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Dec 26, 2011

Sarfraz to lead PCB XI against England

KARACHI: Wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed will lead the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) XI in their three-day practice match against England in the UAE next month.
Sarfraz, who was not considered for Pakistan’s Test squad, is at the helm of a 16-man team that includes discarded Test batsman Fawad Alam, Nasir Jamshaid, pacers Mohammad Talha and Mohammad Khalil and the spin duo of Raza Hassan and Yasir Shah.
The Karachi stumper is likely to play in the four-match one-day series against England in Dubai and Abu Dhabi next February. Adnan Akmal was on Monday retained to keep the wickets in the three-Test series against England.
The three-day warm-up match will be played from January 11-13 ahead of the opening Test which begins from January 17 in Abu Dhabi. England’s Test squad will play another three-day game against an ICC Combined Associate and Affiliate XI, led by Ireland captain William Porterfield before the first Test.
PCB XI squad: Nasir Jamshaid, Afaq Rahim, Harris Sohail, Muhammad Ayub Dogar, Fawad Alam, Usman Salahuddin, Sarfraz Ahmad (wicketkeeper/captain), Raza Hassan, Muhammad Khalil, Muhammad Talha, Ali Imran Pasha, Yasir Shah.

Copyright Thenews 27.12.2011

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Pakistan face BD in Asia Cup opener

DHAKA: Hosts Bangladesh will meet Pakistan in the opening match of the four-nation Asia Cup cricket tournament starting in Dhaka in March, an official said on Monday.
Old rivals Pakistan and India will meet in a mouth-watering clash on March 18. The Sher-e-Bangla National stadium will host all the matches, including the inaugural tie on March 12 and the final on March 22, Asian Cricket Council chief executive Syed Ashraful Huq said. “All teams including India and Pakistan have confirmed their participation,” he said.
India won the last edition of the tournament in Dambulla in Sri Lanka in June 2010.
Asia Cup schedule:
March 12: Bangladesh v Pakistan
March 13: India v Sri Lanka
March 15: Pakistan v Sri Lanka
March 16: India v Bangladesh
March 18: India v Pakistan
March 20: Sri Lanka v Bangladesh
March 22: Final
March 23: Reserve day


Copyright Thenews 27.12.2011

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Riaz returns for England series

KARACHI: Left-arm pacer Wahab Riaz was on Monday recalled by national selectors to strengthen Pakistan’s pace battery for the challenging three-match Test series against world numbers ones England getting underway in Abu Dhabi from January 17.
Wahab, who hasn’t played for Pakistan since the Basseterre Test against the West Indies last May, is one of the five fast bowlers picked in the 16-man squad for the English assignment.
Also back in squad is flamboyant middle-order batsman Umar Akmal. The diminutive youngster was dropped from the Test squad after the Bulawayo Test against Zimbabwe in September after a spate of unimpressive outings.
However, a series of impressive outings in One-day Internationals which saw Umar smashing four fifties in seven outings against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh paved the path for his Test return.
The national selectors spearheaded by Mohammad Ilyas, the interim chief selector, have opted to axe former captain Shoaib Malik. The seasoned allrounder failed to justify his selection after he was recalled for the series against Zimbabwe following a one-year hiatus.
Since his return, Malik managed to score just 35 runs from six one-day appearances. During the last four months, he has also been a part of Pakistan’s Test squad but was not fielded for a single match.
Meanwhile, young pacer Junaid Khan has been brought back at the expense of Mohammad Khalil, who was a part of the touring party that swept the series in Bangladesh. Khalil, however, did not play a single match in Bangladesh.
Junaid, the left-armer who is seen as a potential match-winner, was forced to miss the tour of Bangladesh because of an abdominal injury.
Umar Gul leads the pace battery that also includes Aiaz Cheema and Mohammad Talha. The return of Wahab is expected to boost Pakistan’s firepower for the three Tests against England.
The Lahore-born player, who made a stunning Test debut in August 2010 by picking up five wickets against England in The Oval Test, was apparently sidelined because of ‘alleged association’ with match-fixers. He missed three successive series against Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka (in UAE) and Bangladesh before returning to national for the forthcoming Tests against England.
He was one of the leading performers of the recently-concluded Quaid-e-Azam Trophy with 30 wickets in six games at 24.86 for National Bank (NBP).
Senior batter Misbah-ul-Haq stays as the team’s captain, receiving a vote of confidence from the country’s cricket chiefs following a series of wins against Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Pakistan squad: Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umar, Imran Farhat, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal, Adnan Akmal, Umar Gul, Aizaz Cheema, Junaid Khan, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Talha, Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman.

Copyright Thenews 27.12.2011

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Electoral rolls

The foundations of any vote-based system are accurate lists of those eligible to cast their vote. The compilation and upkeep of lists of registered voters is the job of the Election Commission of Pakistan (working in conjunction with Nadra) and it seems the ECP has been slacking of late. The Supreme Court has directed the ECP to have the voters’ lists prepared by February 23, 2012, and that the lists be prepared transparently and no excuses for anything otherwise will be entertained. There are 36 million votes still unverified, and when multiple or fraudulent identities are almost a commonplace this is a matter of considerable importance. The chief justice has expressed his dissatisfaction with the way in which the process of preparation seems to be deliberately delayed.
In case of a delay in the compilation of the lists or a poll conducted wherein significant numbers of voters were able to register their votes through multiple or fraudulent identities, the validity of the entire election may be justifiably called into question. There may be difficulties in compiling lists in areas that have been flood-affected and there are also areas where active conflict precludes enumeration; but these are, relatively speaking, small. Only six districts of Sindh are flood-affected, for instance, and there is no impediment to enumeration in the rest of the province. Likewise zones of conflict are clear and again relatively small. An accurate electoral roll is key to a successful election. The fewer inconsistencies or fraudulent votes, the better the chance of us advancing down the democratic road. But if the lists are tampered with or substantially incomplete then accusations post-poll of rigging become credible.

Copyright Thenews 27.12.2011

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Tears in cabinet

There are the tears we weep and the tears we rip, both on view in Sunday’s cabinet meeting in Karachi. There was a glimpse of the back-story that prompted the unscripted outburst by Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, the federal minister for information. She spoke of ‘hurdles’ created, by civil servants perhaps, affecting her efficiency as a minister. What those hurdles were was never detailed, but she said she needed her own team in the ministry if she was ever to perform satisfactorily. Prime Minister Gilani was somewhat taken aback at this impromptu exposure of life at the top not being the bed of roses that some might imagine. He later rejected the resignation and Firdous resumed her role with a promise that her grievances would be addressed.
Ministers come and go as do governments, but bureaucrats may be a lifetime appointment, serving under (at least in theory) several governments. The civil service is supposed to be neutral, to advise the often inexperienced ministers who they are presented with and to facilitate them in such a way as to get the best from the individual and the ministry they head up. A weak minister is easy prey for the sharks that live in the office. She is the third person to hold the post of information minister since the PPP came to power, and neither of her predecessors appeared much happier than she is. She lacks the polish and intellectual heft of Sherry Rehman who resigned on a matter of principle; and it is not difficult to see her discomfort and downright amateurish performances on talk shows and interactions with the media generally as an indicator that she may not be the best person for the job. Yet a third possibility is that Firdous’ unexpected outburst is symptomatic of the internal tears in the fabric of the PPP government itself. She may have been handed her job back for the time being, but in the background there may be a Pied Piper playing a new tune, one that may persuade Dr Firdous to dance with a different step.

Copyright Thenews 27.12.2011

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Still no answers

The fourth anniversary of Benazir Bhutto’s fateful death is being marked with all the emotion that is exhibited on the occasion. Her death changed our history; it may have changed our destiny and is perhaps one reason at least for the pitfalls we have stumbled into. Perhaps Benazir could have prevented some of this. But speculation about what could have been serves very little purpose and does not help us today. We must live with the facts – and some of these are extremely disturbing. For one, it is a true irony that even with Bhutto’s own PPP in government, even with her husband occupying the presidency and her son heading the party his grandfather founded, we are no closer than before to solving the riddle of Benazir’s murder. Indeed we seem further away and need to question why this is the case. The Scotland Yard inquiry done when Pervez Musharraf was still in power raised a few pertinent points – based essentially around the hasty washing down of the murder site – but beyond this it offered few solutions. The hugely expensive UN inquiry done under the present government at public expense said even less. This is hardly surprising given the history of past UN inquiries around the world and, beyond the cosmetic imagery, it is hard to understand why this largely meaningless exercise was conducted at all.
The commission the government set up to look into the murder has submitted a report which the PPP top brass has decided to keep a secret. Portions of the document were read out to the party’s CEC in August this year. We as citizens are none the wiser. An anti-terrorism court hearing the case in Rawalpindi continues to demand that Pervez Musharraf be produced as a witness. It does not seem likely to happen. Essentially we stand rooted at the same spot where we were in 2007. Fingers point in many directions; there is no real evidence to suggest which version is the most accurate. As is also true of so much else in our history, we may never learn the truth. This is a disturbing thought. It raises all kinds of doubts in our minds, and perhaps the most striking among these is why our current set of rulers, given their affinity to Benazir, should be quite so reluctant to uncover the truth and place it before the people. The uncertainty that persists is unsettling. A woman of as much sagacity and courage as Benazir deserved better.


Copyright Thenews 27.12.2011

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2012: challenges of strategic flux

The writer is special adviser to the Jang Group/Geo and a former envoy to the US and the UK.
At many international conferences I attended last year a number of themes emerged about the challenges and opportunities presented by a world in strategic flux. These are instructive when looking at the year ahead to identify key trends and other signposts to the future.
Five issues in particular seemed to dominate the global discourse: 1) the growing threat to the global economy posed by the financial crisis unfolding in the West since 2008; 2) a continuing shift in the world’s economic centre of gravity to Asia and China’s global ascent; 3) the closing of an era of large-scale military intervention; 4) a widening gap between global problems and institutions of global governance and 5) the Arab awakening and shifting sands of regional geopolitics.
The economic crises that many Western countries have been wrestling with for the past three years have far reaching geopolitical implications. Strained sovereign balance sheets, a wrenching process of financial deleveraging and potential economic meltdowns pose serious threats to long-term global security.
The debt crisis in some of the world’s largest economies underscores the danger of a global slowdown. The euro zone crisis has also raised the spectre of contagion.
In this backdrop, more economic turmoil can be expected in 2012. Crisis-ridden western economies will struggle to avert double dip recession. As structural problems in advanced economies including the US will take years to resolve, another challenge will be to deal with the social consequences of economic dislocation. This is already exemplified by the ‘occupy Wall Street’ protests in America and street action elsewhere.
The economic crisis that began in 2008 has accelerated the shift – already underway – in economic and political power from the West to the East. China’s ascent as the world’s second largest economy and main creditor to the biggest economy (the US) is an obvious marker of this. 2012 will further consolidate this trend, as economic power continues to shift to Asia, even if China faces the prospect of an overheating economy and inflation.
This structural transformation of the global environment has occurred in a decade in which the US remained preoccupied with the ‘security wars’ it initiated in Afghanistan and then Iraq in the wake of 9/11. Over time this confronted the US with the consequences of these protracted conflicts in the form of debilitating financial crisis due in large part to the debts contracted during this decade.
Thus the most consequential change to emerge in the past several years occurred not in the theatre of war but in the global economy. In bringing about a redistribution of global power this produced a vastly transformed strategic picture and an America diminished by military overreach and internal economic stagnation.
2012 will see more of what has been underway – the US trying to adjust to the relative diminution in its power in an increasingly multipolar world with diverse centres and sources of power. Its economic troubles will also reinforce the need to give priority to ‘nation-building’ at home. As the Obama administration acknowledged in its 2010 National Security Strategy, only by reviving the economy would Washington be able to exercise influence and leadership abroad.
In recognition of this reality and in light of the chastening experience of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the era of large-scale military interventions may be coming to a close. The completion of the American military withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 affirmed this. The formal end to a conflict that began in 2003 came amid crumbling public support for foreign wars and sharp budget cuts – eroding any zeal for such engagements in the future.
2012 will reinforce this trend as the drawdown of “surge” forces gets underway in Afghanistan and is completed by year end ahead of the 2014 transition, when US and Nato combat forces are expected to pull out.
At several conferences there was consensus on the view that the West’s appetite for over-the-horizon military interventionism was exhausted making them less likely in the future. This was a function not just of their public’s disapproval but also of the inability to achieve desired outcomes.
The Libyan intervention in 2011 did not negate this ‘new imperative’. For from offering a template for externally aided regime-change, it underscored the constraints on the use of force. America’s reluctant, back-seat involvement, portrayed as ‘leading from behind’ reflected an unease with more military enterprises. The Libyan case showed that Nato nations did not in fact have the military, organisational, political or economic capability for effective intervention in states other than the weakest and where their regimes lacked regional support.
This does not rule out military intervention in the future. But its feasibility will rest on several risk and cost factors, calculation of a certain outcome, and only when the direct strategic interest of a major power is involved. This has implications for the ongoing US confrontation with Iran, which will remain a key issue in the coming year.
Another issue that figured prominently in the international debate last year was the growing inadequacy of existing institutions of global governance to deal with the complexity of international challenges. This means that the quest for appropriate policy responses and multilateral mechanisms will continue. In a world characterised by the decentralisation of power this will also involve finding a balance between multilateralism and minilateralism.
Impatience with the cumbersome, consensus-based multilateral process and lack of UN leadership has seen a greater resort to expedient devices especially informal ‘coalitions of the willing’. Understood as an approach that mobilises a core group of countries to solve a specific problem, minilateralism has already been utilised in the form of ad hoc groupings, commissions and contact groups including the G20 (comprising the world’s largest economies), the five plus one group on Iran, and the Quartet on the Middle East.
2012 and beyond will likely see a combination of the two approaches. But rule making by a powerful yet unrepresentative oligarchy will not offer lasting solutions if they are imposed on others with no voice in these decisions. The G20 is already seen by many as a ‘coalition of collusion’, whose legitimacy will continue to be questioned. The latest publication of the World Economic Forum, ‘Outlook on the Global Agenda 2012’, points out that “networks of actors, coalitions of like-minded but disparate forces and unexpected partnerships” may become more dominant.
The future of the ‘Arab spring’ and fate of uncertain transitions in countries undergoing popular upheaval was much debated in the preceding year. They will be key questions for 2012. The victory of Islamic parties in Tunisia and Egypt has shown that the Arab spring may well turn out to be a Muslim ‘awakening’ rather than the triumph of a secular order celebrated in early western media coverage.
The battle to determine the Arab future will intensify in 2012 with the outlook clouded by the danger of sectarian strife, civil war and disorder. The prospects for one of the most promising developments in recent Arab history also rests on their precarious economies being lifted from stagnation and on restoring social cohesion, eroded by political disruption and economic stress.
The momentous developments in the Arab world represent a global shift away from traditional balances associated with the last century. Among trends that will likely be reinforced in 2012 is the decline of America’s influence in the Middle East. From arbiter Washington became little more than a bystander in the popular protests that swept away the old order it had long supported. The task of managing the transition has fallen to the region, as it should, even if the outcome is far from clear.
With no clear leader in the world today a key question for 2012 is whether imperatives of global problem solving will yield collaboration or division in responding to emerging and enduring challenges in an environment of few certainties.

Copyright Thenews 27.12.2011

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Pack up

There is such dearth of entertainment in Pakistan that you are often left wondering on a weekend where to go to find it, especially if you have kids. In 2012, things are going to change as far as entertainment is concerned. My crystal ball reveals that 2012 will be a fun year, of which the signs are already evident.
There will be a sudden increase in the appearance of ‘shouting’ heads on the numerous talk shows on TV. And if we are lucky we might just get to witness not merely slips of the tongue and foot in the mouth but some real-life fistfights. Aahh, the small pleasures of the 180 million (not necessarily counting the few thousand more privileged among them).
The fun couldn’t wait for the dawn of the New Year, so it has already begun. It gave the people of the country something to smile about despite the tense times they saw in the Old Year. The first episode(s) occurred during the illness of our exalted leader.
As we all remember there was a constant media buzz, with politicians of all shades – and shapes and sizes – making statements 24/7 trying to outdo their colleagues in their frenzy. In this frenzy some very important politicians suffered attacks of the most common syndromes of Pakistani politics – i.e., slip of the tongue and foot in the mouth (reminds you of the bovine foot and mouth disease) to the delight of the audience, as well of the channels, which eagerly used the footage of the attacks to boost their ratings.
To the embarrassment of the government and the ruling party, one of the many revered and vocal leaders, including a great Zardari supporter, kept repeating, “Our corrupt president...”. When he wanted to say something else. Of course, we all go through the tongue-refusing-to-obey-brain syndrome now and then, so one shouldn’t lose too much sleep over it.
Another diehard, extra-vocal supporter was caught on tape saying in a comment related to Mr Z’s health that he prayed to the Almighty to give the president a good place in heaven. Oops!
He immediately applied footbrake, changed gears and ended his sentence praying for the health of the president. We all pray for the good health and long life of our dear president.
However, f the PTI retains its position as the political party to gain the fastest popularity among its voters. It had already entertained the city of Lahore and the rest of Pakistan with its historic rally. The PTI invited performers to entertain the audience in Lahore’s historic gathering.
The PTI’s Kasur gathering made as many headlines. The masses left the rally on a high note with a souvenir: thousands of people were seen fighting for the possession of the chairs used at the rally. PTI workers were also seen trying to wrestle chairs away from those trying to...steal them, shall we say?
Many believe that there are forces trying to sabotage the PTI’s sudden rise, and they could be right. However, party poopers declare that this rally was a staged event, and after the “scene” ended, the “actors” were asked to pack up!
Even “the masses” stealing chairs? But, then, chairs are what the political war in Pakistan is all about, and the president reportedly has the tallest chair in the land.
However, our rising new leader, who has long risen from the status of merely a fine sportsman tried to explain our national sport of stealing other people’s property by saying that the people of Pakistan were so frustrated with the rising inflation, the cost of food that he feared that the time was not far when people would steal chairs from other people’s homes.
I have news: people have been doing worse things than just stealing chairs, they are selling or even killing their own children, as well as committing suicide because they and their families can’t afford to live.

Copyright Thenews 27.12.2011

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Inquiries and coups

“Pakistan rejects US findings on deadly air strike” was a typical western headline on December 23, following the report on the killing of 24 Pakistani army soldiers in Mohmand on November 26. It is hardly surprising that the army’s first reaction was to state that the report was “short on facts”, if only because the Pakistani account of events was not considered in any way. The story, now, is that Pakistan refused to take part in the inquiry, and, like all skilful propaganda, the yarn has a modicum of truth.
Pakistan was informed it would not have equal status in the inquiry, so it was decided not to accept an inferior position, as Pakistanis would be excluded from the most important information. There was no question of it having equivalent representation. Can you imagine the US allowing a Pakistani brigadier to question a US air force pilot who had been involved in the Mohmand air strikes? Or having access to the record of computer exchanges? Not the remotest hope.
At the head of the inquiry was US Air Force Special Forces Brigadier General Stephen Clark whose last job involved responsibility “for preparing air force special operations forces (SOF) for missions worldwide in support of the army, navy and marine corps special operations forces and USAF counterparts.” Just the man to be objective and totally impartial about the killing of foreign soldiers by a US aircraft supporting a special mission.
Here he is speaking on December 22 about the shambles: “in the background is a series of telephone calls from Pakistani LNOs (liaison officers) to their RC – regional command element liaisons to say that their forces are under fire. There is confusion caused by this because there is a lack of precision as to where this is occurring. When asked, the general answer back was, well, you know where it is because you’re shooting at them, rather than giving a position. So again, understanding that there was no – understanding that there were border positions in the area, people trying to do the right thing and nail down specifics so they can take action caused quite a bit of confusion.” (Google ‘DOD News Briefing Gen Clark’ for the entire performance.)
In spite of most of that being gobbledegook, there is no confusion about the essential facts: there was, that night, only one series of US airstrikes along the border. They were on the Pakistani army positions in Mohmand that had detected movement in an area in which they had not been informed there was to be activity by the US forces. So the soldiers fired on what they reasonably supposed to be a Taliban incursion from Afghanistan, similar to that in October that killed two Pakistani soldiers.
If the US high command did not know exactly where their aircraft were firing, then matters have come to a sad professional pass in the most hi-tech military in the world. These aircraft know to the exact metre where they are striking. The sensible thing to have done would have been to order ‘Stop!’, and conducted some basic checks as to what was going on. It is that simple. “You know where it is because you’re shooting at them” has an inescapable logic.
Then we come to the “misunderstandings” about where the Pakistan army positions are located, and I say, from first-hand knowledge, that the denial of this by the US is not credible. I travelled in Mohmand at the beginning of November and had a comprehensive briefing by the 77 Brigade on all aspects of operations. I am satisfied that the “coalition forces” in Afghanistan know the exact location of every post of the Pakistan army along the border. Later details from Afghanistan (from an Isaf source) and Pakistan have reinforced my conviction. But there is another side to this.
The suave and articulate Brigadier General Clark was asked by a reporter: “were you saying that when the US has given....information to the Pakistanis, the US operations have been compromised?”
Clark’s reply was that “It was US or Isaf operations were believed to be compromised due to that. And again, that was not the scope of the investigation, so that was told to us as part of the atmospherics within the Isaf headquarters on down. We did not dig into that; we did not validate it. That was just indicated to us. In fact, there was an operation on October 5 in the same region where, when they went to in-fill the helicopters, they were hit with RPG fire, so that lends to their mindset as well – so, Isaf operations being compromised by sharing that information.”
This is not altogether intelligible (although “in-fill” is a wonderful construction), but what comes out, loud and clear, is that Clark didn’t “validate” the important, the vital, evidence that information concerning US operations on the border with Pakistan is not given to Pakistan.
Little wonder that the Pakistan army doesn’t trust the US military and states, correctly, that the Clark investigation is “short on facts”.
And while we’re on the subject of fairy stories, I’ll tell you that there is not going to be an army coup. Apart from the fact that Gen Kayani has made it quite clear for many years that he will not involve the army in anti-constitutional antics, he would be somewhat unwise to take over the country in the state it’s in. And all the politicians’ hysteria and media hype to the contrary is ludicrous. As Brigadier General Clark said in his comical media foray: it’s all “part of the atmospherics” that “lends to their mindset”.

Copyright Thenews 27.12.2011

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