Saturday, October 31, 2009

Afghan vote in the balance, Abdullah may not run

KABUL - Afghan President Hamid Karzai's election rival, Abdullah Abdullah, will announce on Sunday whether he will take part in next week's disputed run-off vote, as Western diplomatic sources said he was leaning toward pulling out.
Abdullah canceled a planned trip to India on Saturday, just before a deadline he had given Karzai to sack Afghanistan's top election official was to expire.

Afghanistan has been racked by weeks of political uncertainty after widespread fraud marred the first round, with security a major concern after a resurgent Taliban vowed to disrupt the November 7 run-off.

With Afghanistan's political future hanging in the balance, U.S. President Barack Obama is also weighing whether to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan. Obama met U.S. military leaders in Washington on Friday as part of a strategy review.

A Western diplomatic source said Abdullah was leaning toward pulling out of the election but may be using the threat as a "negotiating ploy" with Karzai.

"We have heard that talks with Karzai have broken down and he (Abdullah) is leaning toward not taking part in the election but this could also be a negotiating ploy," said the diplomatic source, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the issue is sensitive. "It is not a done deal."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Saturday any decision by Abdullah not to contest the run-off would not affect the vote's legitimacy.

Asked at a news conference in Jerusalem about reports that aides to Abdullah said he would not run, Clinton did not make clear if she was confirming he would not take part in the run-off, but said, "I think that it is his decision to make.

She added: "I do not think it affects the legitimacy. There have been other situations in our own country as well as around the world where in a run-off election one of the parties decides for whatever reason that they are not going to go on."

Abdullah's campaign team issued a short statement on Saturday saying the former foreign minister had called a loya jirga, or grand assembly of elders, for 9.30 a.m. on Sunday.

"Dr Abdullah Abdullah will a give speech about the election and he will announce his decision in the loya jirga tent," the statement said.

Abdullah's aides said earlier he had canceled the trip to India because of uncertainty over the election.

Diplomats said there were questions over whether Abdullah would use his news conference as a concession speech to incumbent Karzai or declare a boycott of the run-off.

Western officials have noted that Abdullah has not opened any campaign offices in Afghanistan since the run-off was called last week. Neither candidate has campaigned openly.

"The signs are there. (Abdullah's) not doing any campaigning. Everyone is looking at the two camps and willing them to do some form of accommodation that will avoid a run-off," one Western diplomat, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.

Diplomats and analysts have said that, according to the constitution, it was possible the run-off might go ahead with Karzai as the only candidate if Abdullah pulls out. They fear that would have a serious impact on the government's legitimacy.


Talk of a possible power-sharing deal between Karzai and Abdullah has also grown as a possible solution to the deadlock.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said it was a matter for Karzai and Abdullah to decide if they could come up with a constitutionally sound solution acceptable to Afghans.

Western diplomats have said privately Abdullah may have overplayed his hand with last week's ultimatum to Karzai, which included a demand to dismiss three ministers in a bid to avoid a repeat of the first-round fraud.

Karzai has already indicated he would not give in to Abdullah's demand. Abdullah has not said yet what he would do if the officials were not removed.

The run-off was triggered when a U.N.-led investigation found widespread fraud, mainly in favor of Karzai, had been committed during the August 20 first round.

The United States already has about 70,000 troops in Afghanistan and the decision to send more hinges on whether the Afghan government is seen by U.S. lawmakers and the public as a legitimate and viable partner.

Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, said Afghanistan faced a return to a "brutal tyranny" if the Taliban, al Qaeda and their militant Islamist allies were allowed to return to power. Bush was speaking at the leadership summit in New Delhi Abdullah had been due to attend.

Many commentators and Western diplomats believe Karzai will likely win the run-off, adding pressure on Abdullah to withdraw for the sake of stability.

It would also avoid the mobilization of thousands of foreign troops that would be needed to help secure polling stations after poor security and Taliban threats cut voter turnout in August.

The Taliban have called on Afghans to boycott the run-off and have vowed to disrupt the poll, their threat underlined on Wednesday by a suicide attack on a Kabul guest-house used by the United Nations in which five foreign U.N. staff were killed.

Bomb kills seven in Khyber Agency

PESHAWAR: A bomb killed seven Pakistani soldiers and wounded 11 others Saturday in the country’s northwestern tribal area, officials said.

‘Seven paramilitary soldiers were killed and 11 were wounded in the remote-control bomb attack,’ Shafirullah Khan, the top administrative official of Khyber tribal district, told AFP by telephone.

The Frontier Corps later issued a statement confirming that seven of its members had ‘embraced martyrdom’. It gave their names and said they died in an improvised explosive device blast.

Military and security officials in nearby Peshawar city said two vehicles carrying rations for Pakistani troops were destroyed in the blast.

It occurred about 15 kilometers west of Peshawar.

Khyber is on the main supply route through Pakistan to Afghanistan, where international forces are battling a Taliban insurgency.

The semi-autonomous northwest tribal belt has become a stronghold for hundreds of extremists who fled Afghanistan after a US-led invasion toppled the hardliner Islamic Taliban regime there in late 2001.

NWFP to be made Rs 110 billion payment, says PM

PESHAWAR : The federal government on Saturday accepted the onus of payment of Rs 110 billion to North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to resolve the two decades old dispute between the province and the Water & Power Development Authority (Wapda) over payment of net profit on hydropower generation. The decision was announced by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani at a press briefing here at Governor House.

NWFP Governor Owais Ahmad Ghani and Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti flanked the Prime Minister, federal ministers Qamaruzzaman Kaira, Rehman Malik, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, Najmuddin Khan and Hina Rabbani Khar. The Prime Minister said that after consultations with NWFP government, the federal government has agreed for payment of the principal amount outstanding against Wapda under the head of net-profit on hydropower generation.

The outstanding amount of Rs 110 billion would be paid in four instalments, he added. The Prime Minister said that initially an amount of Rs 10 billion would be released to the province with immediate effect while each installment of Rs 25 billion would be paid on the end of each quarter of the year.

He said that the decision was a milestone in the relations of the federal government as it was a longstanding demand of the provincial government. He said according to the decision both parties would withdraw their cases from the courts. During the government of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz an Arbitration Tribunal was constituted for the resolution of the dispute between NWFP and Wapda.

However, Wapda failed to honour the verdict of the tribunal and challenged it in a civil court of Islamabad, while the NWFP government moved Supreme Court. The Prime Minister also announced establishment of 'Martyre Trust' for the police personnel on the pattern of military.

The trust would be established in all four provinces and the federal government would provide the seed money to serve the families of those who lost lives in the line of duties. He said that the purpose of his visit to the province was to express solidarity with the people of Peshawar where terrorists killed innocent persons through a cowardly act of explosion. He expressed sorrow over the killing of women and children and came to share feelings with the victims.

He also condemned killing of seven security men in an explosion of a powerful bomb Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency, saying that militants neither have religion nor any faith, whose purpose is only weakening of the state. He appreciated the role of the law enforcement agencies which are sacrificing their lives for the future of the nation. Similarly, he also supported the general public who had extended support to the security forces in the battle.

The Prime Minister said that a meeting was also held to review law and order situation and strengthening of the security arrangements. He said that provision of security to the people is fundamental duty of the state. He linked the resolution of economic and other issues with bringing improvement in the law and order situation.

"Security and economic development are inter-related and both are pre-requisite for investment. We are competent and able to resolve the problems," said that the Prime Minister. He said that the government wanted capacity building of the law enforcement agencies, adding that a committee headed by him has been constituted in this regard.

He said that both civil and military leadership are united while the political leadership either they are inside the parliament or outside wanted elimination of the terrorism. "We have no other option as militants wanted the abolition of the system," he said.

The Prime Minister said that reconstruction of Malakand Division would be initiated, "as we are in contact with our friends in international community. The military action has completed now it is the turn for political, social and economic solutions". He said that they required provision of employment and bringing improvement in the economy of the people.

The PM was also briefed on matters relating to internally displaced persons (IDPs) who thanked the people of Peshawar, Mardan, Swabi, Charsadda and other districts for extending hospitality to their displaced brothers in Swat. He said that 80 percent displaced families have returned to their homes. Regarding military action in Waziristan, he said that the displaced people from FATA would also be rehabilitated.

He said that tribesmen are patriotic Pakistanis and have supported Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and today they are rendering sacrifices for stability and integrity of Pakistan. He said that foreign elements are polluting situation in FATA. He said that there would be no difference in the standard of treatment with the people of FATA and like IDPs of Malakand they would also be paid Rs 25000 on the return to their areas and Rs 5000 for their livelihood.

He announced that a committee comprising of NWFP Governor and Chief Minister, Interior Minister, Information Minister, Minister of State for Economic Division, and General Nadeem of the Special Support Group, has been constituted for FATA. The committee would supervise funding and would approve funds for the law enforcement agencies. The committee has been directed to prepare report within a period of 30 days.

Pakistan's hidden war

In South Waziristan the enemy is not just the Taliban and al-Qaeda. It's also the terrain, and the militants know every inch.For centuries the treacherous peaks and remote valleys have been resistant to outsiders.During the era of the Raj, British troops had their own name for it - "Hell's Door Knocker."These days American officials regard it as one of the most dangerous places on earth.In this barren landscape the Pakistani army is now fighting a largely hidden war. We were given a rare glimpse of the battlefield, where 30,000 troops are trying to flush out an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 militants.The military gave us a guided tour of areas captured since the launch of operation "Path to Salvation" on 17 October.The terrain dictates the strategy - first troops have to take the high ground, then the valleys and ravines. We were taken to a series of strategic hilltops, which are now in army hands.Commanders spoke of fierce resistance from heavily armed militants.One of the first battles was against a stronghold of Uzbek fighters, in the district of Spin Jamaat. The Uzbeks have a reputation as ferocious warriors, and loyal al-Qaeda soldiers.
"They put up a very good fight," says General Khalid Rabbani, who lead the assault. "They defended every peak and every ridge, and they filled the area with mines and improvised explosive devices."
9/11 connection
He said his troops had killed 82 militants, but admitted that hundreds had probably escaped Spin Jamaat before the fighting began.In a mud compound in the village of Sherwangai, troops displayed some of the spoils of war.Alongside the heavy weapons and the hand grenades there were computers - and identity documents.One passport suggests a militant with links to the 9/11 hijackers may have been here at some point.We had a brief opportunity to examine the German passport, issued in the name of Said Bahaji.It was issued in August 2001 and showed an entry to Pakistan early the following month - days before the twin towers of the World Trade Center were attacked.Bahaji is believed to have lived in Hamburg for eight months with Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 hijackers.The appearance of the passport raises a lot of questions - not least is it genuine? For now that is unclear.
The discovery coincided with a visit by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in which she publicly questioned Pakistan's efforts to hunt down al-Qaeda.
One UK-based analyst said the timing was not an accident.
"I think it's convenient," says Dr. Sajjan Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, "especially given that Hilary Clinton seemed to criticise the government and the military for not doing enough to find al-Qaeda."
"The question is whether they allow more scrutiny of the passport, " Dr Gohel added.
The army says it is now being examined by Pakistani intelligence experts, and that this process will "take time".
During our visit the soundtrack of war was playing in the hills around Sherwangai - the dull crack and thump of mortars, punctuated by bursts of machinegun fire.
Commanders said troops are advancing steadily - if slowly - and the Taliban are apparently being pushed back.
But one senior officer warned that what looks like a retreat is actually a trap.
"Their main aim is to suck us deeper into forested areas and mountain passes, and cause maximum casualties among our incoming troops," he asserts.
He believes that the Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud has moved into dense forests near the border of North Waziristan, where he has cover from US drones.
The army admits Hakimullah is continuing to direct the resistance, and that his men are still on the move, on horses or mules - the traditional transport of South Waziristan.
'Fight to the finish'
Travelling in the area is like going back in time. "Any paved roads you see were built by the British," says one officer, "and that was a long time ago."
Since then there have been decades of neglect, the vacuum left by the state was filled by the militants.
Privately commanders admit that they will have to keep fighting this battle for years to come, if the government does not follow the offensive with a development plan.

For now Pakistanis wonder when the operation will deliver tangible results - like a reduction in the almost deadly attacks which claimed around 300 lives in the past month.

“ They put up a very good fight, [the militants] defended every peak and every ridge, and they filled the area with... improvised explosive devices ”
General Khalid Rabbani, Pakistan Army
With helicopter gunships circling overhead, the army's chief spokesman - Major General Athar Abbas - was reluctant to give a timescale.

But he maintains that robbing the Taliban of their stronghold will severely limit their ability to strike.

"The people will have to be patient and have confidence that the army will end this as soon as possible," he says.
Previously commanders have said the operation should be concluded in six to eight weeks, though troops would have to remain in the area long after that.
The army has been here before - with three previous offensives since 2004. They ended with peace deals not with victory.
"This time it will be a fight to the finish. We have strong public support," says Maj Gen Abbas.
What Pakistan does or fails to do here has implications beyond its own borders - for security in neighbouring Afghanistan and also in the West.
The peaks of South Waziristan cast a long shadow

PM chairs high-level meeting on NWFP's security situation

PESHAWAR : Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on Saturday chaired a high-level meeting on the security and law and order situation in NWFP at the Governor House.

The prime minister who arrived here on a day-long visit, discussed matters relating to security in the province and directed the authorities to take effective measures to protect the life and property of masses.

The meeting was attended by Governor NWFP Owais Ahmad Ghani, Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, State Minister for Finance Hina Rabbani Khar, Federal Ministers Lal Muhammad Khan and Najmuddin Khan.

Fayyaz Toro, Special Secretary Home NWFP briefed the Prime Minister on the security situation in the province. Chief Secretary NWFP Javed Iqbal, IGP Malik Naveed and other high officials were also present in the briefing.

The meeting also discussed the status of displaced families due to military operation in South Waziristan.

Earlier, the meeting offered fateha for the departed souls of the Meena bazaar blast, and prayed for the early recovery of the injured.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bilour asks govt to declare NWFP war-hit area

PESHAWAR: Condemning the bombing at Meena Bazaar, Federal Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmed Bilour on Friday urged the government to declare NWFP, particularly its metropolis, as a war-hit area and exempt it from taxes.

Addressing a news conference, he expressed sympathy with the families of the victims. He was accompanied by his younger brother and NWFP Senior Minister Bashir Bilour. The federal minister said no religion allowed killing of innocent people. “It is unfortunate that Muslims are killing their own brethren in the name of jihad. Equally unfortunate is the fact that the blood of Pakhtuns is being shed on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. The Taliban are Pakhtuns, who are killing their Pakhtun brothers in the terrorist incidents,” he said.

The federal minister said that though the NWFP government was taking measures for protection of citizens against terrorism, the people including him were not satisfied with the security arrangements. He urged the government to further strengthen the security system. He also asked the federal and provincial governments to provide optimum compensation to the blast victims.

The government should also compensate the material losses of the shopkeepers and common people so that they could reconstruct their houses and shops and restart their business, he added.

Bilour said the provincial government was unable to cope with the situation in its limited resources, and that he would take up the matter in the federal cabinet. He lauded the services of medical staff and volunteer work by public.

About the timeframe for the military operation against the militants, he remarked time limit is not given while fighting a war. About disaster management, he said the government was trying its best to provide the latest equipment to the civic bodies. The Civil Defence Department has been activated and Rescue 1122 Department is being set up to overcome disasters, he added.

Ignorant Taliban destroyed 473 schools in FATA, Malakand: Malik

ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Friday said the Taliban torched 409 educational institutions in Malakand Division, and 64 in FATA. Calling the Taliban “professional killers and liars”, the minister said they were enemies of Islam and Pakistan and had nefarious designs to destabilise the country. Malik reiterated the government’s firm stance of uprooting the menace of extremism and terrorism from the country.

Afghan election talks break down
Kabul, Afghanistan -- Talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his election opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, have broken down, a Western source close to the Afghan leadership told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Friday.
According to the source, Abdullah will likely announce this weekend that he will boycott the runoff presidential election slated for November 7, a runoff that had been scheduled after intense diplomatic arm twisting by the United States.
In a Thursday interview with Amanpour, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad had predicted that the country would soon be governed under a power-sharing deal.
"I think there will be power-sharing," Khalilzad said. "Both want power-sharing. The difference is that Karzai wanted to be first declared the winner or win the election and then offer something from a position of strength, while Abdullah Abdullah wanted to go to a second round but have a power-sharing agreement without the vote."
But Khalilzad also said Abdullah "may not stay in the race."
"First, he doesn't have much money left," he said. "Second, I think that he thinks that, given the situation, he's likely to lose, and maybe he'll get less votes than he did in the first round, so that would be embarrassing."
In the United States, President Obama is considering whether to send more troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban insurgency there, as requested by the commander of troops there, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, or adopt some other strategy in the troubled nation.
Khalilzad said the outcome of the Afghan election negotiations is crucial to whatever decision the U.S. president takes.
"There are very few very capable Afghans, and they need to come together in a power-sharing arrangement," he said, "because whatever the decision is here in the United States, this will be one last chance to push for success in Afghanistan. And that cannot happen without the Afghan leaders doing their part."

Army stands with nation against terrorism: COAS

RAWALPINDI : The Chief Of Army Staff(COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has condemned the heinous attack in Meena Bazar Peshawar and has regretted the loss of precious lives.The COAS expressed his heartfelt condolences to the families of all innocent victims of Peshawar blast. He said that Army stands with the Nation in its resolve to defeat the forces of extremism and terrorism.

Clinton Ends Visit as the Focus of Pakistani Barbs


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton wrapped up a three-day visit here, she faced yet another round of skepticism and sharpened questions as Pakistani audiences vented their anger over American policies in the region.

An interview with several women who are prominent Pakistani television anchors, broadcast live, turned into a pointed, sometimes raucous back-and-forth, as her questioners cut each other off and shouted to be heard as they parried with Mrs. Clinton. They criticized American drone strikes in Pakistan, said the military presence was stirring unrest and expressed their doubts about whether the United States had a long-term commitment to Pakistan.

One of the women said that Pakistanis were experiencing “daily 9/11’s,” and an audience member asked Mrs. Clinton whether the drone strikes amounted to acts of terrorism.

Mrs. Clinton was also challenged in a meeting with Pakistani tribal residents who live near the border with Afghanistan, a focal point of the fight with Taliban insurgents.

“Your presence in the region is not good for peace,” one of the men in attendance told Mrs. Clinton, according to The Associated Press, “because it gives rise to frustration and irritation among the people of this region.”

Throughout the three days of her visit here, Mrs. Clinton would not comment on the drone attacks — a classified C.I.A. program — but said that the United States hoped to act as a partner with Pakistan on military and domestic issues.

Mrs. Clinton’s parade of meetings with television, radio and print journalists was an effort to improve public portrayals of the United States in Pakistan’s vibrant, influential, but sometimes rumor-driven press.

But a car bomb struck a market in the border city of Peshawar within hours of her arrival, killing more than 100 people; a United Nations guest house was attacked in Kabul, leaving 11 dead; and Mrs. Clinton has met with unremitting skepticism. All of that has underscored the precarious security situation and highlighted the diplomatic struggles facing the United States as it tries to rout terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan and support democracies in both.

A gathering on Thursday at Government College University in Lahore was particularly hostile. Rarely in her travels as secretary of state has Mrs. Clinton encountered an audience so uniformly suspicious and immune to her star power as the polite, but unsmiling, university students who challenged her there.

One after another, they lined up to grill Mrs. Clinton about what they see as the dysfunctional relationship between Pakistan and the United States. They described a litany of slights, betrayals and misunderstandings that add up to a national narrative of grievance, against which she did her best to push back.

Why did the United States abandon Pakistan after the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, they asked. Why did the Bush administration support the previous military government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf? What about reports in the Pakistani news media that American contractors illegally carried weapons in Islamabad? Even her fans have come armed with spears. A young woman, a medical student, thanked Mrs. Clinton for being an inspiration to women, then asked how the United States could justify ordering Predator strikes on targets in Pakistan without sharing intelligence with its military.

Mrs. Clinton said only, “The war that your government and your military are waging right now is an important one for the country.”

Women Mourn the Women Who are Targets

Arshad Arbab/European Pressphoto Agency Women leave the site of the devastating blast in Peshawar, in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), that killed more than 100 people on Wednesday.
Sarah Hassan, 22, changed her Facebook status to “Why is this happening to us??” hours after the massive car bombing that ripped through a crowded market frequented by female shoppers in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Wednesday.

Ms. Hassan is one of many Pakistanis asking that question, and the latest spasm of violence in Pakistan cities has prompted new concerns that militants have begun to specifically target women in their terror campaign.

Ms. Hassan, who works at an immigration consulting firm in the eastern city of Lahore, said she is hearing more and more stories of loss. A friend lost her sister and father in a terrorist attack in Peshawar on Oct. 16, she said. “I could not even call her. I could not get myself to console with her.”

“I am depressed and think about all these innocent people who are losing their lives almost every day,” she said. Another girl she knew became disabled after suffering injuries in the suicide attack that targeted a university in Islamabad.

Shabbir Hussein/European Pressphoto Agency Students of International Islamic University left their campus after twin suicide bomb attacks, in Islamabad on Oct. 20 that left six people dead. Many educational institutions across Pakistan were temporarily closed following the bombings.
But Ms. Hassan did not think that the attacks of late were specifically targeting women. “They are just randomly killing innocent people,” she said, referring to the militants.

The threat of terrorism now loomed large in the cities, having crept from the northwestern edges of the country.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit served to feed fears in Lahore on Thursday, Ms. Hassan said. “The whole day we feared hearing about a terrorist attack here. This is no life. Our lives are getting affected and why,” she asked.

“This cannot go on. It has to stop. We want to progress. We want to have careers, but it all seems impossible now,” she said referring to herself and her group of friends.

“Earlier, we used to discuss boys or movies and now we can’t socialize or go out. We cannot go out for shopping. Parents tell us to stay inside our homes. What if terrorists start attacking residential areas now?” she wondered.

And in recent weeks, she said she has noticed a big influx of people applying for immigration through the consultation firm. “People just want to get out as soon as they can,” she said.

Maria Wasti, a popular television actress based in the southern port city of Karachi, agreed that the feeling of insecurity cut across gender lines. “I am going to the airport a little later. It can be bombed and then some can say that passengers were targeted,” Ms. Wasti said Thursday evening. “We as a nation, as people, are being targeted.”

But she added that women were also often reprimanded in the society for not conforming to the conservative views of the religious right. “If you wear sleeves or wear jeans, some cleric can come forward and tell you are not following Islam properly.”

She felt there was a lot of confusion among the people on the issue of terrorism. “We do not know who our enemies are.”

The militants who are condemned now were not too long ago dubbed as “good” by the governments of the United States and Pakistan, she said.

Arshad Arbab/European Pressphoto AgencyWomen at the site of the Peshawar market bombing.
“Our government is fighting them because America is asking us to do so. It all has a very scripted feel. Just like the way we write dramas and then act knowing what will happen next,” she said. “It is like a circle.”

But for residents of Peshawar, the car bombing Wednesday was yet another grim reminder of how ordinary lives had become so vulnerable to so many new threats.

“Our hearts are bleeding,” said Shazia Aurangzeb, a member of the provincial parliament in Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), representing the opposition political party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

Unlike Ms. Hassan and Ms. Wasti, she sensed that there was a significant connection between the recent blasts and women. “In our Pashtun culture, women are highly respected, but now they are being targeted.”

Ms. Aurangzeb’s feelings of grief were followed by anger.

And like many Pakistanis, her anger is directed at the United States as she blamed America for the woes that were afflicting the common people of her province.

“We are fighting an American war and killing our own people,” she said.

“9/11 was a security lapse of America itself. Why is America now punishing others?”

She would not be drawn into commenting on who she thought may have carried out the attacks in Peshawar and other parts of NWFP, but some Pakistanis have suggested that “We do not know who are the genuine stakeholders,” she said.

Pakistani officials have blamed Taliban for the Peshawar car bombing. Curiously, a Taliban spokesperson denied responsibility for the attack.

Ms. Aurangzeb said she was convinced that Pakistan was fighting an unnecessary war and consequently the situation in her native province was getting worse. “Only Muslims are getting killed every day.”

Peshawar Mourns Its Dead

Markets and businesses in Peshawar were closed on Friday the 30th as a sign of mourning. A car bomb ripped through a crowded market killing more than 106 people on Wednesday the 28th.Eyewitnesses said the scene on Wednesday was "like Doomsday"… as fire engulfed buildings and a mosque after the massive blast. Several buildings collapsed. Doctors say many of the wounded are still in critical condition and the death toll is likely to rise.Distraught relatives are also still looking for scores of missing people who were either shopping or working in the city at the time of the blast. Many more are mourning their dead.
"Three funerals took place at my house. The children who are orphaned, the women who have been widowed have no one to provide for them. We appeal to the government to help these poor people." The bomb went off in the busy Peepal Mandi market street.
Although nobody claimed responsibility, many believe Taliban militants are to blame… who are the target of an army offensive.
"We just cannot understand who is doing all this. The actions the government is taking are correct, so who are the people who are doing this? It can only be the work of an enemy country."
The attack came as security forces pressed ahead with their offensive to wrest control of the Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan on the Afghan border.

As a car-bomb attack in Peshawar tragically demonstrates, Pakistanis and the U.S. have a common enemy in Islamist extremists.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton set out for Pakistan this week on a charm offensive, hoping to curtail anti-Americanism by speaking directly with students and journalists not simply about fighting terrorism but about economic development and other issues of common interest. Then a car bomb tore though a crowded market in the northwestern city of Peshawar, slaughtering more than 100 men, women and children, instantly drawing attention back to the conflict.

More than anything Clinton can say, a series of assaults that have taken the lives of more than 500 civilians this year should serve to convince typical Pakistanis that this is not just a U.S. war. The United States and Pakistan have a common enemy in Islamist extremists, and the Pakistani state is fighting for its survival.

Militants around the world have cynically targeted marketplaces to weaken support for governments that fail to protect their people, even though killing innocents rarely wins over public opinion in the long run. That's a point the Obama administration also should note. More than 500 civilians have died in U.S. missile strikes against the Taliban by unmanned drone aircraft, Pakistani officials say, which may partly explain why polls show that a majority of Pakistanis regard the United States as an enemy.

The Peshawar bomb appears to be the work of the Pakistani Taliban, which is fighting not for its brethren in Afghanistan but to destabilize the government of President Asif Ali Zardari. Officials regard the bombing as retaliation for a 30,000-troop Pakistani military offensive in the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan. Despite his many shortcomings, Zardari sounds as if he understands that he has no choice but to fight back. We hope that the often-ambivalent Pakistani army is convinced it must continue the offensive and ultimately defeat the Pakistani Taliban. Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif also should speak out against the bombing and help unify the country against radicals who want to control it.

The United States is aiding Pakistan's military with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons, helicopters and surveillance equipment, and U.S. Special Forces soldiers are training Pakistani counterinsurgency troops. All of this is done under the radar, so to speak, to avoid a backlash against the United States. But while it's true that the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, is shoring up the nuclear-armed Pakistani government to protect U.S. interests and those of its allies, it's also time for Pakistanis to acknowledge that it's in their interest as well to keep extremists at bay. This is Pakistan's conflict too.

US not losing Afghan war, but Taliban has 'momentum': Clinton

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that the United States was not losing the war in Afghanistan, but acknowledged 'the Taliban has momentum' in the eight-year-old conflict.Clinton's comments on the Taliban in an interview with ABC television repeated earlier statements from war commander General Stanley McChrystal and other top US officials.Her comments came hours ahead of President Barack Obama's talks with his top military chiefs, the latest in a string of strategy sessions at the White House as he weighs whether to send tens of thousands more US troops to Afghanistan."It's not going to be a repeat of the same, old approach. We're trying different things," Clinton said."When the president makes his decision, I think that will be evident."Obama has spent weeks deliberating over a request for 40,000 more troops by McChrystal, who warned in a dire assessment that the war could be lost without more boots on the ground."This is not an open-ended, never-ending commitment," Clinton warned on NBC television.Afghan President Hamid Karzai, once a darling of the West, has fallen out of favor with Washington since Obama took office. His legitimacy and credibility have also been at stake following a first round of elections in August riddled with fraud."There might have been too much emphasis on the central government and the idea that there could be some kind of nation-building that would transform Afghanistan overnight," Clinton told CNN. "Well, we don't accept that. We don't think that's going to happen. But what we do believe is that we have to work with the president and the cabinet and officials in Kabul and the officials at the local level, and that's going to be our approach."

Clinton leaves Pakistan with pointed question on al Qaeda

ISLAMABAD - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wound up a bridge-building visit to Pakistan on Friday leaving a pointed question ringing in her hosts' ears: Where are the al Qaeda leaders operating in your country?

While no Pakistani officials were immediately prepared to answer, ordinary citizens told Washington's top diplomat the country was living on a daily basis with the consequences of the September 11, 2001 attacks engineered by the militant Islamist group.

At a televised women's forum on Friday, Clinton was pressed on U.S. attitudes toward Pakistan, questioned about the use of robot drones to attack suspected militants, and reminded of the costs the country faces as it battles its own insurgency.

"We are fighting a war that was imposed on us. It is not our war, it is your war," television journalist Asma Shirazi told Clinton on the last day of her three-day visit to Pakistan.

"You had a 9-11. We are having daily 9-11s in Pakistan."

Pakistan's army is in the middle of a massive offensive against Taliban militants strongholds in South Waziristan that has prompted a spate of bloody revenge attacks on urban targets.

On Wednesday, when Clinton arrived, a car bomb in a market in the northwest city of Peshawar killed more than 100 people, mostly women and children, and wounded nearly 200.

The rough and rugged tribal territory separating Pakistan and Afghanistan is a stronghold for Taliban insurgents from both countries as well as a haven for al Qaeda operatives.

While most Pakistanis are against the extremists, many also believe they are fueled by Islamabad's links with Washington.

On Thursday Clinton expressed disbelief no-one in authority knew where al Qaeda leaders were hiding out -- a remark that may fuel much reaction once she leaves the country.

"I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to," she told a group of newspaper editors during a meeting in Lahore.

Clinton's pointed remark was the first public gripe on a trip aimed at turning around a U.S.-Pakistan relationship under serious strain, but bound in the struggle against religious extremism.

Clinton's main message in Pakistan -- that the forces binding Pakistanis and Americans together are far stronger than those dividing them -- was constant, and she urged audiences to stand guard against extreme religious doctrine that seeks to impose its will on the population.


Many participating in Clinton's numerous public appearances in Pakistan have expressed appreciation for U.S. backing for the country and for Clinton's personal outreach.

But more frequently Clinton's "people to people" diplomacy -- with journalists, students and common people -- has been characterized by sharp disagreements and deep distrust.

That is a potentially worrying sign for officials in Washington hoping to reverse a steep rise in anti-U.S. sentiment in the increasingly fragile nuclear armed country.

Through it all, Clinton has proved unflappable, acknowledging the "trust deficit" created by past U.S. mistakes while firmly responding to charges the United States does not have Pakistan's best interests at heart.

Clinton, who professes deep personal affection for Pakistan and its people, was cautiously optimistic her visit may have changed a few hearts and minds among fearful Pakistanis although she said much more needed to be done to illustrate how the United States is helping the country.

"I'm going to try as hard as I can. But ultimately, we have to have actions between the two of us. Words are not enough," she said at the women's gathering.

As the Pakistan offensive in South Waziristan continued, officials in the port city of Karachi said they had arrested nearly 200 foreign nationals, mostly Afghans, in the past week in a security sweep.

"Most of these people have been arrested on charges of staying illegally in the country, but the main reason for this crackdown is to try and hunt militants hiding among these illegal refugees," said a senior police official, requesting anonymity.

Police have also arrested several members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangavi group in recent days, recovering hundreds of kilograms of explosives, suicide jackets and other weapons.

Officials said security forces have arrested 18 suspected militants, including foreigners, in the northern town of Chitral as well.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Secretary-General to Hold High-Level Staff Meeting on Threats to UN Security

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will convene a meeting of the organization's top officials on Friday to discuss the serious security challenges facing the organization in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. Mr. Ban appealed to the members of the Security Council for their support during an emergency session Thursday - a day after an attack on a U.N. guesthouse in Kabul killed five staffers. The U.N. Secretary-General said Friday's meeting will focus on the growing threat to the United Nations in places across the world where it operates.

"Increasingly, the U.N. is being targeted," said Ban Ki-moon. "In this case, precisely because of our support for the Afghan elections. Not counting peacekeepers, 27 U.N. civilian personnel have lost their lives to violence so far this year - more than half of them in Afghanistan and Pakistan." Mr. Ban cited the bravery of U.N. security personnel during Thursday's early morning raid of the guesthouse, in which gunmen shot at victims and then detonated grenades and suicide vests.

"For at least an hour, and perhaps more, they held off the attackers, fighting through the corridors of the building and from the rooftop, giving their colleagues time to escape," he said. "Without their heroism, there could have been more casualities, victims."

Mr. Ban told reporters that would also brief the General Assembly on Friday.
"I will ask for expedited action for our security mesures, so that we can meet the dramatically escalated threat to U.N. staff, now widely considered to be a 'soft target', as well as provide support for victims and their families," said Mr. Ban.

With the second-round of the Afghan presidential elections little more than a week away, Mr. Ban said the United Nations is considering a number of short-term measures to help facilitate its work, including consolidating its staff in Kabul and around the country.

"We are exploring the feasiblity of bringing in additional security units to guard U.N. facilities and will ask [the] international community to step up its support," said Ban Ki-moon.

He said he would consider all possiblities, including hiring private security contractors to protect U.N. staff.

The primary responsiblity for U.N. security resides with the host country. Mr. Ban said that Afghan President Hamid Karzai called him earlier Thursday and assured him of tightened security support for the U.N. mission.

For its part, the Security Council reiterated its strong condemnation of the attack and its Taliban perpetrators. The council said it looks forward to the secretary-general's detailed proposal for improving U.N. security measures.

Death toll from Peshawar blast rises to 117

PESHAWAR: The death toll in Wednesday’s bomb blast in the city’s Meena Bazaar rose to 117 on Thursday evening and rescue workers believed that some bodies were still in the debris of the collapsed buildings.A spokesman for the Edhi Foundation told Dawn that he himself had counted 117 bodies. He said that 14 madressah students were still trapped in a mosque destroyed by the blast and only one of the bodies had been retrieved so far.

Afghan president condemns terrorist attack in Pakistan

KABUL-- Afghan president Hamid Karzai has strongly condemned the terrorist attack in Peshawar of Pakistan that left over 90 people dead and injured more than 200 others on Wednesday, a statement released by his office said."Such attacks which mostly claim civilians' live expose the threat of terrorism to the region and requires collective struggle to overcome the menace," the statement received Thursday added.In the statement, the Afghan president also expressed sympathy with the families of the victims.Also on the same day on Wednesday, Kabul came under Taliban attacks as the insurgents stormed a UN guest house killing six international staff of the world body and fired two rockets on the city that left no casualties.

UN evacuates non-essential staff after deadly attack on Kabul guesthouse

The United Nations started evacuating “non-essential” staff from Kabul today after the Taleban killed five of its foreign employees at an international guesthouse in the deadliest attack yet on the UN in Afghanistan.

Following an emergency meeting to review security, the UN stopped short of withdrawing completely from Afghanistan, as it did from Iraq after a massive truck bomb killed 22 people at its headquarters in Baghdad in 2003.

Kai Eide, the UN chief in Afghanistan, had pledged after the attack on Wednesday that the UN would not be deterred from its work in the country, which includes funding and helping to organise a presidential election run-off on November 7.

The official decision at today’s meeting was that individual UN agencies should decide whether to advise “non-essential” staff not involved in the run-off to take leave, according to two participants.

But UN officials told The Times that many of the roughly 1,000 foreign UN staff not working directly on the election had been instructed to return to their home countries for the next three weeks because of the security threat in Kabul.

“The problem is the places where we live,” one said. “No one feels safe.” Most of the foreign UN staff in Kabul live in small hotels and guesthouses like the one that was attacked by a Taleban suicide squad on Wednesday, and security arrangements at all of them are now under review.

UN staff were particularly concerned that the Taleban appeared to have such detailed information about the guesthouse, many of whose residents were directly involved in organising the election.

They are also concerned about further attacks, as a Taleban spokesman vowed today to intensify violence in the coming days, saying: “We’ll disrupt the elections.”

It was not clear precisely how many of the 1,200 foreign UN staff in Afghanistan were leaving, but only about 200 of them are directly involved in the election, which the UN is funding.

Aleem Siddique, a UN spokesman, said staff not involved in the poll were simply being encouraged to take leave if they had any outstanding, just as they were during the first round of the poll.

“We are not evacuating,” he said. “We’ve been here for half a century, and we’re not going any time soon.” He said Mr Eide had specifically avoided using the term “evacuate” and left it up to individual UN agencies to decide whether their staff should leave the country.

In practice, however, almost all UN agencies have told all of their staff to leave regardless of whether they have any holiday allowance left, according to UN sources.

“There’s real concern among the UN agencies that they’re going to be exposed to many risks because there’s an unclear decision on whether they should stay or go,” one UN insider told The Times.

Another UN insider criticised Mr Eide for not making a clear decision on whether or not to evacuate staff, and not arranging for a UN flight to take out those who wished to leave.

Travel agents reported a massive spike in demand for flights to Dubai and other foreign destinations as UN workers and other foreigners rushed to book their tickets.

Several aid agencies and non-governmental organizations have followed the UN’s lead, hampering the international aid operation in Afghanistan less than a month before winter snows paralyse much of the country.

Most declined to discuss their security arrangements, but one large NGO said that about 15 of its 20 foreign staff in Kabul had left the city. ACTED, the French aid agency, said it had withdrawn four out of eight foreigners based in Kabul.

“It’s been building up for a while with recent anti-Western demonstrations in Kabul, and now this attack on the UN,” said Ziggy Garewal, ACTED’s country director.

“It’s really exposed our vulnerability, and opened up a big debate within the NGO community.” Many foreign organistaions in Afghanistan choose not to have armed guards and to maintain a low profile, but the attack on the UN guesthouse has forced them to consider changing that policy.

According to ACBAR, an umbrella organisation for more than 100 NGOs, 23 workers for aid organisations have been killed this year in 115 violent incidents.

Several other NGOs said their staff were under lockdown, like the UN, preventing them from leaving their hotels or guesthouses in Kabul.

October witnesses bloody suicide blasts, casualties

The month of October witnessed worst terror activities in the country as hundreds of innocent people were killed in the bloody suicide attacks occurred in various parts of the country including twin cities.

According to the data collected by ‘The News’ from law enforcement department, a total of 268 persons were killed and 498 injured in 13 suicide attacks across the country including Rawalpindi and Islamabad in the month of October. For the first time all educational institutions were closed because of worst law and order situation.

The first suicide blast was occurred on October 5 when a suicide bomber hit the UN office in Islamabad in which five persons were killed and six were injured while the Peshawar Soekarno Square Market was stroked by the suicide bomber on October 9 in which 49 innocent people were killed on the spot and 90 injured. The very next day i.e. on October 10 terrorists attacked General Headquarters (GHQ) Rawalpindi in which 9 army personnel including 3 hostages were killed while on October 12, terrorists had attacked Shangla (Swat) in which 41 people were killed and 87 injured.

October 15 was one of the worst days for the people of Pakistan in which terrorists attacked three cities in a day. Terrorists attacked three buildings in Lahore, Manawa Police Training Centre, FIA building and Elite Police Academy in which a total of 17 persons were killed and 22 injured. The same day terrorists attacked a police station in Kohat in which 11 officials were killed and 19 injured. The same day suicide bomber had attacked a building near Gulshan Rehman Colony, Peshawar, in which a minor was killed on the spot and 12 others injured.

On October 16, the terrorists had attacked the CIA Investigation Cell in Peshawar in which 13 persons were killed on the spot. On October 20 terrorists attacked International Islamic University, Islamabad in which six persons were killed and 29 injured. On October 23, suicide bombers attacked Kamra check-post near Attock in which eight people were killed and 17 injured. The same day terrorists attacked Hayatabad in Peshawar in which 15 people were badly injured. On October 24, a suicide bomber had attacked the Motorway Police in which an official was killed on the spot.

On October 28, terrorists attacked the Meena Bazaar in famous Kyber Bazaar, Peshawar, in which 92 persons were killed and 180 injured.

The people of Rawalpindi and Islamabad told ‘The News’ that they became terrified in the month of October because they witnessed the worst situation in this month. “The month of October is going to over now, they said adding Inshah Allah the situation would improve in November.”

PPP leaders conspicuous by their absence

PESHAWAR: The absence of provincial ministers and other senior leaders of PPP at hospitals, the explosion site and homes of the blast victims was strongly felt after a string of suicide attacks in the city in the last few weeks.

On the other hand, the Awami National Party (ANP), senior partner of the PPP in the NWFP coalition government, has not only publicly owned the ongoing fight against militancy but its ministers are seen visiting explosion sites and hospitals despite being on the hit-list of terrorists.

The car bombing at the entrance to the crowded Meena Bazaar in Peshawar city, fifth in the current month, killed at least 107 persons and wounded over 150. Besides a mosque, seven houses and dozens of shops were destroyed as a result of the powerful blast and fire.

The blast site, Chirri Koban, is located at the junction of NWFP Assembly constituencies PF-2 and PF-3 Peshawar. NWFP Minister for Health Syed Zahir Ali Shah, also the provincial chief of the PPP, has been elected from PF-2 while NWFP Senior Minister Bashir Bilour, also the parliamentary party leader of the ANP, is representing the PF-3 constituency.

Bashir Bilour, who survived two suicide attacks on his life, visited almost each and every house of the victims, and offered fateha for the departed souls. “The terrorists could not deter us by such cowardly attacks,” he told reporters at Mohalla Jattan where eight members of a family were killed in Wednesday’s blast. His elder brother and Federal Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmad Bilour also visited the hospital to meet the injured.

The ANP-affiliated provincial minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain was the first among top government functionaries to reach the bombing site and reiterate his government’s support for the security forces’ offensive against militants in South Waziristan and rest of the tribal and settled areas of the province.

NWFP Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti along with senior ministers Bashir Bilour and Rahimdad Khan, former provincial president of the PPP, Mian Iftikhar Hussain and some MPAs visited the hospital late in the night where he met the injured and hospital staff.

Speaker of the NWFP Assembly Kiramatullah Chagharmati, who was elected on PPP ticket, not only paid a visit to Lady Reading Hospital but also donated blood for the wounded persons following an appeal by the hospital authorities.

Peshawar witnessed six deadly explosions during the last four weeks, leaving more than 200 innocent people dead. The ANP Peshawar city unit also staged a peace rally, led by Bashir Bilour, some two week back from Peshawar Press Club to Soekarno Chowk to condemn the suicide attacks in the city.

In the 26-member NWFP cabinet, PPP is represented by 11 provincial ministers. Out of four MNAs from Peshawar district, two each belong to PPP and ANP while three out of 11 have been elected on the PPP tickets in 2008 elections.

When contacted by phone, NWFP Minister for Excise & Taxation Liaqat Ali Shabab told this scribe that the provincial health minister was out of the country. He reminded that the PPP leadership and ministers had always condemned the terrorist attacks in Peshawar and elsewhere in the country. “We have strong determination to eliminate terrorists from our soil and in this regard we fully support the security forces operations in Waziristan and other parts of the country,” he said. He argued that the terrorists had now targetted public places to put pressure on the provincial and federal governments to stop the military operation in Waziristan.

Leading by example

PESHAWAR: While the dwellers of this city always play a leading role in rescue activities whenever visited by some trouble, the doctors at emergency department of the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) are no less than others.

Dr Shiraz Afridi, head of the Accident and Emergency Department, washed bodies of victims before burial. “I request the people to register themselves with us as volunteers to help us in washing the bodies in future,” said the doctor.

Dr Shiraz, the only qualified doctor in NWFP to deal with the emergency and accident cases, told The News that a 200-bedded Accident and Emergency Department had been approved in Peshawar and work on the project would be launched soon. He said it would be the largest facility of its type in the world.

The bearded Dr. Shiraz was the busiest man around after the Peshawar blast on Wednesday and again on Thursday, sharing information with reporters, relatives of the dead, injured and the missing people. And he was also making arrangements for the burial of the unclaimed bodies in liaison with the city district administration.

Hillary Clinton in Pakistan

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to the historical Badshahi Masjid in Lahore on Thursday.

Afghanistan Increases Polling Stations for Election

Afghan election officials say they plan to increase the number of voting stations for next week's presidential runoff election, despite concerns that could lead to more fraud than in the first vote.Afghanistan's independent election commission says it will slightly increase the number of polling centers to 6,322 and have enough staff to ensure a credible process. Foreign election observers had recommended reducing the more than 6,000 polling centers used in the first round after auditors found more than one million fraudulent votes.Many fake ballots are believed to have come from remote polling stations that never opened or did not have observers monitoring the vote.Meanwhile, the Taliban in Afghanistan has vowed to intensify its attacks leading up to the November 7 election. A Taliban spokesman told the French news agency the militant group has new plans and tactics to disrupt the election.The United Nations has not responded to the Afghan announcement of an increase in polling centers. On Wednesday, U.N. officials said workers will continue to help the country prepare for the vote, despite a deadly Taliban attack on a Kabul guesthouse that killed five U.N. staff members. The Taliban said the attack Wednesday was the first step of a plan aimed at disrupting the vote, in which incumbent President Hamid Karzai is facing off against former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

U.S. economy rebounds in third quarter after four consecutive quarters of contraction
The U.S. economy rose at a pace of 3.5 percent in the third quarter after four consecutive quarters of contraction, according to official data released Thursday, providing the strongest signal yet that the worst recession since the 1930s has ended.

The Commerce Department's advance estimate of real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States -- in the third quarter exceeded economists' expectations of 3.3 percent.

In the first two quarters of 2009, the U.S. real GDP decreased 6.4 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively. In the third and fourth quarters of 2008, the economy contracted 2.7 percent and 5.4 percent.

"After four consecutive quarters of decline, positive GDP growth is an encouraging sign that the U.S. economy is moving in the right direction." the White House said in a statement.

The department said that the increase in real GDP in the third quarter primarily reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), exports, private inventory investment, federal government spending, and residential fixed investment.

Real personal consumption expenditures increased 3.4 percent in the third quarter, compared to a 0.9 percent decline in the second.

Consumer spending on durable goods -- items expected to last more than three years -- soared at an annualized rate of 22.3 percent in the July-September period, the biggest rise since the end of 2001.

The jump largely reflected car purchases driven by the government's Cash for Clunkers program, which offered a rebate of up to 4,500 U.S. dollars to buy new cars and trade in old gas guzzlers.

Exports of goods and services increased 14.7 percent in the third quarter, in contrast to a decrease of 4.1 percent in the second.

The change in real private inventories added 0.94 percentage point to the third-quarter change in real GDP after subtracting 1.42 percentage points from the second-quarter change.

Federal government spending, which rose at a rate of 7.9 percent in the third quarter, also made a significant contribution to the economic turnaround.

The housing market also showed positive signs during the summer. Spending on housing projects surged at an annualized pace of 23.4 percent, the largest jump since 1986.

The Commerce Department emphasized that the third-quarter advance estimate released Thursday was based on source data that were incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency.

The "second" estimate for the third quarter, based on more complete data, will be released on Nov. 24, 2009.

Although the economy returned to growth, economists said the recovery remained nascent and fragile.

Federal Reserve (Fed) Chairman Ben Bernanke and members of U.S. President Barack Obama's economics team have warned the recovery would not be robust enough to prevent the unemployment rate – now at a 26-year high of 9.8 percent -- from rising into next year.

Many economists expected the unemployment rate would keep above9 percent in 2010 before reaching double digit level.

Obama said earlier that the recovery was not real unless the job market recovered.

"This welcome milestone (growth in the third quarter) is just another step, and we still have a long road to travel until the economy is fully recovered," the White House statement said. "It will take sustained, robust GDP growth to bring the unemployment rate down substantially. Such a decline in unemployment is, of course, what we are all working to achieve."

Other experts worried that the recovery was mainly driven by the government's stimulus package and might not be sustainable when the stimulus policies fell off.

The Obama Administration launched a 787-billion-dollar stimulus package in February. But some of the policies have expired or will expire soon.

After the popular Cash for Clunkers program came to an end in August, U.S. auto sales fell accordingly.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that U.S. new home sales decreased at an unexpectedly high annual rate of 3.6 percent in September.

As the government-supported 8,000-dollar tax credit program for first-time home buyers will expire on Nov. 30, home builders worry that they will have trouble selling their homes without the incentive.

To foster the recovery, the Fed is expected to keep its key bank lending rate at record low of near zero when it meets next week and probably will hold it there into next year.

However, economists were concerned that the measures would plant the seeds of another asset bubble if the central bank kept the interest rate at too low a level for too long.

House Dems unveil health bill, cheered on by Obama

Their work swiftly heralded by President Barack Obama, House Democrats rolled out landmark legislation Thursday to extend health care to tens of millions who lack coverage, impose sweeping new restrictions on private insurers and create a government-run insurance option for cost-conscious consumers.

The measure "covers 96 percent of all Americans, and it puts affordable coverage in reach for millions of uninsured and underinsured families, lowering health care costs for all of us," boasted Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at a ceremony attended by dozens of Democratic lawmakers. She spoke on the steps of the Capitol, not far from where Obama issued his inaugural summons for Congress to act more than nine months ago.

Despite the fanfare, Democrats did not immediately release a detailed estimate of the legislation's cost. Instead, they said the Congressional Budget Office had put the cost related to coverage at $894 billion over a decade, and they made no mention of other items in the measure.

The full House is expected to vote on the bill late next week, and Democratic leaders were careful not to claim they had yet rounded up enough votes to pass it. Still, the day's events capped months of struggle and marked a major advance in their drive — and Obama's — to accomplish an overhaul of the health care system that has eluded presidents for a half-century.

Across the Capitol, the Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to begin debate within two weeks on a bill crafted by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. It, too, envisions a government-run insurance option, although states could opt out, unlike in the bill the House will vote on. That portion of the Senate version appears likely to be weakened even further, as moderates press for a standby system that would not go into effect until it was clear individual states were experiencing a lack of competition among private companies.

Obama called the House legislation "another critical milestone in the effort to reform our health care system." The president added he was pleased with the decision to allow the government to sell insurance in competition with private industry, and said the measure meets his goals for deficit neutrality.

Republican reaction was as swift as it was negative. "It will raise the cost of Americans' health insurance premiums; it will kill jobs with tax hikes and new mandates, and it will cut seniors' Medicare benefits," said the party's leader in the House, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio. He carried a copy of the 1,990-page measure into a news conference to underscore his claim it represented a government takeover of the health care system.

Republicans have already signaled their determination to make the health care debate a key issue in next year's congressional elections, when all 435 House seats will be on the ballot.

But their ability to block passage in the current House is nonexistent as long as Pelosi and her leadership can forge a consensus among the Democratic rank and file. The party holds 256 seats in the House, where 218 makes a majority.

Broad in scope, the House Democrats' bill attempts to build on the current system of employer-provided health care. It would require big companies to cover their employees and would provide federal subsidies to help small companies provide insurance for theirs, as well. Most individuals would be required to carry insurance, and much of the money in the legislation is dedicated to subsidies for those at lower incomes to help them afford coverage.

For those at even lower incomes, the bill provides for an expansion of Medicaid, the state-federal health program for the poor. Adults up to 150 percent of poverty — individuals making up to $16,245 and a family of four up to $33,075 — would be covered, a provision estimated to add 15 million to Medicaid.

One of the bill's major features is a new national insurance market, in which private companies could sell policies that meet federally mandated benefit levels, the government would offer competing coverage and consumers could shop for the policy that best met their needs.

In a bow to moderates, Democrats decided doctors, hospitals and other providers would be allowed to negotiate rates with the Department of Health and Human Services for services provided in the government insurance option.

Liberals had favored a system in which fees would be dictated by the government, an approach that would have been less costly than what was settled on, and also would have moved closer to a purely government-run health care system than some Democrats favor.

Thursday's bill includes an array of new restrictions on the private insurance industry, in addition to forcing insurers to compete with the federal government for business.

Firms would be banned from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions and limited in their ability to charge higher premiums on the basis of age.

They would be required to spend 85 percent of their income from premiums on coverage, effectively limiting their ability to advertise or pay bonuses. Additionally, the industry would be stripped of immunity from antitrust regulations covering price fixing, bid rigging and market allocation. And in a late addition to the bill, 30-year-old restrictions on the Federal Trade Commission's ability to look into the insurance industry would be erased.

In response, the industry's top lobbyist, Karen Ignagni, issued a statement containing a somewhat milder version of criticism than recently unleashed against the Senate's version of the legislation. "We are concerned" the House bill will violate assurances that individuals would be able to keep their insurance if they like it, she said. She said it would be responsible for "increasing health care costs for families and employers across the country and significantly disrupting the quality coverage on which millions of Americans rely today."

Ignagni added that the presence of a government-run insurance plan "would bankrupt hospitals, dismantle employer coverage, exacerbate cost-shifting from Medicare and Medicaid and ultimately increase the federal deficit."

While Democrats touted new benefits for seniors, the bill relies on hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts from projected Medicare spending over the next decade. Much of the money would come from the part of the program in which private companies offer coverage to seniors.

Supporters argue the private plans are an improvement over traditional Medicare, because they provide extra benefits such as eyeglass coverage or gym memberships. Critics argue the plans receive an average of 14 percent higher subsidies per beneficiary that the government pays under the original Medicare program.

The bill's other major new source of revenue is from a proposed income tax surcharge of 5.4 percent on wealthy earners, individuals making at least $500,000 a year and couples $1 million or more.

The legislation includes other taxes, such as a 2.5 percent excise tax on the makers of medical devices, expected to raise $20 billion over a decade.

Internet celebrates its 40th birthday

It's exactly 40 years since Professor Leonard Kleinrock sent a message between two computers, 200 miles apart.

At 2100, on 29 October 1969, engineers at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) and Stanford Research Institute (SRI) sent data to each other between what was then known as Arpanet.

It was named after the US Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (Arpa) that commissioned the experiment.

Arpanet then became the internet in the 1970s; however, it didn't become popular and widespread until the 1990s when broadband became more affordable and widely available.


Peshawarites in state of shock, mourn deaths.

PESHAWAR: The City is in grip of mourn, fear and panic on the second day of Peepal Mandi’s deadly blast which claimed 107 lives and left more than 170 injured. All the city bazaars, markets and shopping centers were remained closed following the three day mourning announced by the traders. The Wednesday blast was a tragic episode of current wave of terror as majority of the blast victims were women and children whereas among injured there is also a large number of women and children who were struggling for thier lives on hospital beds. Poor Peshawarites who were still in state of shock of Khyber bazaar’s car-bomb blast and had barely heaved sigh of relief before the suicide bombers struck again on Wednesday to wreak havoc, which was the fifth blast in a month. Wednesday’s deadly devastating car-blast in Peepal Mandi that claimed 107 precious lives, injured over 170 innocent masses with dozens critically injured, were once again a horrifying exhibition of evil’s impulse for bloodshed. At the same time, this tragic episode of deaths invites our slothful security institutions for a reality check. The people strongly criticised the provincial government’s security lapses which had led to an abject failure to protect the lives and property of citizens. They alleged that security lapses were taking place largely due to the fact that the state security apparatus like the police and other law enforcing agencies had become a tool of the government functionaries and were being used only to protect ministers and other government officials whereas the common people were left on the evil designs of terrorists. It is the fifth blast in City in a month which has exposed glaring flaws in the ‘stringent’ security measures and indicates that the high-sounding rhetoric of our provincial government regarding complete pulverisation of terrorists is divorced from the reality. The people were complained that it was very evident from the security measures during quite sometimes that certain loopholes were left as bomb lasts were continued without intervals. They said that beefed up security steps only served half the purpose whereas the terrorists whenever planned they achieved their targets. The fifth blast in a month also raised some pertinent questions regarding efficiency and competency of law enforcement agencies. The facts that a suicide bomber managed to enter the provincial capital without being hindered or checked with hundreds of kilograms explosive material in vehicles and blew such vehicles in the much crowded place and heart of City invite a series of questions.

Clinton meets Kayani, praises Pak army role in war against terror

RAWALPINDI : US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday called on Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani at Army House Rawalpindi and discussed various issues.

During two and a half hour meeting Clinton discussed with Chief of Army Staff the controversial articles of Kerry-Lugar bill. Clinton praised the active role of Pak Army in war against terror.

They also discussed ongoing operation in Waziristan, security at Pak-Afghan border and security situation in Afghanistan besides Coalition Security Fund.

According to the sources, the Army Chief and US Secretary of State could not reach on any conclusion regarding controversial articles of Kerry-Lugar bill.

Clinton assured General Kayani about provision of military equipment soon.

DG ISI Lieutenant General Shuja Ahmed Pasha were also present in the meeting.

Peshawar car bombing: Toll climbs to 115

Islamabad: The death toll in one of Pakistan's worst terrorist attacks rose to 115 on Thursday with the recovery of 16 more bodies from the rubble of several buildings in Peshawar that collapsed due to the blast and seven people succumbing to their injuries.

Officials had yesterday confirmed 92 deaths in the devastating attack in the Peepal Mandi commercial hub in Peshawar. At least 16 bodies were today pulled out of the rubble of buildings that collapsed due to the blast while seven persons died in hospitals, taking the toll to 115.

Rescue workers worked through the day to remove the rubble of several buildings that collapsed due to the explosion and a subsequent fire.

A 45-member Urban Search and Rescue team sent from Islamabad last night used sophisticated equipment like sound and heat detectors during an 11-hour search for survivors.

An official of the team told reporters this morning that it had completed its search and no more survivors were believed to be buried under the rubble.

The car bomb packed with 150 kg of explosives went off at the entrance of Meena Bazar, a market exclusively for women.

The blast triggered a massive fire that was brought under control after several hours. Over 200 people were injured in the attack.

A spokesman for Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar's main healthcare facility, said 157 injured people are currently being treated in different wards.

Many of the dead and injured were women and children.

Officials said several bodies are yet to be identified as they were charred and mutilated. Several residents of the Peepal Mandi area were reported missing.

The blast destroyed 10 buildings and 60 shops.

Local residents said other buildings were in danger of collapsing as their structure and foundations had been badly damaged.

Traders' associations in Peshawar have called for a three-day mourning to condemn the attack, one of the worst witnessed in the city which is no stranger to suicide attacks and bombings.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Both Taliban and al Qaeda have reportedly said they were not involved in the bombing.

The News daily quoted an al Qaeda statement as saying that the group is not involved in killing innocent people.

The report further said an email sent by the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan to media condemned the blast and denied the group's involvement in the incident.

6.0 magnitude quake hits Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: A 6.0 magnitude earthquake jolted several parts of Pakistan, including capital Islamabad and Lahore, late tonight, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.The tremors were felt in several Pakistani cities at 11: 44 pm (local time) and continued for over 30 seconds causing panic among the people, TV channels reported.The quakes epicentre was located in Hindu Kush mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan.The US Geological Survey put the quake at 6.0 and said that its epicentre was located 131 kilometres northwest of Pakistani town of Chitral at a depth of 202 kilometres.Tremors were also felt in Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Chakwal, Swat, Abbotabda and other areas. TV channels said tremors were felt in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

Pakistan 'hard to believe' on Al-Qaeda: Clinton

LAHORE, Pakistan — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struck an assertive tone in Pakistan on Thursday, hitting out at its government over Al-Qaeda and calling for better management of the economy.
Clinton has spent the last two days in Pakistan, the troubled US ally on the frontline of the war on Al-Qaeda and its allies, trying to bolster the civilian government and counter rising anti-US sentiment in the Muslim nation.
But after pressing her message -- the US desire to turn a new page in its relations with Pakistan after mistakes of the past -- she appeared to get annoyed during talks with senior editors and business leaders.
The most senior US official to visit since President Barack Obama put the nuclear-armed state at the heart of the war on Al-Qaeda, Clinton took issue with Islamabad's position that the Al-Qaeda leadership is not in Pakistan.
"Al-Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002," Clinton told senior Pakistani newspaper editors in the country's cultural capital, Lahore.
"I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to," she added.
"Maybe that's the case; maybe they're not gettable. I don?t know... As far as we know, they are in Pakistan," she added.
She also showed impatience with criticism of a record US non-military aid bill giving Pakistan 7.5 billion dollars, which the army and political opposition have slammed for violating the country's sovereignty.
"At the risk of sounding undiplomatic, Pakistan has to have internal investment in your public services and your business opportunities," Clinton told businessmen, taking swipe at tax evasion in the cash-strapped country.
"The percentage of taxes on GDP is among the lowest in the world... We (the United States) tax everything that moves and doesn't move, and that's not what we see in Pakistan," she said.
"You do have 180 million people. Your population is projected to be about 300 million. And I don't know what you're gonna do with that kind of challenge, unless you start planning right now," she said.
A US official, speaking to journalists on board Clinton's plane from Lahore to Islamabad, said there was nothing contradictory in her remarks and her mission to strengthen ties between the United States and Pakistan.
Pakistan's relations with Washington, on whom it depends for cash and weapons to fight Islamist militants bombing the country, can be uneasy.
Many Pakistanis blame the US-led "war on terror" and the government's US alliance for extremist attacks sweeping the country, and US missile attacks on Al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked extremists have inflamed sensibilities.
Clinton's visit to the second largest city in Pakistan, which has been hit by a series of gun, suicide and grenade attacks this year, was accompanied by draconian security measures a day after a car bomb killed 105 in Peshawar.
She said the "horrific bombing" in the northwestern city left no doubt that "Pakistan is in the midst of a battle against extremists".
"This is not your fight alone... You're standing on the frontlines of this battle but we are standing with you," she told students at the elite Government College University Lahore, a breeding ground for public servants.
Following other investment announcements, Clinton pledged 45 million dollars for higher education in Pakistan.
Obama's administration wants to broaden engagement with a country whose people traditionally see the United States as interested only in securing its military cooperation in the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
Clinton has already committed 85 million dollars to countering poverty, 125 million dollars to improving Pakistan's woefully inadequate electricity supply and 104 million dollars to law enforcement and border security assistance.
At the weekend she will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas separately as the United States seeks to unblock stagnant peace efforts in the Middle East.
She is due in Morocco on Monday and Tuesday for talks with Middle East and Group of Eight countries about promoting economic and political progress.

Clinton, Pakistani Students Trade Views

Death toll from attack highest in Peshawar’s history

PESHAWAR: Wednesday’s bomb blast in the provincial capital was the worst in the city’s 2,000-year history, as the previous highest death toll in such a despicable attack was 66, way back in 1996. Some 100 people – including women and men – were killed in Wednesday’s attack in the crowded Meena Bazaar, and around 200 people were injured. “This is the highest death toll from an attack in Peshawar over the last 2,000 years,” said Aftab Ahmed, a resident of Peshawar.
Death toll from Peshawar blast rises to 104

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

U.S. Expands Aid for Pakistani Drives on Taliban

WASHINGTON — Even as the Pakistani government plays down the American role in its military operations in Taliban-controlled areas along the border with Afghanistan, the United States has quietly rushed hundreds of millions of dollars in arms, equipment and sophisticated sensors to Pakistani forces in recent months, said senior American and Pakistani officials.

During preparations this spring for the Pakistani campaigns in Swat and South Waziristan, President Obama personally intervened at the request of Pakistan’s top army general to speed the delivery of 10 Mi-17 troop transport helicopters. Senior Pentagon officials have also hurried spare parts for Cobra helicopter gunships, night vision goggles, body armor and eavesdropping equipment to the fight.

American military surveillance drones are feeding video images and target information to Pakistani ground commanders, and the Pentagon has quietly provided the Pakistani Air Force with high-resolution, infrared sensors for F-16 warplanes, which Pakistan is using to guide bomb attacks on militants’ strongholds in South Waziristan.

In addition, the number of American Special Forces soldiers and support personnel who are training and advising Pakistani Army and paramilitary troops has doubled in the past eight months, to as many as 150, an American adviser said. The Americans do not conduct combat operations.

The increasing American role in shoring up the Pakistani military’s counterinsurgency abilities comes as the Obama administration debates how much of a troop commitment to make in neighboring Afghanistan. It also takes place as Taliban attacks are spreading into Pakistani cities. It is unclear whether Pakistani authorities are using any of the sophisticated surveillance equipment to combat the urban terrorism.

Underscoring the complexity of the relationship between the allies, Pakistani officials are loath to publicize the aid because of the deep-seated anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. And they privately express frustration about the pace and types of aid, which totals about $1.5 billion this year.

At a military briefing on Saturday, the Pakistani Army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, said the fight in South Waziristan was a purely Pakistani enterprise, unaided by the United States or anyone else. “Let us finish the job on our own,” he told reporters.

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a military analyst in Lahore, said that publicly acknowledging the military aid — an open secret in Pakistan — could hand militants fresh ammunition for propaganda attacks. “The Pakistan military would not like to talk about the U.S. assistance,” he said, “so that the Islamists, most of whom are opposed to military operations, do not get additional reason to criticize the military and the government.”

American officials in Pakistan — whom the Pakistani government directed earlier this year not to discuss the United States role in providing humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes by the fighting in Swat — said the same edict applied to war assistance.

“The Pakistanis insist on ‘no American face’ on their war. Period,” said one senior American military officer in Southwest Asia, who would speak only anonymously because he did not want to jeopardize his relationship with his Pakistani counterparts.

Given the reluctance of Pakistani and American officials to speak openly about the assistance, it is difficult to assess how effective the American aid has been in the current combat operations.

Beneath their official silence, many senior Pakistani military officials seethe at the months, or even years, of delay by the Pentagon in delivering promised hardware and troop reimbursements. They also gripe that the United States is denying them the best technology, like Predator drones or Apache helicopter gunships.

“We are grateful for the generosity but believe that we have now learned to fight with what all we possess and not what has been promised,” said one senior Pakistani officer, who was granted anonymity to provide a candid assessment.

Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council, a nonprofit policy and research group, sharply criticized the Obama administration in an essay on the organization’s Web site last week. “Pakistan still does not have all the weapons or assistance that it needs to do the job right,” he wrote.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledged the frustrations in an interview this week with Dawn, a Pakistani daily newspaper, before arriving on a trip to Pakistan.

“We both have bureaucracies,” Mrs. Clinton said. “We know how it is sometimes that things get delayed or they’re slower than we want, but we’re really trying to accelerate everything we can to help the Pakistani military.” Mrs. Clinton did not provide any details.

An American adviser in Pakistan, who was granted anonymity to discuss internal United States policy, said, “U.S. current military assistance either demonstrates U.S. resolve and offsets anti-Americanism, or is deliberately underplayed to boost Pakistani military and political credibility, and the latter meets our policy objectives more closely.”

The United States has provided Pakistan with about $12 billion in military assistance and payments since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Pentagon reimburses Pakistan about $1 billion a year to cover its costs of fielding more than 100,000 troops along the Afghan border in counterinsurgency operations.

But in the past year, the Defense Department has significantly increased the shipment of military equipment to Pakistan to combat the increasingly violent insurgency.

Most significant was Mr. Obama’s involvement in speeding the delivery of the 10 Russian-built Mi-17s, at the request of the Pakistani army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Four of the transport helicopters were leased to Pakistan in June, and the rest were provided under different authorities to move Pakistani Army soldiers in the border region near Afghanistan.

“The president was engaged on this issue in the spring,” said a White House official, who spoke anonymously because he was discussing Mr. Obama’s involvement.

Also involved was Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who repeatedly pressed his staff to find the Mi-17s in American inventories and to figure out a way to provide them to Pakistan.

This year alone, the Pentagon is sending more than $500 million in arms, equipment and training assistance to Pakistan, to help train and equip the Pakistani military for counterinsurgency operations.

Included in that package is nearly $13 million in electronic eavesdropping equipment to intercept militants’ cellphone calls. In July, the Pentagon supplied Pakistan with 200 night vision goggles, 100 day/night scopes, more than 600 radios and 9,475 sets of body armor.

The Pentagon has also sharply increased programs to bring Pakistani officers to the United States for training, particularly in counterterrorism.

“We’ve put military assistance to Pakistan on a wartime footing, as up to now it has been in a peacetime process,” said Lt. Col. Mark Wright, a Pentagon spokesman. “We are doing everything within our power to assist Pakistan in improving its counterinsurgency capabilities.”