Monday, December 10, 2012

Pakistan activists support renaming of chowk after Bhagat Singh

Pakistani Civil society activists have filed two applications in a Lahore High Court asking it to make them parties to a case challenging the renaming of a traffic roundabout in Lahore after freedom fighter Bhagat Singh.

 Activists Taimur Rehman and Saeeda Diep filed the applications in the Lahore High Court yesterday through lawyer Yasir Latif Hamdani.
They contended that a frivolous impression was created by Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool, the petitioner in the case, that the decision to rename Fawara Chowk at Shadman after Bhagat Singh was a "conspiracy against Pakistan".  

  However, the office of the registrar of the High Court raised objections to the applications.  The applicants stated that the renaming of the roundabout after Bhagat Singh was a "supreme act of patriotism".

They said Pakistan is a Muslim country where everyone respects and cherishes the Prophet Mohammed.   They said the Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool had no locus standi in the matter as Bhagat Singh was known to hold no animosity towards Islam or the Prophet.

 They argued that Bhagat Singh was a non-communal freedom fighter who stood for the independence of the subcontinent from British imperialism for all people, including Muslims.

 The applicants also said the Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool was incensed by the move to rename the roundabout, which was earlier named after Chaudhry Rehmat Ali, who in his writings abused and attacked Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

 They said it was true that Ali came up with the name Pakistan but it was well-known that he distanced himself from the country after its creation in 1947 and chose to live in Britain for the rest of his life and wrote against Jinnah and the Muslim League.

  They further argued that the decision of the Lahore city district government to rename the roundabout was a legitimate exercise of executive authority which could not be impugned as it was an executive decision and was certainly not anti-Pakistan or anti-Islam by any stretch of imagination.

The applicants asked the court to make them party to the case. The Tehrik-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool, a sister organisation of the Jamaat-ud-Dawah, had moved the High Court against the city district government's decision to name the roundabout after Bhagat Singh.

 It even threatened to launch a drive against the move.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Back Bay Mission;Hard Rock Casino fight hunger and homelessness

Dozens of people from different walks of life sat together preparing to receive a hot meal, a meal some take for granted every day. 

During this National Homelessness and Hunger Awareness Week, the Back Bay Mission and Hard Rock Casino hope to touch the lives of these men, women and children even if it's just for a day.
Back Bay Mission volunteers say on any given night more than 600 people go homeless or hungry, so they wanted to break bread with them at the Micah Day Center during the 7th Annual Homeless and Hunger Day Meal. 

The meal was provided by the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel. Some of the Hard Rock's employees have been volunteering their time with this charitable event for six years now. Senior Vice President of Gaming Operations Joe Farruggio said anyone can use a helping hand. 

"Sometimes people need help, these people, some of them are American Veterans that have worked all their life and just lost their job and they have nobody else to turn to," says Farruggio.
Volunteers with the organization say although there's an attached stigma to the state of homelessness and hunger, they keep their doors open to anyone who falls short. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Intelligence effort improperly collected information about citizens, not terrorists

A multibillion-dollar information-sharing program created in the aftermath of 9/11 has improperly collected information about innocent Americans and produced little valuable intelligence on terrorism, a Senate report concludes. It portrays an effort that ballooned far beyond anyone's ability to control.

What began as an attempt to put local, state and federal officials in the same room analyzing the same intelligence has instead cost huge amounts of money for data-mining software, flat screen televisions and, in Arizona, two fully equipped Chevrolet Tahoes that are used for commuting, investigators found.

The lengthy, bipartisan report is a scathing evaluation of what the Department of Homeland Security has held up as a crown jewel of its security efforts. The report underscores a reality of post-9/11 Washington: 

National security programs tend to grow, never shrink, even when their money and manpower far surpass the actual subject of terrorism. Much of this money went for ordinary local crime-fighting.

Disagreeing with the critical conclusions of the report, Homeland Security says it is outdated, inaccurate and too focused on information produced by the program, ignoring benefits to local governments from their involvement with federal intelligence officials.

Because of a convoluted grants process set up by Congress, Homeland Security officials don't know how much they have spent in their decade-long effort to set up so-called fusion centers in every state. 

Government estimates range from less than $300 million to $1.4 billion in federal money, plus much more invested by state and local governments. Federal funding is pegged at about 20 percent to 30 percent.
Despite that, Congress is unlikely to pull the plug. That's because, whether or not it stops terrorists, the program means politically important money for state and local governments.

A Senate Homeland Security subcommittee reviewed more than 600 unclassified reports over a one-year period and concluded that most had nothing to do with terrorism. The panel's chairman is Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

"The subcommittee investigation could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot," the report said.
When fusion centers did address terrorism, they sometimes did so in ways that infringed on civil liberties. The centers have made headlines for circulating information about Ron Paul supporters, the ACLU, activists on both sides of the abortion debate, war protesters and advocates of gun rights.

One fusion center cited in the Senate investigation wrote a report about a Muslim community group's list of book recommendations. Others discussed American citizens speaking at mosques or talking to Muslim groups about parenting.

No evidence of criminal activity was contained in those reports. The government did not circulate them, but it kept them on government computers. The federal government is prohibited from storing information about First Amendment activities not related to crimes.

"It was not clear why, if DHS had determined that the reports were improper to disseminate, the reports were proper to store indefinitely," the report said.

Homeland Security Department spokesman Matthew Chandler called the report "out of date, inaccurate and misleading." He said that it focused entirely on information being produced by fusion centers and did not consider the benefit the involved officials got receiving intelligence from the federal government.

The report is as much an indictment of Congress as it is the Homeland Security Department. In setting up the department, lawmakers wanted their states to decide what to spend the money on. Time and again, that setup has meant the federal government has no way to know how its security money is being spent.

Inside Homeland Security, officials have long known there were problems with the reports coming out of fusion centers, the report shows.

"You would have some guys, the information you'd see from them, you'd scratch your head and say, `What planet are you from?'" an unidentified Homeland Security official told Congress.

Until this year, the federal reports officers received five days of training and were never tested or graded afterward, the report said.

States have had criminal analysis centers for years. But the story of fusion centers began in the frenzied aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The 9/11 Commission urged better collaboration among government agencies. As officials realized that a terrorism tip was as likely to come from a local police officer as the CIA, fusion centers became a hot topic.
But putting people together to share intelligence proved complicated. Special phone and computer lines had to be installed. The people reading the reports needed background checks. Some information could only be read in secure areas, which meant construction projects.

All of that cost money.

Meanwhile, federal intelligence agencies were under orders from Congress to hire more analysts. That meant state and local agencies had to compete for smart counterterrorism thinkers. And federal training for local analysts wasn't an early priority.

Though fusion centers receive money from the federal government, they are operated independently. Counterterrorism money started flowing to states in 2003. But it wasn't until late 2007 that the Bush administration told states how to run the centers.

State officials soon realized there simply wasn't that much local terrorism-related intelligence. Terrorist attacks didn't happen often, but police faced drugs, guns and violent crime every day. Normal criminal information started moving through fusion centers.

Under federal law, that was fine. When lawmakers enacted recommendations of the 9/11 Commission in 2007, they allowed fusion centers to study "criminal or terrorist activity." The law was co-sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman, the driving forces behind the creation of Homeland Security.
Five years later, Senate investigators found, terrorism is often a secondary focus.

"Many fusion centers lacked either the capability or stated objective of contributing meaningfully to the federal counterterrorism mission," the Senate report said. "Many centers didn't consider counterterrorism an explicit part of their mission, and federal officials said some were simply not concerned with doing counterterrorism work."

When Janet Napolitano became Homeland Security secretary in 2009, the former Arizona governor embraced the idea that fusion centers should look beyond terrorism. Testifying before Congress that year, she distinguished fusion centers from the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces that are the leading investigative and analytical arms of the domestic counterterrorism effort.

"A JTTF is really focused on terrorism and terrorism-related investigations," she said. "Fusion centers are almost everything else."

Congress, including the committee that authored the report, supports that notion. And though the report recommends the Senate reconsider the amount of money it spends on fusion centers, that seems unlikely.

"Congress and two administrations have urged DHS to continue or even expand its support of fusion centers, without providing sufficient oversight to ensure the intelligence from fusion centers is commensurate with the level of federal investment," the report said.

And following the release of the report, Homeland Security officials indicated their continued strong support for the program.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

People’s Saarc steering committee formed

Civil society organisations and various individuals of Sindh province formed a 15-member steering committee of People’s Saarc (Sindh Chapter) during their meeting held at the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) House.

The steering committee of People’s Saarc, representing civil society organisations of the province, would chalk out various activities and programmes to mobilise public opinion towards a South Asian Union. Over 60 people attended the meeting.

The members nominated on the committee, include: Karamat Ali (PILER), Nasir Mansoor (NTUF), Asad Butt (HRCP), Hameed Baloch (political worker), Noor Mohammad (trade union leader), Mohammad Ali Shah (Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum), Zulfiqar Halepoto (Pakistan Peace Coalition), Suleman Abro, Bilquis Rehman (HANDS), Ejaz Qureshi (Benazir Bhutto Chair, Karachi University), Zahida Detho (SRPO), Mir Askari (NSF), Dr Tipu Sultan (PMA), Zehra (Labour Party) and Lateef Mughal (Peoples Labour Bureau).

People’s Saarc is an initiative of organisations and individuals working on regional peace, and is a parallel process to the official SAARC aimed at presenting the South Asian civil societies’ collective voices on pressing regional issues.

Earlier, Karamat Ali, Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), briefed the meeting about the People’s SAARC process. He said that after the election of all provincial steering committees a national steering committee would be elected. According to him, Saarc Summit is planned to be held at Kathmandu, Nepal, by the end of this year. The Peoples SAARC meeting is also planned on the occasion and a memorandum would be presented to the heads of the Saarc states.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Top political guns agree to save their billions, escape routes

Some key cabinet members of the ruling coalition as well as Pakistani politicians having offshore bank accounts, properties and businesses would be the major beneficiaries of the constitutional amendment allowing dual nationality holders to become members of parliament.

The proposed amendment, as approved by the cabinet on Wednesday, if passed, would relieve the Pakistani politicians, including President Asif Ali Zardari, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, ANP leader Asfandyar Khan Wali, PML-Q leaders Chaudhry Shujaat and Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, MQM chief Altaf Hussain and a large number of parliamentarians, ministers and advisers, etc, from public pressure to bring back their foreign wealth worth billions of dollars to Pakistan.

In a recent statement coming out of Switzerland, it was stated that Pakistanis had close to US$97 billion deposited in Swiss accounts.

In addition, this amendment would save the skin of some influential cabinet members like Adviser to Prime Minister on Interior Abdur Rehman Malik. Unconfirmed reports even suggest that Minister for Petroleum Dr Asim Hussain and some others also have dual nationality.

Allowing the overseas Pakistanis having foreign nationality to contest elections would also mean allowing the politicians and parliamentarians to keep their accounts, properties and businesses abroad. Moreover, such an amendment would pave the way for dual nationals, settled abroad, to become president, prime minister or to get hold of any key cabinet slot including defence, foreign and finance ministries.

Pakistan did have the likes Moeen Qureshi and others as prime ministers besides a number of parliamentarians and ministers having dual nationality but such serious constitutional violations were the consequence of serious lapses on part of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Till recently the ECP had been overlooking the constitutional bar on dual nationals to become member of the Senate, National Assembly and provincial assemblies owing to which a number of dual nationals have been entering parliament and were able to hold key public offices.

Of late the ECP has decided that every candidate willing to participate in the elections for Parliament would have to submit under oath that he/she had no foreign or dual nationality.

The doing away of this constitutional restriction could see what happened in the case of Moeen Qureshi and others who ruled and ruined Pakistan and ran away with their suitcases as soon as their rule ended without any fear of being held accountable.

It is generally demanded that Pakistan should be ruled by those who live and die with the people of Pakistan and who do not have any option other than Pakistan. For the same reasons, the media in Pakistan and the civil society generally see with abhorrence the foreign businesses, bank accounts and luxury properties of the country’s leaders and MPs.

For the same reasons the media and the civil society had welcomed Raza Hayat Hiraj’s recent constitutional amendment bill, which provided for disqualification of a member of parliament if he possesses any bank account, assets, wealth or business outside Pakistan or has dual nationality. The bill also sought dismissal from the government service of those members of the judiciary, defence forces and civil services on similar grounds.

It is argued that dual nationals, who are interested in taking part in the elections and want to contribute towards the progress and prosperity of Pakistan by taking part in active politics, should sacrifice their foreign nationality to ensure that the national wealth is not plundered and shifted to offshore accounts as has been repeatedly happening in the past.