Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Peshawar, Bannu blasts

Unfortunate were the incidents on Saturday in which suicide car bombers struck separately in Bannu and Peshawar killing collectively 21 persons and injuring more than 200 persons, most of them critically. The injured were rushed to District Headquarters Hospital, Bannu while in Peshawar to Combined Military Hospital, Fauji Foundation Hospital and the Lady Reading Hospital. In Bannu, the suicide bomber rammed at 7-20am a pick-up van loaded with explosives into the building of Mandan police station located some eight kilometres to the south of the city. At the time of the explosion, about 150 to 200 persons, including the jawans of Frontier Constabulary, were present in the police station. Minutes after the Bannu blast, Qari Hussain, said to be the mastermind of suicide bombings belonging to Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, phoned up BBC’s Peshawar office to accept the responsibility for blowing up the police station. He also threatened to soon conduct similar attacks in other cities. Intelligence agencies were still busy focusing on the implications of the TTP threat when a powerful car bomb blast shortly before midday – five hours after the Bannu incident – rocked the busiest part of the shopping district in Peshawar Cantonment. AIG bomb disposal squad Shafqat Khan told media persons that the bomber lobbed a hand grenade on to the road to scare away the crowd in order to take his vehicle, loaded with 100 kgs of explosives, near a seven-storey building opposite the Greens Wedding Hall where several banks have their branches. Eyewitnesses told camera teams that the branch managers had been receiving threatening letters against the presence of women as employees or as customers. The blast destroyed at least 20 cars, some of them brand new parked for sale by the dealers in the neighbouring showroom. Senior minister visited the place and promised to pay Rs300,000 to the affected families per every killed person and Rs100,000 for every injured citizen. Similarly, talking to newsmen the Minister of Information Mian Iftikhar Hussain described the cowardly attack as part of the ongoing war between the forces of good and evil. He said that militants and suicide bombers did not deserve any sympathy from anyone in the world. The entire humanity hated them and resented their misdeeds.
Newly-appointed chief of the Capital City Police DIG Liaquat Ali was not prepared to accept that the devastating blast in the heart of NWFP’s biggest cantonment was the result of a security lapse. When media persons insisted on this being a security lapse, police tried to cover up its inefficiency by hurriedly taking into custody a couple of individuals wearing long flowing Arabic robes. The trained saboteurs would obviously not be naïve enough to loiter about the site of the blast in full public view where members of half a dozen of law enforcing agencies were examining the scene of the explosion with hands on the leash of supposedly sniffer dogs. It is indeed amazing how the suicide bomber managed to take his vehicle almost to the boundary wall of the well-guarded and high security CMH. Every road and lane in the cantonment has prominent signboards that warn the pedestrians and the motorists alike to beware as secret cameras are monitoring their movements. On entry points, police notes down the registration numbers of the cars that enter the Saddar proper and issue a chit to the drivers who return it to the staff on duty on the exit point. Similarly, jawans of army and military police guarding the main cantonment roads do not allow any taxi-cab driver to ply his vehicle unless he has a special sticker issued by the Army House pasted on to his windscreen. Whatever the cause of the blasts in Bannu and Peshawar, the killers of innocent lives should not go scot free.

Beijing ready for National Day celebration

Clean streets replete with national flags, major road intersections adorned with ornate potted plants, Beijing is in gala attire early Thursday for the massive celebration commemorating the 60th founding anniversary of the People's Republic of China.The event will showcase how the country explores the road of building socialism with Chinese characteristic in the past decades, and what great achievements it has attained.Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to gather on Tian'anmen Square and along Chang'an Avenue in central Beijing for hours to experience the grandiose celebration that will boost their national pride.Many people may have an early rise Thursday morning to get prepared to watch the much-anticipated military and civilian parade either alongside the parade route or on TV.

3 Missile Strikes Hit Northwest Pakistan

Pakistani officials say three suspected U.S. missile strikes have hit the country's Waziristan tribal regions since late Tuesday, reportedly killing at least 18 militants. But such attacks may in fact hurt public perception ahead of an anticipated Pakistani military offensive in the area.

The latest missile strike occurred Wednesday in the North Waziristan tribal region.

It was the third strike in 24 hours allegedly by unmanned U.S. planes that targeted suspected Taliban and al-Qaida militants along the Afghan border.

A similar strike late Tuesday hit an alleged Taliban compound in North Waziristan.

Analysts believe this area is a stronghold for Afghan Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, who is blamed for attacks in Afghanistan against the Afghan government and foreign troops.

Hours earlier, another suspected U.S. drone fired two missiles that reportedly struck a Pakistani Taliban commander's house in South Waziristan.

Also Wednesday, the British Broadcasting Corporation's Urdu-language service received video allegedly showing the body of former Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. The video showed minor injuries to the right side of his face and his body was covered with a white sheet.

Officials believe Mehsud died in an earlier U.S. missile strike.

U.S. and international intelligence officials say such strikes have helped to significantly reduce the al-Qaida network's effectiveness.

But the former security chief of Pakistan's tribal regions, Mahmood Shah, tells VOA that these strikes ultimately hurt Pakistan.

"[The] elimination of certain individuals, yes it is to the advantage of Pakistan. But destabilization, it is injurious to Pakistan," he said.

Analysts believe the Pakistani military is on the verge of launching a major campaign in South Waziristan, following the success of its operation in and around Swat Valley.

Shah says the United States appeared to have no involvement in the Swat offensive. He says he believes that played a key role in the Pakistani military's success.

"If it had some sort of assistance from the U.S., I think the support from the people of Pakistan would not have been there. So I think it was hugely successful because it was through an indigenous plan, and that it was without U.S. support," he said.

While most of the focus has been on militancy in Pakistan's northwest, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, reportedly said U.S. forces are turning their gaze on the country's southwestern province of Baluchistan. U.S. officials say they believe fugitive Taliban leader Mohammad Omar is based around the province's capital of Quetta.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Patterson expressed concern about Omar and his council of lieutenants, who reportedly plan and launch cross-border strikes from their Pakistani safe havens.

But days earlier, senior Pakistani military officials spoke in Quetta, denying that Omar or his commanders where operating in the area.

Peshawar police declares 10-bazaars sensitive

PESHAWAR: After Monday’s car Bomb explosion at CMH road in Provincial Capital Peshawar Law Enforcement Agencies has declared Ten-Bazaars of the city sensitive owing to security concerns.

While City Administration has also decided to launch an operation clean-up to eliminate encroachments and illegal car parking slots from the declared sensitive bazaars of the city and the law enforcement agencies has also submitted their security reports to the Provincial Government.

It was pertinent to mention that after the ongoing successful operation of security forces against militants two bomb-blasts were carried out by the terrorists in Peshawar and Bannu as retaliation of the military action and to avert any further terrorist bid Law Enforcement Agencies has formulated a new security plan.

Peshawar Police has also tightened security of provincial Ministers, officials and directed VVIPs to inform Police before any sort of movement in the city.

Police has also eliminated illegal car parking and encroachments in Qissa-Khawani Bazar, Ramdas, University road, Karkhano Market, Dubgari garden and in the premises of police stations of the provincial capital.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

American Samoa hit by tsunami after earthquake in Pacific

A powerful 8.3-magnitude earthquake struck in the South Pacific between Samoa and American Samoa around dawn today, sending terrified residents fleeing for higher ground as a tsunami swept ashore, flattening at least one village. There were no immediate reports of fatalities.

The quake hit at 6.48am local time midway between the two island groups. In Apia, families reported shaking that lasted for up to three minutes. The US Geological Survey said the quake struck 20 miles (35 km) below the ocean floor, 120 miles from American Samoa and 125 miles from Samoa.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Honolulu, Hawaii issued a general alert for the South Pacific region, from American Samoa to New Zealand. It said there were indications a tsunami wave could be "destructive" along some coastlines.

The centre issued a tsunami warning for numerous islands in the Pacific, including the Samoas, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji, New Zealand, French Polynesia and Palmyra Island.

A tsunami watch was issued for Hawaii, Vanuatu, the Marshall Islands, Solomon Island, Johnston Island, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Wake Island, Midway Island and Pitcairn.

New Zealander Graeme Ansell said the beach village of Sau Sau Beach Fale was levelled.

"It was very quick. The whole village has been wiped out," Ansell told New Zealand's National Radio from a hill near Samoa's capital, Apia. "There's not a building standing. We've all clambered up hills, and one of our party has a broken leg. There will be people in a great lot of need round here."

A tsunami swept into Pago Pago, capital of American Samoa, shortly after the earthquake, sending sea water surging inland about 91 metres (100 yards) before receding, leaving some cars stuck in mud.

The staff of the port ran to higher ground, and police soon came by, telling residents to get inland.

In Fagatogo, water reached the waterfront town's meeting field and covered portions of the main highway, which also was plagued by rock slides.

In Samoa, the powerful quake jolted people awake.

"It was pretty strong; it was long and lasted at least two minutes," one resident told local radio.

"It's the strongest I have felt, and we ran outside. You could see all the trees and houses were shaking," he said.

Sulili Dusi told National Radio that "everything dropped on the floor and we thought the house was going to go down as well. Thank God, it didn't". Along with neighbours, they fled to high ground.

She said the tsunami hit the south side of the island, and some "cars have been taken". She did not elaborate, but added "we just thank God no life has been taken yet".

Another resident, Dean Phillips, said the southern coast of Upolu island had been struck by the tsunami.

"The police are sending everybody up to high ground," he said.

Local media said they had reports of some landslides in the Solosolo region of the main Samoan island of Upolu and damage to plantations in the countryside outside Apia.

There were no immediate reports of injury or serious damage from local emergency services, but people reported cracks in some homes and items tossed from shelves.

Peshawar blast security failure of provincial govt.

PESHAWAR: The City is still tense and people were in state of insecurity after the Saturday’s car-bomb blast which caused not only human loss but also damaged scores of buildings on Fakher-e-Alam road. The blast at front of the Askari Bank in Peshawar was, of course, meant to do damage. But on top of the immediate casualties, it was the psychological blow to Peshawarites. The people prefer to remain inside their homes rather to go out for shopping at busy areas. The normal rush at the weekly Sunday bazaar was also not seen this week where usually people go for their kitchen shopping. The shopping malls, markets and bazaar in different localities of the city were giving deserted look even after the five days of Saddar blast. Peshawar suicide car-bomb attack was alleged the establishment for failing to provide security to common man.It is also important that no close-circuit camera was installed there even it was in a highly security zone. It occurred due to the absence of an intelligence framework, poor planning and a failure to devise a responsive deployment pattern in order to counter the challenge of suicide attacks, keeping in view this was a second blast at the same place, the security experts were opined. It merits mentioning here that the spokesman of the provincial government in a press briefing had confessed that the miscreants have managed a safe route to achieve their target as twice they have crossed all security checks in the same vicinity. The place where the car-bomb went off, was in a highly security zone as number of sensitive buildings and offices were situated. Besides, Askari Bank which badly damaged after it was been targeted where mostly the security forces personnel visit for their bank accounts, the State Bank also situated near there, Combined Military Hospital which is just few yards away, the Corp. Headquarter and US Consulate were at the distance of few hundred yards, private Radio Station and other important offices were also situated on the Fakher-e-Alam Road. It is high time that the law enforcing agencies should revise their security deployment paradigm and modify their standard operating procedures for deployment of the force which has become a soft target ‘in the form of sitting ducks’ for the potential attacks. The police can also make different security rings inner, outer and outer most ones that may provide security coverage to much larger area and can also save human resources. Experienced police officers opine that this is the time, that smart deployment instead of heavy deployment should become the norm and not the exception in current environment for deployment of Reserves or Platoons. Further these reserves or platoons should always be kept at a safe distance from the venue in order to provide quick response in times of an emergency. The citizens have termed the recent blast a security lapse and have directed the government to ensure installation of security cameras in important buildings and chowks besides raising a special security force to avert such incidents in future. People termed it a failure of intelligence agencies while condemning the incident. It was a clear proof of security lapse as provincial government no longer capable of protecting the citizens, they remarked. Almost all the promises of provincial government have been proved false, and they have disappointed everyone in every way and nothing has been achieved in these months. Whatever it is, the ANP provincial government has failed to fulfill its duties and they seem to be in total loss and chaos, they added. The traders also worried what they call the government's failure to curb the increasing incidents of abduction. They said suicide attack, bomb blasts, rockets attacks and several kidnappings for ransom have ruined their business and business community badly suffered by the deteriorating law and order situation in the provincial metropolis.

Five killed' in US missile strike in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Missiles fired from a US drone aircraft Tuesday killed five suspected Taliban in a strike on a militant hideout in Pakistan's northwest tribal belt, local officials said.
The attack hit in the lawless region of South Waziristan, a Taliban bolthole where Washington says Islamist fighters are hiding out and planning attacks on Western troops stationed in neighbouring Afghanistan.
"A missile from a US drone fired on a compound of local Taliban commander Irfan Mehsud and killed five militants and injured six," said a security official in the area. A local administration official confirmed the toll.
The missiles targeted Sara Rogha, a village northeast of regional hub Wana and a stronghold of former Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who was himself killed in a US drone strike in August.
The security official said the spy plane fired two missiles on the compound, adding that reports suggested three of the dead could be Uzbeks.
"The death toll may rise," he told AFP. "The compound is completely destroyed and militants have surrounded the area."
The fatalities are impossible to verify independently, as the US does not confirm the strikes and the targets are deep in Taliban-controlled territory.
An intelligence official, who also refused to be named, said militants were pulling their dead from the debris. He said his reports suggested low-level insurgent commander Irfan Mehsud had survived.
US drone attacks are hitting the tribal belt with increasing frequency, as the United States tries to stem the flow of militants waging a deadly insurgency against some 100,000 foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Taliban and Al-Qaeda rebels fled Afghanistan after the 2001 US-led invasion, carving out boltholes and training camps in the remote Pakistani mountains.
Late last Thursday, a US drone attack in North Waziristan killed 10 militants from an Al-Qaeda-linked network, and Tuesday's attack is the fifth such strike in the semi-autonomous tribal area this month.
The US military does not, as a rule, confirm drone attacks, but its armed forces and the Central Intelligence Agency operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy pilotless drones in the region.
Islamabad publicly opposes the US missile strikes, saying they violate its territorial sovereignty and deepen resentment among the populace.
Since August 2008, nearly 60 such strikes have killed more than 550 people.
But the government welcomed the death of Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone attack on August 5.
Pakistan's security forces are also engaged in a fierce offensive against Taliban fighters in the northwest whom they blame for a wave of attacks across Pakistan that has killed more than 2,100 people in the last two years.
The military launched a fierce offensive against insurgents in Swat valley in April, and is now engaged in a similar push in tribal Khyber district.
Pakistani air strikes have also hit South Waziristan, ahead of an expected ground offensive into the Pakistani Taliban's heartland, although the army is keeping silent on when such an assault would begin.
Swat is beset by outbreaks of violence as authorities try and round up all the Islamist fighters, with the military announcing Tuesday that they had arrested 43 insurgents in the district in the past 24 hours.

Trust to be set up for utilising US funding

PESHAWAR: The federal government has decided to set up a trust fund for development of the NWFP and Fata with the financial assistance of the United States as approved under the Kerry-Lugar bill.

The proposed ‘Trust Fund for Development of NWFP and Fata’ would be governed through a board of trustees that would decide projects and look after all their financial affairs, said NWFP Governor Awais Ahmad Ghani here on Monday.

The US Senate last week passed the Kerry-Lugar bill to authorise $1.5 billion in economic assistance annually for Pakistan over five years to offset the impact of ongoing war on terror on its economy and social service delivery.

The board of trustees will comprise representatives of federal and provincial governments and donor agencies, and inclusion of two representatives from the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry has also been recommended. The main office of the trust will be based in Peshawar.

The idea behind creation of the trust, the governor explained, was to ensure maximum utilisation of funds in the conflict-hit NWFP and Fata by avoiding lengthy process of project designing and funds disbursement.

‘Under this arrangement, at least 75 per cent of the funds will go to development projects of the NWFP and Fata,’ the governor said.

Mr Ghani was speaking at the launching ceremony of SCCI’s Trade and Industry Directory, which contains contact details of 3,000 entrepreneurs of Peshawar.

Besides others, Senator Ilays Ahmad Bilour, leader of Businessman Forum Pakistan, SCCI president Sharafat Ali Mubarik and vice-president Mohammad Ishaq were also present.

The governor, while responding to identical points raised by the participants, endorsed the SCCI demand of declaring NWFP as a war-affected province, urging the federal government to immediately announce a relief package for its economic revival.

‘The province and adjoining tribal belt has suffered because of militancy and now it is time for the federal government to allocate adequate resources for the reconstruction,’ he said.

Mr Ghani told the meeting that the federal government was serious in reconstruction of conflict-hit areas, particularly the Malakand division, and focus also was on initiating uplift schemes in Peshawar.

According to him, a project for extension of the Peshawar airport had been approved and the Civil Aviation Authority had released funds for land acquisition. The project would increase parking capacity of aircrafts from four to 10.

Likewise, three different sites had been identified in the Peshawar valley for establishment of a housing project under the Defence Housing Authority and steps were being taken for setting up Peshawar Business City at Katcha Garhi and a modern bus terminal, he said.

Mr Ghani said a committee under the chairmanship of federal finance minister with the NWFP governor and chief minister as its members had been constituted to dispose of financial affairs of the province on a war footing.

He also endorsed the SCCI viewpoint on Reconstruction Opportunity Zones and made it clear that the government would not approve the initiative unless the chamber’s reservations were addressed.

Earlier, Senator Ilyas Bilour, SCCI president Mubarik and vice-president Ishaq apprised the governor about the problems being faced by local businessmen.

Monday, September 28, 2009

US accepts Hamid Karzai as Afghan leader

The White House has ended weeks of hesitation over how to respond to the Afghan election by accepting President Karzai as the winner despite evidence that up to 20 per cent of ballots cast may have been fraudulent.

Abandoning its previous policy of not prejudging investigations of vote rigging, the Obama Administration has conceded that Mr Karzai will be President for another five years on the basis that even if he were forced into a second round of voting he would almost certainly win it.

The decision will increase pressure on President Obama to justify further US troop deployments to Afghanistan to prop up a regime now regarded as systemically corrupt.

The acceptance was conveyed by Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, in a meeting with her Afghan counterpart hours before Mr Obama received a formal request from General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, for up to 40,000 more troops.

Mrs Clinton told Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the Afghan Foreign Minister, that she and her Nato colleagues — including David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary — had reached a consensus that Mr Karzai would remain President even if investigations now under way cut his share of the first-round vote to below 50 per cent. The meeting took place last Friday but details emerged yesterday.

The Administration has also told Kabul that it will support what Mr Karzai calls a policy of “reconciliation”, which is intended to induce low and mid-ranking Taleban fighters into swapping sides or at least to lay down their arms. The same tactic, which boils down to paying fighters to leave the insurgency, is central to a new counter-insurgency strategy recommended by General McChrystal in a bleak assessment of Afghan security leaked last week to the journalist Bob Woodward.

The effort, modelled on the “Sons of Iraq” movement that proved critical to the success of the US-led surge in Iraq two years ago, is to be led by the British general Sir Graeme Lamb, according to Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Discussions on whether to grant General McChrystal’s troop request will dominate a meeting of the National Security Council today. It will be the first of a series that Mr Obama will chair as he chooses between the advice of his military to flood Afghanistan’s towns and cities with fresh troops, and that of his Vice-President and others to tear up his strategy lest it drag him into a Vietnam-style quagmire.

Publicly Mr Obama has insisted that General McChrystal, whom he handpicked in March, retains his full confidence. Reports of tension gained credibility, though, with the disclosure by the general on Sunday that they had spoken only once since he took up his post in Kabul. “I’ve talked to the President, since I’ve been here, once on a VTC [video teleconference],” he told the CBS programme 60 Minutes.

British officials said yesterday that accepting Mr Karzai as winner of the election was “a recognition of the facts on the ground”. The British preference had been for Mr Karzai to form a national unity government taking in his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah — a scenario that the White House would also have welcomed — but Dr Abdullah appears to have ruled it out.

UN Expects S. Waziristan Fighting to Result in Large Influx of Fleeing Civilians

The head coordinator for the U.N. Humanitarian Affairs office in Pakistan says his agency is ready to handle what is expected to be a large number of families fleeing the South Waziristan tribal region as the government intensifies its fight against the Taliban. At the same time, police say a suicide bomber killed 5 people Monday, include a tribal leader allied with the government.
Authorities say the suicide attack occurred near a police checkpoint outside Bannu, the third bombing in as many days.Officials say the bomber rammed a car filled with explosives into a vehicle carrying tribal leader Maulana Abdul Hakeem, as he traveled to a nearby peace committee meeting.Analysts say Hakeem had been instrumental in brokering deals with the government, allowing security forces access to the nearby Waziristan tribal regions to target Taliban and al-Qaida militants.U.N. Office for Coordinating Humanitarian Affairs head for Pakistan, Manuel Bessler, tells VOA families have been fleeing South Waziristan in anticipation of a new military offensive."We have from South Waziristan already now about roughly 80,000 internally displaced people. That means people that left the district of South Waziristan and are in Dera Ismail Khan or in Tank, looking for shelter, for a safer place to be," Bessler said.
Local media reports say military helicopters have dropped pamphlets in the area, warning residents to leave. The government used a similar strategy before the offensive in and around the Swat Valley that started last April.
The government insists it is not launching any major operation in South Waziristan at the moment, but Bessler says his office is ready.
"We expect indeed more people to leave the district and have accordingly beefed up our readiness for food and non-food items," said Bessler.
He says they rely on Pakistani government agencies, particularly at the district level, to help those displaced.While they are ready in the material sense, Bessler says there are other concerns.
"Security is something that we have to take very serious[ly] in such a volatile environment as southern NWFP [and] we [also] had to look into it in Malakand," Bessler said.South Waziristan is a major stronghold for Taliban and al-Qaida militants. It also boasts treacherous terrain and is expected to get brutally cold in the coming months. On Monday, a message allegedly from al-Qaida's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, appeared on a jihadist Web site praising the former Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud who was killed in a U.S. missile strike in South Waziristan.This is the first public acknowledgment from al-Qaida of Mehsud's death in August.

U.S.-Russia Relations May Yield Little in Action Toward Iran

MOSCOW — The Kremlin has long responded to proposals for tougher sanctions against Iran with arms folded and a scowl. Last week, that attitude began softening, bringing the Obama administration closer to a diplomatic coup in its efforts to contain the Iranian nuclear program.

But the relatively conciliatory statements by Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, present an opening to the administration that could turn out to yield little. Russia, a neighbor of Iran, is far more intertwined with it geopolitically than any other world power, and has more concerns about upsetting relations.

Russia is also reluctant to mass the might of the United Nations Security Council against a single country, especially at Washington’s behest. That in part explains why Russia has historically sought to dilute sanctions, as it did in previous rounds against Iran.

Moreover, the Kremlin might go slowly because it senses that in a world where it has less influence than it did during Soviet times, it can use its veto power in the Security Council to ensure attention and respect. If Russia were to accede right away to calls for a crackdown, it would risk becoming just another country lining up behind the United States. The Kremlin’s pride would almost certainly not allow that.

Already, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, appears to be positioning Russia to back away from the supportive stance suggested by Mr. Medvedev’s comments.

Asked about the announcement on Friday by the United States, Britain and France that Iran had failed to disclose a secret uranium enrichment plant, Mr. Lavrov said it was not evident that Iran had done anything wrong. He said it was premature to assert that new sanctions were necessary.

“As I understand it, there is no clarity regarding the legal issues,” Mr. Lavrov said.

He also chided the Western powers for not telling Russia earlier that their intelligence agencies had discovered the Iranian enrichment plant.

Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s paramount leader, who tends to be more hawkish than Mr. Medvedev toward the United States, in recent days has not echoed Mr. Medvedev’s views on sanctions.

Still, Moscow’s overall outlook toward the United States has unquestionably warmed in recent months, largely because of President Obama’s drive to “reset” relations, and that could ultimately be pivotal.

Mr. Obama’s decision this month to cancel an antimissile system in Eastern Europe proposed by the Bush administration has achieved a particularly galvanizing effect. The Kremlin had deemed the antimissile system a direct threat to Russia, though the United States had said it was intended to protect against attacks from countries like Iran.

Mr. Medvedev regularly expressed his appreciation for Mr. Obama last week, drawing a contrast with the tensions between Moscow and Washington in the later Bush years. Obama administration officials cited Mr. Medvedev’s remarks as proof that their attempt to engage Moscow was paying off, and could lead to action against Iran.

“We do have various doubts about what Iran is doing,” Mr. Medvedev said last week. “If all possibilities for influencing the situation have been exhausted, we could consider international sanctions.”

“Sometimes, there is no other option,” he added.

Russia has said that it does not want Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, but it has also articulated misgivings about Western assertions of Iranian nuclear advances. While Russia is not one of Iran’s largest trading partners, it does sell military hardware to Iran and is building a civilian nuclear power plant there.

What is clear is that Russia considers sanctions as not solely an Iranian issue, but one of several that revolve around its dealings with Washington. It is negotiating a treaty to reduce the size of strategic nuclear forces, and remains alarmed by the possible expansion of NATO into former Soviet republics like Ukraine and Georgia.

If those issues are handled to the Kremlin’s liking, then it will be more apt to agree to stiff sanctions.

“For Russia, Iran is a very good bargaining chip,” said Vladimir Sotnikov, a senior research associate at the Center for International Security in Moscow. “And that is why, for now, I don’t think that Russia is going to be ready to wholly support major new sanctions.”

The dynamic is complicated by China, another sanctions opponent with a Security Council veto. The Kremlin can publicly show more leeway toward sanctions — in essence, offering gratitude to Mr. Obama for canceling the antimissile system in Eastern Europe — while knowing that China may continue standing in their way.

China trades heavily with Iran, and its skeptical comments on Friday after the announcement about the new enrichment plant indicated how reluctant it may be on sanctions.

At the same time, though, if China senses that Russia is more amenable, the Chinese may feel that they have to shift because they do not want to be isolated.

And Mr. Medvedev’s criticism of Iran last week has put more pressure on its leadership before nuclear talks on Thursday in Geneva between Iran and the United States and five other powers, including Russia.

Even so, in interviews over the weekend, experts in Moscow were somewhat unconvinced that the Kremlin would back forceful steps against Iran, though they did not rule it out.

Vladimir Sazhin, a commentator at the state-run Voice of Russia radio and one of the nation’s leading Iran analysts, said it was important to understand that Russia considered Iran to be a vital ally on regional issues. After the disputed Iranian presidential election in June, in fact, Mr. Medvedev congratulated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Both countries are on the Caspian Sea and have territory in the Caucasus Mountains. (The Soviet Union had a border with Iran, but Russia is now about 100 miles away, separated from Iran by another former Soviet republic, Azerbaijan.) Both Russia and Iran want to prevent NATO from setting up bases in the region.

Mr. Sazhin said Russia had been pleased that Iran had not questioned Russia’s actions in Chechnya, a Muslim region in the Caucasus where the federal authorities have fought two brutal civil wars to put down a separatist Muslim insurgency.

“The Kremlin’s politics come down to the fact that they do not want to inflame relations with Iran, because of Russia’s regional interests,” Mr. Sazhin said.

Mr. Sazhin said he would not be surprised if Mr. Medvedev continued to imply that he was open-minded toward sanctions, in large part because the Russian leadership realizes that China may not relent and Iran will find a way to prolong the dispute.

“The Kremlin can play a good game because it knows that nothing will probably come of it,” he said.

Bill Clinton: 'Vast right-wing conspiracy' as 'virulent' as ever
WASHINGTON -- The "vast right-wing conspiracy" that attacked him during his presidency has been weakened, but continues to operate against President Obama, former President Clinton said Sunday.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Clinton was asked about the term his wife Hillary Clinton, now secretary of state, famously coined. "Is it still there?" host David Gregory asked.

"Oh, you bet. Sure it is. It's not as strong as it was, because America's changed demographically, but it's as virulent as it was," the former president replied.

"I mean, they're saying things about him [Obama] -- you know, it's like when they accused me of murder and all that stuff they did," Clinton said, in an apparent reference to conspiracy theories surrounding the suicide of White House deputy counsel Vince Foster.

"It's not really good for the Republicans and the country, what's going on now," Clinton said. "I mean, they may be hurting President Obama. They can take his numbers down, they can run his opposition up. But fundamentally, he and his team have a positive agenda for America."

The nation needs "a credible debate about what's the right balance between continuing to expand the economy through stimulus and beginning to move back to fiscal balance," Clinton said. "We need a credible debate about what's the best way to get to universal [health care] coverage."

Clinton was asked whether he is concerned that the 2010 midterm elections could resemble those of 1994, when Republicans took control of the House and Senate two years into his first term.

"There's no way" that could happen, Clinton said, adding that "the country is more diverse and more interested in positive action." Also, he said, Republicans had control of Congress for several years under President George W. Bush, "and they know the results were bad."

And, he said, "the Democrats haven't taken on the gun lobby like I did."

"Whatever happens, it'll be manageable for our president," Clinton said.

Terror war inflicts $400m loss on tourism

PESHAWAR: Tourism industry of Frontier province suffered a loss worth $400 million since the launch of war on terror, said NWFP Tourism Minister Syed Aqil Shah here on Sunday.

‘Militancy had affected the tourism the most and we have suffered a loss of $50 million annually,’ the minister said while speaking at a function held in connection with World Tourism Day.

Sarhad Tourism Corporation organised the gathering where besides others tour specialists Fidaullah Sehrai, Zahoor Durrani, STC former managing director Ghaffar Mohmand and STC General Manager Mushtaq Ahmad Khan were also present.

The minister said that provincial government was devising a master plan for the development of tourism in the province. He stressed upon the international community and federal government to fully concentrate and cooperate with the provincial government in reviving tourism industry in NWFP, which had the potential of overcoming the losses faced by the province due to militancy.

Mr Shah said that tourists stopped visiting scenic resorts in the province when billboards carrying pictures of women were smashed during the government of Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal in NWFP.

‘The wave of insurgency and militancy in Malakand division and other parts of the province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas proved to be the last nail in the coffin of tourism industry in NWFP,’ the minister said.

He said that chairlifts would be installed from Naran to Saiful Maluk Lake while 2-megawatt hydel power stations would be also set up at Saiful Maluk. He said under a special package, people of Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and other countries would be given a chance to visit province.

A state of the art Lok Versa Centre was being established at Gorgatri, while a separate directorate had been established in the province which would become functional from October 15 this year, the minister said.

Mr Shah said that a two-day cultural conference would be held in Peshawar at the end of October while 2,500 years celebrations of Peshawar, the oldest living city, would be made in December. He pledged to launch and complete at least two tourism projects in his tenure in the province.

He said that about 70 per cent of tourist sites in the country were located in NWFP and it was the need of the hour to concentrate on development of those sites so that both local and international tourists could be attracted.

‘Pakistan has matchless tourist resorts but due to extremism and militancy, tourists are not visiting the country,’ he added.

The minister urged the media to portray soft image of the country and apprise the world about the hospitality, brotherhood and friendly behaviour of Pakistanis.

Other speakers urged the world as well as Pakistani leadership to spend most of the aid on the rehabilitation, development work as well as promotion of tourism in NWFP.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Preventive measures for heart disease

The World Heart Day was commemorated on Sunday with a view to encourage people around the globe to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of heart attacks which, together with strokes, kill over 17 million people every year.

To mark the occasion the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) arranged lectures by AKUH health professionals.

Speaking on the occasion, Professor Javaid Khan, Chair, National Alliance for Tobacco Control and Head, Section of Respiratory Diseases, AKUH said that about 80 per cent of deaths from cardiovascular diseases occur in low- and middle-income countries where awareness about heart attacks and strokes is poor.

Premature deaths can be avoided if the main risk factors - tobacco, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity - are controlled, he added.

In several developed countries, heart diseases are declining as governments have taken appropriate measures to control tobacco and promote a healthy diet. Tobacco use is the single most important risk factor not only for heart attack and stroke, but also for at least 30 other serious diseases, including lung cancer. Quoting a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Professor Khan said that the number of admissions for acute heart attack decreased in Scotland after the implementation of smoke-free legislation.

He called for implementation of clean air laws in Pakistan also in order to protect citizens from the serious dangers associated with tobacco smoke pollution.

Dr Fateh Ali Tipoo, Consultant Cardiologist, called for the government to focus on promoting preventive measures as treatment after a heart attack or stroke is unaffordable for the majority of citizens. High blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol and glucose, and smoking all increase a persons risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases.

One billion people globally suffer from high blood pressure, and 70 per cent of them do not have it under control. Emphasizing the importance of a balanced diet in preventing development of cardiovascular diseases, Dr Romaina Iqbal, Consultant Nutritionist, provided guidelines on intake of fruits, vegetables and milk and dairy products.

A healthy diet with five daily servings of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, fish and pulses, and a restricted salt and sugar intake is recommended.

Ms Ghazal Kamran, Senior Physiotherapist pointed out that individuals with sedentary lifestyles who do not exercise have a 40 per cent higher risk of heart disease. She specially advised regular aerobic exercise to reduce such risk and detailed specific kinds of exercises for different age groups and for diabetic and other patients. Ms Khairunnisa Hooda, Nurse Manager Critical Care Areas and Cardiology spoke on promoting healthy habits in the workplace and that workplace wellness programmes can reach a significant proportion of employed adults up to 54 per cent of the world population.

This could include offering information about the risk factors for heart disease and stroke; establishing health policies such as no smoking in buildings; encouraging good eating habits, e.g. offering information about the calorie and fat content of canteen food, adding more whole grain meals, natural products, fruits and vegetables on the menu; and encouraging people to exercise during their breaks. A 2003 study on the economic return of workplace health promotion concluded that workplace programmes can achieve a 25 to 30 per cent reduction in medical and absenteeism costs in an average period of about 3.6 years.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

G20 protesters blasted by sonic cannon

Only a few hundreds protesters took to the streets of Pittsburgh to mark the opening day of the G20 summit of world leaders, but the police were taking no chances.

Sonic weapons or long-range acoustic devices have been used by the US military overseas, notably against Somali pirates and Iraqi insurgents.

But US security forces turned the piercing sound on their own citizens yesterday to widespread outrage. Pittsburgh officials told the New York Times that it was the first time "sound cannon" had been used publicly.

The sonic weapon appear to be more effective than the Metropolitan police's highly contentious kettling tactics used against G20 protesters in London. But it is equally controversial.

It is feared the sounds emitted are loud enough to damage eardrums and even cause fatal aneurysms.

US threatens airstrikes in Pakistan
The United States is threatening to launch airstrikes on Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership in the Pakistani city of Quetta as frustration mounts about the ease with which they find sanctuary across the border from Afghanistan.

The threat comes amid growing divisions in Washington about whether to deal with the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan by sending more troops or by reducing them and targeting the terrorists.

This weekend the US military was expected to send a request to Robert Gates, the defence secretary, for more troops, as urged by General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander there.

In a leaked strategic assessment of the war, McChrystal warned that he needed extra reinforcements within a year to avert the risk of failure. Although no figure was given, he is believed to be seeking up to 40,000 troops to add to the 68,000 who will be in Afghanistan by the end of this year.

However, with President Barack Obama under pressure from fellow Democrats not to intensify the war, the administration has let it be known that it is rethinking strategy. Vice-President Joe Biden has suggested reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan and focusing on the Taliban and AlQaeda in Pakistan.

Last week McChrystal denied any rift with the administration, saying “a policy debate is warranted”.

According to The New York Times, he flew from Kabul to Ramstein airbase in Germany on Friday for a secret meeting with Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to discuss the request for more troops.

So sensitive is the subject that when Obama addressed the United Nations summit in New York, he barely mentioned Afghanistan. The unspoken problem is that if the priority is to destroy Al-Qaeda and reduce the global terrorist threat, western troops might be fighting on the wrong side of the border.

The Biden camp argues that attacks by unmanned drones on Pakistan’s tribal areas, where Al-Qaeda’s leaders are hiding, have been successful. Sending more troops to Afghanistan has only inflamed tensions. “Pakistan is the nuclear elephant in the room,” said a western diplomat.

It is a view echoed by Richard Barrett, head of the UN Commission on Monitoring Taliban and Al-Qaeda, who believes the presence of foreign troops has increased militant activity and made it easier for the Taliban to recruit.

“If Obama sends more troops it had better be clear what they are to do,” he said.

“A few thousand more boots on the ground may not make much difference except push the fight into areas which are currently quiet because no one is there to challenge the Taliban. I cannot see any number of troops eliminating the Taliban. Obama has a really difficult decision to make.”

The debate has been intensified by the debacle of the Afghan election, which has left many European leaders struggling to justify sending soldiers to support a government that has been fraudulently elected.

According to preliminary results, President Hamid Karzai won 54.6% of the vote, compared with 27.8% for Abdullah Abdullah, his main challenger. But there have been complaints that fraudulent ballots may account for up to 20% of the 5.5m votes cast.

The Electoral Complaints Commission, overseen by a UN watchdog, has begun to recount about 10% of the disputed votes. Final results are not expected for two weeks. If Karzai is left without the 50% needed for outright victory, there must be a second round unless he agrees to form a unity government.

In the meantime, the country is in limbo and the Taliban is taking advantage, opening up new fronts in the north and west.

Al-Qaeda is also trying to capitalise on the uncertainty. Osama Bin Laden issued a call to European nations to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, and threatened reprisals with an allusion to the bombings in Madrid and London. The recording, released on Friday, seemed to be directed at Germany in the run-up to parliamentary elections today.

The Afghan election has strengthened the position of those in Washington who advocate eliminating Taliban leaders in Pakistan.

Senior Pakistani officials in New York revealed that the US had asked to extend the drone attacks into Quetta and the province of Baluchistan.

“It wasn’t so much a threat as an understanding that if you don’t do anything, we’ll take matters into our own hands,” said one.

The problem is that while the government of President Asif Zardari is committed to wiping out terrorism, Pakistan’s powerful military does not entirely share this view.

Earlier this year there was optimism that Pakistan had turned a corner after it confronted a Taliban group that had taken over the Swat valley and moved to within 70 miles of Islamabad.

There has been tacit co-operation over the use of drones. Some are even stationed inside Pakistan, although publicly the government denounces their use.

Suspicions remain among US officials that parts of Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the ISI, are supporting the Taliban and protecting Mullah Omar and other leaders in Quetta.

It was to shore up Zardari’s domestic standing that Obama attended a Friends of Pakistan summit in New York on Thursday. On the same day, the US Senate tripled non-military aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year.

The Obama administration hopes such moves will reduce anti-American feeling in Pakistan. A survey last month by the Pew Research Centre found that almost two-thirds regarded the US as an enemy.

Drone attacks on Quetta would intensify this sentiment, causing some British officials to argue that such missions would be “unthinkable”.

The Pakistani government is reluctant to take its own action, however. “We need real-time intelligence,” said Rehman Malik, the interior minister. “The Americans have never told us any location.”

Western intelligence officers say Pakistan has been moving Taliban leaders to the volatile city of Karachi, where it would be impossible to strike. US officials have even discussed sending commandos to Quetta to capture or kill the Taliban chiefs before they are moved.

Deadly Explosions Rock Pakistan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Two suicide attacks killed 16 people and wounded more than 150 in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, showing Taliban militants are still able to strike despite heightened military operations and the slaying of their leader last month.

A Taliban spokesman called The Associated Press after the first bombing outside a police station to claim responsibility and warn of more blasts. He claimed the militants had been holding back on attacks but that any such "pause" was now over.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan is battling al-Qaida and Taliban militants close to the Afghan border blamed for scores of attacks over the last two years. The insurgents are linked to those in Afghanistan, where violence against NATO and U.S. troops is running at record levels.

The suicide car bomb outside a police station in Bannu district destroyed the building, killing six people and wounding 70, said police chief Mohammed Farid.

Hours later, a second car bomber struck outside a bank run by an army welfare foundation in Peshawar, the largest city in the northwest, police said. Ten people were killed and 79 wounded, said Sahibzada Mohammed Anis, a senior government official.

The blast overturned vehicles, gutted buildings and scattered glass everywhere, said an AP reporter at the scene. Most of the casualties were customers in the bank or people loitering outside.

Malik Shafqat, a police officer, said the attacker also threw a hand grenade but it didn't explode.

A third bomb exploded in the northern town of Gilgit, wounding four people, Pakistan's SAMA news channel quoted local police Chief Ali Sher as saying. He described it as a "low-intensity bomb" but provided no further details.

Taliban spokesman Qari Hussain Mehsud urged civilians to stay away from police and security force installations.

"We have broken the silence as the government did not understand the pause in attacks, and from now there will be an increase in the number of suicide bombings," he warned in a telephone call from an undisclosed location.

Mehsud - known for training Taliban suicide bombers - had warned of more attacks in an AP interview on Thursday, saying, "we will send suicide bombers only if the government acts against us."

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad condemned the bombings, saying in a statement that the attacks "highlight the vicious and inhuman nature of this enemy whose true target is the democratically elected government of Pakistan and the security of all Pakistanis."

North West Frontier Province's information minister, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, said the attacks would not deter the government from fighting militants. He said security forces had arrested 40 would-be suicide bombers in recent months in the northwest, thwarting efforts by the Taliban to create chaos.

"It is not only our duty ... to fight this menace of terrorism, it is a responsibility of the whole world," Hussain told reporters in Peshawar. "We are on the front line today, that's why our blood is being shed."

Last month, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a CIA missile strike in the northwest. While the militants have named a new leader, some have speculated the group may have lost some of its ability to stage attacks.

The strike followed a largely successful army offensive in the Swat Valley region against the Taliban there that to some extent has reassured Western governments of Pakistan's ability and intent to fight the insurgency.

Earlier this month, the government claimed to have killed more than 150 militants in an operation in the Khyber agency, which lies close to Peshawar.

But the Taliban or affiliated Islamist militants have continued to carry out attacks in recent weeks.

Militants ambushed a convoy of prominent anti-Taliban tribal elders in Bannu district on Thursday, spraying their cars with gunfire and killing nine people. Pakistani authorities have urged tribal elders to speak out against the Taliban, and in turn the militants have killed scores of local leaders.

Afghanistan Troop Request Splits Advisers to Obama

WASHINGTON — As President Obama weighs sending more troops to Afghanistan, one of the most consequential decisions of his presidency, he has discovered that the military is not monolithic in support of the plan and that some of the civilian advisers he respects most have deep reservations.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s troop request, which was submitted to the Pentagon on Friday, has reignited a longstanding debate within the military about the virtues of the counterinsurgency strategy popularized by Gen. David H. Petraeus in Iraq and now embraced by General McChrystal, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

General McChrystal is expected to ask for as many as 40,000 additional troops for the eight-year-old war, a number that has generated concern among top officers like Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, who worry about the capacity to provide more soldiers at a time of stress on the force, officials said.

The competing advice and concerns fuel a pivotal struggle to shape the president’s thinking about a war that he inherited but may come to define his tenure. Among the most important outside voices has been that of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a retired four-star Army general, who visited Mr. Obama in the Oval Office this month and expressed skepticism that more troops would guarantee success. According to people briefed on the discussion, Mr. Powell reminded the president of his longstanding view that military missions should be clearly defined.

Mr. Powell is one of the three people outside the administration, along with Senator John F. Kerry and Senator Jack Reed, considered by White House aides to be most influential in this current debate. All have expressed varying degrees of doubt about the wisdom of sending more forces to Afghanistan.

Mr. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has warned of repeating the mistakes of Vietnam, where he served, and has floated the idea of a more limited counterterrorist mission. Mr. Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and an Army veteran, has not ruled out supporting more troops but said “the burden of proof” was on commanders to justify it.

In the West Wing, beyond Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has advocated an alternative strategy to the troop buildup, other presidential advisers sound dubious about more troops, including Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, and Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, according to people who have spoken with them. At the same time, Mr. Obama is also hearing from more hawkish figures, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

General McChrystal’s troop request, which has not been made public, was given to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by the general in a meeting in Germany on Friday. Admiral Mullen arrived back in Washington on Friday night with one paper copy for himself and one for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Mr. Gates has not endorsed General McChrystal’s request yet, viewing the situation as “complicated,” said one person who has spoken with him. But Mr. Gates, who will be an influential voice in Mr. Obama’s decision, has also left open the door for more troops and warned of the consequences of failure in Afghanistan.

Although Mr. Obama has called Afghanistan a war of necessity, he has left members of both parties uncertain about the degree of his commitment to a large and sustained military presence. Even some advisers said they thought Mr. Obama’s support for the war as a senator and presidential candidate was at least partly a way of contrasting it with what he saw as a reckless war in Iraq.

His decision to send 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan early this year, which will bring the number of American troops there to 68,000 this fall, was made hurriedly within weeks of coming into office to stanch the tactical erosion on the ground and provide security during Afghan elections.

But with those elections now marred by fraud allegations, the latest troop request is forcing Mr. Obama to decide whether he wants to fully engage in Afghanistan for the rest of his term or make a drastic change of course. Some advisers said the varying views reflected the complicated nature of a debate. The troop request follows the strategy unveiled by Mr. Obama in March to focus more on protecting the Afghan population, building infrastructure and improving governance, rather than just hunting the Taliban. On Friday, a United Nations report said that from January to August, 1,500 civilians were killed, about two-thirds of them by militants.

Admiral Mullen has endorsed the idea of more troops and will be at the table representing the military. General McChrystal and ambassadors from the region will get a chance to participate in meetings with the president through a secure video hookup.

Other officers, who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and say they admire General McChrystal nonetheless, have privately expressed doubt that additional troops will make a difference. Others question the broader impact of such a buildup on the overall armed forces.

“If a request for more forces comes to the Army, we’ll have to assess what that will do in terms of stress on the force,” said an Army official, who asked not to be identified because General McChrystal’s troop request had not been made public.

General Casey, whose institutional role as Army chief is to protect his force, has a goal to increase by 2012 a soldier’s time at home, to two years at home for every year served, from the current one year for every year of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Advisers who have Mr. Obama’s ear have raised other questions. Mr. Powell spoke with Mr. Obama about a variety of topics, but his remarks on Afghanistan resonated in the White House. “The question the president has to answer is, ‘What will more troops do?’ ” Mr. Powell told reporters before a speech in California last week. “You have to not just add troops. You need a clear definition of your mission and then you can determine whether you need more troops or other resources.”

In an interview, Senator Kerry, who met with Admiral Mullen last week, said that he had not made up his mind about the troop buildup, but that in Vietnam, “the underlying assumptions were flawed, and the number of troops weren’t going to make a difference.”

Senator Reed, who met with Mr. Biden, was more measured, but said the president needed to look at the capacity of Afghan forces and the prospects of reconciliation with moderate Taliban members. “You want to make sure you have the best operational plan to carry out the strategy,” he said.

Peshawar bombing death toll rises to 12

The death toll in the suicide attack in Saddar area of Peshawar has reached to 12, while 100 others have been injured. The investigators have found two legs from the spot of the bombing , which have been sent for DNA test. According to the sources 80 kilogramme explosive material was used in the attack at Mall Road in Saddar area of Peshawar. DSP Tanveer Ahmed of the bomb disposal squat informed media that the accused in the car thrown two hand grenades in front of the State Bank building before the suicide attack, which didn’t explode.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Official says no swine flu case reported in Pukhtunkhwa( NWFP )

PESHAWAR: The NWFP Health Department said Friday that no case of the Swine flu had been reported anywhere from the province, however, all precautionary measures had been taken to cope with the situation.

“Though no such case has been reported in the province, keeping in view the epidemic nature of the disease, the Health Department has taken a number of steps to combat any such situation,” said Dr Ziaul Hasnain, deputy director public health, while talking to The News.

Dr Hasnain, who is also the secretary for provincial task force, said that the department had established quarantine at Peshawar Airport where qualified staff had also been deputed to scan the passengers for the symptoms of the disease and by getting a questioner filled out by him/her.

The doctor said that anti-viral medicines had also been acquired by the department and would be distributed to the districts if needed. He said that 270,000 capsules had been received and the quantity was sufficient for more than 25,000 patients.

To treat the patients affected by swine flu virus, the department had also established 14 sentinel sites across the province where all facilities including isolation centres had also been established, he added.

Dr Hasnain said that a letter had also been issued to all the executive district officers (health) to nominate a focal person for the district task force. He said the focal person for three tertiary care hospitals including Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) and Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC) had already been announced.

About the installation of thermal camera at the Peshawar Airport, Dr Hasnain said the camera was quite costly and presently it had been installed only at Karachi International Airport. The provincial government would, however, try to install the camera before the arrival of Haj flights, he added.

A provincial reference laboratory has also been established at HMC where qualified staff would be made available, he said, adding that information about precautionary measures to avoid swine flu had also been sent to all the health outlets in the province.

The official said though the disease was contagious, if proper precautionary measures were taken it could be warded off. He said the common symptoms of the swine flu were cough, temperature, throat infection, body aches, problem with breathing and tiredness. The patient infected with the virus may suffer from dysentery.

Thousands Hold Peaceful March at G-20 Summit

PITTSBURGH — Several thousand demonstrators espousing and denouncing a host of causes converged on downtown Pittsburgh on Friday, chanting, pumping up signs and playing instruments in a peaceful and permitted march calling for solutions to a range of problems that they attributed to the economic policies of the world leaders at the Group of 20 meeting.

Protesters with Iraq Veterans Against the War, wearing fatigues, marched alongside Tibetans chiming cymbals, chanting denunciations of China and waving signs, like one that read “G20 Let’s Talk Tibet.” Another group, Students for Justice in Palestine, assembled on Forbes Avenue and called for an end to “the Israeli occupation.” Others held up signs like “We Say No To Corporate Greed,” and “We say yes to human needs.”

One group held aloft with bamboo poles a giant replica of a dove made of white fabric. A marching band with a French horn, several snare drums and a trombone played amid a sea of black, American and Palestinian flags.

The People’s March, as it was called, was sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh peace organization. It came a day after raucous confrontations between the police and protesters resulted in 66 arrests. At least five people needed medical attention, and about 19 businesses sustained broken windows or other damage.

Observers put Friday’s crowd at 3,000 to 4,000. As demonstrators arrived at the intersection of Grant Street and Forbes Avenue, speakers urged them to fight for a broad array of social issues that they felt had been largely ignored by leaders making global economic policy.

“We need to show the world that G-20 is not welcome in Pittsburgh,” Pete Shell, the director of the Merton center’s antiwar committee, said from the steps of the city-county building, just blocks from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where the G-20 meeting was under way.

It was as close as the protesters were able to get to the meeting of world leaders.

“The city has rolled out the red carpet for them,” Mr. Shell said. “But we need to show them that you are the ones we welcome.”

Nathan Smith, 31, a wine seller from Williamsport, Pa., said he drove three hours to attend the rally. “We need good jobs and good health care, and the G-20 isn’t helping that,” said Mr. Smith, who was carrying a sign that said “Capitalism Kills.” “Their policies are undermining jobs and health care.”

A member of the local chapter of Code Pink, a women’s antiwar group, led a protest against the continued presence of American troops in Afghanistan and of Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip.

Rows of stern-faced police officers looked on from the sidewalk, keeping close watch on a group of more than 400 self-described anarchists clad in black.

Before long, singers from the Raging Grannies and workers from the United Steelworkers of America took the stage to talk about the need for jobs.

After more than an hour of speeches, the crowd began to disperse, some wondering aloud whether their messages would be heard by the G-20 leaders.

Cory Perrotte, 20, a student from Duquesne University, was optimistic that it would be difficult for world leaders to ignore thousands in the street.

“They will listen to a certain degree,” he said. “They might not necessarily do anything.”

Peshawar’s historic Wazir Bagh in dire need of attention

PESHAWAR: Peshawar’s historic Wazir Bagh was constructed by one of the Durrani overlords of Peshawar, Sardar Fatteh Mohammad Khan Wazir, in 1802-03. It was one of the most beautiful gardens of the city and according to old accounts, was full of apricots, peaches, pomegranates, pears and colourful flowers, while English envoy Sir Alexander Burnes rested in the garden during his trip to Kabul in 1832.

The park has been in ruins for the past several years and the authorities have shown interest only in allotting pieces of land for construction of schools, colleges, stadiums and other buildings while the park, which spreads over a very large area, has shrunk to small enclosures where only dust and wilderness catches one’s attention.

The garden that consisted of four enclosures or open plots, has been completely denuded of greenery and turned into playgrounds, while the flower beds have also disappeared with the passage of time, insensible use and lack of interest on the part of the authorities.

The flower beds have been badly damaged, while the pavement in the middle of the park is being used as a shortcut road by the area residents.

The two oblong cisterns in the middle of the garden are not used any longer. The northern one is full of filthy water and shopping bags, while the southern one with a fountain lies open like a gaping hole in the middle of the park.

The park has 12 gardeners; however, in the absence of any institutional and financial support, they have become unable to deliver while at the same time their hard work goes down the drain as hundreds of unruly boys from the nearby areas, schools and colleges storm the park for playing and plunder the flower beds and what has been left of greenery.

Some years back, the authorities converted one of the four enclosures in the park into a football ground and erected a huge wall tipped with barbed wire around the newly constructed ground, defacing the original plan of the park.

A gardener told Daily Times that the park lacks a tube well and despite repeated requests to the authorities, one is still to be approved for the park.

Similarly, the gardeners also complained that they do not get salaries on time since the introduction of local government system in the country in 2002; prior to this they had not faced any such problem.

When the gardeners tried to place a chain at the main gate of the park to stop the motorcycles’ entry that has become common for those learning to ride motorcycles, the area nazim removed the chain and now it lies open for all.

There is no lighting in the park and it becomes pitch dark with approach of dusk. It also lacks toilets, benches, water and other facilities. The authorities have so far not shown any interest in upgrading the park’s infrastructure, rather its situation is worsening with each passing day.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

G-20 march turns chaotic on streets of Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH — Protesters and police are clashing on the streets of Pittsburgh after police tried to break up a march opposing the Group of 20 summit.

Protesters rolled trash bins toward police and a man in a black hooded sweat shirt threw rocks at a police car, breaking the front windshield. Some protesters also are using pallets and corrugated steel to block a road.

Officers fired pepper spray and smoke at the protesters. Some of those exposed to the pepper spray were coughing, complaining of eyes watering and stinging.

The march began with several hundred protesters. It did not have a city permit and police declared it an unlawful assembly. The group broke into smaller groups after being confronted by police.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Protesters and police are clashing on the streets of Pittsburgh after police tried to break up a march oppposing the Group of 20 summit.

Protesters rolled trash bins toward police and a man in a black hooded sweat shirt threw rocks at a police car, breaking the front windshield. Some protesters also are using pallets and corrugated steel to block a road.

Officers fired gas at the protesters. Some of those exposed to the gas were coughing, complaining of eyes watering and stinging.

The march began with several hundred protesters. It did not have a city permit and police dec

Taliban Widen Afghan Attacks From Base in Pakistan

WASHINGTON — Senior Taliban leaders, showing a surprising level of sophistication and organization, are using their sanctuary in Pakistan to stoke a widening campaign of violence in northern and western Afghanistan, senior American military and intelligence officials say.

The Taliban’s expansion into parts of Afghanistan that it once had little influence over comes as the Obama administration is struggling to settle on a new military strategy for Afghanistan, and as the White House renews its efforts to get Pakistan’s government to be more aggressive about killing or capturing Taliban leaders inside Pakistan.

American military and intelligence officials, who insisted on anonymity because they were discussing classified information, said the Taliban’s leadership council, led by Mullah Muhammad Omar and operating around the southern Pakistani city of Quetta, was directly responsible for a wave of violence in once relatively placid parts of northern and western Afghanistan. A recent string of attacks killed troops from Italy and Germany, pivotal American allies that are facing strong opposition to the Afghan war at home.

These assessments echo a recent report by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, in portraying the Taliban as an increasingly sophisticated shadow government that sees itself on the cusp of victory in the war-ravaged nation.

General McChrystal’s report describes how Mullah Omar’s insurgency has appointed shadow governors in most provinces of Afghanistan, levies taxes, establishes Islamic courts there and conducts a formal review of its military campaign each winter.

American officials say they believe that the Taliban leadership in Pakistan still gets support from parts of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s military spy service. The ISI has been the Taliban’s off-again-on-again benefactor for more than a decade, and some of its senior officials see Mullah Omar as a valuable asset should the United States leave Afghanistan and the Taliban regain power.

The issue of the Taliban leadership council, or shura, in Quetta is now at the top of the Obama administration’s agenda in its meetings with Pakistani officials.

At the same time, American officials face a frustrating paradox: the more the administration wrestles publicly with how substantial and lasting a military commitment to make to Afghanistan, the more the ISI is likely to strengthen bonds to the Taliban as Pakistan hedges its bets.

American officials have long complained that senior Taliban leaders operating from Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province, provide money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance to the Taliban in the south of Afghanistan, where most of the nearly 68,000 American forces are deployed.

But since NATO’s offensive into the Taliban-dominated south this spring, the insurgents have surprised American commanders by stepping up attacks against allied troops elsewhere in the country to throw NATO off balance and create the perception of spreading violence that neither the allied military nor the civilian Afghan government in Kabul can control.

“The Taliban is trying to create trouble elsewhere to alleviate pressure” in the south, said one senior American intelligence official. “They’ve outmaneuvered us time and time again.”

The issue has opened fresh rifts between the United States and Pakistan over how to combat the Taliban leadership council in Quetta. American officials have voiced new and unusually public criticism of Pakistan’s role in abetting the growing Afghan insurgency, reviving tensions that seemed to have eased after the two countries worked closely to track and kill Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, in an American missile strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas last month.

General McChrystal said in his assessment, which was made public on Monday, “Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are linked with Al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups,” and are reportedly aided by “some elements” of the ISI.

The United States ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson, said in a recent interview with the McClatchy newspapers that the Pakistani government was “certainly reluctant to take action” against the leadership of the Afghan insurgency.

Pakistani officials take issue with that, adding that the United States overstates the threat posed by the Quetta shura, possibly because the American understanding of the situation is distorted by vague and self-serving intelligence provided by Afghanistan’s spy service.

A senior Pakistani official said that the United States had asked Pakistan in recent years to round up 10 Taliban leaders in Quetta. Of those 10, 6 were killed or captured by the Pakistanis, 2 were probably in Afghanistan and the remaining 2 presented no threat.

“Pakistan has said it’s willing to act when given actionable intelligence,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. “We have made substantial progress in the last year or so against the Quetta shura.”

Pakistani officials also said that a move against militant leaders in Quetta risked inciting public anger throughout Baluchistan, a region that has long had a tense relationship with Pakistan’s government in Islamabad.

Mullah Omar, a reclusive cleric, recently rallied his troops with a boastful message timed for the Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr.

In the message, he taunted his American adversaries for ignoring the lessons of past military failures in Afghanistan, including the invasion of Alexander the Great’s army.

And he bragged that the Taliban had emerged as a nationalistic movement that “is approaching the edge of victory.”

A half-dozen American military, intelligence and diplomatic officials said in interviews that the Taliban leadership in Baluchistan, which abuts the portion of southern Afghanistan where most of the fighting is taking place, is increasing its strategic direction over the insurgency.

“The Taliban inner shura in Baluchistan is certainly trying to exercise greater command and control over the Taliban in Afghanistan,” said one American official in Afghanistan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because his assessment involved classified intelligence.

The official said that Mullah Abdullah Zakir, a former inmate at the American military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who is now a top Taliban lieutenant, was involved in replacing Taliban shadow governors and commanders, as well as reorganizing the Taliban throughout the country. “The Quetta shura — you can’t knock on their clubhouse door,” a Western diplomat said. “It’s much more of an amorphous group that as best we can tell moves around. They go to Karachi, they go to Quetta, they go across the border.”

American officials grudgingly acknowledge the Taliban’s skill at using guerrilla-style attacks to manipulate public impressions of the insurgency. “We assess that the primary focus of attacks in northern provinces such as Kunduz is to create a perception that the insurgency is spreading like wildfire,” the American official in Afghanistan said. “But I think it’s more of an ‘information operations’ success than a substantive one of holding any territory.”

Another American intelligence official who follows Pakistan closely said the insurgents had sought to exploit allied countries’ political vulnerabilities, like elections in Germany on Sunday. “The Taliban have proven themselves capable of strategic planning,” the official said.

General McChrystal said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that he had been surprised by “the growth of the shadow government, the growth of its coercion and its growth into the north and west.”

Germany, which has suffered 33 combat deaths in Afghanistan, has remained committed to the Afghan mission, although it has placed strict limits on where its soldiers can serve, refusing to send them to the south.

But that commitment is now being hotly debated in the coming parliamentary elections, after an airstrike called in by a German commander this month. The NATO airstrike, directed at two tanker trucks carrying alliance fuel that had been hijacked by the Taliban, killed scores of people; the number of dead civilians remains unclear.

Other allies are also rethinking their presence in Afghanistan. A bomb that killed six Italian soldiers in Kabul last Thursday prompted Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy to declare that his nation had begun planning to “bring our young men home as soon as possible.” Italy has 3,100 troops in Afghanistan.

Security put on high alert in all provinces

ISLAMABAD : Federal government has put security on high alert level across the country due to terrorism threat, Aaj News reported Thursday.According to the channel, the federal government has directed the four provinces to remain alert as terrorism threat looms the country.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Obama: World failing to deal with challenges

UNITED NATIONS — President Barack Obama exhorted world leaders on Wednesday to step up and do their part in tackling global challenges in promoting security and prosperity rather than waiting for America to do it alone.

"The people of the world want change," Obama said in his first address to the U.N. General Assembly. "They will not long tolerate those who are on the wrong side of history."

In an era where fast-moving technology binds people across borders and old divides, Obama called for "a new era of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

Obama said he will never apologize for defending U.S. interests. But he sought to dispel what he said has become "an almost reflexive anti-Americanism" that has swept the globe.

To do so, Obama offered a litany of policy changes and actions his administration had undertaken during his first nine months in office, with the overarching message that the United States has no interest in a go-it-alone stance and instead wants to act as an equal partner with others on the world stage.

"Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world's problems alone," Obama said in an address that carried a remarkably blunt tone.

"The time has come for the world to move in a new direction," Obama said. "Our work must begin now."

"In an era where our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game," Obama said. "No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. That is the future America wants."

He spoke to a packed chamber at the United Nations, receiving applause when he entered from even the likes of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not join in the applause. Throughout Obama's remarks, the president received polite applause several times.

Obama called on fellow leaders to help bring about a nuclear weapons-free world, to increase security from terrorists and promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, to tackle climate change and to create more economic opportunity.

He said that Iran and North Korea "must be held accountable" if they continue to put their pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of international security.

"The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise and that treaties will be enforced."

Obama has said the door is open to Iran to discuss the issue, but that U.S. patience is not limitless. He has taken the same position with respect to the reclusive communist regime in North Korea.

On the warming planet, he said "the danger posed by climate change cannot be denied — and our responsibility to meet it must not be deferred."

The president said "this is why the days when America dragged its feet on this issue are over." He said he understood the temptation of nations to put economic recovery from recession ahead of work to address climate change, but said that must not be allowed to happen.

Afghan president to skip UN meeting
Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, has decided not to attend the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York this week, officials have said.

Karzai's office told Al Jazeera on Monday that Karzai had cancelled the trip because of the ongoing political uncertainty in the country.

Zeina Khodr, Al Jazeera's correspondent in the Afghan capital, Kabul, said: "What we're getting from the president's office is that Karzai is deciding to stay in Afghanistan because of the political situation.

"The president had hinted a few days ago in a press conference that he may not be going.

"What he told reporters was that the meetings with the United Nations are not important. It's more important for me to be in Afghanistan at this sensitive time."

Meetings at the UN General Assembly were due to start in New York on Tuesday and the developments in Afghanistan were on their agenda.

Disputed election

The UN meeting would have been Karzai's first trip abroad since the presidential election one month ago.

No official election result has yet been announced and there have been widespread allegations of vote fraud.

Preliminary results have given Karzai 54.6 per cent of the vote, enough to avoid a second round runoff against his main rival Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, who has 27.7 per cent.

But election observers from the European Union have said that up to 1.5 million of the ballots could be fraudulent, leaving open the possibility for a dramatic swing in fortunes if the ballots are annulled after the investigation.

The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has ordered recounts at more than 2,500 polling stations, around 10 per cent of the total, after it found "clear and convincing evidence of fraud".

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Afghanistan's insurgency is clearly supported from Pak: McChrystal

The U.S. military commander in Afghanistan says he has evidence that factions of Pakistani and Iranian spy services are supporting insurgent groups that carry out attacks on coalition troops. Taliban fighters in Afghanistan are being aided by "elements of some intelligence agencies," Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal wrote in a detailed analysis of the military situation delivered to the White House earlier this month. McChrystal went on to single out Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency as well as the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as contributing to the external forces working to undermine U.S. interests and destabilize the government in Kabul. The remarks reflect long-running U.S. concerns about Pakistan and Iran, but it is rare that they have been voiced so prominently by a top U.S. official. McChrystal submitted his assessment last month, and a declassified version was published Sunday on the Washington Post website. The criticism of Pakistan is a particularly delicate issue because of the United States' close cooperation with Islamabad in pursuing militants and carrying out drone airstrikes in the nation's rugged east. "Afghanistan's insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan," McChrystal wrote, adding that senior leaders of the major Taliban groups are "reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan's ISI." The ISI has long-standing ties to the Taliban, but Pakistani officials have repeatedly claimed to have severed those relationships in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. More recently, the ISI has been a key U.S. partner in the capture of a number of high-level Al Qaeda operatives, including alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But U.S. officials have also complained of ongoing contacts between the spy service and Taliban groups. U.S. frustration peaked last year when Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other U.S. officials secretly confronted Pakistan with evidence of ISI involvement in the suicide bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Since then, U.S. officials have sought to avoid public criticism of the Pakistani service as part of an effort to defuse tensions in the relationship. Indeed, U.S. officials in recent months have said that the ISI had become more committed to the counter-terrorism cause after one of the service's own facilities in Lahore was the target of a suicide bombing. McChrystal's comments are the first public indication in months that the United States continues to see signs of ISI support for insurgent groups. Experts said elements of the ISI maintain those ties to hedge against a U.S. withdrawal from the region and rising Indian influence in Afghanistan. "There is a mixture of motives and concerns within the ISI that have accounted for the dalliances that have gone on for years" with insurgent groups, said Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA counter-terrorism official. Iran has traditionally had an adversarial relationship with the Taliban, and McChrystal's report says that Tehran has played "an ambiguous role in Afghanistan," providing developmental assistance to the government even as it flirts with insurgent groups that target U.S. troops. "The Iranian Quds Force is reportedly training fighters for certain Taliban groups and providing other forms of military assistance to insurgents," McChrystal said in the report. The Quds Force is an elite wing of the Revolutionary Guard that carries out operations in other countries. McChrystal did not elaborate on the nature of the assistance, but Iran has been a transit point for foreign fighters entering Pakistan. Experts also cited evidence that Iran has provided training and technology in the use of roadside bombs. U.S. intelligence officials said Iran appears to calibrate its involvement to tie down U.S. and coalition troops without provoking direct retaliation. Iran's aim "is to make sure the U.S. is tied down and preoccupied in yet another theater," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University. "From Iran's point of view, it's an historical area of interest and too good an opportunity to pass up."

NWFP(Pukhtunkhwa) working on new strategy to raise literacy

PESHAWAR: The Frontier government has prepared a strategy proposing innovative measures to ensure every child is attending school by 2015, an official said.

The plan has been worked out by the Education Sector Reforms Unit (ESRU), a think tank of the elementary and secondary education department, which offers some ‘out of the box’ solutions to enhance enrolment and prevent children’s leaving schools.

The NWFP has lower primary enrolment and higher dropout ratio in secondary education as compared to Punjab and Sindh, as according to official statistics around 2.8 million children are out of school at the moment.

The Frontier government is bound to ensure enrolment of every child in school as per the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals by 2015, and the target is unlikely to be met because there is a need of 22,000 new schools, which will require resources worth Rs5 trillion.

Apart from unprecedented resource mobilisation, construction of these schools will take at least 110 years because the implementing agencies with existing capacity can hardly build 200 schools a year.

The proposed strategy, however, gives an alternative plan that will reduce the cost at least 20 times, making it possible to enrol out-of-school children, Raja Saad Khan, programme director of ESRU and architect of the plan, told Dawn here on Thursday.

A summary, already approved by the provincial minister for elementary and secondary education, had been submitted to Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, whose policy speech on April 10 last year soon after taking vote of confidence provided the basis for the strategy, he maintained.

The strategy recommends initiating second shifts in existing school buildings, which have no utility after official school timing. This step would save money and time to be consumed on construction of new schools, said the official.

Similarly, he said, the communities could be approached for provision of buildings for schools free of cost, while teachers could be provided by the government.

There were many areas where equal opportunity of schooling was not available for boys and girls, thus second shifts for girls in boys’ schools and vice versa, could be started to address this deficiency, he said.

Similarly, if buildings or sufficient rooms are available, second shifts of high school can be started in middle schools, and middle classes can be started in primary schools’ buildings in evening shifts.

The proposed strategy recommends that female teachers should be recruited in all future primary schools (boys and girls) and schooling up to primary should be co-education.

The official argued that this step would reduce the burden of establishing two schools in the same locality and it would also help counter dropouts usually caused by corporal punishment.

It is also suggested to gradually convert existing boys’ primary schools into co-education with the consent of community.

Construction of even a two-room school building involves an estimated cost of Rs3.2 billion, which can be saved if an approach of housing public sector schools in rented buildings is adopted.

Similarly, Saad said, the government had been advised to encourage the private sector to construct purpose-built buildings to be hired on rental basis by the government for housing schools, adding: ‘This will not only save money for the government, but will also attract investment in the education sector.’

To counter teachers’ absenteeism in remote areas, the strategy offers an innovative approach of hiring unemployed trained married couples, offering them teachers’ jobs in these hard areas with incentives.

The official explained that in areas like Kohistan there was no dearth of school buildings, but the main problem was availability of teachers because no one among the teachers wanted to be posted there.

However, under this approach, couples could be motivated to offer their services in these areas, he observed.

Another ‘out of the box’ approach of this strategy is offering employment to female students during their studies in backward districts.

It has been suggested that female students, when reach Class 8, should be given guaranteed jobs.

After matriculation, they should be admitted for training with reasonable monthly stipend in the Regional Institute for Teachers’ Education before they are posted in their respective areas.

Launching of campaigns for enhancing enrolment and steps for improving monitoring of teachers’ performance are also part of the proposed strategy.