistan and India, particularly in the 16th and 17th Centuries, when the two nations were part of the Indian subcontinent under Mughal rule. Today, a large number of Pakistani artists also study Mughal miniature painting and derive strong influences from it in their works.

Baswani’s ‘Scratch Beneath’, in pencil, charcoal and watercolour on paper, reveals a deep red wound of sorts against a white background. It is unclear whether it is a flesh wound or a cut in fabric. Inside the scarlet, exposed surface lies another cut revealing a riveting blue. What could this symbolise one may ask; perhaps peace after war, relief after hardship, bounty after toil or simply the multiplicity of layers in any given situation.

‘Scratch beneath’, 2012. PHOTO COURTESY: SANAT GALLERY

Nature is the primal force in most of Baswani’s other pieces as well. It helps depict a plethora of complicated ideas, which, for the most part, the artist leaves open to interpretation. Her works reflect distinct phases of her life, each a compact episode of an enduring voyage that people across borders can delight in, and relate to.In ‘Let a thousand flowers bloom’, Baswani depicts an undulating landscape of what seems like richly coloured mountains, sharp peaks and curvilinear forms of the earth. Imposed on these are rows of flowers in different stages and at the very top lies a sperm-like flower, seemingly in wait to merge with one of the many flowers in close proximity. Perhaps Baswni’s piece is a literal interpretation of the initial process of (re)creation as a closer look reveals various faces painted on selective roses, embodying the possibilities of new life.

Shanzay Subzwari is an artist and art writer based in Karachi.

She tweets @ShanzaySubzwari

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 29th, 2015.

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Categories: News

Taking the lead

1 hour 59 min ago

Are leaders born or made? Based on trait and behavioural theories, this notion can be argued either way. If the question is posed to senior executives and human resources professionals, a vast majority will answer in favour of the latter. Practically speaking, both hold true to some extent. In fact, the real challenge of leadership is not to create followers, but to create effective leaders.

Too often, organisations struggle with the right Leadership Development Programme (LDP). Companies spend millions on leadership development trainings and there are countless books available on the same, but unfortunately, as soon as the training ends, the acquired knowledge, behaviour and so-called action-based strategies wither away too.

There are three common misconceptions about the LDP. One of them is that it is a one-size-fits-all learning session where trainers reveal a success model that can be applied to the leadership development of any organisation. In fact, every individual’s experience varies when it comes to benefiting from these trainings. Another fallacy is that it can be developed or customised without any assessment or proper understanding of the participants and their respective backgrounds. Thirdly, it is often misconceived to be a mixture of several management trainings rolled out for anyone and everyone.

Here are some things to keep in mind to make the most of an LDP:

Context — This is by far the most important aspect of a successful LDP. Before anything else, it is important to identify what purpose and goal does the programme serve? The premise should be specific leadership skills that are carefully aligned with the vision and growth of the organisation.

Continuity — Leadership is a journey and the training programme should be considered a leadership development process. A successful programme should consist of follow-up session(s) to track an individual’s progress. Some companies also extend their trainings for better understanding of concepts in a more personalised and real-world context.

Compare — An organisation should not only be concerned about cost-and-benefit. It should also promote employee development. The hardest part of making comparisons is trying to measure success. But how exactly can an organisation measure leadership? A typical participant survey about how they found the programme and if it was beneficial may completely ignore the goal. Hence, using performance reviews to determine whether the candidate is capable of becoming a leader and deserves a promotion can be a helpful tool.

Content — This is the heart of the programme and consists of the curriculum. For example, Situational Leadership II model is the foundation of many successful leadership curriculums around the world. In order to learn new skills, the programme must incorporate arduous situations that allow learners to hone their skills by applying learned approaches and strategies. The content needs to be based on ‘empirical research’, which uses thoughts of real people in real situations and in the real world. Only then can it leverage success.

Comprehensiveness — LDPs should instil holistic leadership skills that promote innovation, facilitate change and drive performance. According to the Centre for Creative Leadership, four key competencies are vital for leaders: self-awareness, learning agility, communication and influence. However, when mixed with the strategic objectives of the organisation, self-awareness, building relationships, strong business acumen, organisational strategy and integrity form the basis of an enduring LDP.

Clarity — The programme needs to be genuine. This last step is actually a tricky one because there needs to be transparency about who is put through the programme — high performers and senior executives, or mid-level management. An organisation is only as good as its employees, but just because a person wants to attend the training does not in any way make the programme meaningful. Organisations can increase the odds of its success by having a clear sense of their current and future priorities.

Moez Allidina is an OD Trainer at Maktab Learning Solutions and a management lecturer.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 29th, 2015.

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Categories: News

Prepaid cards: help for financially excluded or finance for terrorists?

2 hours 5 min ago

PARIS: Prepaid payment cards were seen as a positive development, helping those excluded from the banking system and providing a convenient financial tool, but their use in the Paris terror attacks has revealed a troubling dark side.

The attackers used an anonymous prepaid card to rent hotel rooms outside Paris the night before the November 13 strikes that killed 130 people, according to Tracfin, the French body tasked with combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

It was a way to avoid being detected by intelligence agencies.
Prepaid cards have been one of the fastest growing segments of non-cash payments in recent years, and now authorities are concerned they may have become a tool that criminals use to keep their activities hidden and launder their funds.

France targets prepaid debit cards in fight against terror finance

Stamped with the Visa or MasterCard logo and protected with a PIN code, the cards allow users to withdraw funds at ATMs, as well as make purchases in stores and online.

However, unlike traditional debit cards, they must be charged in advance with funds.

They also don’t bear a person’s name, and if the amounts are not too large, no name is ever linked with the card.

In Europe it is currently possible to use without showing identification non-rechargeable cards for payments of up to 250 euros ($265) or up to 2,500 euros per year for rechargeable cards.

With online bill payments becoming more the norm, as well as the surge in online shopping, access to a payment card of some sort has become crucial in many countries.

In the United States, they have become ubiquitous as many government benefits are now disbursed to prepaid cards. Some $148 billion was paid out that way last year according to the US Federal Reserve, although cards have to be registered to receive benefit payments.

And more and more US companies have begun issuing their employees prepaid cards to pay wages, thus cutting expenses related to using cheques and avoiding problems with workers who don’t have a bank account.

Non-rechargeable cards have gained popularity as gift certificates, with companies also using them to entice or reward clients.
Volkswagen, for example, is offering US owners of its cars caught up in its emission cheating scandal a $500 prepaid Visa card.
In France, prepaid cards have found a niche with parents, as even minors can use them for payments.

The ready source of terror financing

“This allows parents to control the finances of their children,” says France’s Banque Postale, which has offered the cards since 2008.

A survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that a majority of low-income US users of prepaid cards also saw them as a means to control their spending, and avoid stiff overdraft fees that banks charge on traditional cards.

It is hard to say just how popular the cards have become in Europe as authorities don’t break out payments by debit or prepaid cards.
However, a 2014 survey by the Bank of Italy found that nearly 17 percent of households had used prepaid cards, or about one in four that used payment cards.

Consulting firm CapGemini, in its latest publicly available report on the sector, estimated that prepaid cards accounted for 11.4 billion transactions worldwide in 2012, or nearly 4 percent of the total.
When issued by banks in Europe, the prepaid cards are usually linked to a bank account, thus making recharging convenient and ensuring transactions are traceable.

But EU directives aiming to boost competition opened up the sector to firms outside the banking sector, and 48 were registered, for instance, at the end of 2014 in France.

These companies have been behind the mushrooming of prepaid cards for sale in supermarkets and newsagents.

Available to anyone at least 18 years of age, some of these cards can be recharged with cash at newsagents and used to make transfers abroad.

And all that without having to show an ID.

That is why Bruno Dalles, the head of Tracfin, the French body tasked with combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism, said this past week he would seek to have prepaid card transactions “appear on our radar”.

British ‘terror sponsors’ held in Hungary

Anonymous prepaid cards “are used in the underground economy, in organised crime,” said Dalles. “It is a tool which replaces cash, which is very discrete, untraceable. That is something we need to change.”

French authorities have said they plan to reduce the amounts that cards may be charged with before identification becomes mandatory by decree early in 2016.

But if authorities want to fully eliminate the risk of their use by extremist groups, “…identification should be needed from the first euro”, said Frederic Jeannin, chief executive of Ticket Surf, a firm which provides online payment services.

He believes that part of the problem is that firms operating throughout Europe are only monitored in their home base.

Another is that prepaid card issuers also have no idea what the card is used for. When a charge comes through, the issuer sees only the merchant’s bank.

Ticket Surf works directly with websites, which means they can monitor payments and shut off sites they suspect to be laundering money.

“It is important to have financial regulations but it is also important that financial institutions pay attention,” said Jeannin.

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Categories: News

Saudi women candidates begin first election campaign

2 hours 38 min ago

RIYADH: Saudi women running for public office next month for the first time ever begin campaigning Sunday in another step forward for women’s rights in the conservative kingdom’s slow democratic process.

Despite barriers, Saudi women in first election bid

Around 900 women are standing in the December 12 municipal elections, which will also be the first time females have been allowed to participate in choosing officials.

“This is one of the first steps for women’s rights, a big step for us,” said Sahar Hassan Nasief, an activist in the Red Sea city of Jeddah who has many friends running for office.

The election will be the third municipal ballot for men, who previously voted in 2005 and 2011.

The absolute monarchy, which applies a strict interpretation of Islam, has no female cabinet ministers and is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.

Women must cover themselves in black from head-to-toe in public, and require permission from a man in their families to travel, work or marry.

Restrictions remain in place despite a slow expansion of women’s rights under the late king Abdullah, who introduced the elections in 2005 and said women would participate this time around.

In 2013, he named women to the appointed Shura Council, which advises the cabinet.

Abdullah died in January and was succeeded by King Salman, who has stuck to the election timetable.

In other Gulf states, women have had voting rights for several years.

Data cited by the Saudi electoral commission show a total of about 7,000 people vying for seats on the 284 councils.

Only 130,600 women have signed up to vote, compared with more than 1.35 million men, out of a voting population of 21 million.

Saudi Arabia set to behead 50 terrorism convicts in one go

Aside from transport problems, women say their voter registration was hindered by bureaucratic obstacles and a lack of awareness of the process and its significance.

There is also disappointment at the performance of the local councils and their limited powers restricted to streets, gardens and garbage.

Although the voting age has been lowered to 18 from 21 and the proportion of elected council members has increased to two-thirds, winning a seat remains a challenge for women in electorates where male voters vastly outnumber them.

“It’s very, very difficult for us to win and to target our voters,” said Nassima al-Sadah, a candidate in the Gulf coast city of Qatif.

From Sunday, she plans a social media onslaught supported by traditional banners and brochures.

But none of them are allowed to carry her picture – a restriction that also applies to male candidates.

Later in the week Sadah, 42, will begin town hall meetings in a direct pitch to voters. Because of the kingdom’s strict separation of sexes – which applies to election facilities as elsewhere like restaurants – women will gather one day and men the next.

Saudi blogger could be pardoned: Swiss official

Sadah’s male spokesman will address the men.

Electoral democracy is still a novel concept in a country where tribal loyalties remain strong and things traditionally get done through “wasta” — knowing the right people.

Some say it’s time for a new approach.

“We strive for development and real change, free from tribal or family biases,” said Saud al-Shammry, 43, of Riyadh.

He says “there’s a big possibility” he could vote for a woman, if her platform is convincing.

“We will hold accountable those we elect,” Shammry said.

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Categories: News

Horoscope: November 29, 2015

3 hours 3 min ago

Aries | March 20 – April 19

By no means is your thinking rigid. But between the recent Full Moon and the New Moon, on 11 December, events will highlight situations in which you simply refuse even to consider certain facts. Not only are these true, once you actually acknowledge them, you’ll know how to handle once-impossible situations.

Taurus | April 20 – May 20

At the moment, opportunities appear in wonderful if entirely unexpected ways. Knowing that, explore absolutely everything, including what seems impractical or unappealing. Once you learn more, your views will begin to shift, possibly over time. In the same way, gradually, your approach to plans for the future will be completely transformed.

Gemini | May 21 – June 20

There’s a fine line between tensions that blow up like a sudden storm then vanish as suddenly, and those seem minor but get worse by the day. Judging by the current planetary setup, you’re dealing with the latter. This means you’re better off taking a tough line, and doing it now.

Cancer | June 21 – July 22

It may be you underestimated the time certain projects would take or, alternatively, new responsibilities mean you’ve more to do than before. Whatever the case, if you’re to deal with these and continue with existing arrangements, personal and otherwise, you’ll need to think carefully about, and probably reorganise, your schedule.

Leo | July 23 – August 22

Sometimes the best solution for seemingly irresolvable issues with others is to back off and let them do what they think is best. If their ideas work well, everybody will benefit. And if not, they’ll need to acknowledge their errors and, at last, you’ll be able to work together in harmony.

Virgo | August 23 – September 22

As a Virgo, you’re generous and have a good heart. This means others sometimes rely on you more than they should. In fact, their needs can intrude on your own life. While you’re being encouraged to say “enough is enough”, you can’t help but wonder what they’d do without you.

Libra | September 23 – October 22

As a clever air sign, you’re adept at solving mysteries, including those that involve facts discreetly left out of conversations with others. However, with the planet of both illusion and confusion, Neptune, playing a major role in the planetary drama, you’re urged to see, and get, all the facts.

Scorpio | October 23 – November 21

It’s a fact others, can’t be bothered to ask about crucial plans before they make decisions that influence them and you. This has happened before and it seems you’re facing the same issue again. Since you can’t alter their character, you’ll either have to gather that information yourself or stop complaining.

Sagittarius | November 22 – December 21

One particular individual isn’t just very selfish in their thinking and planning, they don’t understand about being fair and square. Since they won’t, you’ve no choice but to take things into your own hands. Don’t worry about causing upset. You must ensure that you and your interests take priority.

Capricorn | December 22 – January 19

Somebody has been coasting along in your wake, and has sometimes even taken credit for your efforts. Initially you assumed others had misunderstood the facts. Now that it’s clear the individual in question is deliberately giving a misleading impression, you must inform them, and others, this must come to a halt.

Aquarius | January 20 – February 17

Long ago you noticed that when things are going smoothly, something in nature needs to trigger a shakeup. Annoying as this is, the current upset is forcing you to conduct a timely review of existing plans. This isn’t just wise, it will allow you to make updates you didn’t realise were pressing.

Pisces | February 18 – March 19

Arguing about the rights and wrongs of tricky issues is bad enough. But you seem to have been caught in a debate about more complex ethical matters. While you’ll learn lots from thinking these through, exchanging ideas is unwise. State your views but refuse to discuss them further.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2015.

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Categories: News

High alert: Agencies warn of Da’ish-inspired attacks in Punjab

Sat, 11/28/2015 - 20:33

LAHORE: Authorities in Punjab have warned of possible attacks by the ultra-orthodox Islamic State (IS) against high-profile targets in the province.

The Home Department issued an intelligence-based alert four days ago about the possibility of attacks on important political personalities, and sensitive civil and military installations. The warning also alerts all media houses to remain on guard.

The interior ministry had issued this warning to Punjab, after which the provincial department directed the relevant authorities to take preventive measures, an insider at the home department told The Express Tribune.

The authorities have asked the divisional police officers and the Counter-Terrorism Department to “ensure extreme vigilance and foolproof security measures at all levels. They were also told to take ‘special measures’ to avoid any untoward incidents.

Citing intelligence reports, the alert warned that police patrols, military vehicles and private establishments were on the hit-list of the militants associated with IS, also known by its Arabic acronym Da’ish.

The home department specifically warned the Allama Iqbal International Airport management to take pre-emptive measures for averting any untoward incidents. Against external threats, the Airport Security Force was directed to remain on standby and enhance security while the Bomb Disposal Squad was told to screen the entire airport area for any explosive devices.

As for internal threats, the warning letter called for continuous monitoring through CCTV cameras at the facility, especially at the departure and arrival lounges.

The home department also stated that Da’ish militants might target army vehicles, especially on Jalalpur-Jattan Road, and police patrols on GT Road in Gujrat district.

It also directed the police to ensure foolproof security at the offices of all media houses, particularly in Lahore. The authorities also called for arranging safety drills for employees at the media houses in the near future to prepare them for any untoward situation.

Another home department official said while Da’ish was not itself present in Pakistan, its name alluded to factions within the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) inspired by the Middle Eastern terror outfit.

Criminals at work

In another letter for Lahore issued by intelligence agencies, the authorities have been warned that ‘hostile intelligence agencies’ are planning to target Lal Pull near Dharampura, PAF Information Centre Cantt and the Chinese Consulate by “using trained individuals from Afghanistan”.

Intelligence-based reports suggest a high-level meeting of the TTP leadership was held on November 20 in the Kunar province of Afghanistan, where Mullah Fazlullah and Qari Amjad were accompanied by an NDS agent, Noor Karim.

Karim has reportedly handed over Rs20 million to Amjad to target government buildings, like universities and colleges in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Mardan, the letter warned. Amjad has meanwhile tasked some fighters with carrying out terror activities in Bajaur Agency, Swat and Dir.

The alert further warned that a group of five terrorists had already reached Lahore, and planned to barge into private organisations. The intelligence report claimed that on October 7, militants of Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, Taliban and Da’ish held a meeting in Afghanistan and planned a massive attack on the Canadian High Commission in Pakistan. Around 10 to 12 fighters have been assigned the task.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2015.

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Categories: News

Five murders: SC restores 70-year jail term for convict

Sat, 11/28/2015 - 20:30

ISLAMABAD: After the passage of 16 years, the top court has restored the punishment of a man, who was initially jailed for 70 years but served only 14 for slaughtering his wife and four minor kids.

While the separate jail terms for five murders were to run consecutively, the convict won a reprieve from the high court, which allowed the sentences to run concurrently. Thus, the man only served 14 years in jail.

In 1992, the Multan police booked Muhammad Akram for the murders of his wife, Azra Parveen, three minor daughters Shagufta, Kiran and Aneeqa, and a minor son, Waqar, by slitting their throats. On June 13, 1993, the trial court announced the verdict.

Akram was found guilty and convicted under separate laws for the murder of his wife and children. He was awarded the death penalty for the ‘wilful murder’ of his wife. For the murder of his four kids, he was to undergo 14 years imprisonment on each count.

The court also announced the jail sentences would run consecutively, summing up the whole punishment as 54 years in jail.

On April 9, 1994 however, the Supreme Appellate Court Lahore converted his death sentence for the murder of his wife into another 14-year term, which was also to run consecutively with the four other counts.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2015.

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Crippling virus: Seventh polio case surfaces in Sindh

Sat, 11/28/2015 - 20:28

KARACHI: The seventh polio case of Sindh surfaced on Friday late evening, taking the total cases of the country to 43 so far this year. The three-year-old boy, Hasnain, son of Asadullah, resident of Allah Dad union council, Buzdar district, Khairpur Mirs, has been confirmed to be suffering from polio. The left leg of the boy has been affected by the virus. The health officials confirmed that Hasnain was administered polio vaccine three times during the routine immunisation. Among the seven cases, one case has been confirmed from Karachi while six others are from different districts of the Sindh province. It is the first case from Khairpur Mirs district this year.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2015.

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New strategy: PTI shifts its focus to national issues

Sat, 11/28/2015 - 20:27

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has seemingly come over its only concern – alleged rigging in 2013 general elections – as the party has started raising issues being faced by the masses and has started taking part in debates on performance of the government.

The shift, quite visible these days, came following the party’s defeat in the by-elections at the NA-122 constituency in Lahore where it had complained that the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had resorted to rigging in May 2013 polls.

The PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi recently complained that the National Assembly speaker was turning a deaf ear to the business (legislative and other) proposed by the PTI members and that the party was not allocated an office at the Parliament House.

At the same time, Qureshi contacted Leader of Opposition Khursheed Shah and made an announcement that the party would diligently play its role as opposition. Fielding of a candidate in election for NA speaker, despite being cognizant of a certain defeat, was also a step in that direction.

Outside the parliament, PTI leader Asad Umer has led the party’s protest against recent price hike in prices of petroleum products and challenged government’s economic policies in debates and talk shows.

The PTI’s senators have asked the government several times about rates of LNG imported from Qatar and Umer has asked the PM to tell details about the deal.

The PTI’s information Secretary Naeemul Haq is seemingly keeping party’s stance about the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) alive.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2015.

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Appointment: Zahid Hussain tipped as new FST head

Sat, 11/28/2015 - 20:25

ISLAMABAD: The federal government has decided to appoint Justice (retd) Syed Zahid Hussain as the new chairman of the Federal Services Tribunal (FST).

On November 4, the government had assured the Supreme Court the chairperson of the tribunal would be appointed within 15 days. The attorney general of Pakistan made the assurance on behalf of the government before the three-judge apex court bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan.

A senior official told The Express Tribune the government has made up its mind to appoint Zahid, a former superior court judge, as the FST chairman.

The notification of his appointment will be issued soon. The tenure of the FST chairman is three years.

On October 16, the top court had asked the government to consider de-notifying then FST Chairman Sheikh Ahmad Farooq and the tribunal’s other 11 members. The court had termed the authority’s structure illegal, declaring it was set up against its January 1, 2013, judgment in the Sheikh Riazul Haq case.

The judgment required the appointment of the FST chairman, as well as its members, be made in consultation with the top judge in the country, the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

In that verdict, a three-judge bench headed by then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had held the functions of the service tribunal to be a “judicial function” in exercise of “judicial powers” conferred upon it by the legislature. Thus the FST enjoys the status of a court and is bound to be separate from the executive under Article 175(3) of the Constitution.

An official contended that under the law, consultations with the chief justice were not binding. “But the government has made informal consultations with him over the name of Justice (retd) Zahid,” he said.

Zahid has served as the Lahore High Court chief justice for a few years. He started off as an additional judge of the LHC on May 21, 1998 and was confirmed on May 19, 1999. Later, he was elevated to the Supreme Court but was removed on July 31, 2009, because he had taken oath as a judge of LHC under the controversial Provisional Constitutional Order.

The 12-member FST is a judicial forum that redresses civil servants’ service-related grievances. The Supreme Court is the appellant forum against the tribunal’s decisions. Thousands of cases are pending before the FST.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2015.

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To meet the need: CAA opened 7 aerospace colleges in past one year

Sat, 11/28/2015 - 20:23

ISLAMABAD: In an effort to cater to the growing demand in domestic and international aviation industry, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has opened seven new aerospace engineering colleges during the past one year.

The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) had only one such institution – the PIA Training Centre (PTC) Karachi – which was set up in 1975.

However, after a long gap of almost 40 years, the aviation authority is all set to add nine more training centres – with seven of them already opened.

These new campuses have been opened in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Swat, Nawabshah, Quetta and Multan. The CAA plans to set up two more centres during next month in Faisalabad and Sukkur.

Once all these ten training centres – basically, campuses of the PTC – complete, they will be capable to produce over 600 engineers every year. Enrolled in the centres after intermediate, those completing four-year training from the PTC will be receiving degree of a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer, while those completing two-year programme will be offered senior technician certificates.

During a recent briefing to reporters, the PM’s Adviser on Aviation Shujaat Azeem said all these centres will be Easa (European Aviation and Safety Agency) certified. “Easa-145 certification for these institutes is in progress. We have hired an ex-training director of Lufthansa to head this project” he said.

Azeem said as part of the new aviation policy, the project was launched keeping in view the expanding aviation industry in the world and to meet local demand. “The Idea behind opening these colleges across country is to reach the maximum population so that our youth can get a fair chance of making exceptional careers in aviation worldwide,” he said.

“Given the pace of the industry’s growth, only Middle Eastern countries would need more than 50,000 aerospace engineers and technicians in the next five years. We can tap their market if we can produce suitably trained manpower” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2015.

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LG POLLS: MQM holds five rallies in city

Sat, 11/28/2015 - 20:20

Muttahida Qaumi Movement organised rallies in five parts of the city on Saturday. At a rally in Hyderi, party leader Haider Abbas Rizvi referring to the rally of PTI and JI said that extremists, ‘Taliban’ and members of banned outfits had come out on the streets, and were trying to woo the public with their false slogans.

At another event, MNA Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui said that the objective of the ‘brutalities’ was to force the party into boycott the local government elections. “We won’t boycott the election at any cost,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2015.

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