Monday, November 30, 2009

Obama set to send 30,000 extra troops

With a determination to "finish the job" in Afghanistan, US President Barack Obama will announce his new Afghan strategy Tuesday in a prime-time address at the West Point Military Academy, including a deployment of 30,000 or more US troops as part of an "escalation and exit" policy.

Before the public speech, Obama has already ordered his new Afghan strategy implemented, a White House spokesman said Monday.

In his speech, Obama will articulate both the timeframe for the military maneuver and the goal of this action, which aims to destroy the enemy and bring the troops back home, senior administration officials were quoted Monday by the Telegraph as saying.

Apart from the additional 30,000 to 35,000 troops, Obama will also advocate the sending of 10,000 more soldiers by NATO allies.

The military alliance, which has already contributed 42,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, still adopts a cautious attitude toward military build-up.

"There are real questions in our publics about the way forward, politically and not just militarily," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

Currently, only Britain has committed to sending about 500 extra troops.

However, the other major European powers, notably Germany and France, are reluctant to commit any, the AP reported last week.

After eight years engaged in an increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan, the American president is besieged with tremendous pressure from different aspects.

The US had lost more than 900 troops in Afghanistan, and October was the deadliest month since 2001, with 74 US soldiers killed.

Apart from the human toll, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost $768.8 billion, and by the end of this fiscal year (October 2010) the price tag will approach $1 trillion.

The war has also taken its toll on Obama's personal approval rating, which has suffered the sharpest drop of any president in the past 50 years during the same stage of their first terms.

Washington hopes the buildup, expected to be phased in over the next 12 to 18 months, will create conditions to allow the US troop presence to eventually be scaled back, leading to a complete withdrawal from the country by 2017-2018.

However, conservative attitude still exists.

"No one has any illusions that this is the campaign, that you can just turn this thing around with a speech. A lot of this strategy depends on things we can't control – the Afghan government, the Taliban, the role of Pakistan. This is one of those issues that defines the extent and the limits of the president's power," a senior administration official was quoted by the Washington Post as saying.

Chelsea Clinton to Wed Long-Time Boyfriend

Chelsea Clinton, the only child of former President Bill Clinton and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has announced her engagement to long-time boyfriend Marc Mezvinsky.

Clinton, 29, the last child to grow up in the White House and who now works at a New York-based hedge fund, said in a mass email to friends that she and Mezvinsky, an investment banker, plan to marry next summer.

The announcement followed widespread but false reports over last summer that the pair had planned an August wedding at the resort island of Martha's Vineyard.

"We're sorry for the mass email but we wanted to wish everyone a belated Happy Thanksgiving! We also wanted to share that we are engaged!.
"We didn't get married this past summer despite the stories to the contrary, but we are looking toward next summer and hope you all will be there to celebrate with us. Happy Holidays! Chelsea & Marc," said the email, which was sent out on Friday and provided on Monday by Bill Clinton's charitable foundation.

There were no details on the wedding plans.

Chelsea Clinton has kept a low-profile since her father left the White House in January 2001 but she campaigned for her mother Hillary during her unsuccessful run for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Pakistani president remains vulnerable but defiant
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- President Asif Ali Zardari, fighting to keep his job amid pressure from opponents in the media, the courts, the parliament and the military, appears to have reasserted his grip on the presidency for the time being, according to analysts here.

But Zardari's government remains caught between pressure to support Washington in the war against Islamic insurgents in Afghanistan and the need to improve its tenuous relations with the army, which is focused on fighting domestic Taliban extremists and mistrusts the Obama administration's friendship with India, Pakistan's neighbor and arch-rival.

On Monday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani -- who reports to Zardari but is also a political rival -- warned in a television interview that any sizeable increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan would lead to a spillover of insurgents into Pakistan, further destabilizing the border area where troops are now conducting a ground and aerial war against domestic Taliban forces.

The warning from Gillani came one day before President Obama is scheduled to announce his long-awaited new Afghan strategy, which is likely to include adding tens of thousands more troops.

In the past week, the embattled president has had to relinquish a number of executive powers to Gillani in order to placate his adversaries. He agreed Friday to transfer control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal to the prime minister, and has also given up his right to dissolve parliament, an authority he inherited from a decree by his military predecessor, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Now, Zardari's opponents in parliament are demanding that he give up even more authority, and some have called on him to resign. Zardari cannot be impeached because his Pakistan People's Party dominates the legislature, but it is now being widely predicted that he will serve out his term with greatly reduced powers.

Meanwhile, the president has also become vulnerable to legal action by the Supreme Court. An amnesty for past corruption charges against Zardari and a host of other officials expired Saturday, and although the president cannot be prosecuted while in office, the high court could also rule that his election was illegitimate and then pursue the original cases against him.

But Zardari, backed into a corner by multiple adversaries, has come out swinging. In a defiant speech last week, he lashed out at "political actors" seeking to dethrone him, and sharply criticized certain opponents in the media. He also forced the cancellation of a cable TV show whose host often criticized him.

Such clumsy actions drew further ridicule from the anti-Zardari press. Shaheen Sehbai, editor of the News International newspaper, wrote in a sarcastic column that he "laughed and laughed" at Zardari's "rants." Sehbai has called for the president to "step down with dignity," hand over his powers to Gillani or become a figurehead.

Zardari appears to have temporarily fended off a far more powerful opponent: the army. Analysts said that although the army is still unhappy about Zardari's concessions to Washington and soft stance on India, and has been working against him behind the scenes, it does not want to be linked to a messy or illegitimate change of government.

Moreover, military experts noted that the army is heavily dependent on U.S. spare parts and equipment to wage its current air war against the Taliban, and cannot afford to sabotage Zardari's ties with Washington just as U.S. officials are calling for a new "strategic relationship" with Pakistan.

"For Zardari to go, there has to be a definite push from somewhere, and it usually comes from Rawalpindi," the city where army headquarters is located, said Ayaz Amir, a political commentator and legislator from the rival Pakistan Muslim League. "I don't see that catalyst coming on the horizon."

The president has also received a political lifeline from a surprising source: his longtime rival, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif of the Muslim League. Until this month, Sharif had been seen as biding his time and waiting for Zardari to self-destruct so he could run for president in mid-term elections.

But in a high-profile TV interview recently, Sharif struck a more statesmanlike chord. He said he did not support a mid-term election or power-sharing formula. He warned that "time is running out for democracy" in Pakistan, and that obsessive partisan competition was partly to blame.

A third potential source of trouble for the president, Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, also seems less likely to pounce than he did just a few weeks ago. Analysts noted that the president has been careful not to antagonize the court, and that the judiciary could also be victimized in any forcible change of government.

"I don't think the chief justice wants to join hands with the army and bring Zardari down," said Rifaat Hussain, a professor of strategic and defense studies at Quaid-I-Azam University. Chaudhry was fired by Musharraf and then restored by a lawyers' crusade under Zardari. "He knows that the judiciary can only be strong in a democracy," Hussain said.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pakistan surprised over demand of ‘do more’

ISLAMABAD: The spokesman to foreign office Abdul Basit said Pakistan is surprised over UK demand of do more, Geo news reported Sunday.He said those posing statements regarding whereabouts of Osama Bin Ladin had better share with Pakistan information about him if the possessed.FO spokesman said Pakistan has either killed or arrested as many as 700 members of Al-Qaeda during last seven years and none must doubt Pakistan efforts to curb terrorism.No body knows the whereabouts of Osama Bin Ladin and if any one knows, he ought to inform Pakistan at government level, he concluded.

Prosecute the White House gate-crashers

New York (CNN) -- The gate crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi want to be famous as stars of reality television. I am all for that. Give them a reality television series and call it "Trial and Jailtime" in the D.C. criminal justice system. This despicable, desperate, duplicitous couple disgraced the Secret Service and embarrassed the president in his home.
They totally overshadowed the president's meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the leader of an important ally. The incident made the Obamas' first state dinner, honoring the prime minister and his wife, Gursharan Kaur, fodder for comedians -- and it certainly raises security concerns for other world leaders visiting at later dates.
The gate-crashers need to be held accountable and not glorified.
Unless they have some excuse we haven't heard yet, the Salahis deserve to be charged with criminal trespassing and lying to federal officers for starters. Yes, they dressed for the occasion, but the Salahis are no different, and shouldn't be regarded any differently, than a nut case who jumps over the White House fence and tries to run in the front door. The only difference is that the fence-jumper would be shot ten feet from his entrance point.
I worked in a couple of White Houses and have always had the greatest respect for the Secret Service. These men and women put their lives on the line daily and often serve in long and tedious tours of duty.
I worked in the White House when President Reagan was shot and I saw the extraordinary bravery of Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, who was critically wounded when he took a bullet in the stomach after turning and putting his body between the president and the shooter, John Hinckley. But for all the bravery of its agents, the Secret Service lives in a world that demands zero defects.
So I have to tell you I am appalled at the comments by the Secret Service spokesman who was described as saying it hadn't been determined whether party-crashing is technically illegal. He went on to say he didn't believe the Salahis posed a security risk. Spin control is not needed now. Responsibility is the key word.
Trespassing is illegal. How does the Secret Service know whether the Salahis were a risk or not? The service apparently had not done a background check on them -- unlike every other guest and government employee in the tent that night -- because they weren't on the invitation list.
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan issued a rare apology, saying the service took full responsibility for the episode and was "deeply concerned and embarrassed." Not good enough! He needs to determine who was responsible for letting the Salahis onto the White House grounds and fire whoever it was, before he thinks about offering his own resignation.
Public servants have to be held accountable and now is a good time to start.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has fired some of the top people in the military because they were not performing at the level he expected. Can Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose department oversees the Secret Service, expect any less? Can an agency, Homeland Security, that has responsibility for securing our borders be trusted if it cannot even secure the White House?
We live in a world of reality television in which egotists try to be famous for three minutes and land an appearance on the talk shows. The bigger question is what example this sets for our kids. If we glorify the actions of people like the Salahis and don't hold them accountable, how do we teach our kids what is right and what is wrong?
The Salahis claim there's more to the story. Their lawyer says they weren't crashing the party, but the Secret Service says otherwise.
Based on the facts as we know them so far, there's a simple way to deal with this case.
Charge them, prosecute them, and if a D.C. jury finds them guilty, jail them. Make an example out of them. Then next November when the president is pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey, he can pardon them too.
And after the pardon, as is traditional for the turkeys whose lives are spared, they can go live in Disney World -- a fantasy world that seems to be the perfect place for this pair.

Donald Rumsfeld blamed for failing to kill cornered Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden was cornered and within reach of US troops in the Afghanistan mountains of Tora Bora in late 2001 when America's military leaders made the costly decision not to attack the terror leader with the massive force at their disposal, according to a US Senate report.

The report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asserts that the failure to kill or capture bin Laden in December 2001, three months after the September 11 attacks, has had lasting and disastrous consequences. Bin Laden's escape laid the foundation for today's reinvigorated Afghan insurgency and inflamed the internal strife now endangering Pakistan, it says.

In an introduction to the report, which will be published on Monday, Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, writes: "When we went to war less than a month after the attacks of September 11, the objective was to destroy Al Qaeda and kill or capture its leader, Osama bin Laden and other senior figures ... Our inability to finish the job in late 2001 has contributed to a conflict today that endangers not just our troops and those of our allies, but the stability of a volatile and vital region."

The report, entitled: "Tora Bora revisited: how we failed to get Bin Laden and why it matters today" will offer some support to President Obama as he prepares to announce this week that he is to send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.
Senator Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, has argued for some time that the Bush administration missed a chance to get the al-Qaeda leader and his top deputies when they were holed up in the forbidding, mountainous area of eastern Afghanistan only three months after September 11. He commissioned the report as Mr Obama was trying to decide whether he should boost troop numbers in Afghanistan.
The report lays the blame for the state of Afghanistan and Pakistan today at the feet of the military leaders who served former President Bush, notably Donald Rumsfeld, the then Defence Secretary, and his most senior military commander General Tommy Franks.

"Removing the al-Qaeda leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat," the report says. "But the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide. The failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism."

It states categorically that bin Laden was hiding in Tora Bora when the US had the means to mount a rapid assault with several thousand troops. A review of existing literature, unclassified Government records and interviews with central participants "removes any lingering doubts and makes it clear that Osama bin Laden was within our grasp at Tora Bora" it adds.

"Cornered in some of the most fobidding terrain on earth, he and several hundred of his men endured relentless pounding by American aircraft, as many as 100 air strikes a day," it says. "Bin Laden expected to die," it claims. "His last will and testament, written on December 14, reflected his fatalism. He instructed his wives not to remarry and apologised to his children for devoting himself to jihad."

But the expected final attack never came. "Requests were turned down for US troops to block the mountain paths leading to sanctuary a few miles away in Pakistan," it says. "The vast array of American military power, from sniper teams to the most mobile divisions of the Marine Corps and the Army was kept on the sidelines."

Instead of a massive attack, fewer than 100 US commandos, working with Afghan militias, tried to capitalise on air strikes and track down their prey it says.

"On or around December 16, two days after writing his will, bin Laden and an entourage of bodyguards walked unmolested out of Tora Bora and disappeared into Pakistan's unregulated tribal area. Most analysts say he is still there today.

"The decision not to deploy American fores to go after bin Laden or block his escape was made by Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and his top commander, General Tommy Franks."

It stresses that there were more than enough US troops in Afghanistan to capture the terror leader and although the ensuing battle would be difficult and dangerous, "commanders on the scene and elsewhere in Afghanistan argued that the risks were worth the reward."

At the time, Mr Rumsfeld expressed concern that a large US troop presence might fuel a backlash and he and some others said the evidence was not conclusive about bin Laden's location.

Gordon Brown Urges Timetable For Afghan Reforms

Gordon Brown has told Sky News that the President of Afghanistan risks losing international support if he fails to implement crucial reforms.
The Prime Minister says he wants an extra 5,000 Afghan forces trained in Helmand province by next year, and he wants details on reform of the police and government.
Mr Brown told Sky's political editor Adam Boulton that more progress must be made in Pakistan to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, adding that Britain is prepared to help re-build its education system.
Britain will host an international conference on January 28 to decide a timetable for the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan.

Mr Brown said: "I will want to know that by the time we get to January 28 we have a credible plan in place from President Karzai so that we can train Afghan troops.
"Within three months of that I feel we should also have a credible plan about how he's going to reform the police service in Afghanistan... and within six months he has got to have appointed district and provincial governors."
Mr Brown said the milestones would create the conditions for control of the country to be handed over, district by district, to home-grown authorities and for UK troops to come home.
He also told Sky News that people in Pakistan know where Osama Bin Laden is and the country's government must take action against al Qaeda within its borders.
:: Nine thousand US Marines will be deployed to Afghanistan within days of Barack Obama's announcement of his new war strategy, it is being reported.
The Washington Post claims the extra troops will double the size of the US force in the southern province of Helmand, where large numbers of British forces are based.
President Barack Obama will outline his latest strategy on Afghanistan on Tuesday.

Zardari claims success against Taliban

ISLAMABAD — Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has claimed "considerable success" in a military offensive against the Taliban, but criticism of his rule mounted Sunday threatening further instability.
Zardari, who is battling a Taliban insurgency, increasing unpopularity and strained relations with the military, made the remarks during a telephone conversation late Saturday with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
They come as an amnesty protecting Zardari and key aides from corruption cases expired, and after he handed over control of the country's nuclear arsenal to the prime minister in an apparent move to appease his critics.
"Referring to the ongoing drive against militancy in the tribal areas of South Waziristan, the president said that considerable success had been achieved," presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said in a statement.
"The operation would continue until the area is cleared of terrorists and the objectives are achieved," Zardari told Brown.
Pakistan sent about 30,000 troops backed by fighter jets and helicopter gunships into South Waziristan on October 17, in the most ambitious operation yet against the Taliban in their mountain stronghold near the Afghan border.
Although there has been some resistance in the region, many officials and analysts believe most of the estimated 10,000 Taliban guerrillas in the district have escaped into neighbouring Orakzai and North Waziristan.
Pakistan is also facing political uncertainty after the legal amnesty protecting dozens of politicians from prosecution expired Saturday.
Zardari enjoys immunity as president, but his government is seen as too weak to secure an extension of the ordinance in parliament, and its expiration opens the door for possible legal cases against senior cabinet ministers.
The president on Saturday gave control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, widely seen as a move to fend off criticism by making good on electoral promises to devolve greater power to parliament.
"Now the time has come to fulfil promises and Mr President should keep his promises," said opposition politician Shahbaz Sharif, brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and chief minister of Punjab province.
"He has been making promises to repeal the 17th amendment and now the time has come that finally he should honour his promises," he told reporters.
The 17th amendment to the constitution was introduced by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and gives the president the power to dissolve parliament and sack the prime minister.
Zardari replaced Musharraf as president last year after his Pakistan People's Party won elections, but his approval ratings are at rock bottom as the nation struggles with Taliban violence and a recession.
Security has drastically deteriorated in Pakistan since Islamabad joined the US-led "war on terror". Hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants fled into the tribal belt after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.
The South Waziristan offensive, which followed a spring offensive in Swat valley, has also seen a retaliatory surge in suicide attacks targeting civilians and security officials, particularly in Pakistan's northwest.
The United States has welcomed Pakistan's military efforts but is reportedly pressuring the civilian government to also counter militants on Pakistani soil who attack NATO and US troops across the border in Afghanistan.
On Sunday, eight militants were reported killed in clashes with troops in the tribal districts of Khyber -- the main supply route for NATO trucks heading to Afghanistan -- and in South Waziristan, military officials said.

Marines to target Taliban bastion
KABUL -- Days after President Obama outlines his new war strategy in a speech Tuesday, as many as 9,000 Marines will begin final preparations to deploy to southern Afghanistan and renew an assault on a Taliban stronghold that slowed this year amid a troop shortage and political pressure from the Afghan government, senior U.S. officials said.

The extra Marines will be the first to move into the country as part of Obama's escalation of the eight-year-old war. They will double the size of the U.S. force in the southern province of Helmand and will provide a critical test for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's struggling government and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy.

"The first troops out of the door are going to be Marines," Gen. James T. Conway, the Corps' top officer, told fellow Marines in Afghanistan on Saturday. "We've been leaning forward in anticipation of a decision. And we've got some pretty stiff fighting coming."

The Marines will be quickly followed by about 1,000 U.S. Army trainers. They will deploy as early as February to speed the growth of the Afghan army and police force, military officials said.

The new forces will not start moving until Obama outlines his new strategy in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. The revised plan, which faces a war-weary and increasingly skeptical American public, is expected to call for 30,000 to 35,000 new troops in a phased deployment over the next 12 to 18 months.

The parceling-out of reinforcements is driven in part by Afghanistan's lack of infrastructure, which cannot immediately support a larger U.S. force. The phased approach will also allow the president to cancel some of the additional reinforcements if the counterinsurgency strategy advocated by McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, does not show results or if the Karzai government does not meet goals for stamping out corruption and providing for the Afghan people, White House officials said.

The first place Obama will look for results is Helmand, a Taliban-dominated province that has been McChrystal's primary focus for much of this year and has been the site of some of the bloodiest fighting. Earlier this year, about 10,000 Marines moved into the area and pushed Taliban fighters out of several major cities there. The Marines then began to rebuild the long-absent Afghan government and police forces in the area.

The U.S. offensive, however, did not dislodge the Taliban from such places as Marjeh, a city of about 50,000 people in central Helmand that remains a major center for the opium trade. After several months of fighting, senior Marine officials concluded that they did not have enough troops to expand into Marjeh and a handful of other Taliban havens while holding on to the gains they had made in the province.

"Where we have gone, goodness follows," Conway said. "But the fact is that we are not as expansive as we would like to be, and those probable additional number of Marines are going to help us to get there."

The Marines' inability to push the Taliban out of these key sanctuaries led some Afghans in the area to doubt U.S. resolve. The Taliban has used its haven in Marjeh to produce roadside bombs and plan attacks on areas where Marines were trying to build the local government and police forces. This month, Taliban fighters from Marjeh killed three Afghan city council members in nearby Nawa, which Marines have held up as a major success story in the province.

"The two questions I get from Afghans are 'When are you leaving?' and 'Why aren't you going into Marjeh?' because that is where the real enemy is," said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, senior Marine commander in the province.

Marine commanders have little doubt that the additional 9,000 troops moving into the province will push the Taliban out of its remaining sanctuaries in Helmand. But the gains will be transitory if U.S. forces do not build effective local police forces and foster a government that is relatively free of corruption and can provide for the Afghan people, U.S. officials said. "This will be a credibility test for the [Afghan] government to see if it can deliver," said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a spokesman for McChrystal.

Already there is cause for concern. The Afghan government appears likely to commit only 60 percent of the troops that Marine and local Afghan commanders estimate that they need for the assault, a senior Marine official in Helmand said. That means more Marines will probably have to be posted in the city after the initial attack to ensure that the Taliban does not return.

"To have American Marines standing on a corner in a key village isn't nearly as effective as having an Afghan policeman or Afghan soldier," Conway said.

Karzai intervened to halt an attack into Marjeh by U.S. Special Operations forces and Afghan troops this year after residents in the area complained of excessive civilian casualties, senior military officials said. The coming assault on the city will be a measure of Karzai's willingness to buck allies with ties to the opium industry, these officials said.

The other major area of concern is whether the Afghan government and the U.S. military can meet the aggressive new growth targets laid out for the Afghan army and police force in the Obama administration's war strategy. "We have to increase recruiting. We have to increase retention, and we have to decrease attrition this year," said Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who leads the U.S. training effort in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital.
Washington Post
The administration's new plans for the Afghan army and police, which will probably be a heavy focus of Tuesday's speech, call for increasing the size of the army to about 134,000 troops by October, four years earlier than the initial goal of 2014. To meet that target, the Afghan Defense Ministry must bring in about 5,000 new recruits a month and dramatically cut attrition in battalions.

This month, the ministry missed its monthly recruiting goal by more than 2,000 troops.

Afghan soldiers and police officers were recently given a 40 percent pay increase, but it is too early to tell whether the extra money will fix the recruiting problem, U.S. officials said.

"The extra pay literally brought us to parity with what the Taliban are offering," a senior military official in Kabul said.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

IDP children suffer more than most

KABUL (IRIN): The onset of winter means freezing nights, cold-related diseases and more problems for the children at an informal settlement of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the western outskirts of Kabul city. “They lack access to adequate food, shelter, healthcare, safe drinking water and sanitation, education, and are vulnerable to forced labour, sexual exploitation and many other problems,” Paola Retaggi, the coordinator of a Child Rights Consortium (CRC) led by Switzerland’s Terre des Hommes in Kabul, told IRIN. Many IDP children either beg or work on the streets while some fall prey to the insurgents who have been accused by the UN of using children for military purposes. “Afghanistan today is without a doubt the most dangerous place to be born,” Daniel Toole, regional director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for South Asia, was quoted in the media as saying on 19 November. About a quarter of Afghan children die before their fifth birthday (257 per 1,000) mostly from preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea, according to UNICEF. Half the country’s estimated 25 million population is below 15 but millions of Afghan children are deprived of their basic rights and are vulnerable to different forms of violence, aid agencies say. “Internally displaced children suffer the most among all other children,” said Retaggi of the CRC. More than 262,000 people are displaced in different parts of Afghanistan, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Conflict, natural disasters, poverty and communal tensions are among the major factors. Between 2002 and 2005 more than one million people were internally displaced in Afghanistan, according to aid agencies. Most IDPs were accommodated in camps in Kandahar, Helmand and Herat provinces where UN agencies delivered essential aid. The UN-backed assistance programme ended in March 2006 and the IDPs were encouraged to return home in a bid to prevent a protracted emergency. Many IDPs resettled in their original areas mostly in the northern provinces but tens of thousands have remained in camps, saying it is still unsafe for them to move back. The ongoing conflict and recurrent natural disasters have added to the number of displaced families in the country over the past few years. However, the UN and government have opposed the establishment of new IDP camps, particularly for conflict-affected families, and little sustainable aid has been provided to them. “Refugees are assisted and protected by UNHCR but no agency has a clear mandate to assist IDPs,” said CRC’s Retaggi, adding that IDP children were particularly deprived of protection and assistance. “What we fail to do [for] these children now will with no doubt reflect on the future of the entire country in a couple of years,” Hansjorg Kretschmer, head of the European Commission Delegation to Afghanistan, told a press conference on 22 November in Kabul.


I am not Zardari’s fan but its really amazing that people have forgotten Nawaz Shrif’s corruption, to me entire Pakistani elite is corrupt and are bunch of thugs, criminals and thieves. The only thing Pakistan needs is a REVOLUTION and firing squad to get rid of all these criminals. The fact is, No one has any idea how the NRO is going to play out in the courts. But everyone knows that corruption is rampant in Pakistan and there are no effective means to check it. Ousting Zardari will neither fix the system nor validate the continuation of democracy in Pakistan .
Nawaz Sharifs Ehtesab Bureau was basically a Punjabi way of removing all political opposition to primacy of Punjab from Sindh. Corruption was used as a pretext although no one ever asked how Nawaz Sharif became Pakistan’s richest man in between 1985 and 1997? No one asked how Nawaz Sharif awarded the Lahore Islamabad Motorway to Daewoo before last date of award of the project? No one has asked how Shahbaz Sharif awarded NLC 8 Billion Rupees of Lahore Ring Road without bidding and NLC sub contracted the same work to civilians within 7 days without bidding? HOW IS IT THAT ALL THE CRIMES AND CORRUPTION IN PAKISTAN IS IN SINDH,PUKHTUNKHWA,BALUCHISTAN, WHILE THE MAJORITY PUNJAB MUCH LARGER IN POPULATION IS COMPOSED OF ALL ANGELS .
NRO is just a name in the struggle of Pakistan’s so called custodians , also known as establishment , the generals , the Punjab centered political clique to paint all who are outside their group as bad guys.
The question of NRO is of social justice and morality that an elite group of people are allowed keep themselves away from any judicial process for their alleged crimes.
But I don't think our bureaucracy, generals, feudal parties, corrupt capitalists , bhatta khors don't consider them selves as in need of any morality. These thugs and criminals don’t care that ordinary Pakistanis are poor, they are selling kids and kidneys or committing suicides because of poverty ,they don’t have clean drinking water, electricity, proper medical benefits and the list of their miseries goes on in Jinnah’s Pakistan.
One person of the family stands in line for flour, another stands in line to get sugar. When they come home, no electricity, gas, water. Very productive – these politicians have taken money from agencies and steal money. I think these people should be banned from running. These corrupt politicians , rulers, elite and slaves of bourgeois are all power hungry. None of them is truly a leader of public. A public leader only comes in power to help the public. They represent and defend the rights of their community. As long as these political leaders are in the political scene, no real progress can take place. The time has come to start things from scratch; to have the Pakistan "Born Again". This can only accomplish when the Pakistani public, stop believing in this charade of democracy. It is only good for amusement. "Somebody" has to give a sudden halt to this and form a government of technocrats (loyal ordinary citizens of Pakistan) who can rule for good 25-30 years and "build the nation": infrastructure, economy, healthcare and education geared towards making citizens of Pakistan virtuous, compassionate, tolerant and knowledgeable.
The reason I talk about revolution is, because we need to put this country on the right track , to debar all the corrupt politicians or bureaucrats and army generals from ever holding public offices again...otherwise this vicious cycle will continue to play on...also if everybody loves the animal of democracy so much, the least that can be done by all political parties is to first institute democratic norms within their own ranks rather than to operate like dynasties in a kingdom...also they should bring in statutes within their own ranks to debar corrupt leaders, otherwise the monstrous shamble of corruption and destruction would carry on for ever, lets break the vicious circle now... otherwise 3 yrs from now, we will be watching Nawaz or Shahbaz as PM making the same inaugural speech they were making 10 yrs ago... "Aziz humwatanon, pichli hakoomat nay iss mulk ko loot kar deewalaya kar diya. Muslim League phir se taraqqi ka safar shuroo karey gi .
The people should rise up against the system. Because, it is the system that is flawed.

Lets see how other countries have eradicated corruption from their ranks. Some cleaned the top leadership as in Malaysia and some made it a criminal office punishable to death as is the case in China. The death penalty is an effective means of state-driven innovation, especially against entrenched or widespread defective social structures. Its use against corruption is not in itself new, and it is still applied effectively in China. The recent NRO scandal is a quick reminder, that in the heavy population developing countries. Corruption, self-enrichment, and nepotism are part of the political culture in - so much so, that they form a major argument against democracy itself. Though many countries have signed Protocol Six of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits the use of the death penalty in peaceful times, however including china & Pakistan some 59 countries have not signed that protocol. The death penalty is legal in 59 countries and 25 of them used it last year to execute almost 9,000 people and Belarus is the only European country where the death penalty is still used. Pakistan is amongst those 59 who awards death sentence freely but In Pakistan you can hang a poor guy not big thugs and criminals. Pakistani Society continues its descent into Anarchy and lawless. The powerful and the rich remain accountable to no one, free to plunder the national trust. The Corrupt should be hung from telephone and electric poles in the street for all the public to see that Corruption will not be tolerated. These corrupt politicians ARE the reason of Pakistan's downfall. Such a strong blow to Pakistan's prosperity SHOULD ONLY be dealt with IRON HAND: Capital Punishment should be enforced for such chronic criminals.
Pakistani politicians desire to enter in politics is to enhance their personal wealth, powers and ego. They entirely forget main objective of democracy which is to serve the people and the country. From day one they been fighting like dogs and cats, not to serve the nation but to themselves and this is the unfortunate reality.
The military establishment's filthy blood-stained hands need to be kept out of Pakistani politics. Pakistani Generals need to understand that they need to improve their skill in defending the country instead of running it into the ground .
The nation is still at war with the terrorist. Beside terrorists plague Pakistanis have other several major problems such as poverty, IDPs issues, security of people and nation, energy crises, inflation, unemployment, lack of justice for individuals, civil laws etc. All these issues require full attention of all branches of our government.
Away from Pakistan for three decades but still carrying a sympathetic heart, I watch events unfold in Pakistan like a soap opera. Politicians of all persuasions appear on television claiming honesty and virtue, prepared to sacrifice all for the country. Who are they kidding? We all know deep down most of them are corrupt and will not hesitate to further their personal cause before the country’s. You only have to look at the gap between haves and the have nots. People taking their own lives in desperation because they can’t feed their children, while the elite live in palaces, eat well and travel to foreign countries with disproportionate entourage on public funds. These political parties are behaving like the sugar mills owners. They are just after their personal benefits and do not care a bit for the country’s interests. Pretty hopeless people in the present dark situation! Pakistan is cursed with evil politicians. Masses have no choice. Only a Messiah will liberate the oppressed.
We can only hope that one day a revolutionary benevolent leader can steer this nation out of its misery.

Militant Violence Creates Climate of Fear In Peshawar

Riaz lives in a small village on the outskirts of Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar. The middle-aged man, who goes by one name, remembers happier days a few years ago when driving his rickety taxi around Peshawar's crowded bazaars and lush green suburbs was fun -- despite the noise, dust, and smog.

Riaz still drives the same taxi. But his job is now one of the most dangerous professions in a city where nearly 300 people have been killed by recent bomb attacks on markets, mosques, and military installations.

Attacks in Peshawar have intensified since mid-October, when the military began a large scale offensive against the Taliban in the tribal region of South Waziristan, nearly 300 kilometers south of Peshawar.

But Riaz says he has no option but to continue working. "How can I be afraid when I'm responsible for my children?” he asks. “Even if I am afraid, I'm responsible for my kids and I have to earn a living."

Peshawar is part of a fertile river valley perched on the edge of the historic Khyber Pass. The ancient city has seen centuries of bloodshed because of its central location on regional crossroads between South and Central Asia.

But its current problems are rooted in recent history. The Soviet invasion of neighboring Afghanistan in December 1979 placed then-sleepy Peshawar on the front lines. It was soon teeming with refugees, journalists, aid workers, and spies, as well as extremist militants from around the Muslim world.

The influx transformed the ancient city that extended into a British-built, leafy garrison surrounded by small mud-built villages into a big warren of clogged neighborhoods.

Among the young Arab zealots who came to Peshawar ostensibly to help the Afghan mujahedin were Osama Bin Laden, the son of wealthy Saudi billionaire, and a young Egyptian doctor named Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Both now command the respect and allegiance of most militants fighting the Pakistani government.

In The Crossfire

Peshawar's status as a frontline city was revived after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. But since then, Peshawar residents have been caught in the crossfire between the extremists and Pakistani security forces. Every new military operation against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban has triggered retaliation by militants who target Peshawar and other Pakistani cities.

Residents say the city has suffered an average of two attacks every week since early May when the military launched an offensive into Swat valley, where the Taliban established control after a botched peace deal with the government last spring.

Most landmarks in the beleaguered city have been hit.

At least 100 people, mostly women and children, died on October 28, when a huge car bomb ripped through the crowded Meena Bazaar. The market’s tiny jewelry, clothes, and toy shops often were frequented by women and children.

An earlier bomb attack on October 9 in the nearby Khyber Bazaar killed 50 people. In June, a suicide car bomber attacked the Pearl Continental Hotel -- destroying the city's lone five-star hotel and killing 17 people, including aid workers.

Kamran Arif, a 42-year-old lawyer who often visited the court complex where 20 people were killed by a suicide bomber on October 18, says the growing insecurity is changing the way people live in the city.

"The recent spate of bombings has left everybody very, very insecure,” Arif said. “People have at times stopped sending their children to school. Of course, people have stopped visiting public areas like markets and cinemas and people keep to themselves."

Conspiracy Theories

Arif says there are several conspiracy theories circulating in Peshawar that blame Pakistan's archrival India for the attacks. Some Pakistani media magnify these conspiracy theories by including Afghanistan and the United States on the list of "hidden hands" that are fomenting instability in the country.

"There are quite a lot of theories with no substantial evidence to any of them attached,” Arif said. “Unless people realize that there is a threat from within the country, we cannot do much about it."

Recent media reports suggest the dramatic increase in attacks upon civilians can be attributed to a new insurgent decision to declare civilians "apostate" -- a move that attempts to justify the killing of innocent civilians as a legitimate part of an Islamic extremist war strategy. Al-Qaeda and its affiliated Taliban groups have already declared the Pakistani army and government apostate.

Crime has risen in Peshawar in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. Arif says wealthy businessmen are leaving town as the number of kidnappings for ransom increases.

Anarchic century-old administrative arrangements stop Peshawar police from operating in the tribal regions on the western, southern, and northern outskirts of the city. Some Peshawar neighborhoods like the once-posh Hayatabad are now deemed so dangerous that few locals venture there even during daytime.

Pakistani forces claim to have killed 18 militants on November 25 in the Khyber tribal region that borders Hayatabad and other Peshawar neighborhoods west of the city center. Officials suggest the raid targeted a militant network that was orchestrating attacks on the logistical supply lines of Western forces in Afghanistan.

Afraid To Go Out

Peshawar businessman Qamar Farroq has seen a rapid decline of customers at his pharmacy. He speaks of an end to "all social life."

Like thousand of parents in the city, he worries about his three school-going children. Many Peshawar parents keep children at home on Thursdays and Fridays because the most recent militant attacks were staged on those days.

"Sometimes we keep them at home,” Farroq says. “If they go to school, we worry. The entire system is messed up."

Peshawar's historic 'Bazaar of the Storytellers' is now mostly deserted. Its tea houses -- where traders once concluded deals over endless cups of green tea and where much of the city's gossip was exchanged -- now await customers.

Farzand Ali owns a small grocery shop in a busy Peshawar market near the Bazaar of the Storytellers. He tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that he fears for his life when he works at the shop where few customers dare to show up.

"Conditions are very bad and everybody is afraid,” he says. “People avoid coming out into the city and we can tell that from looking at the market. Now people avoid even visiting the hospitals. Who will go to the markets in these circumstances?"

Mussarat Hilali woman is a long-time human rights campaigner who now heads a court overseeing environmental issues. She says the terrorist attacks will eventually end, but for now, she says there’s no end in sight.

"When people leave their homes, they don't know whether they will return home,” Hilali says. “When traffic gathers around a square or there is a traffic jam, I see people paying taxis drivers and walking away. This situation is equally bad for men, women, and children."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Peshawar, Eid shopping yet to gain momentum

PESHAWAR: Eid shopping in the provincial metropolis could not gain momentum despite that the religious festival is just three days away while the city police blocked traffic to certain busy bazaars to stave off bombing.

The provincial government also ordered law-enforcement agencies to launch search operation in the city to track down terrorists and their supporters. Dozens of brave policemen have offered sacrifice of their lives to protect Peshawar and other towns.

The seven bomb blasts in the current month and three in October have taken the lives of hundreds of people, not only unleashing terror on the city of three-million people but also filled the atmosphere with deep grief and sorrow.

On account of these two reasons, the Peshawarites are yet to go to the markets for Eid shopping and most of the busy marketplaces have been wearing a deserted look.

The historic and one of the busiest bazaars, Qissa Khwani, is a forlorn place where people scare to go. The visitors to the bazaar are its shopkeepers, who are waiting for the customers to come to their shops, just three days ahead of the Eid.

“There is a great fear among the shopkeepers following rumours of bomb blasts, which has also forced customers to stay away,” a shopkeeper said.

The bazaar has been blocked for all kinds of traffic at Kabuli (Now Khan Raziq) Police Station to ward off car-bombings.

Eating sweets on happy occasions, particularly Eid, is a tradition but this is not the case this time. “We are running the business in loss. Even during Eid days, we are earning only Rs2,500-3,000 a day while our expenses exceed Rs5,000,” the owner of sweets shop, Arshad Ahmad said.

The bombed Meena Bazaar, still reeling under the devastating blast on October 28, is situated at a short distance from the Qissa Khwani. As the people stayed away from all bazaars near the site of the blast on Tuesday, some shopkeepers were still seen engaged in reconstructing their destroyed shops. One could see concrete pillars being erected and ramshackle buildings repaired but fear still engulfed the place.

“People would tread on each others feet due to rush during the last few days to Eid but now you can see the market is empty,” Yasin, a shopkeeper dealing in cosmetics in Meena Bazaar, said.

In his opinion, the customers were not coming to the market after the October 28 blast. It was afternoon but Yasin said he had not earned a penny.

Rafiullah, selling bangles, in the same bazaar, said their sales had steeply dropped. “Previously, we would earn over Rs15,000 a day but now hardly make Rs3,000.” During Eid shopping in normal times, he said they would not have time “to scratch our head” but now all the Eid-specific items were lying unsold.

Saddar Bazaar, an up-market of the city, has been blocked for taxis and rickshaws and private vehicles are not allowed to park in front of shops. Eid shopping in this bazaar, where everything is available, has also not gathered momentum.

NWFP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said Monday the government would celebrate Eid with simplicity to pay tribute to people martyred in blasts.

The NWFP government has directed all law-enforcement agencies to start search operation in Peshawar and hunt down terrorists and their supporters. They have also been asked to nab all Afghan refugees without legal documents and evict non-local prayer leaders.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pakistan troops repulse militant attack

Pakistani troops on Sunday repulsed an attack by militants on one of their posts in a lawless tribal region, killing 11 rebels, officials said.

Armed with heavy weapons, a group of 30-40 militants launched the attack on an army post in Rashakai area in the Bajaur region, which borders Afghanistan, senior local administration official Adalat Khan told AFP.

"Troops effectively repulsed the attack, killing 11 militants," Khan said, adding that two soldiers were wounded in the exchange of fire.

Another security official in the area confirmed the incident and said the remaining militants fled, leaving behind their weapons.

Elsewhere, fighter jets bombarded militant hideouts in the Mamound area of Bajaur on Sunday, killing five rebels.

Militants have recently stepped up attacks on security forces and government installations in Bajaur, one of Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous tribal districts considered a stronghold of Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked extremists.

The violence has surged since Pakistan launched a major offensive in the Taliban bastion of South Waziristan on October 17. Officials say the aim is to distract the army's attention from South Waziristan.

In February, the army declared a major six-month operation in Bajaur successful. But violence continues to rock the region.

Meanwhile, security forces continued their operation in South Waziristan tribal region, killing five militants, the military said in a statement.

Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal areas have been infiltrated by hundreds of extremists who carved out safe havens after the ouster of Afghanistan's hardline Taliban regime in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Pakistani security forces also foiled an attempt to smuggle weapons and explosives into the country from Afghanistan, officials said on Sunday.

"Tribal police seized two trucks with a huge cache of weapons after a brief exchange of fire with those driving the vehicles in Khyber tribal region on Saturday," top local administration official Shafeerullah Khan said.

He said that the weapons seized by tribal police included rifles of different calibres, rockets, rocket launchers and other ammunition worth millions of (Pakistani) rupees.

He said that weapons were concealed under fresh fruit and garments in the two trucks, adding that all seven men in the two vehicles had fled during the exchange of fire.

Khan said that the trucks had entered Khyber region after crossing the border from Afghanistan at Torkhum.

Another senior administration official, Rehan Gul Khattak, confirmed the seizure and said that raids were being carried out to arrest the smugglers.

Regrouping Taliban May Widen War as Pakistan Pays Economic Toll
Taliban fleeing a Pakistani offensive are regrouping in the country’s northwest, threatening to spread and prolong a conflict that has strained the nation’s economy and may hamper efforts to attract foreign investment.

While Pakistan says its month-old offensive in South Waziristan has destroyed the largest Taliban sanctuary, some militants are falling back to Orakzai, a mountain region less than 16 kilometers (10 miles) south of Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, said Talat Masood, an independent military analyst in Islamabad.

Rising violence in the region last year prompted London- based Tullow Oil Plc to give up operational control of drilling operations near Orakzai. A wider conflict may make it harder to attract companies like Mol Nyrt., Hungary’s largest oil refiner, which this month started natural gas production in the province.

“Naturally, this violence is not good for the investment climate, but the government’s decision this year to tackle the Taliban is a good one for the long term,” said Habib-ur-Rehman, who manages $48 million of stocks and bonds at Karachi-based Atlas Asset Management Ltd.

Peshawar, Pakistan’s eighth-largest city, suffered 11 major terrorist attacks this year, including a Nov. 19 suicide bombing at the main courthouse that killed 18 people. The city has a U.S. consulate and straddles the truck route for supplies from the port of Karachi to U.S. troops in landlocked Afghanistan.

Mountainous Trails

South of Peshawar, guerrillas are escaping over trails that snake through the mountains, military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said in a Nov. 13 interview. While “sealing off the footpaths is not realistic,” the army is “preventing the militants from moving vehicles or heavy weapons,” he said.

Some escaped militants will abandon the Taliban movement and others will continue, making Orakzai the army’s possible next target, Abbas said. Pakistani air force jets have bombed Taliban positions there this month, killing as many as 20.

The fighting is hurting what the International Monetary Fund has called an “anemic” economy. Foreign aid and loans financed 40 percent of Pakistan’s $10 billion current account deficit in the year ended June 30, said Asad Farid, an economist at AKD Securities in Karachi. This year such assistance will entirely cover a deficit of $6 billion, he said.

Rising Cost

The war against the Taliban has been costing the government $8.5 billion a year, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin said July 15. This year’s figure is higher, Tarin told reporters Nov. 16, declining to give details.

Successes in South Waziristan, where the army has captured militant strongholds and main roads, may revive an argument with the Obama administration over which Taliban factions Pakistan’s forces should strike next. U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones has renewed pressure for Pakistan to hit the groups that attack U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, the New York Times reported Nov. 15, citing unnamed U.S. officials.

“The Pakistani response to any new U.S. demand will be the same as before: that they have no resources to open a new front,” said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council in Washington.

The army’s current offensive targets a Taliban faction in South Waziristan that opposes Pakistan’s government, which blames it for 80 percent of Islamic attacks in the country. While Taliban groups that fight in Afghanistan are based nearby in North Waziristan, Abbas said the army has no plans to expand its assault there.

Shifting Focus

“Cost and security reasons” led oil developer Tullow to hand over control of a drilling project at Kohat, near Orakzai, to its local partner, spokesman George Cazenove said in an e- mail. “Because they are no longer the operator, the number of Tullow employees in Pakistan has been reduced significantly,” although Tullow retains a 40 percent stake in the project, Cazenove said.

Budapest-based Mol, Hungary’s largest oil refiner, began production at its Manzalai field last week after an initial investment of $500 million. Initial output of 250 million cubic feet of gas a day will be increased 40 percent to 350 million cubic feet by 2013, Mol Chief Executive Officer Gyorgy Mosonyi told a press conference in Islamabad on Nov 11.

“We are reducing risk to the possible minimum,” the company said in a statement in response to questions about security. “Operations at both the office in Islamabad and at the countryside facilities are continuous and uninterrupted.”

The Karachi Stock Exchange 100 Index fell 2.1 percent last month, the most since January, as bombings and assaults in major cities eroded confidence.

Sanctuary Disrupted

The South Waziristan campaign will improve Pakistan’s security because it has disrupted the country’s largest Taliban sanctuary, said Mahmood Shah, an analyst who once served as security chief for the border zone.

“We should see a reduction in the attacks within as little as two weeks,” Shah said.

On Oct. 17, the army sent 28,000 troops into the lands of the ethnic Pashtun Mehsud tribe, which has about 5,000 to 8,000 Taliban fighters, Abbas said. The battlefield is a forested, mountainous zone of 2,200 square kilometers, about half the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island.

Operation in Darra, Bara soon to save Peshawar: Malik

ISLAMABAD: The government will soon start an operation in Darra Adam Khel and Bara to clear the area of terrorists, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Saturday.

Asked about the incessant terrorist attacks in Peshawar, Malik told reporters that due to the ongoing military operation in South Waziristan and Swat, terrorists were on the run and had amassed in the areas around Peshawar.

He said more troops would be dispatched to South Waziristan, adding that the government had sent additional forces to Peshawar and had dispatched new security equipment, including mobile scanners, to the city.

Security conference focuses on Pakistan nuclear capabilities
HALIFAX — The Afghan war and the growing Taliban insurgency inside Pakistan are putting that country's nuclear arsenal at risk, says Stephen Hadley, an arms control expert who served as national security adviser to former U.S. president George W. Bush.

"The situation in Pakistan is troubling from a lot of perspectives," Hadley said. "There is a lot of concern about what happens to Pakistan's nuclear weapons if the government fragments in some way."

Hadley, who now advises the United States Institute of Peace — a Washington-based think-tank — was speaking in Halifax Sunday at an international security conference, where the worsening insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan were the focus of three days of talks by defence ministers, academics and military leaders from the Americas, Asia and Europe.

The consensus at the conference was that Pakistan is the key to solving the war in Afghanistan because the Pakistan military established the Taliban and brought them to power as a proxy government in Kabul following the Soviet withdrawal.

As the Taliban have reasserted their strength in Afghanistan in recent years, however, so too have they and other Pashtun extremist groups begun to destabilize Pakistan, working from the same safe havens near the Afghan frontier.

Hadley said there was concern inside the Bush administration after the terrorist attacks of 2001, that U.S.-led military action inside Afghanistan might destabilize Pakistan and could even lead to a Taliban government in Islamabad.

So far that hasn't happened, and as a result, Pakistan's nuclear weapons remain firmly in the control of the established civilian government, Hadley said, adding that the U.S. has assisted Pakistan since 9/11 in maintaining legitimate command and control efforts over its arsenal.

"Whenever we checked in with our military and intelligence people, we said, 'Is this a nuclear arsenal at risk?' The answer so far has always been, 'No,'" Hadley said.

"And we have now a democratic government in Pakistan that is really revitalizing their effort against the Taliban. They see it now for what it is — a strategic threat to the stability of that democracy.

"So I think that's a problem that we have done pretty well in managing, all of us together, in the last eight years."

Yet it remains "a risk" that circumstances could rapidly change, he said.

Ellen Tauscher, the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control in the Obama administration, also attended the conference on Sunday, but declined to comment on questions about Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

NRO beneficiaries’ list to media

ISLAMABAD : State Minister for Law and Justice Afzal Sindhu on Saturday issued the list of beneficiaries of National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), Aaj News Reported.

Addressing a press conference here, he said a total of 8041 were benefited from NRO, adding that 7793 were benefited from Sindh only.

Sindhu said that President Asif Ali Zardari and MQM Chief Altaf Hussain are also among the beneficiaries from Sindh. The number of cases against Altaf Hussain was 72.

Brigadier Imtiaz, Salman Farooqi, Farooq Sattar, Shoaib Bukhari, Dr Ishratul Ibad, Babar Ghori, Saleem Shehzad, Rehman Malik, Kanwar Khalid Younus, Usman Farooqi, Hussain Haqqani and Aftab Sherpao are also beneficiaries of NRO.

Wife of Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani is not among the beneficiaries.

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani was acquited honourably by the court.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Rs1,000 billion corruption swept under the carpet

ISLAMABAD: According to the official National Accountability Bureau (NAB) list, approximately Rs165 billion was written off because of the promulgation of the NRO and the subsequent act of making the NAB impotent but official sources claim that according to ‘actual’ calculations corruption cases of about Rs1000 billion were terminated.

These also include such cases where even the initial investigations had yet to begin. In just one case, a case of a highly influential individual involving a US$1.5 billion (Rs122 billion) plunder was terminated with the legal stroke of an illegal pen. In yet another case, the wife of an influential politician walked away scot-free and an amount of exactly Rs310 million was written off. There is a long list of cases in which complete immunity of billions of rupees was granted to a select segment of society.

Besides the NAB list of NRO beneficiaries given to the Law Ministry for presentation before the prime minister and then the National Assembly, hundreds of other political luminaries were given a clean slate in corruption cases without mentioning the word NRO and thousands of political workers involved in heinous criminal activities too got their records cleansed.

The National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was promulgated as a result of a deal between then military dictator Pervez Musharraf and the PPP leadership on the night of October 5, 2007 to facilitate the election of General Musharraf in Army uniform on October 6, 2007. Under this highly controversial, discriminatory and unconstitutional NRO, corruption cases of hundreds of politicians, influential bureaucrats and political activists of some political parties were withdrawn and terminated with one stroke of the pen.

According to legal experts the NRO was unconstitutional and a discriminatory law on the basis of the following three points; first, it applied to a certain category of people and is not applicable to each and every citizen. Second, it applies for a specific duration of time i.e. before October 12, 1999, thus it involved time limitations which again make it discriminatory with respect to time limits. Third, it excludes the indemnity benefits to people accused of cooperative societies, financial and investment scams which effectively means it excluded some people from taking benefits and included a select group of people to be benefited. It is in sheer violation of articles 4 and 25 of the Constitution which speaks of equality of citizens and declare that every citizen is entitled to equal treatment of law.

It is worth mentioning here that the National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice, which has a majority of ruling PPP members and comprises mostly ex-judges and senior lawyers, has recommended removal of these three discriminatory steps from the NRO thus admitting that it was an entirely unconstitutional and discriminatory law.

Despite U.S. pressures, Pakistan continues to follow its own road

SLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani government has some advice the Obama administration may not want to hear as it contemplates sending additional U.S. troops to neighboring Afghanistan : Negotiate with Taliban leaders and restrain India .
Pakistan embraces U.S. efforts to stabilize the region and worries that a hasty U.S. withdrawal would create chaos, but Pakistani officials worry that thousands of additional American soldiers and Marines would send Taliban forces retreating into Pakistan , where they're not welcome.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's office said Friday that he told visiting CIA Director Leon Panetta of " Pakistan's concerns relating to the possible surge of the U.S. and ISAF forces in Afghanistan which may entail negative implications for the situation in Baluchistan," the Pakistani province that borders Afghanistan to the south.
The Pakistanis' advice is almost diametrically opposed the strategy outlined by Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal , the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan : Don't send additional forces to protect Afghan cities, but send them to outposts along the Pakistani border — where McChrystal has withdrawn troops.
It's just one example of how Pakistan , a critical U.S. ally in the struggle against Islamist extremists and a major recipient of American military aid, continues to deal differently with the violence that threatens not only the U.S.-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai , but also impoverished, nuclear-armed Pakistan .
The two countries' divergent views of the threat posed by Islamist extremists, and the Obama administration's efforts to press Pakistan to move against groups that menace Afghanistan have produced strains between the two countries and between Pakistan's civilian government and its powerful military and Inter Services Intelligence agency — and a growing drumbeat of Pakistani allegations about alleged nefarious CIA activities in Pakistan .
"The Pakistanis say some things in public — often for reasons related to internal politics, it seems — that they don't focus on in private," said a senior U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because intelligence matters are classified. "That's not to say that we see eye-to-eye on everything behind closed doors, but both sides realize that — whatever the disagreements of the moment might be — the long-term partnership is essential. After all, Pakistani contributions to counterterrorism since 9/11 have been decisive, and our government recognizes that."
Instead of escalating the war in Afghanistan , however, top Pakistani officials are pressing the administration to try to negotiate a political settlement with top Taliban commanders that would allow the U.S. to exit Afghanistan .
Pakistani officials argue that that such a negotiating strategy can't work unless the rebel leadership is involved, right up to Jalaluddin Haqqani , the head of the most dangerous insurgent faction, and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the one-eyed founder of the Afghan Taliban and Osama bin Laden's ally and host.
Because Pakistan is a longtime patron of the Taliban and of the Haqqani network, Pakistani officials think they could broker a deal to reduce Afghan President Hamid Karzai to a figurehead leader and divide power between the Pashtun Taliban and Afghanistan's Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minorities.
U.S. and some Pakistani officials, however, are skeptical, arguing that the Taliban have little incentive to negotiate when their strength and sway in Afghanistan is growing and public and international support for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan is waning.
Najmuddin Shaikh , formerly the top bureaucrat in the Pakistani Foreign Ministry , said the Taliban could be brought to the negotiating table if they saw a greater American military commitment and more investments in the Afghan countryside.
"It's a little premature for talks (with the Taliban )," Shaikh said. "There has to be a change in the ground situation, things happening in the next six to eight months that shows the 'ink spots' strategy (McChrystal's idea of protecting Afghan population centers) is taking hold, that some foot soldiers are being weaned away, then talks become possible."
Nevertheless, behind the scenes talks with mid-level Taliban officials already have begun, and Pakistani officials think they could rapidly accelerate now that Karzai has begun his second term.
"We've already been talking to them (the Taliban )," said a senior Pakistani official in Islamabad , who couldn't be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. "If the U.S. helps the process, some arrangements can be worked out for political reconciliation. I'm not for a moment suggesting that it's an easy task, but otherwise you will be fighting these people for the next hundred years."
The United States and other NATO forces also favor talking to some Taliban , but they focus on "non-ideological" insurgents who can be peeled away, partly through bribery. Retired British general Graeme Lamb was appointed for this task in August, but so far the effort has produced little success.
"The Americans have wasted a lot of time over this 'moderate Taliban ' idea. It is never going to pan out. It misunderstands the Taliban phenomenon," said Simbal Khan, an analyst at Institute of Strategic Studies , a policy institute funded by the Pakistani government. "If you try to break off elements with cash, they'll take your money and still fight you."
The Pakistani military and ISI still consider archrival India , not militant Islam, the main threat, and unlike U.S. officials, Pakistani officials distinguish between the Taliban and other militant groups whose target is Afghanistan and groups that are seeking to impose their extreme brand of Islam on Pakistan .
Pakistan has for eight years declined to mount any serious pursuit of bin Laden and the other top al Qaida leaders who sought shelter in Pakistan after the 2001 U.S. invasion drove them out of Afghanistan .
Pakistan also has quietly tolerated the presence of Mullah Omar, who U.S. officials said is based near the Baluchistan city of Quetta and shuttling between there and Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and a key financial and logistics center for Islamic militants. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because intelligence on terrorist groups is classified. Officially, Pakistan denies that bin Laden and Omar are in the country.
Pakistan's laissez-faire attitude toward al Qaida , Omar and Afghan militants such as Haqqani doesn't appear likely to change in the face of stepped-up American pressure.
U.S. national security adviser James Jones last week delivered a message to Gilani and other Pakistani officials from President Barack Obama , who urged Pakistan to take action against Afghan militant groups operating from Pakistani soil.
The Pakistanis politely told Jones that Pakistan is doing all it can, and that it must concentrate on groups that are attacking Pakistan , rather than those that are a threat in Afghanistan . Gilani's office said he told Jones that Pakistan's "forces were over-stretched because of continuous tension on the eastern border" with India .
Gilani's office said Friday that, "The new Afghan policy of the U.S. government should not disturb the regional balance in South Asia ."
Pakistani officials say that relations with India remain dangerously strained, requiring military resources on Pakistan's eastern border. Pakistan is also concerned about India's growing influence in Afghanistan , which Islamabad fears is part of a move to encircle Pakistan .
With Pakistani forces already fighting the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan , the country fears opening too many battlefronts and furiously rejects Washington's constant mantra of "do more."
U.S. officials say the Pakistani military is obsessed with the Indian border, where they say there's no active threat, and reluctant to address the threats that are a product of Pakistan's refusal to quash the insurgency on Pakistan's western border with Afghanistan .
"When we get into the position of stabilizing, then we can help the other side (the U.S.)," said a senior Pakistani military officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue publicly. "There are limits of our power. You cannot be expected to use your force against all (militant) groups because then your power will be diluted. That's exactly what's happening on the other side (to the U.S. in Afghanistan ), they're all over the place and virtually in control of nothing."

Monday, November 16, 2009

ISI used CIA money to build new Islamabad headquarters

Daily Times

LAHORE: The CIA has funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) since the 9/11 attacks, accounting for as much as one-third of the foreign spy agency’s annual budget – reported an American newspaper, citing current and former US officials.

The Los Angeles Times quoted officials as saying that the ISI had also “collected tens of millions of dollars through a classified CIA programme that pays for the capture or killing of wanted militants, a clandestine counterpart to the rewards publicly offered by the State Department”.

The officials said the payments have triggered intense debate within the US government, because of “long-standing suspicions that the ISI continues to help Taliban who undermine US efforts in Afghanistan and provide sanctuary to Al Qaeda members in Pakistan”.

But US officials have continued the funding because the ISI’s assistance is considered crucial: “almost every major terrorist plot this decade has originated in Pakistan’s tribal belt, where ISI informant networks are a primary source of intelligence”, said the newspaper.

The White House National Security Council has “this debate every year”, said a former high-ranking US intelligence official involved in the discussions. Despite deep misgivings about the ISI, the official said, “there was no other game in town”. The payments to Pakistan are authorised under a covert programme initially approved by former president George Bush and continued under President Barack Obama.

“The CIA payments are a hidden stream in a much broader financial flow... the US has given Pakistan more than $15 billion over the last eight years in military and civilian aid,” said the Los Angeles Times. “The ISI has used the covert CIA money for a variety of purposes, including the construction of a new headquarters in Islamabad... that project pleased CIA officials because it replaced a structure considered vulnerable to attack: it also eased fears that the US money would end up in the private bank accounts of ISI officials,” it said.

The newspaper said, “The scale of the payments shows the extent to which money has fuelled an espionage alliance that has been credited with damaging Al Qaeda but also plagued by distrusts.”

Given the size of overt military and civilian aid to Pakistan, CIA officials argue that their own disbursements – particularly the bounties for suspected terrorists – should be considered a bargain. “They gave us 600 to 700 people captured or dead,” said one former senior CIA official, who worked with the Pakistanis. “Getting these guys off the street was a good thing, and it was a big savings to [US] taxpayers.”

A US intelligence official said Pakistan had made “decisive contributions to counter-terrorism”. “They have people dying almost every day,” said the official. “Sure, their interests don’t always match up with ours. But things would be one hell of a lot worse if the government there was hostile to us.”

“The CIA also directs millions of dollars to other foreign spy services. But the magnitude of the payments to the ISI reflect Pakistan’s central role. The CIA depends on Pakistan’s cooperation to carry out missile strikes by drones that have killed dozens of suspected extremists in Pakistani border areas,” said the newspaper.

Outrage over Obama's Bow to Japanese Emperor

Critics of President Obama have something new to complain about -- his bow to the Emperor of Japan. Washington is abuzz with what some consider an innapropriate gesture.
When he was in Japan over the weekend as part of his Asian trip, Obama was greeted by Emperor Akihtito and his wife. While shaking hands, the President bowed down to the Emperor.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

3rd bombing in 2 days rocks Peshawar

PESHAWAR,-- The third car bombing in two days rocked Peshawar, Pakistan, Saturday, killing about a dozen people at a police checkpoint, officials said.

Hospitals in the city said the death toll was at least 12, the Daily Times reported. At least 35 were injured, eight of them critically.

Deputy Police Superintendent Shafi Ullah said three women, three children and a police officer were among the dead, CNN reported.

Investigators said the bomber detonated about 120 pounds of explosives in his vehicle after a brief conversation with a police officer at the checkpoint. The blast destroyed several vehicles and a nearby compressed natural gas station..

Peshawar is the capital of the North West Frontier province and is the administrative center for the country's tribal areas. The city was political headquarters of anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan during the struggle to drive the Soviets out in the 1980s.

Thirteen people were killed Friday in a suicide bombing of the regional headquarters of Inter Services Intelligence, the Pakistani intelligence agency. Another eight died in a suicide bombing of the police station in Bannu, near Peshawar

Why Pakistan is winning ITS war against the Taliban

In Mingora, the city of 250,000 people that was until recently the headquarters of Pakistan’s Swat valley Taliban, the shopping centre is heaving.

‘Bloody Chowk’, the crossroads where the militants used to leave the butchered bodies of their victims every night, is once again merely a mini-roundabout, surrounded by camera and shoe shops.

Further up the valley, a scenically idyllic 100-mile seam of fertility dividing the Northwest Frontier mountains, the girls’ schools that were blown up by the Taliban are reopening, with lessons taking place in tents.
The barbers ordered to stop shaving beards on pain of death are back in business, and Mullah FM, the radio station used by the Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah to broadcast his extremist sermons, is off the air.

Western leaders often insinuate that there is something half-hearted about Pakistan’s struggle against those responsible not only for bringing terror to Swat but providing safe havens for the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan, to say nothing of the series of devastating bombings in the big Pakistani cities.

Last month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that some in Pakistan’s government must know the whereabouts of Al Qaeda leaders such as Osama Bin Laden, still said by some to be hiding in the frontier’s tribal areas.

Gordon Brown has repeatedly urged the Pakistanis to ‘do more’, claiming that three-quarters of terrorist plots in Britain have links to Pakistan.

Yet last week he also admitted that, across the Afghan border, some of the territory the British Army took at such terrible cost last summer is already back under Taliban control.

As I walked unmolested through the alleys of Mingora’s bazaar, his comments provoked some uncomfortable thoughts.

First the good news: the Swat example shows that the Taliban are not invincible, and that it is possible to fight a counter-insurgency against them and win.

Unfortunately, however, the very reasons Pakistan appears to be doing quite well, both in Swat and in the current military operation further south in Waziristan, make the prospects of Nato success in Afghanistan more remote.

Moreover, one of the Pakistanis’ evident strengths – a clear strategic focus with operations of limited scope that tackle the enemy one area at a time – is woefully lacking in Afghanistan.

‘You have to recognise the limits of your power. When you try to attain too many objectives simultaneously, you end up attaining nothing,’ General Athar Abbas, the Pakistan army’s chief spokesman, told me.

‘If you don’t have clarity from the beginning, especially about what to do after you capture somewhere, you will run into serious problems – and that is what’s happening across the border.

‘You have to retain your successes, and the only way to do that is with popular support.’

Life in Mingora isn’t yet back to normal: the death and destruction have simply been too great. Fazlullah used to be a chairlift operator and one of the first things the Taliban did was to blow up the Swat valley’s ski facilities.

Skirmishes continue in outlying areas and there is still a curfew. But the progress is unmistakable.

When I last visited Pakistan in June, at the height of the Swat campaign, there were more than two million internally displaced persons (IDPs) living on the scorching plains in camps and relatives’ spare rooms.

But a remarkably efficient army-led transport and reconstruction effort has meant more than 95 per cent of them have been back home for weeks.

More impressive is the fact that despite having been IDPs, and in many cases having once been in favour of the Taliban, few Swat people appear to want them back.

‘When Fazlullah started his broadcasts, he had a lot of support,’ said Shiraz Khan, a local TV cameraman. ‘Not now. Their methods have been exposed.’

One night, he said, he was woken by the shrieks of his next-door neighbour. ‘The Taliban had come to her house and, in front of her and the rest of the family, they were murdering her oldest son and her husband by cutting their throats.’

‘When you see a dead body, its cut-off head lying on its chest, it’s a truly terrible sight,’ said a local professor, who asked not to be named.

‘The people supported the Taliban because they felt the state was not giving them justice. But now they are finished.’

The army is still in Mingora, but responsibility for law and order is back with the police.
‘The community is helping us with information,’ said Qazi Farooq, the district chief.

He said that ‘regular police work’ had led to the capture of dozens of militants, 60 of whom have already been charged in the criminal courts with crimes including murder and blowing up bridges.

In the remoter areas, ‘lashkars’ – tribal militias – have been formed to root out the last Taliban. If only the British Army had encountered similar reactions in Helmand, Afghanistan.

Last Friday, when I visited a new IDP centre established at a cricket ground in Dera Ismail Khan on the South Waziristan border, I heard the main reason why starkly expressed.

The IDPs there come from the same Pathan tribe, the Mehsuds, which is also the main source of the local Taliban.

But having been brutalised in a similar fashion to the people of Swat, several men told me they were ready to work with the army to ensure that its gains were maintained once they went home.

‘The thing is this,’ said Mohammed Qasar, a farmer from the district of Lada. ‘If the army treat us well, we will co-exist with them, because ultimately we are Pakistanis. The soldiers are our people, too.’

And there, alas, is the rub. The new counter-insurgency buzzword for Gordon Brown and Nato’s commanding general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, is ‘protecting the population’ in order to consolidate gains.

But honorable as that intention may be, no Afghan Pathan will ever describe the British or US troops as ‘our people’. Whatever their avowed policy, Nato troops will always look like occupiers.

In Pakistan, the fact that the army is being deployed inside its own country is a possible source of weakness.

This imposes a delicacy that is often not appreciated: it is, in the words of one general, ‘a pretty big deal’, and in order to rely on public support, it has had to wait until the Taliban’s outrages have become manifest before launching operations.

But having got that backing, it has become a source of strength.

Meanwhile, General Abbas cited a further stupefying sign of Nato’s apparent absence of strategic co-ordination.

In the name of the new ‘protection’ strategy, the US has this autumn been withdrawing from its posts on the Afghan side of the frontier, including those in Paktika, the province next to South Waziristan.

‘It will create a vacuum,’ he said, ‘and if militants escape from Waziristan, what can we do? We cannot fire on them when they cross the border.’

For years, Nato chiefs have accused Pakistan of failing to deal with the Taliban’s safe havens in Pakistani territory. Now, in one of the more bitter ironies of this ever-lengthening war, that role has been reversed.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

UN pulls out half its Afghanistan staff and threatens total withdrawal

The United Nations today temporarily pulled half its international staff out of Afghanistan and threatened that a complete and permanent withdrawal could follow.

Amid an atmosphere of increasing gloom in Afghanistan, the UN Special Representative in Kabul, Kai Eide delivered a pointed warning to the government of Hamid Karzai.

“There is a belief among some, that the international community (presence) will continue whatever happens because of the strategic importance of Afghanistan,” he told a press conference this morning. “I would like to emphasise that that’s not true.”

He added that the Afghan government must demonstrate a willingness to reform and address corruption and the power of warlords.

Of the 1,100 foreign UN workers, 600 will now leave until the situation improves. The remaining UN workers are to be relocated inside Kabul from the current network of 93 different UN guesthouses, many of them privately run civilian houses, to a one large compound which is currently used for the European Union police training mission. The new arrangement will echo the ‘Green Zone’ found in Baghdad.

The move follows last week’s attack on a UN guesthouse in the heart of the Afghan capital, Kabul, in which five UN international staff were killed by gunmen and suicide bombers who were disguised in police uniform.

Other aid agencies in Afghanistan have monitored the UN response to the latest attack but most appear to be maintaining their staffing levels in the country for now.

“It will not have major impact on the operations of international NGOs. Those with staff out of country will keep them there but most staff are still on the ground,” said Lex Kassenberg, the head of CARE International in Afghanistan.

Aid agencies said that tighter security restrictions imposed during the election period would remain in place but several said they would resist moves to put armed guards outside their offices, instead strengthening external defences and fitting cameras.

Aid workers told The Times that the UN move was not widely supported within the wider aid community. “We are really concerned about how the UN will provide services while their staff are outside the country and who will pick up the slack,” said one aid worker, who asked not to be named. “There is a perception that this seems like an overreaction which sends a bad message.”

The head of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon Moon, was critical of the response of both Afghan and Nato security forces following the Kabul attack last week.

Two UN security guards armed with pistols held off the Taleban attack for over an hour before being killed. Another armed UN worker continued resistance from the guesthouse laundry room. Some 20 UN workers were able to escape as a result.

However, Afghan security forces took more than an hour to arrive on the scene.

“For at least an hour, and perhaps more, those two security officers held off the attackers. They fought through the corridors of the building and from the rooftop," Ban told the UN General Assembly. "They held off the attackers long enough for their colleagues to escape, armed only with pistols against assailants carrying automatic weapons and grenades and wearing suicide vests."

Mr Ban said that "the UN security team repeatedly called for help from both Afghanistan government forces and other international partners". He added: "Initial reports suggest that it was approximately an hour, if not longer, before Afghan police or others arrived on the scene."

Both the Afghan government and Nato denied that they had failed to respond effectively to the attack on UN staff.

The UN has 6,700 staff working in Afghanistan, of whom 5,600 are Afghan nationals.

Designers shrug off militant violence for Pakistan's fashion week

KARACHI: Pakistan's fashion week started with an opulent opening ceremony, against a backdrop of militant violence and security fears that delayed the event and kept away foreign glitterati.

Models will sashay down catwalks, flaunting the latest creations by local designers in a country where most women cover up and observe varying degrees of Islamic dress.

The event's chief organiser, Ayesha Tammy Haq, said: ''We, the members of Fashion Pakistan, feel great to host this colourful event at difficult times of our history when the entire nation is waging a battle against militancy.''

A spokeswoman for Fashion Pakistan, Tehmina Khaled, said it would continue until Saturday.

''The situation was so painful in the country that we postponed it for three weeks,'' she said, referring to a spate of deadly attacks blamed on Taliban militants in which more than 340 people died.

''We have 32 designers from across the country who will participate in the event.''

Sonya Battla, the first designer to show, presented a collection that she said celebrated strong women.

She dismissed the fact that, in more conservative parts of the country, her designs might get women driven out of town or stoned to death.

''I'm a very brave woman,'' the 38-year-old designer said.

''I'm not going to be scared and no one's going to judge me.''