Archive for February, 2011

Cricket: World Cup power rankings

Cricket correspondent Andrew Alderson is working for nzherald.co.nz at the World Cup.

He is ranking the teams for us on a week-to-week basis, judging from what he hears and observes at the tournament.

Group A

1. Australia
The power of their middle order and spin attack is yet to be truly tested but eased through their first two matches against Zimbabwe and New Zealand despite two warm-up losses. The pace attack of Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson has been menacing, contrary to what some predicted. The best in pool A when compared to mercurial Pakistan and vulnerable Sri Lanka.

2. Pakistan
Are they tournament sleepers under skipper Shahid Afridi? He exudes charisma and already has nine wickets for 50 runs from 18 overs, despite a poor past World Cup record. The 11-run win over Sri Lanka could be crucial long term.

//

He is backed by the unpredictable Akmal brothers and the reliable Misbah ul-Haq and Umar Gul. After Pakistan’s tumultuous year it is remarkable they’re in this shape.

3. Sri Lanka
A favourite on paper. They have the batting, the spin attack and arguably the world’s best keeper/batsman in skipper Kumar Sangakkara. In practice they aren’t as assured, despite playing for Muttiah Muralitharan in his last hurrah in national colours. Winners last time the tournament was on the subcontinent in 1996, they need wins against New Zealand and Australia to boost confidence.

4. New Zealand
Living up to expectations. At this stage a quarter-final exit seems inevitable, barring a spectacular turnaround. Relying on the lower order batting and skipper Daniel Vettori with the ball isn’t a foolproof method to threaten their other key group opponents Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Need to build on batting and bowling partnerships. Could be saved by the forgiving last eight format.

5. Zimbabwe
Not to be underestimated, especially on Friday in Ahmedabad against the Black Caps. Their best weapon is making opposition batsmen force the pace off spinners Ray Price, Prosper Utseya and Graeme Cremer. Proven class is back looking after Zimbabwe these days. Past players Heath Streak, Alistair Campbell and Grant Flower have returned to the fold in various capacities which bodes well.

6. Canada
Making up the numbers… it could be their last World Cup for a while. Most notable feature is probably a trivia quirk in John Davison who at 40 years and 294 days [as of Sunday] is the oldest player in the tournament. His century off 67 balls against the West Indies in 2003 was then the fastest at a World Cup.

7. Kenya
Look wayward after a pounding from New Zealand in their first match… expect more where that came from after claims of disharmony in camp. Were gifted a semi-final spot in 2003 through terrorism-fear boycotts. Like Canada they’re unlikely to return for a while if the format reduces to 10 in four years.

Group B

1. India
India should lead this group but the tie against England has come as a shock to the nation… and the All Blacks think they face pressure. Cheering outside this hotel window piped down considerably as England recovered; crowds had also milled around television sets everywhere on the journey from Nagpur to Ahmedabad. The batting seems sussed but how their bowlers could give away 338 runs needs addressing, sharpish. The injury to preferred left-armer Ashish Nehra hasn’t helped.

2. South Africa
Look a fine, balanced unit but have failed to deliver the trophy every time since returning from isolation in 1992. With such a strong core including Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn they should fancy their chances but bowling could let them down. There is hope Imran Tahir with four wickets against the West Indies might deliver on the spin front.

3. England
Produced a thrilling tie against India but narrowly defeated the Netherlands. Odd. All the matches saw plenty of runs but where is the consistency? The batting, led by skipper Andrew Strauss and with plans to keep opening with Kevin Pietersen, looks solid. Plenty of Ashes winners stack the bowling. The question is: can they keep firing – as in Bangalore – after months on the road for many.

4. Bangladesh
Remain an outside hope for a semi-final given they play all matches at home. New Zealand mightn’t be the only top tier nation to get tangled in their spinning web after the 4-0 whitewash last year. Shown up by the Indian batting juggernaut but held nerve to dispatch Ireland who chased close. So much rests on Shakib al Hasan as an all-rounder and Tamim Iqbal as an opening bat.

5. West Indies
The loss of injured all-rounder Dwayne Bravo means prospects are grim. The 73 from his brother Darren – a Trinidadian who is a fine replica of countryman Brian Lara – against South Africa offers hope. A couple of others, notably Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard, also need to produce if the West Indies are to progress. Seem the most likely test-playing team to flounder.

6. Ireland
Won’t replicate their 2007 giant-killing feats but at least present stern opposition when compared to group A.

7. The Netherlands (aka Ryan ten Doeschate)
If ten Doeschate fails you suspect the Netherlands will too, although to be fair they provided stiff opposition against England – ten Doeschate’s century was backed by valuable support in the middle order. Surely it’s impossible for him to contribute like that every match?

- Herald on Sunday

Pakistan: Yet another Christian accused of blasphemy

By Speroforum for Spero News

A Christian woman, Agnes Nuggo, was accused of blasphemy and arrested in the Diocese of Faisalabad, in the Punjab province of Pakistan. The Catholic Church, which is handling the case, expressed “extreme concern”  over the affair.

The Commission for Justice and Peace in the diocese reported that Agnes (50) is married to Bashir Masih, has children and lives in the Christian quarter of Waris Pura. She was accused of blasphemy after a dispute over a piece of land that had already created controversy with his relatives. Some Muslim neighbours accused her of having made insulting statements against the Prophet Mohammed and against Islam. On 16 February, the local police registered a FIR (First Information Report) pursuant to art. 295/a of the Criminal Code and arrested her. Agnes professes her innocence and says the accusations are completely fabricated.

Fr. Nisar Barkat, Director of the Justice and Peace Commission in Faisalabad, reported “Bishop Joseph Coutts has become aware of the case and asked me to follow it closely.” Fr. Nisar was in court and obtained a copy of the complaint against Agnes, who will have her first court hearing in two weeks. The church will find her a lawyer and will take care of her family.

According to some sisters who know Agnes personally “the case is quite complicated: the woman was lured into a trap. Some people wanted to take revenge on her, because in the past Agnes had agreed to testify in court for money.””

Fr. Pascal Paulus, a Dominican priest in the Waris Pura area, said that “the situation is critical for us Christians. We need to be very careful. The Islamic radicals want to exploit these cases to attack the Christian minorities. We are exposed to spurious attacks, which have already been happening.”

Asia Bibi, another Christian woman accused of blasphemy, has been imprisoned for several months and has been condemend to death under Islamic law, Haroon Barket Masih of the Masihi Foundation said of Nuggo, “She is a new Asia Bibi. Agnes’ case is one of many cases of persecution that continue to occur. Most of the episodes don’t leave a trace and do not reach the clamour of the spotlight. Only when the victims’ families trust in the Churches, foundations and NGOs, then the injustices come to light. Families often keep silent for fear of retaliation. And institutions are absent: in this situation, what can Christians do?”

Rosemary Noel, head of the Pakistan Catholic Women’s Organisation said, “Being a Christian woman in Pakistan is a dual challenge. Even the status of women is itself exposed to discrimination, violence and abuse. Women struggle to gain access to education and the world of work. Those Christians are doubly discriminated against. They are considered as objects by Muslims and suffer all sorts of abuse and injustice to general indifference.”

According to data provided by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Pakistani Bishops, including Agnes, there have been 16 Christian women accused and imprisoned between 1987 and 2010 (in addition to a Muslim woman and a Hindu), but many other cases escape inclusion, because they did not end with a formal complaint.

Bahrain: Two Seas, Two Sects

By Lauren Vriens for The Huffington Post

For the past six months, I’ve lived in a country nicknamed the Las Vegas of the Middle East, replete with neon lights, clubs and prostitutes. But I’ve also been living in a country of sandy villages, lined with black flags and small mosques. This is Bahrain. The country’s name means “two seas” in Arabic, but it might as well be a metaphor for its division between two sects.

After the first protester died on February 14, the existing tensions between the Sunnis and the Shia have heightened. Some observers say this clash has its roots in a geo-religious power struggle between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia; the more likely story is one of tension between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

The country is rife with rumors that every Shia household has either a Hezbollah flag or a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini hanging in the living room. But as hard as journalists tried to press at Pearl Roundabout, the locus of the demonstrations, protesters just shrugged when asked about Iran’s influence. “This isn’t about Iran. This is about me being able to feed my children,” one woman said.

On Monday night, there were allegedly 300,000 people protesting around the Grand Mosque in favor of the government. Only 20 minutes away, a hundred thousand, if not more (no Bahraini newspaper has provided an estimate), were protesting against the regime.

Shias will say that the pro-government rally was half comprised of wealthy Sunnis who benefit from the status quo, made clear from their accessories of Gucci sunglasses and Hummers. The rest of the rally-goers were Sunnis from Pakistan, India, Yemen, Syria and other countries, speed-tracked to citizenship by the government to increase the Sunni percentage of the population.

Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, there has been a palpable fear among Sunnis that Bahrain is one step away from becoming a mini-Iran, where women are required by law to wear black chadors and the only alcohol to be found is fermented in the neighbor’s bathtub.

An allegiance between Bahrain and religiously strident Iran is the Sunni minority’s worst fear — much of the country’s wealth is dependent on its vices. The money generated from Saudi weekend tourists looking for a good time consists of nearly 25% of the economy according to the U.S. Embassy. If democracy comes to Bahrain, the majority Shia population could, conceivably, end all the fun and harm the economy.

My co-worker, a Sunni and a former financial trader, thinks that democracy is a good thing — “Arabs need reform and modernity; in thousands of years, not even one word has been added to the Arabic dictionary” — but she just applied for papers to move to Australia. If democracy comes to Bahrain, she doesn’t want to be here for it.

The lynchpin that is keeping this country the way it is — the home of a Formula One race track, the base of the U.S.’s Fifth Naval Fleet and a favored place in the Gulf for business meetings — is the monarchy.

The royal family has two faces, however. The first is busy promoting the country as “Business-Friendly Bahrain,” as its visa stamp reads. The second is systematically and deliberately oppressing a portion of its population, largely because of fears of an Iranian coup.

In 2001, King Hamad put forward the National Action Charter, a referendum that signified political reform and his wish to distance himself from his father’s reign of terror against dissidents in the ’90s. The U.S. applauded him for his efforts in correcting his family’s legacy of human rights abuse.

Since then, the regime has painstakingly dismantled any serious political opposition through cleverly-placed veto powers, arrests, torture, and other dictatorial tricks. In late January, police blasted a 15-year-old Shia boy in the face with birdshot. Things like that happen all the time.

The main Shia demand on February 14, at the outset of the protests, was simple: an elected Prime Minister, rather than an appointed one. This was a reasonable request. But once the mercenary Sunni riot police fired rubber bullets at sleeping men, women and children in Pearl Roundabout, there have been cries for the whole regime to step down.

It is unlikely that the monarchy will fall any time soon (if it even comes close, Saudi Arabia will allegedly roll its own tanks over the causeway), but the government could assuage the situation and keep the country from civil war, or from grinding to a complete stop as the numbers in Pearl Roundabout grow daily.

The recent release of 23 Shia political activists is a step in the right direction, but the most important thing the government can do is focus on closing the income gap by boosting its human capital development and training programs, like Tamkeen. Forget about the Iran Boogeyman and bring in the opposition for genuine dialogue and debate. The more the monarchy alienates the opposition, the more radical and eastward-leaning the opposition will become.

Regardless of the tactics the monarchy takes, it needs to start soon. It cannot just keep its finger plugged in the dike, or else the sea may just well come crashing in.

Gadhafi’s vow: Will fight to ‘last drop of blood’

By Maggie Michael and Sarah El Deeb for The Associated Press

A defiant Moammar Gadhafi vowed to fight to his “last drop of blood” and roared at supporters to strike back against Libyan protesters to defend his embattled regime Tuesday, signaling an escalation of the crackdown that has thrown the capital into scenes of mayhem, wild shooting and bodies in the streets.

The speech by the Libyan leader — who shouted and pounded his fists on the podium — was an all-out call for his backers to impose control over the capital and take back other cities. After a week of upheaval, protesters backed by defecting army units have claimed control over almost the entire eastern half of Libya’s 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) Mediterranean coast, including several oil-producing areas.

“You men and women who love Gadhafi … get out of your homes and fill the streets,” he said. “Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs.”

Celebratory gunfire by Gadhafi supporters rang out in the capital of Tripoli after the leader’s speech, while in protester-held Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, people threw shoes at a screen showing his address, venting their contempt.

State TV showed a crowd of Gadhafi supporters in Tripoli’s Green Square, raising his portrait and waving flags as they swayed to music after the address. Residents contacted by The Associated Press said no anti-government protesters ventured out of their homes after dark, and gun-toting guards manned checkpoints with occasional bursts of gunfire heard throughout the city.

International alarm rose over the crisis, which sent oil prices soaring to the highest level in more than two years on Tuesday and sparked a scramble by European and other countries to get their citizens out of the North African nation. The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting that ended with a statement condemning the crackdown, expressing “grave concern” and calling for an “immediate end to the violence” and steps to address the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel called Gadhafi’s speech “very, very appalling,” saying it “amounted to him declaring war on his own people.” Libya’s own deputy ambassador at the U.N., who now calls for Gadhafi’s ouster, has urged the world body to enforce a no-fly zone over the country to protect protesters.

“This violence is completely unacceptable,” added Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Perfect Pitch

By Sonal Srivastava for The Times of India

Tickets to most India matches have been sold out,” Priyanka Saxena informed her colleagues. Her co-workers were huddled at her work station, eyes fixed on the monitor, hoping to get premium tickets for the India Vs Netherlands Cricket World Cup 2011 match in Delhi. “We were disappointed, but then we decided to go for the South Africa Vs West Indies tie, instead. I’m going to cheer for the South Africans as they haven’t won the World Cup yet,” she says. Cricket is an amazing game; it originated in Great Britain, but Commonwealth countries have adopted it as their own. The game has not only transcended international borders, it has also managed to cut across fault lines, transcending race, colour, caste, community, class and faith.

The 2011 Cricket World Cup is being hosted by three South Asian cricketing nations: India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Teams from 14 countries are participating in the 10th edition of the World Cup. The event will be spread over two months and will be played in three different countries, starting off at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur, Dhaka, and ending in April at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai.

So much good cheer
“Sport brings communities together and helps release a lot of pent-up emotions,” says Ian Botham, former English cricketer. When you cheer for your country or any other favourite team of another country, you forget all your worries. If your team wins, it’s time to celebrate. Every time India or the team that’s being backed wins a crucial match, fans light crackers and distribute sweets; some dance to the beat of dhols. As a cricket-crazy country, we celebrate the success of Zaheer Khan and Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh and Dhoni, irrespective of their religious leanings. “People like to cheer for something; it’s a feel-good thing. If you are stressed, then watching a cricket match can bring relief; when your team wins, you feel on top of the world,” says former India cricketer Atul Wassan.

World Cup is the time for bonhomie: It’s when you can start a conversation with strangers without inhibition, exchange notes and discuss the outcome of the match. When a batsman hits sixes, you might spontaneously hug a complete stranger standing next to you — your passion for the game takes precedence over age, gender, and community. “You can play cricket even in a remote village with just a bat and a tree stump for wickets. That’s what makes cricket popular,” explains Wassan.

Ties that bind
Devoted fans of the game cheer for their favourite cricketers irrespective of the country they represent. Interestingly, even if India is knocked out, people like to see their neighbours — Pakistan and Sri Lanka — do well and bring the World Cup back to the subcontinent. The result? Fans get to see ‘some good cricket.’ During the 1996 World Cup Quarter Final, in Bangalore, Aamir Sohail hit a delivery from bowler Venkatesh Prasad for four runs. He looked at Prasad and pointed his bat towards the boundary where the ball had gone. In the very next delivery, Prasad bowled out Sohail and pointed the finger towards the pavilion. “There is traditional rivalry between India and Pakistan. The armed forces of our respective countries may have to defend borders, but cricket is something that helps people-to-people bonding. During matches, the atmosphere on the field is electric, but after the match, the cricketers hang out together like old buddies,” says former India captain, Ajit Wadekar. And so do fans!

Gentleman’s game
A one-day match is played over six hours and sometimes players do get carried away and tempers run high. But cricket is a gentleman’s game and players have to abide by the umpire’s decisions. Often there is friendly banter on the cricket field and humourous one-liners are exchanged to help lighten the mood. For instance, Inzamam-ul-Haq reportedly told Brett Lee, a fast bowler, to “stop bowling offspinners”. In another instance, when Indian all-rounder Irfan Pathan came to bat, Afridi shouted twice: “O mera shehzada aaya!” — Oh! My prince has come.

Gods of cricket
Fans adore cricketers. Those for whom cricket is religion, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, are gods personified. The little master has such charisma and skills that Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden exclaimed: “I have seen God; he bats at no 4 for India in Tests,” referring to Sachin’s position in the Indian batting line up. “When people watch their favourite cricketers do well, it gives them self-belief. They think that if Kapil Dev or Dhoni can make it, they can also do well,” says former spin bowler Maninder Singh. Fans also manage websites dedicated to their favourite cricketers. A site called ‘Sachinism’ runs forum discussions based on Sachin’s knocks, and fans post their views on the master blaster’s innings.

Playing field
A game of cricket is a lot like life. Just like a batsman faces googlies from the bowler, we too have to deal with what life throws at us. The batsman stands alone on the field, faced with 11 opponents; but with training, discipline and good reflexes, he does the best he can. However, in the game of life we are rarely alone. We have family, friends and others willing to lend a hand. Moreover, we have the benefit of access to ancient and modern wisdom that helps us train and discipline ourselves to deal better with life’s challenges and help each other.

India and Pakistan Officials Discuss Bilateral Water Treaty

As reported by Daily India

India and Pakistan officials attended a high-level meeting of the Indus Water Treaty Commission in Jammu to discuss a proposal by India to erect a dam on the river Indus.

A three-member delegation from Pakistan led by Sheraj Jameel, Commissioner, Indus Water Treaty, visited the Nikki Tawi area to examine the site and the design of the proposed artificial lake. The lake is being constructed at a cost of rupees 1.1 billion.

“We are here to inspect the project. We will see whether it is within the limitation of the treaty or not and after the visit we will talk to our counterpart,” said Jameel.
The Indian counterpart S.Ranganathan, Commissioner, Indus Water Treaty, said that the lake project is still in conception.

“In our opinion it does not violate the treaty. When we will get the information from the project authorities, we will analyse it and if it doesn’t violate the provisions, then we will give the go ahead for the project” said Ranganathan.

The team of delegates would be in the region for three days to examine all the records and plans vis-à-vis water distribution for the lake project.

The World Bank had brokered the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan and was signed by the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the then Pakistan President Mohammad Ayub Khan in Karachi in 1960 giving powers to the latter for monitoring the usage of three rivers-Indus, Jehlum and Chenab from Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan.

Dig Deeper and You’ll Find the Other Oslo

By Rick Steves,Tribune Media Services

In the Norwegian capital of Oslo, a big statue of a tiger sits in front of the train station. A local once explained that Oslo is nicknamed the Tiger City because in the 19th century, when country boys visited the wild and crazy “New York City of Norway,” it made “a mark on their soul.”

I find Oslo more of a kitten than a tiger. Its mix of grand neoclassical facades, boxy 1960s-style modernism, pastoral parks and homogenous culture always have felt a bit tame for my taste. But by digging deeper, you can find more texture here, from gritty neighborhoods to troubled artists.

The city’s grand boulevard, Karl Johans Gate (street), cuts from the train station through the center of town to the Royal Palace. Lively with restaurants, parks and people, the street is lined with landmarks, including Oslo Cathedral, Parliament and Stortorvet Square, with its lively flower and produce market.

The boulevard also is the address of the Grand Cafe, once the meeting place of Oslo’s intellectual and creative elite. At the back of the cafe, a mural shows Norway’s literary and artistic clientele enjoying this fine hangout, from playwright Henrik Ibsen (who came in every day at 1 p.m.) to Edvard Munch, leaning against the window, looking drugged.

Munch is Norway’s most famous and influential painter. To see his most important work, head to the nearby National Gallery. Munch helped to pioneer a new style, expressionism, using lurid colors and bold lines to “express” inner turmoil and the angst of the modern world. His most iconic painting is The Scream, which he described as “the work of a madman.”

A few blocks down from the National Gallery is Oslo’s people-friendly harbor front, situated at the head of the 60-mile-long Oslofjord. As in many European cities, residents are reclaiming their waterfront area. In the past, you would have dodged several lanes of traffic to get to the harborfront, but now, most traffic has been diverted through tunnels under the city.

Facing the harbor, Oslo’s striking city hall is famous for hosting the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Completed in 1950 to celebrate the city’s 900th birthday, the building was an avant-garde thrill in its day. Entering here, I’m reminded that in this most highly taxed corner of Europe, city halls, rather than churches, are the dominant buildings. Though the state religion is Lutheranism, people rarely go to church. Instead, they seem to almost worship good government. The main hall actually feels like a temple.

Along the eastern harbor, the marble Opera House seems to rise like an iceberg from the sea. This is the only opera house in the world that doubles as a public plaza, with a roof designed to be walked on. Opened in 2008, this cultural venue is a huge hit. On my last visit, I joined 8,000 people on the rooftop to watch a hot English group named Antony and the Johnsons (with a lead singer who looks like a cross between Meatloaf and Marilyn Manson) perform on a stage raft anchored just offshore.

In summer, Norwegians practically live outdoors. Frogner Park not only offers a great peek at Norwegians at play but also features a fine sculpture garden showcasing a lifetime of work by Norway’s greatest sculptor, Gustav Vigeland.

From 1924 to 1943, Vigeland created a world of bronze and granite statues — around 600 nude figures in all. The centerpiece is a teeming monolith of life, with 121 figures carved out of a single block of stone rocketing skyward. Like Munch, Vigeland was troubled. Those who know his life story can read it clearly in the granite and bronze, but I ignore it all and simply see his art as observations on the bittersweet cycle of life.

As much as I love Norway, goat cheese and my blond cousins, sometimes I need to inject some color into my days. At night, I head to two trendy multiethnic zones. Grunerlokka is the Greenwich Village of Oslo. A former working-class district, this neighborhood of funky shops, old hippies and bohemian cafes is a favorite of Oslo’s artsy set. Locals come here for its convivial night scene and colorful eateries.

Oslo’s rough and tumble immigrant zone is a stretch of a street called Gronland. This is where Turks, Indians, Pakistanis and the rest of Oslo’s immigrant community congregate. Colorful green grocer carts spill onto sidewalks. Various kebabs and spicy borek cost just $2 to go. Dueling tandoori restaurants offer meals for under $10, otherwise unheard of in Oslo.

I love dining street-side here. It’s cheap — and seeing a rainbow of people and a few rough edges makes the city feel less like Wonder bread. But that’s the beauty of Oslo. Just when you think you have it figured out, it gives you a taste of something different.

Rick Steves (ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. E-mail him at rick@ricksteves.com and follow his Facebook blog.


Cricket World Cup: England Breeze Past Pakistan

By Will Turner for The Sport Review

England cruised to a 67-run win in their final ICC World Cup warm-up match against Pakistan in Fatullah. Stuart Broad sparkled again, taking five wickets after Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen struck half centuries as England set Pakistan 274 for victory.

Collingwood also contributed with the ball with his three wickets helping dismiss for Pakistan for just 206.

Pakistan, who opted to rest Abdul Razzaq and Shahid Afridi, elected to field and once again England captain Andrew Strauss fell cheaply, this time to the pace of Shoaib Akhtar.

Jonathan Trott was also dismissed in single figures however Pietersen looked solid alongside Bell.

Pietersen raced to his half century before Bell eventually departed for 39 which brought the out-of-form Collingwood to the crease.

But the Durham man appeared to find his touch, playing his way towards his half century despite the loss of Pietersen for 66.

Ravi Bopara offered good support to Collingwood with a quick-fire 35 before Matt Prior contributed with a late 24 before the tail folded with Wahab Riaz claiming three wickets.

Just as he did against Canada, Broad tore through the Pakistan top order with only Younis Khan offering any resistance.

The middle order all got starts but failed to kick on with Collingwood’s change of pace stalling a fightback.

Broad retuned to remove Khan for 80 and with his exit went Pakistan’s chance of victory, falling 67 runs short.

Collingwood admitted it was a relief to be back among the runs following his first 50 in any form of cricket for three months after the victory.

“On a personal note, it was nice to get some runs,” he afterwards. “It’s been quite a frustrating few months for me, not being able to contribute as much as I would have liked.

“Even though it was a warm-up game, I thought it was important I spent some time in the middle and tried to get that confidence going again – and thankfully, it worked out well.”

England now begin the preparations for their group opener against the Netherlands on Tuesday.

India and Pakistan Are United by Language and History, Divided by Commerce

By Karin Brulliard for The Washington Post

In India, where it is made, Fair and Handsome men’s skin lightening cream sells for $1.25 a tube.

But by the time it hits the shelf at Sajid Khan’s shop in this city’s old marketplace, it has traversed 2,000 miles of sea and land, been smuggled over the Hindu Kush and marked up 25 percent.

Pakistan and India share language, culture, history and an 1,800-mile border; they are South Asia’s largest economies. What they barely share is trade – officially at least, because of a quasi-blockade that dates from partition in 1947, and all but chokes off commerce under a dizzying web of rules.

The hurdles have spurred off-the-books trade, much of it shipped through third parties in such places as Dubai, where products are re-labeled as imports from other lands – journeys that result in 40-to-70-percent markups. Only recently did Pakistan make its first export to India by truck: a load of gypsum rock.

But economists, business groups and U.S. officials are pushing to loosen at least the most maddening restrictions, and they are hopeful that the two nations’ decision two weeks ago to resume peace talks might help. Free trade, they say, would benefit both India and Pakistan and might help to ease tensions whose gravity is reflected in rival nuclear arsenals.

“Economics 101 dictates that countries’ major trading partners should be their neighbors,” said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Washington-based Atlantic Council. “To change the dialogue from a zero-sum game to a positive, win-win outcome for both India and Pakistan, you need to start with the low-hanging fruit of opening trade and tourism.”

For a Pakistani economy in tatters, experts say, a freer flow of goods from India would allow cheaper access to products and raw materials, and could open up India, with its enormous population, to exports of Pakistan products such as cement.

Some research indicates that bilateral trade – currently at about $2 billion a year, less than 1 percent of each country’s total trade – could swell 20 to 50 times under more liberal policies. Estimates of illicit trade range from $2 billion to $10 billion a year.

But for now, progress creeps. India admits all Pakistani products, but Pakistani firms complain that stringent standards and paperwork make many exports unviable. Pakistan, for its part, allows a slowly expanding list of Indian products that now includes artificial kidneys, camphor, parachutes and 1,931 other items – but not Fair and Handsome cream, which is instead legally exported from Kolkata to landlocked Afghanistan, via the Pakistani port of Karachi, then smuggled back into Pakistan.

Travel restrictions are another barrier. Businessmen in both countries say they wait months for visas that allow travel only within major cities in the other country – preventing visits to rural factories or farms – where they are often tailed by intelligence agents.

Then there is the logistic muddle of land trade at the one border crossing, midway between Lahore and the Indian city of Amritsar. The twice daily cargo train involves an engine switch: A train carrying Pakistani exports, for example, can enter mere miles into India, at which point the Pakistani engine and conductors are replaced by an Indian ones before continuing inland. With so few trains, exporters wait months for cargo space.

Trucks have only eight hours each day to cross, because each afternoon the two-lane road is overtaken by Indian and Pakistani border guards’ theatrical gate-closing ceremony. Even then, trucks must stop just past the frontier, where porters transfer the goods to local trucks. That is an advancement: Before 2007, trucks were barred from crossing at all, and laborers lugged all cargo across the boundary on their heads.

The little existing trade often falls victim to what look like political whims. In December, cargo trains sat idle for three weeks while Indian conductors awaited the visas that allow them to park just inside Pakistan.

That same month, spiraling onion prices prompted India to drop import tariffs and standards for the staple, triggering a surge in Pakistani onion exports. But Pakistan abruptly halted overland sales amid concerns about a domestic shortage.

“I had 400 trucks stuck on the other side,” said Rajdeep Uppal, a trader who is vice president of the Amritsar Exporters Council. “For a week these onions were standing there, and eventually they had to be sold within Pakistan for half the price. Who loses? Both the countries.”

Tensions aside, scenes of goodwill abound along the border. Pakistani and Indian train conductors sip tea and gripe about red tape together. Satanam Singh, a turbaned Indian driver – wearing a regulation yellow vest stamped “Indian Driver” – beamed as laborers unloaded his ginger on the Pakistani side. Coming to Pakistan, he gushed, was delightful compared with Mumbai, where the language is different and people hostile.

“It is a strange feeling, like I am going to a strange land,” said a smiling Mohammed Zafar, a Pakistani whose vibrantly painted truck, brimming with dates, was about to make its virgin voyage across the Indian frontier. “I am very happy.”

Here in Lahore, just 20 miles from the Indian border, Khan’s shop was the pioneer in a winding lane of stores now crammed with Indian silk and cosmetics – all smuggled into Pakistan illegally.

He said he would welcome friendlier business relations, even if they lessened the luxury value of his stock. Even his Afghan smuggler, who stopped by on a recent evening, agreed, on grounds that it would lessen the need to bribe border officials.

Among some merchants, skepticism about trade prospects remains, with Pakistanis fearing that open trade would lead to a glut of cheap Indian imports. S.M. Akhter, a top Indian customs official at the border, said national security concerns must trump market demands.

But despite the tangle of rules, some trade is quietly rising. Tahir Habib Cheema, the top Pakistani customs official at the border, said he realized last year that truck exports from Pakistan were allowed, but that “status quo” and “fear” had prevented them. He decided to change that – without notifying his bosses.

A comedy of errors ensued. By Oct. 7, Cheema had found one willing exporter and one importer. After hiccups on each side, a meeting at the frontline was arranged.

All parties agreed, Cheema said – and then the truck would not start. Someone proposed pushing it into India, an idea that was nixed by border guards who said the pushers would need visas. Finally, another vehicle nudged the truck over the line.

“This was something for the national cause,” Cheema said proudly. Since then, he added, Pakistani trucks have exported $2.5 million worth of products to India. He expects that to escalate this spring, when the two nations open a dedicated truck passage.

Correspondent Rama Lakshmi contributed to this article from New Delhi.

 

A Reality Check on India, Pakistan

By Ahmad Majidyar & Apoorva Shah for The Diplomat

On February 10, India and Pakistan announced that they would resume peace talks that were suspended after Pakistan-based terrorists attacked multiple sites in Mumbai in November 2008, killing 170 people. Washington welcomed the announcement, no doubt hoping that détente between the two nuclear neighbours might lead them to end their proxy war in Afghanistan, and leave Pakistan better able to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda on its own soil.

But it’s much too early to get carried away. After all, diplomacy conducted under terrorism’s shadow can backfire, and should there be another attack on Indian soil, Indian policymakers—even those in favour of reconciliation—may well conclude they have no partner in Pakistan, bringing the prospect of conflict closer.

It’s also not at all clear that Pakistan really is sincere in its desire for rapprochement. The country has reportedly doubled its nuclear arsenal over the last four years, and is believed to be building its fourth plutonium reactor. Western nations should be troubled that a country that professes to be committed to fighting Islamic militants at home has decided to focus so much attention on developing its nuclear prowess instead. 

Indians should also be concerned.  On July 15, 2010,India and Pakistan’s foreign ministers met in Islamabad supposedly in order to ‘restore trust.’ But the talks collapsed in acrimony, with the Indian side claiming that Pakistan had failed to move to resolve differences over the prosecution of anti-India terrorist groups operating from its territory. Just ahead of these talks, Indian Home Secretary G. K. Pillai had claimed that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had played a ‘much more significant’ role in the Mumbai attacks than was initially thought, adding that he believed Pakistan was ‘coordinating it from the beginning till the end.’

Testimony by captured alleged Pakistani-American terrorist David Headley appeared to support Pillai’s claims, with Headley reportedly telling FBI interrogators that the ISI went so far as ‘choosing the weapons to be used in the attack.’

If all this is true, then there can be no serious diplomacy until Pakistan stops seeking to leverage Islamist militancy as a weapon in Kashmir and against India. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and similar groups continue to operate freely in Pakistan. Last February, for example, LeT’s leader Hafiz Saeed led a 10,000-strong procession in Lahore to mark ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ and warned India to ‘liberate’ Kashmir or face jihad. Indeed, he also signalled a possible expansion of conflict, suggesting that the group might broaden its operations to the southern Indian—and largely Muslim—district of Hyderabad.

But it isn’t just militant leaders who are troubling Indian policymakers. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s political party, currently in control of Pakistan’s Punjab provincial government, appears to be promoting militancy, at least judging by its official budget last year. As the BBC reported at the time, the government allocated $1 million to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a charity on the UN terrorism watch list and a Lashkar-e-Taiba front group.

The reality is that many Pakistani political leaders don’t seem to want to move forward on talks. Former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, President Asif Ali Zardari, and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani have all appeared sincere, but they seem to lack even the limited control that former President and army chief Pervez Musharraf wielded over the military and intelligence apparatus during his tenure. Meanwhile, the man currently in charge of Pakistan’s military—Gen. Ashfaq Kayani—appears to show no interest in détente, conceding in his own words that he has an ‘India-centric’ bias to his military strategy. 

In theory, Indo-Pakistani diplomatic engagement is a must for regional security. In 2007, talks came close to reaching an agreement on the Kashmir dispute before being derailed by terrorism and domestic political unrest in Pakistan. But Indian diplomats shouldn’t succumb to the exuberance of rapid-fire talks so long as a disconnect remains between Pakistani civilian leaders and their military and intelligence establishment.

The same goes for the White House and State Department—hopes should not be placed on regional security talks without proper conditions for lasting progress being in place first. And the most important of these conditions? Ensuring a complete and no-nonsense end to any proxy support for terrorism at all levels of the Pakistani government.

Ahmad Majidyar and Apoorva Shah are researchers in South Asia studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

It is The Women Who Have the Guts in Pakistan”

By Bina Shah for Dawn

In Pakistan, Salman Taseer’s assassination in early January has blown the lid off the seething cauldron that has been bubbling in Pakistan for the last several years: the divide between Pakistan’s extremist forces and its minority liberal community is now so wide that it seems nothing can bridge the gap anymore. Worse, the extremists greatly outnumber the liberals, endangering whatever advances have been made in the Pakistani society.

But the women intelligentsia of Pakistan is determined not to let the religious right gain any more ground in the struggle for Pakistan’s soul. They have responded to the onslaught of the right wing with such ferocity that a Pakistani man said on Twitter: “I definitely see more women out on the streets after Salman Taseer’s killing. Does this mean that it is the women that have the guts in this country?”

It all started with a woman: Aasia Bibi, the hapless Pakistani-Christian mother of five who made the mistake of getting on the wrong side of a group of malicious village women. One moment Aasia Bibi was offering her coworkers a cup of water; the next, she was facing the death penalty for having supposedly committed “blasphemy”

Activists and women’s rights groups, aghast at the blatant abuse of human rights that Aasia Bibi’s case represented, agitated for the country’s leaders to have her acquitted. Pakistan’s progressives, especially women, got in touch with the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer through his Twitter account – one which he used mostly to tweak rival politicians’ noses, share his favorite Urdu poetry, and communicate with his daughters. They besieged him with 140-character-long appeals to save Aasia Bibi’s life, hoping against hope that he would listen.

Taseer not only took Aasia Bibi under his protection, but he widened his scope to take aim at the blasphemy law itself. But Taseer’s strong voice was silenced on January 4, when his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, shot him 27 times with his state-issued Kalashnikov.

After the initial shock of the assassination, women activists vowed to use it as a rallying point: not just because they feel for Aasia Bibi, the first woman in Pakistan to face the death penalty for blasphemy, but because they know that women are the first to lose their freedoms when extremism takes over a nation. They are organising candlelight vigils, rallies, and media campaigns to defend their hard-won rights, despite knowing they are outnumbered by the other side.

One of the bravest women in today’s Pakistan is Shehrbano Taseer, daughter of the slain Governor, who wrote several pieces for the newspapers protesting the death of her father and the way in which his killer was showered with rose petals by lawyers who vowed to defend him in court. For this, she received threats from extremists: “She should remember the fate of her father and refrain from issuing statements.”

Taseer, a graduate of Smith College in the US, draws inspiration from other brave women in Pakistan who came up against the same forces: Asma Jehangir, Benazir Bhutto, Jugnu Mohsin, Sherry Rehman (who is now living under virtual house arrest in Karachi because of death threats she has received for her stance against the blasphemy law), Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Beena Sarwar, and Marvi Sirmed are some of the women whose struggles against injustice in Pakistani society have inspired her.

And of course, there is her father’s legacy: “My father’s fire has come inside me … I don’t wish for any other family to have suffered what mine has had to.”  Her father’s violent death has illustrated most vividly to her how both men and women in Pakistan have worked together for generations in the name of social activism. “Men and women have marched on the streets together and sacrificed a lot, so I don’t feel one sex is more dominant than the other in this regard.”

But it is not enough. The men in Pakistan need to step it up greatly when it comes to supporting women in social activism. Nuzhat Kidvai, a human rights activist in Karachi, says, “In general, men are more active in the left and labour movements – they will march for economic or political reasons. But when it comes to supporting women’s issues, they just aren’t there.” Her husband, Zaheer Kidvai, a long-time proponent of social activism in Pakistan, agrees that “women are certainly more engaged in this battle and despite bad attacks – lathis, jail, beating, and even rapes by the police! – they have moved this forward against all these odds. If there is any way for this society to evolve further, it’ll have to have even more women come out.”

So, back to the original question: is it really the women in Pakistan who have the guts? When it comes to fighting for their rights, definitely. Life in Pakistan is hard for women, but they don’t give up easily. Perhaps this is why they haven’t yet suffered the fates of their compatriots in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and other supremely conservative Muslim countries in the region.

The Cup That May Brighten Up Pakistan

By Nilankur Das for The Hindustan Times
For others winning this World Cup could be a matter of pride and glory for the country. For Pakistan, which has won a World Cup and hosted a final, a lot more is at stake. A terror attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore in 2009 had put an end to Pakistan playing international matches at home an

d also taken away its rights to host World Cup ties. The country shredded by blasts and violence is now forced to host its international matches in Dubai.

Play to prove
Winning this World Cup, coach Waqar Younis feels, could change all that and pave the way to bring international cricket back to the country.

“It is unfortunate that we are not hosting. Yes, we are missing World Cup matches at home. But if we play as a unit, which we are at the moment and go on to win, I believe it will definitely help get international matches back to Pakistan,” Waqar said after Pakistan began their campaign with a win in a warm-up match against Bangladesh.

“Everyone back home is disappointed that the World Cup is not happening in Pakistan. But we are looking forward. Violence has taken international cricket away from the country but I am sure our cricket will bring cricket back,” Intikhab Alam, Pakistan’s first one-day captain who is the manager of the team here, told HT.

Ccricket Buzz
Back in Pakistan which is celebrating Id-e- Milad-un-Nabi, the birthday of Prophet Mohammad, cricket, it was learnt, is the buzz now.

“I think the people of Pakistan have already come to terms with the World Cup not happening here. Tuesday’s match was not on TV and so very few people could follow it. But people are keeping track and everywhere I went I heard cricket being discussed,” spokesperson of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Nadeem Sarwar told HT from Lahore.

“What Waqar said is right. But it will not happen overnight. Winning the World Cup will surely have a unifying effect on the country and if that means law and order is restored, the other boards too will not have problems sending their teams to Pakistan.

“We are making progress in this regard. The Afghanistan team was here. And now the Nepal women’s team is playing a T20 and one-day series here,” Sarwar said.

It’s still early days but a motto like this can definitely keep the team together. But sport has its share of such instances. When Spain, with a majority of Catalan players led by a man from Real Madrid, went on to win the football World Cup, a month-long euphoria blurred all differences.

Veteran US Diplomat To Replace Holbrooke as Pakistan-Afghan Envoy

By David Usborne for The Independent, UK

The long and fractious search for a replacement for the late Richard Holbrooke as a special US envoy to both Pakistan and Afghanistan is over, but the job of filling his shoes is looking more impossible than ever, not least because of an expected exodus of top American officials from Kabul this year.

Marc Grossman, who was a top-rank US diplomat for three decades until he moved to the private sector in 2005, has agreed to take on the post after others turned it down. His appointment is expected to be announced by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, during a speech in New York on Friday.

The death from a torn aorta of Mr Holbrooke, a giant on the diplomatic stage, left a void in America’s diplomatic front in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While some in the White House resented the wide remit he enjoyed dealing with both countries, Mrs Clinton was adamant she needed someone of similar stature in his place.

Several high profile names were passed over for the job or turned it down, including Strobe Talbott and John Podesta, both of whom served former President Bill Clinton. Another who declined to don the Holbrooke mantle was Frank Wisner, another former diplomat who unsuccessfully sought to mediate with Hosni Mubarak of Egypt before his ouster last week.

Mr Grossman, currently chairman of the Cohen Group which advises companies on ventures overseas, will take the job at a particularly tricky juncture. Relations between Washington and Islamabad are at an all time low, and in Afghanistan the clock is ticking on the start of US troop withdrawals this summer.

The diplomatic and military team he will inherit in Afghanistan will meanwhile begin to dissolve almost the moment he arrives there. Among those set to depart are Karl Eikenberry, the US Ambassador there, as well as all four of the top US officials in the embassy.

It is widely expected, meanwhile, that the top military commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, will be rotated out before the end of the year. The number two military officer there, Lt Gen David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations, is also set to leave. Officials at the State Department and the Pentagon concede that finding replacements for the departing officials will be difficult.

Violence in Afghanistan is still at critical levels. On the political level, the US is striving to overcome long-running tensions with President Hamid Karzai, while trying to push forward a process of reconciliation talks with elements of the Taliban and other insurgent groups that are seen as crucial to achieving stability, and step up training of Afghan soldiers and police officers.

“Afghanistan is keen to work closely with the new Afghanistan-Pakistan envoy in better coordination and understanding,” commented Siamak Herawi, a spokesman for Mr Karzai, who had a prickly relationship with Mr Holbrooke.

The latest downturn in relations with Pakistan follows the arrest of an American at the US embassy on charges of murder. So far the Pakistani government has ignored calls from Washington that the accused, Raymond Davis, who is on the embassy staff, be given diplomatic immunity in the case. He has claimed that he shot the two men in self defence as they attempted to rob him.

In Islamabad yesterday on a mission to try to resolve the stand-off was Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and arguably the only person available in Washington with the stature to get the Pakistani government to focus on the issue. Bilateral talks that were scheduled to take place at the State Department next week have been postponed by Mrs Clinton because of the dispute.

The biggest challenge of all for Mr Grossman will be winning the trust and respect of leaders in both Pakistan and Afghanistan while navigating the sometimes conflicting priorities of his various bosses in Washington at the State Department, the Pentagon and the White House.

Leading players on their way out:

General David Petraeus

Unexpectedly pulled into Afghanistan after the sudden departure of General Stanley McChrystal last year, Petraeus is drafting withdrawal plans for President Obama. Once he has presented the President with options for the best exit strategy, which he is expected to do in July, there are suggestions that he could look to stand down. He has denied that he could seek the Republican presidential nomination for 2012.

Ambassador Karl Eikenberry

With his relationship with President Karzai strained at best, there have long been rumours in Washington of Eikenberry’s return home; any departure, though, was held up by the exit of McChrystal, when it was felt that another change at the top of Afghan policy would be unhelpful. A similar logic may have applied after Richard Holbrooke’s death. One of Grossman’s key tasks will be identifying the best candidates to replace him.

Lt. General David Rodriguez

Named as deputy commander in Afghanistan in 2009, Rodriguez has considerably more experience in the country than Petraeus, and holds responsibility for day-to-day operations, with particular expertise in counter-insurgency. If suggestions that he could be going home soon prove correct, there are fears that a shortage of top-class military leadership with knowledge of the country could be exposed.

World To Valentine’s Day: I Love You, I Love You Not

By Kristin Deasy for Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty

The East is coy when it comes to celebrating Valentine’s Day, with some countries banning it as a Western imposition, while activists in other countries use the traditional day of love to play politics.

In Iraq, three youth groups have called for a Valentine’s Day rally in Baghdad’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square, which like many regional capitals bears the same name as the Egyptian square that made headlines recently during the country’s uprising.

Following the lead of countries like Egypt and Tunisia, where protesters took to the streets demanding political reform, these young Iraqis are using Facebook to call for an end to the political deadlock and rampant corruption in the country. The corruption watchdog Transparency International lists Iraq as the fourth-most corrupt country in the world.

“We chose February 14, Valentine’s Day, to prove to the world that we have made the Valentine’s Day of Iraq. We are here today to express our love for Iraq. Iraqi protester Nawf al-Falahi told Reuters today.

“Our demand is not a difficult one, we demand reform of the situation,” Falahi added. “There has been no tangible change since 2003 and until now, there is no development. We want [the government] to fulfill the promises they made before the election, their promises were rosy. We want them on the ground. This is the only thing we want.”

For these protesters, any thought of celebration is cut short by the condition in the country. “We are so upset. We can’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, because we have a lot of problems,” one woman tells RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq, “like the shortage of items on our monthly ration card, a lack of electricity, and poverty.”

Iraq’s protests come as an opposition demonstration is set for today in neighboring Iran, where the opposition Green Movement has defied a government ban to call for a march in solidarity with protesters in Egypt and Tunisia.

Supporters of the Iranian rally have been posting a “V” on their personal Facebook profile pages in a nod to the “V for victory” sign used by the opposition during the country’s 2009 antigovernment protests and, perhaps, also in recognition of the coinciding holiday.

Valentine’s Day is generally seen as a Christian holiday, but it is actually pagan in origin, arising out of the ancient Roman Lupercalia festival. Early efforts by Christian leaders to “Christianize” the pagan feast led to its observance as a feast day honoring a legendary third-century Roman priest allegedly named Valentine.

Over time, however, the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day moved from a day of Christian piety to a more all-embracing celebration of love, particularly the love between couples.

This is a point of concern for authorities in many Islamic countries, who cleave to traditional moral values not typically associated with the modern celebration of Valentine’s Day.

The Uzbek newspaper “Turkiston” wrote on February 12 that “forces with evil goals” were behind “making the ‘lovers’ day popular,” while in Kazakhstan last week a youth group symbolically destroyed Valentine’s Day cards for local media to protest the attempt to introduce a “foreign” holiday.

Over in Russia’s Belgorod region, officials banned St. Valentine’s festivities for the sake of the people’s “spiritual safety,” with one local government spokesman telling reporters that “we could just as well have introduced a Vodka Day.”

Updating The Language Of Love

Iran, meanwhile, forbids unmarried couples from socializing publicly, a policy that tends to have a chilling effect on most Valentine’s Day plans.

But the policy is difficult to enforce on the country’s swelling — and often defiant — younger generation. For example, a Tehran-based author who wishes to remain anonymous is currently at work on a book, “The Persian Dating Glossary,” which includes the explanation of various Persian slang words used to circumvent Iran’s dating restrictions, including “doostmamooli,” a word that roughly translates to “regular friend” and is used to refer to someone with whom there is absolutely no romantic involvement.

The word evolved from the more ambiguous “doost,” which literally means friend but also serves as the basis of weightier words like boyfriend, girlfriend, and best friend.

So this year, Iranian authorities issued a particularly strict warning against “producing any products related to Valentine’s Day, including posters, brochures, advertising cards, boxes with the symbols of hearts, half-hearts, or red roses.”

The Islamic authorities’ worst fear is being realized in Thailand, where 14 couples from around the world are set to compete in a marathon kissing contest to see who can keep their lips locked the longest.

The event is to challenge a German couple, who last year set the world record of the longest continuous kiss, which lasted over one full day.

“We successfully broke the world’s record with seven couples still kissing after 32 hours, 7 minutes, 14 seconds,” contest organizer Somporn Naksuetrong told Reuters. “Anyhow, the contest is still continuing, as only one couple will be named as the new record holder. We still don’t know how long the contest will last.”

A Pakistani Take

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, Valentine’s Day draws a mixed reaction. Young women browse in a shop decorated with Valentine’s Day gifts in Peshawar.
“If we look at it from the religious point of view, then it should not be celebrated because this is based on a Christian celebration,” says Ajab Khan, a young student at Peshawar’s Institute of Management Sciences. “But if you look at it from a different perspective, then I think there is no harm in it because people are happy to go out and give each other presents.

Khan points out that in the English city of Southall, commonly known as “Little India, where many South Asian festivals are held, whether its Eid, the Hindu festival of Holi, or a Christian celebration, “the whole Asian community is happy with it. So why shouldn’t we be a part of it as well in Pakistan? I don’t think it can harm anyone or will affect our religion.

“In my opinion, it’s good to celebrate it and it’s not only for couples. You can give presents to your friends, or even give a rose to your mother.”

The holiday brings back memories for Maskeen Aka, who lives in the Pakistani city of Karachi. He associates it with an ancient Pashtun custom called “rebaar,” in which a messenger would be sent — usually a child — with affectionate greetings or to share news between loved ones.

The practice has slowly disappeared in Pakistan thanks to the growing availability of telephones and Internet technology, but Aka sees a hint of it in the observance of Valentine’s Day.

“I am almost 50 years old now,” he says. “I have also done [rebaar] for some time. Rebaar means to ask about one’s health. In old times, life was very simple and there were no letters or telephones. So it was used to find information, and there would occasionally be messages sent back from the other side, and that was how it came into being.”

‘No Life Without Love’

In Central Asia, Valentine’s Day is a new holiday there because it was not observed under the former Soviet Union.

These countries tend to take a more pragmatic approach, with flower shops and candy stores upping their prices today in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

A Kyrgyz student, Ermek, explains his reasons for observing the holiday while buying flowers for his girlfriend at a Bishkek market, saying, “We need such a holiday, a day of love.”

“If people don’t love each other, how will they get married? There is no life without love,” Ermek says. “I know my girlfriend loves roses, and that’s why I’m buying them.”

It seems that regardless of what countries celebrate the controversial Valentine’s Day, love is what makes the world go ’round.

India to Invite Pakistan Home Secretary for March Talks, 26/11 on Agenda

As Reported by The Times of India

With India and Pakistan deciding to resume comprehensive dialogue over various issues, New Delhi will soon extend an invitation to Islamabad for home secretary-level talks on counterterrorism, including progress in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack trial, here in March.

Home secretary Gopal K Pillai said, “I will call my Pakistani counterpart this week inviting him to New Delhi for talks. I will propose two sets of dates to him for a meeting in the second-half of next month.”

This will be the first structured home secretary-level meeting between India and Pakistan on counterterrorism after November 2008. The last such meeting between home secretaries had, incidentally, concluded in Islamabad on November 26, 2008 — the day Lashkar gunmen attacked Mumbai. India had suspended composite dialogue with Pakistan in the wake of the 26/11 attacks.

Home secretaries of both countries had also met on the sidelines of Saarc interior ministers’ conference in Islamabad in June last year.

On the issues to be taken up during the meeting with Pakistani interior secretary Chaudhry Qamar Zaman, Pillai told a news agency, “We will ask for voice transcripts (of perpetrators of 26/11) even though the trial court has said no. We will ask them why they have not gone and appealed. I am sure the high court or the Supreme Court may have said that the voice transcripts can be given.”

Referring to lack of action on the part of Pakistan, the home secretary said, “So far most of the people they have caught are all chaps who have sold outboard engines or… driven a taxi and not any of the main people whose voice has been identified by Pakistani-American terrorist David Headley.”

He added, “I think by now, if they wanted, they could have arrested the main persons behind it (26/11 attacks). No use catching people on the streets… and not the real controllers and those who are behind it (attacks).”

Asked what prevented Pakistan from taking strong action against those responsible for the attack, Pillai said Headley’s own evidence clearly showed that there was support of certain elements in the Pakistan state. So, to that extent, anything which leads back to them, there is “total deniability”, Pillai said.

He rejected the view that investigations into the Samjhauta Express blast, indicating involvement of right-wing extremism, will put pressure on India while talking to Pakistan on terrorism. “It will not put pressure on us. We are open about it. The investigations are open. Our courts are free. We are investigating the same. We had told them in June that the investigations are on and as something crystalizes, we shall share it with them. And now, we have said that as soon as the chargesheet is filed, we will share full details with them because a very large number of Pakistani citizens were killed,” he said.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 74 other followers

%d bloggers like this: