Tuesday, June 30, 2009

China's communist party members near 76 mln, 80% of recruits under 35

BEIJING-- The Communist Party of China (CPC) has increased to nearly 76 million members over the past 60 years, according to official figures Tuesday. As of the end of last year, the number of China's ruling CPC members stood at 75.931 million, 17 times the 1949 figure when the People's Republic of China was founded, the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee announced.Last year more than 2.8 million new members were recruited, up 25,000 from the previous year, it said. Of the new members, 2.268 million, or 80.8 percent, are under 35 years old, it added. "Recruits from students saw the biggest surge in 2008, up 71,000 from the previous year," it said.When asked at a separate press conference how to handle the problem of some college students joining the CPC to facilitate their job hunting, Li Zhongjie, an official studying the party's history, said most applicants' motivation was to play their roles in building the nation and the society."We have more than 10 million applicants every year, 19.5 million in 2007 for example," said Li, deputy director of the Party History Research Center of the CPC Central Committee. "With so many people, it's inevitable and understandable that some of them will have their own reasons for joining, including finding jobs."Overall, they're joining the party to serve the nation and people," he said, noting that the party will respect the members' reasonable private interests, and the members should also observe laws and party disciplines when using the power derived from being ruling party members.Li said over the past decades, the CPC has learned lessons and accumulated experience and now its governing capacity has won world recognition."I believe our party will have a long life cycle," he said.

Pakistan Militant Group Scraps Truce

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A powerful Taliban faction in a northwestern tribal region has said it is withdrawing from a peace deal with the government to protest continuing strikes by American drones, confronting the Pakistani military with a possible two-front campaign against militants, according to Pakistani news reports on Tuesday.

The Taliban faction, led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, operates in the mountainous North Waziristan area along the border with Afghanistan.

It struck a peace deal with the authorities in February 2008, but Mr. Gul Bahadur said the truce was no longer operative. The development on Monday came as American reinforcements have been moving into Afghanistan. Taliban fighters there have traditionally relied on havens in Pakistan’s lawless tribal regions.

On Sunday, a day before the Pakistani Taliban’s announcement that it was abandoning the truce, as many as 150 militants attacked a Pakistani military convoy about 22 miles west of Miramshah, the capital of North Waziristan. At least 30 soldiers —the Taliban claimed 60 — were believed to have been killed in the ambush, which pointed to the army’s vulnerability in the area.

Separately, The Associated Press reported that four people were killed in southwestern Pakistan on Tuesday when a car bomber attacked trucks taking supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The end of the peace deal came as the Pakistan military prepares for an offensive against another Taliban group, led by Baitullah Mehsud, in neighboring South Waziristan.

Mr. Mehsud is widely depicted as the main leader of the Taliban in Pakistan and has taken responsibility for a string of deadly bombings. The Pakistani authorities had been hoping to deny Mr. Mehsud support from North Waziristan, but Mr. Gul Bahadur’s decision has significantly expanded the theater of conflict.

Ahmadullah Ahmadi, a spokesperson of Mr. Gul Bahadur, was quoted by Pakistani news organizations as saying that guerrilla attacks would be made against the Pakistani military unless drone attacks are stopped and government troops are pulled out of North Waziristan.

“We will attack forces everywhere in Waziristan unless the government fulfills these two demands,” Mr. Ahmadi told Dawn, Pakistan’s most prestigious English-language daily newspaper. Mr. Ahmadi accused the government of allowing the United States to carry out drone attacks in the region.

Mr. Gul Bahadur says that more than 50 drone strikes since the peace deal have killed hundreds of people, including women and children.

After the attack on the military convoy on Sunday, military vehicles lay wrecked and destroyed around the bodies of soldiers. Under the 2008 peace agreement, militants agreed not to attack security forces or establish a parallel administration. But the peace was tenuous and strained by mutual distrust.

The truce came after the government offered major concessions, such as dismantling military checkpoints, releasing detained militants and compensating them and other tribesmen for their losses suffered during the military operation, Pakistani news organizations reported.

In return, elders of Utman Zai tribe, which inhabits the area, had assured the government that there would be no cross-border movement and that foreigners would not be allowed to take refuge.

Sarkozy Comments on Israeli Minister Make Waves

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel defended his ultranationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on Tuesday after reports emerged that President Nicolas Sarkozy of France had urged that he be replaced with the leader of the centrist opposition, Tzipi Livni.

Mr. Sarkozy made the statement in a private meeting last week at the Élysée Palace attended by Mr. Netanyahu and a number of aides to both men, comparing Mr. Lieberman to Jean-Marie Le Pen, the far-right anti-immigrant French politician. Several participants at the meeting confirmed the reported statements.

Mr. Lieberman’s spokesman said that Mr. Sarkozy’s comment amounted to grave and insufferable meddling in the affairs of another democracy. Israeli radio broadcasts were filled with discussion of the episode, with right-wing members of Parliament assailing France and expressing indignation, while some on the left said that Mr. Sarkozy was correct.

Yossi Beilin, a former leftist member of Parliament and minister, said on Israel Radio that he had often heard from others what Mr. Sarkozy said: “I can tell you a secret. I meet world leaders. There is hardly a conversation in which the subject does not come up. Someone will say, ‘Tell me, what’s this delusional appointment?’ There’s hardly a world leader who does not say this.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying he had full confidence in his foreign minister, adding that Mr. Lieberman was “fully committed to peace and security” and was “an important member of the elected government of the democratic State of Israel.”

Mr. Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party and a West Bank settler, was elected on a platform that called for citizenship loyalty oaths at a time of growing discord between Israel’s Jewish majority and Arab minority.

When Mr. Lieberman visited France recently, Mr. Sarkozy declined to meet with him, although he routinely received Ms. Livni, who was foreign minister in the last government.

According to the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, Mr. Sarkozy told Mr. Netanyahu that he should remake his government so that he, Ms. Livni and the defense minister, Ehud Barak, could produce historic breakthroughs for Middle East peace.

He was reported to have said, “I’ve always received Israeli foreign ministers. I met with Tzipi Livni in the Élysée Palace, but with that one I simply can’t meet. I’m telling you, you need to get rid of that man. Get him out of the government and bring in Livni. With her and with Barak you can make history.”

The paper said Mr. Netanyahu replied: “No need to exaggerate. Lieberman is a very nice person, and in private conversations he speaks differently.”

Mr. Sarkozy was reported to have replied, “In private conversations, Jean-Marie Le Pen is also a nice person.”

Mr. Sarkozy is said to have added of Mr. Lieberman, “Sometimes when I hear what he says I have the urge to pull out my hair.” He placed his hands on his head and grabbed his hair.

Return of IDPs to start soon, says Hoti

PESHAWAR : NWFP Chief Minister, Amir Haider Hoti Monday said that return of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Malakand division will start very soon and repatriation will be in phased manner. Addressing a ceremony held here at Frontier House on Monday in connection with distribution of cheques of Rs. 30,000 each among 227 displaced journalists of Malakand division, the Chief Minister said government is concentrating on strengthening of infrastructure before return of IDPs. He said return and rehabilitation of displaced persons is much difficult challenge for government as compared to providing them relief. In order to revamp the damaged infrastructure of Malakand division, the government requires about two billion dollars, he added. He said government realizes that civil administration in Malakand division was weak as a result of which militants got space and organized in the region. However now, he continued, the government will make civil administration more strong and effective so that militants could not get any other chance of re-grouping in the area. In this connection, the Chief Minister said, government has decided to set up more police stations in Malakand besides recruiting ex-armymen as Special Security Force. He said government has broke the back bone of militants in Swat and other areas, but they are not eliminated completely. We have reports that militants have moved to remote areas and may try to re-group in future. But, he went on to say, we will not provide them any change to re-organize. We have taken a resolve of complete elimination of militants from society because they are the enemy of people and nation and have committed inhuman crime which is not tolerable in any society. The Chief Minister said government also needs people's support in complete eradication of militants and in this connection it has been decided to recruit 7000 people from communities under Community Policing Programme. Selection of these recruits will be made by people through jirgas and government will provide them weapons besides monthly salary of Rs. 10,000. About strengthening of judicial system in Malakand, the Chief Minister said government will ensure complete implementation of Nizam-e-Adl Regulations in letter and spirit. Government is firm on its commitment in connection with enforcement of Nizam-e-Adl Regulations because this is the demand of the people of the area and not of the militants. The Chief Minister said we understands that justice delayed is justice denied and in future such a juidical system would be formed in Malakand division under which people will receive speedy justice. The Chief Minister also appreciated the spirit of those people who accommodated IDPs at their homes. The Chief Minister said government did not have such a capacity to provide relief to such a huge number of people. It was made possible by those people who embraced their displaced borthers and accommodated them in there houses.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Afghan president accuses US-trained guards of killing police chief

President Hamid Karzai accused Afghan guards working for US coalition forces of killing a provincial police chief and at least four other security officers during a gun battle outside a government office.

In a harshly worded statement, Karzai demanded that coalition forces hand over the guards involved. But the governor of Kandahar later said that 41 US-trained private security guards had been disarmed and arrested by Afghan authorities.

The US military said it was not involved in shooting, calling it an "Afghan-on-Afghan incident". However, Karzai's statement suggested that the guards sought refuge in a US coalition base after the killings, and he "demanded that coalition forces prevent such incidents, which weaken the government".

The situation lays bare the often testy relations between Karzai and American officials. The president's accusations come as thousands of US marines and soldiers are deployed across southern Afghanistan, the Taliban's stronghold and a region where Karzai is seeking votes ahead of presidential elections on 20 August.

Gunfire broke out after Afghan forces moved into a heavily protected government complex in Kandahar and demanded the release of a man accused of forging documents, said Hafizullah Khaliqyar, Kandahar's district attorney. When the Afghan forces threatened to release the suspect by force, Khaliqyar called the provincial police chief, he said.

"When the police chief wanted to talk to these people there was some argument and the gun battle started," he said.

Among the officials killed were the provincial police chief, Matiullah Qati, and the province's criminal investigations director. Hours later, Karzai released a statement.

"President Hamid Karzai demanded that coalition forces hand over the private security individuals belonging to coalition forces responsible for the killing of Kandahar provincial security officials to the relevant security authorities of the Afghan government," the statement from the president's office said.

Later, the governor, Thoryalai Wesa, said 41 private guards had been disarmed and arrested and would be sent to Kabul for a military trial. The killing of Kandahar's top police officer is a blow to security efforts in a province from which Taliban leader Mullah Omar once ruled the country. US soldiers are to be deployed in Kandahar later this summer, part of a surge that will see the total number of US forces in the country brought to 68,000 – more than double the 32,000 troops here last year.

Support for Swat offensive remains strong

Two months into a military offensive against Taliban militants, public opinion is firmly behind the civilian government and the military and it shows no sign of wavering.

Investors in Pakistani stocks have been unnerved by the violence, which has included a string of suicide bombs in cities and attacks on the military across the north.

But investors and the Pakistani people in general wanted to see the offensive prosecuted to the end, and only then would their confidence be restored, said a stock broker.

‘It is absolutely necessary for the government to control and counter these terrorist elements and regain its writ to end the state of despondency among the people who had started to feel there was no one to protect them,’ said Asif Qureshi, director of Invisor Securities.

‘Let alone foreign investors, the success of this operation is essential for the restoration of confidence among local investors as well,’ he said.

The KSE-100 index has gained 23 per cent this year after losing 58.3 per cent in 2008. But the index is trading about 10 per cent lower than its peak of this year, partly because of security worries.

About 10,000 supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami religious party rallied in Karachi on Sunday to protest against US involvement in the region.

But their opposition to the offensive and sympathy for the Taliban was well known and their protest did not signal a strengthening of the argument that Pakistan should not be fighting ‘America’s war’, an analyst said.

‘They’re finding it difficult to dominate the discourse as they have been doing for some time. They’re on the back foot,’ said Rashid Rehman, a former newspaper editor and analyst.

‘The other voices, the dissident voices, the voices who have been arguing for the last 30, 40 years that we’re heading down a suicide path, I think they’re getting stronger,’ he said.

‘It’s an existential threat now to the state. The army, which after all was the creator of this monster, itself has come round to this view,’ Rehman said.

‘It may be partly American pressure but it is certainly also an internal assessment that ‘yes, we’ve lost control of these guys and they’ve gone haywire, something has to be done’.’

The fighting has displaced about two million people and their suffering could incite public anger but despite that, many ordinary Pakistanis agree something has to be done.

‘Everybody wants this filth wiped out,’ said retired school principal Nighat Anis. ‘The operation must be carried on so that no one like Osama (bin Laden) could dare come here.’

‘They aren’t representative of the whole nation ... I don’t believe opinion will shift in the militants’ favour.’

Attacks Increase as Pakistan Military Pursues Top Militants

Taliban militants in northwestern Pakistan have ambushed a military convoy, killing six soldiers. Hours earlier, army helicopters and warplanes pounded suspected militant hideouts in the region, where leaders of the Pakistani Taliban, Baituallah Mehsud, is believed to be running terror camps.

Pakistani officials say heavily armed Taliban fighters ambushed a military convoy of several vehicles in the North Waziristan border region. The attack instantly killed several soldiers and the two sides exchanged fire for some time. But there are no details whether militants suffered losses.

The ambush took place hours after Pakistani aircraft and helicopter-gunship bombed two Taliban compounds in the neighboring South Waziristan tribal region. The air raids are said to have killed an unknown number of militants, but independent verification of these reports is not possible because of the remoteness of the rugged region that borders Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities say the military strikes are part of the campaign to neutralize a militant threat before a major air and ground offensive is launched to eliminate Baituallah Mehsud, the fugitive commander of the Pakistani Taliban militants.

In another move to corner the militant leader and his top commanders, the Pakistani government published an announcement in leading newspapers offering a reward of more than $600,000 for information leading to Mehsud's capture or death. More than $900,000 are also offered for 10 of his allies.

The United States has already announced a $5-million reward for Mehsud. He is accused of harboring the al-Qaida network, whose fugitive leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding in the mountainous Pakistani region.

Critics like Mehmood Shah, a former security chief for the volatile Pakistani border region, say the policy of offering bounties has not worked. But he says the move is a strong indication the Pakistani government is making every effort to eliminate the terrorist forces.

"There is huge [head] money for Osama Bin Laden and it has not materialized," Shah said. "So I am sure it is just conveying a message. But the main thing would be the operation by the military, which should be conducted with lot of care and lot of determination."

The Pakistani military has won appreciation both at home and abroad, particularly from the United States for its ongoing anti-Taliban offensive in the northwestern Swat and neighboring districts.

Top officials claim the successful military operation has killed more than 1,600 militants and is nearing its end. But the government is also under fire for failing to kill or capture top Taliban leadership in the area.

The offensive began in late April and is said to have killed most of the militants. But it has also forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee the region and take refuge in other parts of Pakistan.

Taliban militants have responded to the offensive with suicide bombings in towns and cities and attacks on the military across the country, killing scores of people.

The latest violence occurs as the top U.S. commander for the region, General David Petraeus, arrived in Pakistan for talks with Pakistani officials.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Peshawarites yearn for peace

PESHAWAR: Residents of the provincial capital are uncertain whether normalcy will return to their town after having faced the brunt of militancy in the entire Pakhtun belt.

“Will peace return to our land? When will this situation end? Who is really behind the current state of affairs?” are some of the questions asked in every hujra, mosque, office and other places.

People of the Frontier and Fata have suffered a lot over the last fours. Thousands of families lost their loved ones, innumerable got handicapped and property worth billions of rupees was destroyed.

Extraordinary security measures have been taken in the wake of 18 terrorist attacks in Peshawar since May 8, for-cing residents to avoid public places. One can see a number of vehicles waiting for long to be cleared at the almost 20 entry-points to the city. Road barricades, search of vehicles and the ban on carrying even licensed arms for self-defence has added to the miseries of the already scared public.

The entire police force was kept on its toes during the recent NWFP budget session. This was necessary because terrorists were keen to hit high-value targets. The authorities had to close Peshawar International Airport following threats to commercial flights by Darra Adamkhel-based militants. It led to cancellation of flights for over 24 hours. The death and injuries to PIA crew staying at the Pearl-Continental Hotel, Peshawar in the suicide bombing also scared the management and the pilots from flying to the city.

There were reports of firing shots at a PIA plane soon after it took off from the Peshawar Airport. However, the SSP Coordination Peshawar, Qazi Jamilur Rahman, denied any such incident.The closure of the only international airport in the NWFP evoked criticism.

Many Peshawarites believed the diversion of flights from the city to the federal capital had tarnished Peshawar’s image. “Better security measures should have been taken instead of closing the airport,” said Haji Rahmat, a resident of Peshawar.

There was the fear that Taliban would attack more sensitive buildings, which led to an hour-long firing outside the residence of the corps commander Peshawar and the residence of commandant FC, so far occupied by the IG, Frontier Police. The firing started after some suspicious movement was seen there. Insecurity, coupled with uncertainty, reigned Peshawar and most of the towns of Fata and Frontier.

Power crisis makes people’s lives miserable

PESHAWAR: The power crisis still looms large on the national horizons, as the prolonged periods of power outages have afflicted people with no saviour in sight. People of Peshawar are facing long hours of unannounced loadshedding apart from time to time power breakdowns. Even after the announcement by PESCO that there would not be more than three hours of loadshedding, most areas of the city are facing eight to ten hours of loadshedding. In Peshawar as well, the load shedding durations in civic areas are eight to ten hours and in rural areas ten to 12 hours, worsening the water issue in the city. The power outages are causing the domestic electric gadgets to go out of order. In some areas due to the over-load the power breakdown at regular intervals is being witnessed on daily basis. People especially children and elderly are the being badly affected due to the situation as the mercury level is increasing with each passing day. There were reports of protests in different parts of the city against PESCO authorities but it seems as there is no effect of these protests as people are witnessing sleepless nights. Similarly, the business has been badly affected by the power outage. The ongoing electricity crisis has worsened across the country as the power shortfall has crossed 3500 megawatt.

52 arrested in major search operation

PESHAWAR :The City Police on Sunday apprehended 52 suspects and dozens others outlaws involved in drugs trafficking during a massive search operation in Peshawar city and Cantonment areas, police said. On the special directives of the Additional IGP Siffat Ghayoor, the a special team of the City Police headed by SSP Operation Abdul Ghafoor Afridi carried out a massive search operation against the outlaws across Peshawar city and cantonment areas. During the search operation, which initiated early morning, continued till late night in which heavy contingents of the police took part and raids were made at various places. The police during the grand operation, arrested 52 suspects and dozens of other offenders involved in drug smuggling. The police also recovered 13 pistols, hundreds of bullets, 8 Kg charas, 1 Kg opium and 10 bottles of liquor from the detainees.

Americans Want Sotomayor on Court

A sizable majority of Americans want the Senate to confirm Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, and most call her "about right" ideologically, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Senate hearings on Sotomayor, President Obama's pick to replace retiring Justice David H. Souter, begin in two weeks, and 62 percent of those polled support her elevation to the court. Sotomayor, 55, is currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York.

If confirmed, Sotomayor would become only the third female justice and the second on the current nine-member court. But there is no gender gap in support for her, with men and women about equally likely to be on her side.

Partisan differences, however, abound. Nearly eight in 10 Democrats and about two-thirds of independents said they want the Senate to confirm Sotomayor, but that drops to 36 percent of Republicans. Overall, most Republicans deem the judge a "more liberal" nominee than they would have liked.

But Obama's nominee also divides Republicans: While conservative Republicans are broadly opposed, most Republicans who describe themselves as moderate or liberal support her. More than seven in 10 conservative Republicans said she is too liberal, which is more than double the proportion of centrist or left-leaning Republicans who say so.

Some opposition to her, however, comes from the other side, as about one in five of those who want the Senate to reject her see her as insufficiently liberal.

Overall, 55 percent of Americans said Sotomayor is about right on a liberal-to-conservative scale. About a quarter said she is a more liberal nominee than they would have liked, about the same proportion who called Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. too conservative when President George W. Bush nominated them.

This year, abortion politics again represent a deep dividing line in public attitudes, with about three-quarters of those who are pro-choice in all or most cases behind Sotomayor, compared with less than half of those who favor greater restrictions.

The majority of Americans who want the court to retain the landmark abortion decision Roe v. Wade has remained remarkably steady over the years, and currently six in 10 Americans would want the new justice to vote to uphold it.

This issue also exposes fissures in the GOP: Most Republican men would want Sotomayor to vote to overturn Roe, while Republican women split about evenly on the question.

Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic justice, and her speeches about how her life experiences and her close-knit Puerto Rican family in the Bronx have shaped her view of the judiciary have become somewhat controversial. Critics have seized on a passage in a 2001 speech she gave on separating personal views from an objective reading of the law: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

But most Americans do not think her life experiences influence the way she decides cases: Fifty-nine percent said the fact that she is a women does not factor in, and 52 percent said the same about her racial and ethnic background.

Among the 33 percent who said her gender plays a role, more than twice as many say that is a good thing than a bad thing. The groups most apt to call her gender a factor are those with a postgraduate education and liberal Democrats, and they overwhelmingly approve. Here, too, is no gender gap in attitudes.

On race and ethnicity, however, some groups tip the other way: Half of Republican men and 59 percent of conservative Republicans said these play a role in her decision making, with most of those who do saying that that is a bad thing.

The telephone poll was conducted June 18 to 21, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

War on terror in last phase: PM

LAHORE: Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani Sunday said the whole nation has come to a consensus conclusion that this is time for the final decision, not for the negotiations with the extremists, adding the rule of constitution would be established in the country.

Addressing the media outside Jamia Naeemia after offering condolences to the bereaved family of Dr Sarfraz Naeemi, Prime Minister Gilani said on Sunday all anti-Pakistan elements are terrorists and they have no religion, belief and geographic boundaries.

Earlier, he offered Fateha at the grave of Dr Sarfaraz Naeemi Shaheed in Jamia Naeemia here. The PM said “In my view, those elements, who are against Pakistan, are terrorists,”

The Prime Minister said people of NWFP and FATA are patriots and our brethren, who not only played important role in Pakistan Movement by supporting Quaid‑e‑Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, but are now striving hard for the integrity of the country.

To a question about Maulana Fazl‑ur‑Rehman’s statement on dialogue with Taliban, he said that Maulana is coalition partner of the government, but it can be his personal views. However, entire nation wanted peace by eliminating terrorists once and forever, he added.

He said, Pakistan Army is taking decisive action against terrorists in FATA and other tense areas, as this is not the time for dialogue with terrorists and extremists.

The army operation is not a conventional war but a guerrilla fight, he said and added “Our army is fighting very efficiently against the coward people, who strike through ambushes and these anti‑social and anti‑Pakistan elements work on foreign agendas”.

The Prime Minister also paid rich homage to Army Jawans, civilians and children martyred during the military offensive against the extremists.

To another question, he said that division of a province is a constitutional matter and those aspiring for it, can raise this issue through parliament or at the platform of their respective parties.

To a question, he said all provinces including Punjab would get their water share under Indus River System Authority (IRSA) in line the Water Apportionment Accord 1991.

About the issue of revocation of 17th Amendment, he said that it was Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed’s commitment which manifested in the Charter of Democracy (CoD) signed by her and former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif. While, in his address to the joint sitting of the parliament, the President Asif Ali Zardari had twice reaffirmed his resolve to implement the CoD, he added.

All the parliamentary parties have been given due representation in the house committee, constituted to settle this issue, he added.

Gilani said that PPP’s manifesto is to revive the 1973 Constitution, given by Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

To a question, the Prime Minister said that he had already announced a Civil Award for Dr. Sarfaraz Naeemi, who sacrificed his life to end terrorism and extremism.

Earlier talking to Ulema at the Jamia, the Prime Minister termed Naeemi’s martyrdom a great tragedy for the nation.

He said the Ulema had played prominent role in Pakistan’s formation, and now they also have to come forward to brave the challenge of terrorism to save Pakistan. The terrorists have no link with the true message of Islam, which advocates love, harmony, tolerance, fraternity and peace.

Federal Social Welfare Minister Samina Khalid Ghurki, Punjab Senior Minister Raja Riaz Ahmed, Provincial IT Minister Farooq Yousaf Ghurki, Qasim Zia and Haji Azizur Rehman Chan were also present.

Several feared dead as Jets hit many houses, militant compounds in Wana

Pakistani aircraft bombed Taliban on Sunday in their bastion of South Waziristan on the Afghan border after the militants attacked two military camps, killing two soldiers, officials and residents said. The military, near the end of an offensive in the northwestern Swat Valley after two months of fighting, is preparing to launch a new drive in South Waziristan, where Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud is based. The decision to go on the attack against the militants came after Taliban gains raised fears of the militants gradually taking over more of the country and even posing a risk to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. The campaign has broad public support and has also won the praise of close ally the United States, which needs Pakistan to go after the militants as it tries to defeat al Qaeda and stabilize Afghanistan. Sunday's air strikes were on two villages in Laddah district, a Mehsud stronghold, and two militant compounds were destroyed, said a government official and residents. "It was a heavy bombing. Two militant compounds and several houses have been completely destroyed. We're trying to get casualty figures," said the government official in South Waziristan's main town of Wana. The official declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the media about military operations. The air strikes came after militants attacked an army and a paramilitary camp, both east of Wana, on Saturday night, killing two soldiers and wounding four, said the official. The government has said Mehsud, who carries a $5 million U.S. reward on his head, and his force of thousands of followers must be defeated. Mehsud, who security analysts say has become increasingly close to al Qaeda, has been accused of a string of attacks in Pakistani towns and cities including the December 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Mehsud is allied with Afghan Taliban fighters but they tend to concentrate on attacking U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan to force them to leave and they are not the focus of the Pakistani offensive. South Waziristan resident Ahmadullah Mehsud said the home of a Taliban commander came under attack on Sunday but he did not know whether the commander was there at the time. Most civilians have fled the area in fear of the looming military assault. According to military estimates, 45,000 people have been displaced from South Waziristan. Nearly 2 million people have fled from fighting in Swat and other parts of the northwest since late last year but aid workers are not expecting a huge exodus from South Waziristan as the population there is relatively small. Also, many people have winter homes on the low-land to the east and traditionally migrate to higher-altitude South Waziristan with their flocks for summer grazing. High civilian casualties in the fighting would raise the risk of an erosion of public support for the offensive.

Iran detains British embassy staff

Iranian authorities have detained eight employees of the British embassy in Tehran, accusing them of involvement in post-election unrest in the Islamic Republic, the semi-official Fars news agency has reported."Eight local employees at the British embassy who had a considerable role in recent unrest were taken into custody," Fars said on Sunday, without giving a source."This group played an active role in provoking recent unrest."Iran has accused Western powers - mainly Britain and the US - of inciting street protests and violence that rocked the country after its disputed June 12 presidential election.Britain has rejected the accusations.

Hariri designated as Lebanon PM

Saad Hariri has been asked to form a new Lebanese government after garnering the support of 86 members of the 128-seat body, officials say.
Michel Sleiman, the Lebanese president, issued a decree appointing Hariri prime minister-designate after meeting him at the presidential palace in Beirut on Saturday."According to the constitution and after the president consulted with the speaker of parliament and parliamentarians, he summoned Saad Hariri and tasked him with forming a new government," a presidential statement said.
Hariri entered politics in 2005 after the assassination of his father, Rafiq al-Hariri, a former prime minister.
He led his Western-backed March 14 alliance to victory in parliamentary elections on June 7, winning 71 seats to keep control of the legislature from a rival bloc including Hezbollah, a political group backed by Iran and Syria, which enjoys strong support among Shia Muslims.
"We hope to have a harmonious government that will respresent the interests of all Lebanese people," Hariri said after meeting Sleiman.
He pledged to protect the interest of all Lebanese, including those who voted for the opposition alliance.

Courting support
Hariri, a Sunni, had courted support from both sides of Lebanon's political divide in recent days, supporting Nabih Berri, the leader of Amal, another party with a Shia Muslim base, for re-election as speaker and meeting Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader.However, only 15 of the opposition alliance's 57 MPs backed Hariri when asked by Sleiman.Members of this bloc are likely to be asked to join a national unity government, but Hezbollah has previously demanded a minority veto, which Hariri has repeatedly refused.
"We will begin consultations with all parliamentary blocs," Hariri said on Saturday.

Abbas Hashem, an MP from the Change and Reform opposition bloc of Michel Aoun, told Al Jazeera that they would not join the government if they "did not have the power to make decisions".

"We are not going to be in partnership without a certain kind of power," he said. "I am sure that Saad Hariri will be will be able to provide the opposition with the opportunity ... at least to be a partner in unity."

But Mohammed Qabbani, an MP from Hariri's Future bloc, told Al Jazeera that the new prime minister-designate would not accept any call for an opposition veto in the cabinet.

"What the new prime minister wants is a national unity government, but he also wants to stick to the constitution and will not accept conditions like vetos," he said.

"We have tried this formula in the present government and it was paralysed."

Political bargaining

Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs in Beirut, told al Jazeera that there was now likely to be a lot of bargaining while the rival political blocs resolve two major issues.

"One is the apportionment of seats in the cabinet between the various groups in the country, the government majority, the opposition minority and the independent group that would be headed by the president," he said.

"The challenges that face Lebanon are real and huge, but the chances that have been given to us are bigger than that"

"The other is the substantive issues that they have to agree on in the cabinet - internal issues, regional issues, international issues, political economic and military issues."

Khouri said that for the first time in many years Lebanon appeared to have a functioning political system that everyone seemed interested in seeing succeed.
"You have a legitimate prime minister with a majority that was elected ... you have a president that has credibility, support and is widely respected, and you have an opposition that is prepared to play the democratic game," he said.

Speaking on Saturday, Hariri said that Lebanon faced sizeable challenges in bringing togther the country's various groups and addressing the economic situation.

"The challenges that face Lebanon are real and huge, but the chances that have been given to us are bigger than that," he said.

Tensions between supporters of the two blocs threatened to boil over into a civil war last year as Hezbollah fighters and their allies routed their rivals in Beirut and the mountains to the east.

A Qatari-sponsored deal in May 2008 defused the crisis, but sectarian tensions rose again in the run-up to the election.

Competing influences

Hariri has twice passed on the chance of becoming prime minister, preferring to giving the post to his father's senior aide, Fouad Siniora, to avoid some of the political tension and direct challenge that Hezbollah posed at the time.

Hariri was raised in Saudi Arabia and is seen by some in Lebanon as a symbol of Riyadh's influence in the region, which is rivalled by Damascus.

"The designation of Hariri is not separate from the continued deliberations between Syria and Saudi Arabia over the future political power-sharing in Lebanon," Lamis Andoni, Al Jazeera's Middle East analyst, said.

"It is clear that Saudi Arabia has secured implicit Syrian support for Hariri's designation.

"This is an important message to Hezbollah and its allies who have to rely more on their local power than on the support of Damascus and Tehran."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Taliban Losses No Sure Gain for Pakistanis

MARDAN, Pakistan — For the past month and a half, the Pakistani military has claimed success in retaking the Swat Valley from the Taliban, clawing back its own territory from insurgents who only a short time ago were extending their reach toward the heartland of the country.

Yet from a helicopter flying low over the valley last week, the low-rise buildings of Mingora, the largest city in Swat, now deserted and under a 24-hour curfew, appeared unscathed. In the surrounding countryside, farmers had harvested wheat and red onions on their unscarred land.

All that is testament to the fact that the Taliban mostly melted away without a major fight, possibly to return when the military withdraws or to fight elsewhere, military analysts say. About two million people have been displaced in Swat and the surrounding area as the military has carried out its campaign.

The reassertion of control over Swat has at least temporarily denied the militants a haven they coveted inside Pakistan proper. The offensive has also won strong support from the United States, which has urged Pakistan to engage the militants.

But the Taliban’s decision to scatter leaves the future of Swat, and Pakistan’s overall stability, under continued threat, military analysts and some politicians say.

The tentative results in Swat also do not bode well for the military’s new push in the far more treacherous terrain of South Waziristan, another insurgent stronghold, where officials have vowed to take on the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, who remains Pakistan’s most wanted man.

Signs abound that the military’s campaign in Swat is less than decisive. The military extended its deadline for ending the campaign. Even in the areas where progress has been made, the military controls little more than urban centers and roads, say those who have fled the areas. The military has also failed to kill or capture even one top Taliban commander.

It was “very disappointing,” said Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, a senior politician from the region, that none of the commanders had been eliminated. It turned out, he said, that early reports of the capture of Ibn Amin, a particularly brutal commander from Matta, were incorrect.

Many Taliban fighters have infiltrated the camps set up for those displaced by the fighting and are likely to return with them to Swat, said Himayatullah Mayar, the mayor of Mardan, the city where many of the refugees are staying. “Most of the Taliban shaved their beards, and they are living here with their families,” he said.

As of two weeks ago, the police had arrested 150 people in the camps suspected of being members of the Taliban, Mr. Mayar said. This figure did not include suspects arrested by the Intelligence Bureau, Pakistan’s domestic intelligence outfit, and the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, the country’s main spy agency, he said.

Meanwhile, the government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, has yet to announce a full plan for how it will provide services like courts, policing and health care that will allow the refugees to return home and the government to fully assert control.

Those plans appear to be mired in conflict and mutual suspicion between the military and the civilian government, raising serious questions about whether the authorities can secure Swat and other areas and keep them from being taken back by the Taliban, military experts said.

“I’ve told the president and the prime minister and the chief of the army this is the time to act. Just take basic things and implement them,” said Gen. Nadeem Ahmad, the commander of the Special Support Group, an arm of the Pakistani military that is providing temporary buildings and some food for the displaced. “This is not talking rocket science.”

On a notepad, General Ahmad had drawn a chart of the four elements of what he called “lasting peace.” They were good government; improved delivery of services, including rebuilt schools; speedy justice (something the Taliban had provided); and social equity.

He appeared to be skeptical that those aspects could be delivered within what he called an essential one-year time frame. He said he had warned the leaders: “If you don’t deliver, it will be trouble. You will come back and do the operation again.”

Having witnessed past episodes of deal-making with the Taliban, the people of Swat say they want tangible proof that the military is serious this time and that they will be safe if they return home.

From the start, a rallying cry has been a demand that the army kill or capture Taliban leaders, a ruthless group of highly trained fighters, some with links to Al Qaeda. But the army has not been able to show any evidence that it killed any of the Taliban leaders.

The daily newspaper The News said in a recent editorial that unless Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban’s main commander in Swat, and Mr. Mehsud, the country’s top enemy, were captured, “the Taliban are going to live to fight another day.”

Indeed, most of the damage from the recent fighting appears confined to small agricultural hamlets outside Mingora, according to interviews with displaced people. Some said they had heard from recent arrivals to the camps that areas 500 yards off the roads remained in control of the militants.

The “outlook was bleak” in Swat because the civilian government did not have the money or the skills to rebuild, said Shuja Nawaz, the author of a history of the Pakistani military and now the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

Most of the two million displaced people are still living in tent camps and cramped quarters with relatives and even strangers, in cities as far flung as the southern port of Karachi.

Many displaced people were fed up with the cruelties inflicted under Taliban rule and have backed the military campaign. But as the fighting drags on in places, the mood among them grows increasingly despondent.

Some displaced people said that they were angry at the army for indiscriminate shelling in civilian areas. Others said they were confused about why the military operation was even necessary.

“We had no problem with the Taliban,” Umar Ali, a poultry trader from Qambar in Swat, said as he sat on the veranda of a home in Swabi, a town filled with displaced people. “We’re here because of the military shelling. I’m a trader, and the thing that affects my life is the curfew.”

Earlier Pakistani campaigns against the Taliban do not offer an encouraging precedent. In Bajaur, a part of the tribal areas, two main economic centers, the market towns of Loe Sam and Inayat Kalay, remain in ruins nearly eight months after the army smashed them in pursuit of the Taliban and claimed victory.

Too soon to declare victory in Swat: US

TRIESTE, Italy (Reuters) - US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke has said it is too soon for Pakistan to declare victory in its Swat Valley, where the Army has driven back Taliban insurgents.
Holbrooke, attending a G8 conference on stabilising Pakistan and Afghanistan in Italy, told Reuters that it was too early for Pakistan to announce victory in Swat.
“The true test is when the refugees go back to Swat. Will they have security? Will they be protected?” he said.
“Will the Army be able to keep the Taliban from coming back down over the hills? And the bill for reconstruction in Swat is going to be enormous - over a billion dollars, maybe over 2 billion.”
“We’re very gratified that the Army led the charge back into Swat and that they’ve driven the militants out of the Swat Valley. But we have a long way to go before we know the end of the story. So there is a lot left in this saga,” he maintained
When asked ‘is there a number on how many civilians were killed in Swat’, Holbrooke flatly replied “No.”
Responding to another question that would there be more casualties after hike in US troops in Afghanistan, he said “I don’t know if the increased troops will lead to increase casualties. It happens often, but I’m not going to concede that. We have a new commander, a brilliant new commander, Gen. (Stanley) McChrystal, and he is devising new strategies and tactics.”
He further said “The Taliban are going to be put under pressure like they’ve never seen before. And coupled with our elimination of things like crop eradication so we don’t alienate the people, coupled with Gen McChrystal’s new rules over the use of airpower in an attempt to reduce civilian casualties, we may find that things go much better than expected.”
The 45 nations and multilateral organisations at the G8 conference issued a statement pledging to look at ways to boost humanitarian aid to Pakistan, where nearly two million people have been displaced by fighting.
Holbrooke said allies were not doing enough. “The US is by far the largest contributor (of aid) to the refugee relief crisis in Pakistan. I don’t mind that ... But other countries are not doing the right amount in my view,” he said, adding some foreign ministers had told him privately that their countries could do more.
The US envoy told allies that Washington is to dramatically overhaul its Afghan anti-drug strategy.
Holbrooke also discussed efforts to support Afghanistan’s August 20 election. Washington has nearly doubled its troops to combat a growing Taliban insurgency and provide security for the vote.
“The Western policies against the opium crop, the poppy crop, have been a failure. They did not result in any damage to the Taliban, but they put farmers out of work,” Holbrooke said.
“We are not going to support crop eradication. We’re going to phase it out,” he said. The emphasis would instead be on intercepting drugs and chemicals used to make them, and going after drug lords. He said some crop eradication may still be allowed, but only in limited areas.
Afghanistan supplies more than 90 percent of the world’s heroin. Despite the millions of dollars spent on counter-narcotics efforts, drug production kept rising dramatically until last year - UN figures indicate Afghanistan’s output has risen more than 40-fold since the 2001 US-led invasion.
US President Barack Obama has put Afghanistan and Pakistan at the centre of his foreign agenda and launched a new strategy aimed at defeating al Qaeda and stabilising Afghanistan.
Holbrooke said senior members of the US government were calling the upcoming Afghan vote ‘the most important event of the year’. “The fairness of those elections will determine the credibility and legitimacy of the government. We have just seen a spectacularly bad example just next door in Iran,” he said.
“And in these situations, governance becomes more difficult. So, at the end of the process, we would like to see a government elected by its people in a way that is credible and viewed as legitimate by the people and the international community.”
Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta told Reuters that Kabul aimed for a free and fair election, but added: “We have to recognise the reality, and the reality of Afghanistan, regarding violence, regarding the weak state.”

Al-Kini group behind bombing incidents in Pakistan: FBI

ISLAMABAD: The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has informed Pakistan that Al-Qaeda's network known as ‘Al-Kini group’ was behind a series of bombing incidents in the country, including last year's deadly suicide attack on Islamabad's Marriot hotel.

In its latest communication to Pakistan's Federal Investigating Agency (FIA), the FBI has described the Al-Kini Group to be not only involved in the Marriot bombing, but its various terror cells were also involved in a suicide attack that had killed an army surgeon general, Lt. Gen Mushtaq Baig, in Rawalpindi and the bomb attack on a police station in Sargodha.

Usama al-Kini, also known as Azmarai, was Al-Qaeda's Pakistan chief until he was killed in one of the drone attacks in North Waziristan last year.

Its not clear who heads the Al-Qaeda network in Pakistan, but FBI's correspondence suggest terror-cells of those loyal to Al-Kini were still operating as a separate group, and carrying out attacks within Pakistan.

Perhaps the deadliest of the known attacks by the group was a dumper-truck bomb that caused mass destruction at Islamabad's Marriot hotel in September last year, killing 53 people and injuring dozens of others.

According to the FBI three US nationals were among those killed in the attack.

A highly informed source said the FBI has asked the FIA and Islamabad Capital Territory police to share their investigations they had carried out so far which may help them in apprehending three people described as absconders, including a person identified as Ibrar-ud-Din Syed.

A joint investigation team (JIT) headed by former director general FIA Tariq Pervez had carried out an investigation into the Marriot Hotel bombing and compiled a report.

Dr Muhammad Usman, a resident of Hayat Abad Peshawar, Rana Illyas Ahmed a resident of Sumanderi Faisalabad and Muhammad Hameed Afzal a resident of Toba Tek Sing were arrested by Pakistani security agencies for involvement in the Marriot Hotel bombing and are being tried in the ATC.

The source said in line with the FBI's request, the director general FIA has sought permission from the federal government to share their investigation with the US agency for the apprehension of individual involved in the bombing as three Americans had been killing in the terrorist attack on the hotel.

The Pakistan's federal investigating agency have also been requested to allow the FBI to carry out some forensic tests in their laboratories on left over pieces of the explosive laden vehicle, frame parts, the engine and its shrapnel which were seized by the Pakistani agencies.

The FBI believes that the relevant forensic testing on residue samples, found from the scene of the terrorist attack, would help the Pakistani authorities in their investigation.

The source said information collected from one of the arrested members of al-Kini group, Omar Farouk, revealed that the group had financed two terrorist attacks in Pakistan in 2007, including the attack on Sarghoda police station in 2007.

The FBI has stepped up its efforts to collect further information in close liaison with the FIA and other security agencies in Pakistan to tighten the noose around the Al-Kini network, which many believe had remained the most effective al-Qaeda wing within Pakistan.

Two Taliban commanders arrested in Peshawar

PESHAWAR: Intelligence Agencies claimed to have arrested two Taliban commanders during military operations in separate areas of the provincial capital on Saturday while another Taliban commander was shot dead by unknown militants, according to Geo news sources.

The arrested commanders were identified as Azizullah and Abdullah who were nabbed amid forces’ anti-Taliban operations from Sikandar Road and University Town areas of Peshawar.

Two commanders were wanted in separate cases of kidnapping for ransom who actually hailed from Khyber Agency, sources said, adding that they have been taken to unidentified place for investigation.

Another commander, gunned down in Board Bazaar area, was identified as Majnoon, security sources concluded.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson: From ABC to the King of Shock, as Easy as 1-2-3

Michael Jackson was only 50 when he died, but his success spanned several half-generations. And each decade of his career left a distinctly different impression on his newest fans.

In the '60s and '70s, when he was with the Jackson 5, reciting his ABCs was as easy as 1-2-3. In the '80s, he thrilled the masses with "Thriller," the highest-grossing album ever, and countless millions of his adoring fans learned how to moonwalk. In the '90s and into the third millennium, the King of Pop became the King of Shock, alarming the world with allegations of child molestation, questionable marriages and the dangling of his baby from a hotel balcony.

"If you are 50 or below, you can't remember a time that Michael Jackson wasn't here," said freelance journalist Melinda Newman, a contributor to the entertainment Web site hitfix.com.

"He was always coming out with something new. But what was new never took away what he'd already done, so he was building a legacy of pop."

That legacy began in the Sixties, with the Jackson 5. The band of brothers — hailing from Gary, Ind. — got their big break in 1968 when they signed a record deal with Motown and one of the label's superstars, Diana Ross, took them under her wing.

"The appeal was the whole package of the five boys," said Newman. "From the start, he [Jackson] was front and center; there was a sweetness to his voice."

The boy band appeal quickly shifted to Jackson's talents as a stand-alone artist when he showed his clout as an actor in The Wiz. The following year, Jackson released his first solo album, "Off The Wall," but it wasn't until the 1983 release of "Thriller" that his solo career exploded.

Jackson was most prolific in the '80s: landing a Pepsi endorsement, fusing elements of rock and pop, and of course, doing his signature moonwalk, which he unveiled at the 25th anniversary celebration of Motown. The dance was mesmerizing. "No one had ever done something like that," explained Newman. "It was like watching someone do a trick that no one had ever seen before."

But toward the end of the '80s, Jackson's quirky lifestyle choices began to bewilder the public. He adopted a pet monkey named Bubbles, along with a variety of other exotic animals, and he also began a series of plastic surgeries. "He was like a big kid," Bryan Michael Stoller, Jackson's longtime friend and L.A. film director, told FOXNews.com. "He's always been like a big kid, very curious, very alive."

Newman said that Jackson's career appeared to be in a holding pattern in the '90s. "I think he was chasing the success that Thriller brought him, but couldn't duplicate," she said. "His popularity didn't wane, but he didn't have an album with as much success as Thriller had."

The '90s were filled with extravagant and lucrative world tours, and they also brought Jackson romance — or so he said — with the made-in-heaven marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis Presley, the megastar to whom Jackson was often compared. Jackson divorced Lisa Marie quickly and went on to become the father of three children — two with his second wife, Debbie Rowe, and the youngest with an unnamed surrogate.

Jackson's personal life became notorious in 1993, when he settled out of court with the family of a 13-year-old boy who accused him of molesting him.

"After the child molestation charges he became more of a recluse," said Newman. "I think he just needed to take himself out of the public eye ... he couldn't understand why people couldn't just be nice to him."

Although Jackson evolved throughout the decades, all generations could easily spot his humanitarian efforts. His close friend, Stoller, told FOXNews.com that Jackson would want to be remembered for making a difference in the world. "He started a lot of charities," Stoller said. "He was always thinking about others and the less fortunate."

Newman predicted that Jackson will likely be remembered for his contributions to music: "Much of the music was timeless," she explained. "It wasn't so much that he didn't age, it was the music that didn't age."

Dick Clark, a long-time friend of Jackson, released a statement Thursday about the King of Pop: "I knew Michael as a child and watched him grow over the years. Of all the thousands of entertainers I have worked with, Michael was THE most outstanding. Many have tried and will try to copy him, but his talent will never be matched. He was truly one-of-a-kind."

No matter what age his fans are, each generation can identify with this: "He let a lot of people know that their dreams could come true," Stoller said. "It could happen to anyone."

Michael Jackson Made his Mark in Pakistan

Pakistani fans of Michael Jackson say they are shocked and saddened by the news of his sudden death. Jackson, who was often described as the most popular musician in the world, made his mark here in Pakistan, too.

Michael Jackson's death led many of Pakistan's local television channels Friday morning, knocking the near constant coverage of the military campaign against Taliban militants off the top of the news lineup, if only for a few hours.

At Illusions CD shop in downtown Islamabad, employee Irfan says, even today, years after the height of Jackson's career, people still come to buy his music.

"It's very popular," said Irfan. "Every single person knows Michael Jackson's name. He's very popular. Still, people like [him]. He's the legend."

Another employee, Haris, says he does not feel strongly about Jackson's death, although he loved listening to his music during his childhood.

"I don't feel that much, because he had dropped out of the music scene a lot," he said. "He was trying to make a comeback, from what I heard. But I hadn't heard any of his songs in the past couple of years."

In a nearby outdoor café, 21-year-old Maryam Malik sat with a friend in the scorching heat. She described herself as a "big time" fan of Jackson's music.

"We are really sad that he is no more with us," said Malik. "Many pop singers, like all our pop singers, they have some kind of influence and they, to some extent, have followed his ideas and compositions, and so it's a big time loss."

Rakae Jamil, a musicologist with the Sanjan Nagar Institute of Philosophy and Arts in Lahore, says there is no doubt that Michael Jackson influenced the pop scene in Pakistan.

"You can find elements of his music in some of the pop songs in Pakistan, whether it concerns rhythmic structures or even melodies," said Jamil. "You know, there's a lot of adrenlin rushed, adrelin-pumped songs such as 'Beat It,' such as 'Bad,' - mostly tracks from the 1980s. Basically, Michael Jackson's music probably went beyond his music videos, and that's why it connected with people over here."

Jamil also says Jackson's talent as a singer, dancer, songwriter was so unique that it transcends time and will continue to inspire Pakistani pop artists.

In Times Square, fans stunned by Jackson's death

NEW YORK:Their idol is dead, but for Michael Jackson's fans, the King of Pop is a legend that will live on forever.

With tears running down her cheeks, Chantal de Roy van Zuydewijn watched in disbelief at the giant screen overlooking New York's Times Square where she, like other fans, tourists and passersby, read the inexorable news: "Michael Jackson dies at age 50."

"He is a legend. He is a genius," said the 28-year-old Dutch tourist, who had a ticket to the pop legend's scheduled comeback tour in July. "He was part of my life," she said, adding she had admired him since she was three years old.

When Solenne Amanda, an African-American from Long Island, east of Manhattan, learned that Jackson had suffered from cardiac arrest, she headed to Times Square with two friends.

"We were in Central Park when I got a phone call and decided to come here immediately to see what happened. We didn't cry, but it is depressing," said Amanda, 16.

"I don't think that he is gonna die," she insisted, even after news broke that her idol had died. "I wanted to buy tickets for his comeback tour," Amanda added, almost incredulous.

The first of four London concerts for the tour had been set for July 13. The kickoff concert was pushed back from July 8 because of the "sheer magnitude" of the show, promoters and producers AEG Live said.

"Getting ready for a show like this was very stressful," said producer Jay Coleman, who represented the artist in the 1980s, especially for his well-known Pepsi advertisements.

The artist's return to the stage had been widely publicized after the pop icon had lived in virtual recluse since 2005, when he was acquitted on charges of child molestation and plotting to kidnap his young accuser.

"No matter how psycho he was, we love him," said Amanda, who insisted that controversies swirling around Jackson in recent years had not made him fall from his pedestal. "He was the most successful entertainer of all times."

Coleman also acknowledged that the star had "a very eccentric personality."

Fans, the producer said, had expected that Jackson "would be as great as he was in the past."

In his artistic work, Jackson "was a perfectionist and very involved in the preparation, every detail was very important," Coleman said.

The World Mourns Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s brand of pop knew no borders and needed no translation, linking listeners around the world through the accessible corridors of rhythm, beat, and dance. And as reaction to his sudden death began to pour in Friday, its extent underscored how far his influence had spread.

From Sydney to Hong Kong, China to Los Angeles, fans spoke of their shock and sadness. His music echoed from cafes and car speakers, and everyone from national leaders on down seemed to weigh in.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez called the star’s death “lamentable news,” though he criticized the media for giving it so much attention. Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who had met Mr. Jackson, said: “We lost a hero of the world.”

In Paris, fans planned a memorial moonwalk at the Eiffel Tower for Sunday, and a ceremony in his honor to be held at the 13th-century Notre Dame cathedral Friday night.

Fans lit candles at a spontaneous gathering in Hong Kong, while in the Philippines, a dance tribute was planned for a prison in Cebu, where Byron Garcia, a security consultant, had 1,500 inmates join in a synchronized dance to the “Thriller” video.

“My heart is heavy because my idol died,” he said.Online, the traffic was so thick with people sharing news of his death that the microblogging service Twitter crashed, and even Google, the search giant, believed it may have been under service attack, the BBC reported.

The former Philippine first lady, Imelda Marcos, said she cried on hearing the news.

“Michael Jackson enriched our lives, made us happy,” she said in a statement. “The accusations, the persecution caused him so much financial and mental anguish. He was vindicated in court, but the battle took his life. There is probably a lesson here for all of us.”Quincy Jones, who worked closely with Jackson on some of his most successful recordings, led tributes from the music world.

“I am absolutely devastated at this tragic and unexpected news,” he said of one of the first black entertainers of the MTV generation to gain a big crossover following.

The film directors Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg also paid tribute. Mr. Scorsese told MTV.com: “Michael Jackson was extraordinary. When we worked together on Bad, I was in awe of his absolute mastery of movement on the one hand, and of the music on the other. Every step he took was absolutely precise and fluid at the same time. It was like watching quicksilver in motion.

“He was wonderful to work with, an absolute professional at all times, and — it really goes without saying — a true artist. It will be a while before I can get used to the idea that he’s no longer with us.”

Mr. Spielberg told Entertainment Weekly: “Just as there will never be another Fred Astaire or Chuck Berry or Elvis Presley, there will never be anyone comparable to Michael Jackson. His talent, his wonderment and his mystery make him legend.”

Fellow singer Celine Dion said in a statement, “I am shocked. I am overwhelmed by this tragedy. Michael Jackson has been an idol for me all my life.”

Mr. Jackson had been scheduled to begin a comeback tour in London next month, and fans there gathered to mourn. Ben Bradshaw, the culture secretary, issued a statement to announce his grief in which he said he was “a long-time fan of Michael Jackson and had Billie Jean played as the first dance at his civil partnership,” the Guardian reported.

Bands playing at the open-air Glastonbury Festival this weekend were expected to pay homage to Jackson’s musical achievements, and a tribute show featuring Mr. Jackson’s songs, Thriller Live, was to go forward as planned on London’s West End.

Zardari meets Governor NWFP

ISLAMABAD----President Asif Ali Zardari meets Governor NWFP Owais Ahmed Ghani on Friday President said the government was determined to pursue the ongoing drive to its logical end. He further said the militants had to give up militancy and submit to state authority or be prepared for physical extermination."The charade cannot be allowed to go on".The Governor apprised the President with the latest update on the relief and rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP).The President reiterating government's determination to the return and rehabilitation of IDPs stressed that all necessary measures be taken to ensure that they do not face any difficulty when they return to their homes. He also appreciated the Provincial government's contribution in relief efforts.Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said that matters pertaining to the on going drive against the militants in Waziristan, relief and rehabilitation of displaced persons and the plans for the return of Swat IDPs were discussed in the meeting.

7,000-strong special police force soon: Hoti

PESHAWAR: NWFP Chief Minister Ameer Haidar Khan Hoti has claimed that conditions in the Malakand division are fast becoming normal, where the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation will be enforced after establishment of civil and judicial setups.

He said the strength of the police force would be doubled and a special force would be formed that would have 7,000 personnel. He said local people would be appointed in the force on merit and non-political basis.

He said an additional police force of 2,500 comprising former army personnel would also be formed.

The chief minister expressed these views during weekly meeting with MPAs at his office here on Thursday.

He said the increase in salaries of government employees, notwithstanding the financial crisis, reflected the government’s resolve to work for the welfare of the people of the province.

Citing the targets set in the budget, the chief minister said more funds had been allocated for ongoing schemes under the Annual Development Programme in order to complete the same within the stipulated time.

He said Rs4.66 billion had been allocated for poverty alleviation, Rs50 billion for the Public Sector Development Programme and Rs3 billion for the security of the Malakand division.

The MPAs appreciated the government for steps being taken to strengthen law-enforcement agencies and to increase the revenue of the province.

The chief minister also informed the lawmakers about the arrangements being made for return of the internally displaced persons to their hometowns.

Operation created goodwill for Pakistan in US: Jones

ISLAMABAD: US National Security Adviser Gen (retd) James L. Jones exchanged views with the Pakistani civilian and military leadership on Thursday on operational details and timing of the intensified counter-insurgency operation in Afghanistan and its synchronisation with the military offensive against extremists in Pakistan.

‘Gen Jones’ visit was for discussing current challenges confronting Pakistan and coordinating efforts with the Pakistan government in implementing the new shared comprehensive strategy,’ said a statement issued by the US embassy on the conclusion of his two-day visit during which he met President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and other government officials.

Apart from Washington’s keenness to engage with Islamabad, sources said, Gen Jones’ visit bore all marks of a ‘micro-management model’ which hitherto was missing from the relationship between the two allies.

The top US security official praised Pakistan’s military operation against militants as ‘tremendous confidence-builder for the future’. He indicated that Pakistan’s renewed resolve against militancy infused great optimism in Washington about the success of the fight against militancy.

He said the action had generated goodwill for Pakistan in the US, adding that terrorism was a shared threat.

‘Terrorism is not simply the enemy of America — it is a direct and urgent threat to the Pakistani people,’ he said.

President Obama’s Af-Pak strategy attaches immense importance to Islamabad’s role in the fight against extremism as it deploys additional 21,000 troops in Afghanistan in a bid to quell the Taliban insurgency.

The troop build-up is feared to have a fallout on Pakistan, particularly in the restive region of Balochistan.

The sources privy to Gen Jones’ discussions in Islamabad say the intensified US offensive is likely to get into full swing by August-September and the Americans are of the opinion that the next 12-18 months will determine the fate of the new strategy.

From Gen Jones’ talks in Islamabad, it appears that Washington has agreed to the Pakistani demand to deploy its troops along the Afghan border to prevent cross-border movement of terrorists and spill-over of refugees.

The issue of displaced persons also came up for discussion and Gen Jones assured that the US administration would provide all possible assistance to Pakistan in handling the crisis.

Gen Jones, who later left for New Delhi, said in a TV interview the US wanted to be of help in the process of normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan. He said he would be carrying a message of equality, fairness and reason for the Indian leadership.

In his meeting with Gen Jones, Prime Minister Gilani urged the US to play its role in resolving the Kashmir and water disputes with India.

He emphasised that normalisation of relations between Pakistan and India was necessary for the stability of the region and would be of great help by allowing Pakistan to focus its efforts against militants and extremists.

Mr Gilani appealed to the US to write off its debt to help Pakistan overcome the economic crisis and make up for the losses it suffered because of the war on terror.

During his meeting with Gen Jones, President Zardari sought drone technology from the US to boost Pakistan’s capacity to hit high-value targets in specific areas of the tribal belt which were difficult to access by ground forces, spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.

The president thanked the US administration for its efforts in the adoption of the Kerry-Lugar Bill to provide $1.5 billion of annual assistance to Pakistan over a period of five years.

Mr Zardari said: ‘Pakistan needs much more assistance to rehabilitate the internally displaced persons and embark upon a massive socio economic development programme of the area to banish poverty and thereby the forces of militancy.’

He said: ‘I am looking forward to the materialisation soon of the building of reconstruction opportunity zones to help build the underdeveloped areas economically and provide jobs to the people.’

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson, Pop Icon, Is Dead at 50

I am deeply saddened by the death of the most unique talent the world has seen in pop music. Michael Jackson was one of the greatest music icons of the 20th Century. A true star who will never be forgotten.God Bless him....M WAQAR

(CNN) -- Michael Jackson, the show-stopping singer whose best-selling albums -- including "Off the Wall," "Thriller" and "Bad" -- and electrifying stage presence made him one of the most popular artists of all time, died Thursday, CNN has confirmed.

He was 50.

He collapsed at his residence in the Holmby Hills section of Los Angeles, California, about noon Pacific time, suffering cardiac arrest, according to brother Randy Jackson. He died at UCLA Medical Center.

Jackson's blazing rise to stardom -- and later fall from grace -- is among the most startling of show business tales. The son of a steelworker, he rose to fame as the lead singer of the Jackson 5, a band he formed with his brothers in the late 1960s. By the late '70s, as a solo artist, he was topping the charts with cuts from "Off the Wall," including "Rock With You" and "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough."

In 1982, he released "Thriller," an album that eventually produced seven hit singles. An appearance the next year on a Motown Records 25th-anniversary special cemented his status as the biggest star in the country. Timeline: The life of Michael Jackson »

For the rest of the 1980s, they came no bigger. "Thriller's" follow-up, 1987's "Bad," sold almost as many copies. A new Jackson album -- a new Jackson appearance -- was a pop culture event. iReport: Share your memories of Michael Jackson

The pop music landscape was changing, however, opening up for rap, hip-hop and what came to be called "alternative" -- and Jackson was seen as out of step.

His next release, 1991's "Dangerous," debuted at No. 1 but "only" produced one top-ranking single -- "Black or White" -- and that song earned criticism for its inexplicably violent ending, in which Jackson was seen smashing car windows and clutching his crotch.

And then "Dangerous" was knocked out of its No. 1 spot on the album charts by Nirvana's "Nevermind," an occurrence noted for its symbolism by rock critics.

After that, more attention was paid to Jackson's private life than his music career, which faltered. A 1995 two-CD greatest hits, "HIStory," sold relatively poorly, given the huge expense of Jackson's recording contract: about 7 million copies, according to Recording Industry of America certifications.

A 2001 album of new material, "Invincible," did even worse.

In 2005, he went to trial on child-molestation charges. He was acquitted.

In July 2008, after three years away from the spotlight, Jackson announced a series of concerts at London's O2 Arena as his "curtain call." Some of the shows, initially scheduled to begin in July, were eventually postponed until 2010.

Rise to stardom

Michael Jackson was born August 29, 1958, to Joe Jackson, a Gary, Indiana, steelworker, and his wife, Katherine. By the time he was 6, he had joined his brothers in a musical group organized by his father, and by the time he was 10, the group -- the Jackson 5 -- had been signed to Motown.

He made his first television appearance at age 11.

Jackson, a natural performer, soon became the group's front man. Music critic Langdon Winner, reviewing the group's first album, "Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5," for Rolling Stone, praised Michael's versatile singing and added, "Who is this 'Diana Ross,' anyway?"

The group's first four singles -- "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There" -- went to No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart, the first time any group had pulled off that feat. There was even a Jackson 5 cartoon series on ABC.

In 1972, he hit No. 1 as a solo artist with the song "Ben."

The group's popularity waned as the '70s continued, and Michael eventually went solo full time. He played the Scarecrow in the 1978 movie version of "The Wiz," and released the album "Off the Wall" in 1979. Its success paved the way for "Thriller," which eventually became the best-selling album in history, with 50 million copies sold worldwide.

At that point, Michael Jackson became ubiquitous.

Seven of "Thriller's" nine cuts were released as singles; all made the Top Ten. The then-new cable channel MTV, criticized for its almost exclusively white playlist, finally started playing Jackson's videos. They aired incessantly, including a 14-minute minimovie of the title cut. ("Weird Al" Yankovic cemented his own stardom by lampooning Jackson's song "Beat It" with a letter-perfect parody video.)

On the Motown Records' 25th-anniversary special -- a May 1983 TV extravaganza with notable turns by the Temptations, the Four Tops and Smokey Robinson -- it was Michael Jackson who stopped the show.

Already he was the most popular musician in America, riding high with "Thriller." But something about his electrifying performance of "Billie Jean," complete with the patented backward dance moves, boosted his stardom to a new level.

People copied his Jheri-curled hair and single-gloved, zippered-jacket look. Showbiz veterans such as Fred Astaire praised his chops. He posed for photos with Ronald and Nancy Reagan at the White House. Paul McCartney teamed with him on three duets, two of which -- "The Girl Is Mine" and "Say Say Say" -- became top five hits. Jackson became a Pepsi spokesman, and when his hair caught fire while making a commercial, it was worldwide news.

It all happened very fast -- within a couple years of the Motown special. But even at the time of the "Motown 25" moonwalk, fame was old hat to Michael Jackson. He hadn't even turned 25 himself, but he'd been a star for more than half his life. He was given the nickname the "King of Pop" -- a spin on Elvis Presley's status as "the King of Rock 'n' Roll" -- and few questioned the moniker.

Relentless attention

But, as the showbiz saying has it, when you're on top of the world, there's nowhere to go but down. The relentless attention given Jackson started focusing as much on his eccentricities -- some real, some rumored -- as his music.

As the Web site Allmusic.com notes, he was rumored to sleep in a hyperbaric chamber and to have purchased the bones of John Merrick, the "Elephant Man." (Neither was true.) He did have a pet chimpanzee, Bubbles; underwent a series of increasingly drastic plastic surgeries; established an estate, Neverland, filled with zoo animals and amusement park rides; and managed to purchase the Beatles catalog from under Paul McCartney's nose, which displeased the ex-Beatle immensely.

In 1990s and 2000s, Jackson found himself pasted across the media for his short-lived marriages, the first to Elvis Presley's daughter, Lisa Marie; his 2002 claim that then Sony Records head Tommy Mottola was racist; his behavior and statements during a 2003 interview with British journalist Martin Bashir done for a documentary called "Living With Michael Jackson;" his changing physical appearance; and, above all, the accusations that he sexually molested young boys at Neverland.

The first such accusation, in 1993, resulted in a settlement to the 13-year-old accuser (rumored to be as high as $20 million), though no criminal charges were filed, Allmusic.com notes.

He also fell deeply in debt and was forced to sell some of his assets. Neverland was one of many holdings that went on the block. However, an auction of material from Neverland, scheduled for April, was called off and all items returned to Jackson.

Interest in Jackson never faded, however, even if some of it was prurient. In 2008, when he announced 10 comeback shows in London, beginning in July 2009, the story made worldwide news. The number of concerts was later increased to 50.

Seventy-five thousand tickets sold in four hours when they went on sale in March.

However, when the shows were postponed until 2010, rumors swept the Internet that Jackson was not physically prepared and possibly suffering from skin cancer.

At the time, the president and CEO of AEG Live, Randy Phillips, said, "He's as healthy as can be -- no health problems whatsover."

Jackson held open auditions for dancers in April in Los Angeles.

He is survived by his three children, Prince Michael I, Paris and Prince Michael II.