Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Precaution, pre-emption: Islamabad undergoes security overhaul

* Security arrangements and crime situation in capital city review
* All police stations to have CCTV cameras, four police stations to have surveillance cameras on emergency basis
* Private vehicles’ entry to police stations banned
ISLAMABAD: Following the Monday’s terrorist strike at Manawan Police Training Center, Lahore, the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration on Tuesday directed installation of CCTV cameras at all police stations and other police installations in the city.This was decided in a meeting chaired by Deputy Commissioner (DC) Asadullah Faiz and attended by Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Tahir Alam Khan, Additional Deputy Commissioner General (ADCG) Rana Akbar Hayat, Superintendent of Police (SP), West, Nasir Aftab, magistrates and sub-divisional police officers (SDPO).A senior official of ICT administration said that the meeting reviewed the security arrangements and crime situation in the capital city. The deputy commissioner directed the police bosses to further strengthen the security of police stations and make it sure that CCTV cameras were installed there.Faiz told the meeting that four CCTV cameras would be provided to the police on emergency basis and the remaining would be arranged in the next few days.The SSP briefed the meeting on the security measures taken at all police stations. The measures include setting up of jersey barriers, ditches, sentry posts and concertina wires. SP, West, Nasir Aftab told the meeting that the sentries would keep pouch ammunition during duty hours. He said people’s entry to all police stations had been directed through reporting room and no private vehicle would be allowed entry to the police stations’ premises.
Aftab further told the meeting that all station house officers (SHOs) had also been directed to prepare a list of seized vehicles parked on the premises of their respective police stations for their shifting to a centralized point at Tarlai Markaz.The meeting also decided to further beef up the security of shrines including the Barri Imam and Golra Sharif shrines. A detailed security plan in this regard would be chalked out by the respective sub-divisional magistrates (SDMs) and SDPOs.
The deputy commissioner stressed that all police stations conduct combing and surveillance operation in their respective jurisdictions, particularly in Chak Shehzad, Tarnol and areas along Islamabad Expressway. He directed the SDPOs concerned to ensure proper cordoning of unpaved tracks in F-11 and G-11.The magistrates and SDPOs were further directed to establish peace committees comprising notables of the area and activate the watch and ward system. It was decided to issue identification cards to the committee members and sensitize them to the issues of the area.The deputy commissioner further directed the SDMs to collect copies of FIRs from police stations on a regular basis and prepare a detailed report on comparative crime trend (CCT) in their respective jurisdictions.Assistant Commissioner (AC), Saddar, Maryam Khan was deputed focal person for overall supervision of crime control in the city.
It was learnt that a detailed list of court absconders would be prepared by each police station and each list would be divided into A, B and C categories. In this regard, area magistrates would coordinate with SHOs. The issue of ‘superdari’ of vehicles was also discussed and the DC directed that no ‘superdari’ be given in tampered cases.Maal Khana also came under discussion and it was decided to auction the seized weapons. The deputy commissioner also directed that the city, particularly Golra, Shahzad Town and Noorpur Shahan, be cleared of encroachments and media, civil society and notables of the area be requested to join hands with the ICT in this regard.

US cannot buy Pakistan's support: senator

WASHINGTON — A senior US senator on Tuesday expressed doubts about plans for US economic aid to Pakistan, saying Islamabad needed to prove it was determined to fight against extremists on its soil.
"If I thought we could buy stability, I would buy it," Democratic Senator Carl Levin told reporters.
But, he said, "I don?t think we can buy Pakistan?s support."
The Pakistani government must view the struggle against Islamists operating on its border with Afghanistan as in its own interest, and not only in the interest of Kabul or Washington, the Michigan senator said.
"What I need to see is the policy of the Pakistan government as being clear as to what they believe is in their interests," Levin said, adding: "I haven't seen that yet."
The skeptical tone from President Barack Obama's fellow Democrat, the influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, came only days after Obama presented a new strategy for the Afghan war that includes 1.5 billion annually in aid for Pakistan over five years.
Accusing Islamabad of appeasing Islamist militants, Levin said, "I have seen too much effort on their part to buy peace with people who I don?t think you can buy peace with."
Levin said it would be risky to rely too heavily on Pakistan to defeat insurgents in Afghanistan.
"If we depend on Pakistan to slow down the flow of insurgents into Afghanistan, we are relying on a very thin reed. So Afghanistan must defend its own border, and not rely on Pakistan for border control," he said.
His comments came a day after insurgents stormed a police academy near Lahore, leaving eight police recruits dead in the latest sign of rising militant violence in Pakistan.
Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud claimed responsibility for the deadly assault, saying it was in retaliation for US drone strikes on fellow militants.
With insurgents in Afghanistan led and backed by hardline militants in tribal areas over the border in Pakistan, the United States has warned Islamabad that in return for economic and military aid it must crack down on Islamist groups.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said on Tuesday aid to Pakistan needed to be linked to concrete action but expressed confidence that the country's military grasped the nature of the threat within its borders.
"The idea of a relationship between support and outcome certainly is one that I support," Mullen told a meeting of defense ministers from Central and South Asia outside of Washington.
He said the Pakistani military leadership, including chief of staff General Ashfaq Kayani, understood that the militants posed a threat to Pakistan itself.
"I have great confidence in General Kayani and in the Pakistani military," said Mullen, who holds frequent talks with his Pakistani counterpart.
Despite the deployment of more than 100,000 troops, Pakistan has been unable to stop a wave of attacks by Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants that have killed 1,700 since July 2007.

Lahore attacks heighten fears for fate of Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, March 31- Two high profile guerrilla attacks in Lahore in the space of a month have heightened fears of Islamist militancy engulfing Pakistan, despite U.S. promises of support for the year-old civilian government.

The assault by gunmen on a police academy in Lahore on Monday and another on the Sri Lankan cricket team in the city four weeks earlier brought home the depth of insecurity in Pakistan, while television channels carried the images worldwide.

"The government and the military are facing a crisis of credibility," said Ahmed Rashid, author of "Descent into Chaos", a book chronicling Pakistan's slide into the grip of militant religious extremists.

"There is no strategic plan or vision over how to deal with extremism and terrorism."

Nuclear-armed, and a hiding place for al Qaeda, Pakistan has become a foreign policy nightmare for the United States and other allies in the West.

U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled last Friday results of a strategy review for Pakistan and Afghanistan that made the annihilation of al Qaeda the principle objective.

A centrepiece of Obama's approach to Pakistan was the promise of billions of dollars in aid to help build state institutions, and improve the social and economic welfare to give people faith in President Asif Ali Zardari's civilian government.

The Pakistanis need all the help they can get.

"This incident definitely raises very serious questions about the capacity of our intelligence agencies and security apparatus to deal with these groups," Lahore-based security analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said after the attack on the police academy.


Pakistan's leaders know al Qaeda is encouraging a Taliban insurgency in Pakistani tribal lands bordering Afghanistan, and seeking to destabilise the Muslim nation of 170 million people.

Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, an al Qaeda ally based in the South Waziristan tribal region, claimed responsibility on Tuesday for the assault on the police school, which killed eight cadets. [nISL457124]

Suspicion fell on a Punjabi-based group called Lashkar-e-Jhangvi for the earlier attack on the Sri Lankans, but the file is still open.

Several other Pakistani militant groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group blamed for that attack on the Indian city of Mumbai last November, have fallen under al Qaeda's spell.

"Pakistan is the last bastion of hope for you all against terrorists and extremists. Don't undermine us," a senior Pakistani official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of his role, warned Western allies.

"Don't help us with tranches, come in a big way."

Money will help tackle the roots of militancy, but a generation may have to pass before it pays off.

Yet Pakistan is already under siege from militants and Obama revealed little of how the United States would help the country conquer its demons.

Instead, U.S. military commanders have made public accusations that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has maintained ties with groups close to al Qaeda and the Taliban.

"There has been a surge in allegations. Some of things they say undermine us," the senior Pakistani official told Reuters.

"It won't help by blaming or marginalising the ISI. It might make things worse."

Pakistan denies ISI duplicity. Officials privately say having contact with militants goes with the territory for field agents. "There has to be a degree of ingress by all intelligence agencies in (militant) organisations, be they good or bad," said the Pakistani official, noting past disengagement from such groups had reduced the ability to monitor their activities.


Obama clearly wants to confront suspected Pakistani double-dealing openly rather than privately as the Bush Administration did.

But he can't risk alienating an ally whose support is crucial to the West's success in Afghanistan and against al Qaeda.

Ahmed Rashid welcomed the plain speaking coming out of Washington, while counselling against going too far. "This is not a time to be talking about threats, sanctions or anything like that," Rashid said.

"I think it's advisable that the Americans engage with the military and political leadership in the country in a transparent way, and make that message that they're delivering very clear."

Openness in dealing with the United States is a luxury many Pakistani officials believe they can ill-afford given the degree of anti-American sentiment in the country.

They also complain their U.S. ally has taken too little heed of Pakistani security concerns in Afghanistan and India, and fear of potential encirclement by two hostile neighbours.

The Pakistani official, however, believed there had been a fresh appreciation of Pakistan's compulsions, and understanding that U.S. assurances about India's intentions were insufficient.

"I think there is a realisation in the United States and other Western powers that they have to consider Pakistan's security concerns," he said.

Pakistan knows the gravity of the internal threat but its army would be uncomfortable taking troops away from the eastern border with India, until India changes its posture and there are stronger signs disputes over Kashmir and water resources will be resolved

Taliban Leader's Washington Threat Is Credible, Analysts Say

The United States has put a $5 million bounty on his head, and he says militants under his control are planning a terrorist attack in Washington that "will amaze everyone in the world."And he isn't Usama bin Laden.
Baitullah Mehsud, commander of the Taliban in Pakistan, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that his group was responsible for Monday's attack on a police academy in his country that killed seven police officers and injured more than 90 others.He also said, chillingly:
"Soon we will launch an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world."
In an interview with local Dewa Radio, which was obtained by The Associated Press, Mehsud identified the White House as one of the targets.
FBI spokesman Richard Kolko told FOXNews.com that the bureau is not aware of a specific or imminent threat to the United States. He added, without elaborating, that Mehsud has made similar threats to the U.S..
But terrorism experts call Mehsud a "rising young star" who is linked both to the December 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the bombing last September that killed 54 people in the Marriott hotel in Islamabad -- and they say his threat to carry out an attack in Washington should not be discounted.
"It should be taken seriously because [Mehsud] has ordered the deaths of many Pakistanis and Afghans and has a close alliance with Al Qaeda," said James Phillips, a terrorism expert and senior research fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Heritage Foundation.
"It's not too much of a stretch to think he might be involved in an attack on the U.S. if he's able to get his followers inside the United States. He's a militant extremist whose threats cannot be ignored."
Mehsud, 35, is the senior leader of Tehrik-e-Taliban, or the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, and is a key Al Qaeda facilitator in the tribal areas of South Waziristan in Pakistan, according to the U.S. State Department. A $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction was announced just last week."He has conducted cross-border attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and poses a clear threat to American persons and interests in the region," the State Department wrote in a March 25 release.Phillips said Mehsud is less of a direct threat to the U.S. than bin Laden in an ideological sense, but his influence in Pakistan could allow him to tap into existing networks within Al Qaeda or among Afghan Taliban militants to achieve his goals."The U.S. government and other allied governments cannot afford to ignore this threat because [Mehsud] has acted on targets in the past," Phillips said. "Because he has a relatively secure base of operations in South Waziristan, he has been able to extend his influence throughout the border region and even into Pakistani cities."Steve Emerson, executive director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, said that of the many terrorists who have issued "blustery threats" in recent years, Meshud is considered a "rising young star" among militants."He's a dangerous guy," Emerson told FOXNews.com. "It just reaffirms the fact that Washington is a major target."He seems to be a pretty bloody, bold guy who is not afraid to have a marker on himself and knows how to exact publicity ... The real issue is what U.S. intelligence knows."Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute, said Mehsud's attacks have "significantly altered" the political dynamics in Pakistan and provide a major test for President Asif Ali Zardari. But any direct threat Mehsud poses to the United States will be through his link with Al Qaeda, she said.
"If he did have the reach, it would be because of Al Qaeda," she said. "This is more posturing on his behalf."Mehsud, who denies involvement in Bhutto's assassination and the Marriott Hotel bombing, is a diabetic who was reportedly called a "good Taliban" in 2007, when the Pakistani army struck a peace agreement with him that was later aborted.Mehsud has said he's not concerned with the bounty on his head, telling The Associated Press, "I wish to die and embrace martyrdom.""That shows that he is adamantly committed to his extremist goals and is unlikely to be brought to justice by law enforcement actions," Phillips said. 'It will take a war to defeat him in South Waziristan, and I think that shows that the term War on Terrorism remains applicable there."
A State Department spokeswoman, Megan Mattson, declined to comment on Mehsud's threat.

Taliban Chief Vows 'Amazing' Attack on Washington 'Soon'

The commander of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility Tuesday for a deadly assault on a Pakistani police academy and said the group was planning a terrorist attack on the White House that would "amaze" the world.
Baitullah Mehsud, who has a $5 million bounty on his head from the U.S., said Monday's attack on the outskirts of the eastern city of Lahore was retaliation for U.S. missile strikes against militants along the Afghan border.

"Soon we will launch an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world," Mehsud told The Associated Press by phone. He provided no details.

Mehsud has never been directly linked to any attacks outside Pakistan, but attacks blamed on his network of fighters have widened in scope and ambition in recent years. The threat comes days after President Barack Obama warned that Al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the United States from secret havens in Pakistan.

Pakistan's former government and the CIA named Mehsud as the prime suspect behind the December 2007 killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Pakistani officials accuse him of harboring foreign fighters, including Central Asians linked to Al Qaeda, and of training suicide bombers.

In his latest comments, Mehsud identified the White House as one of the targets in an interview with local Dewa Radio, a copy of which was obtained by the AP.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said he had not seen any reports of Mehsud's comments but that he would "take the threat under consideration."

Mehsud also claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing that killed four soldiers Monday in Bannu district and a suicide attack targeting a police station in Islamabad last week that killed one officer.

Such attacks pose a major test for the weak, year-old civilian administration of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari that has been gripped with political turmoil in recent weeks.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said it was too early to respond to Mehsud's claim, but the Interior Ministry chief said Monday that authorities had information linking the attack to Mehsud. He said at least one of the attackers arrived in Lahore about 15 days ago from Mehsud's stronghold of South Waziristan near the border with Pakistan and rented a house.

The gunmen who attacked the police academy killed seven police and two civilians, holding security forces at bay for about eight hours before being overpowered by Pakistani commandos. Some of the attackers wore police uniforms, and they took hostages and tossed grenades during the assault.

Earlier Tuesday, a spokesman from a little-known militant group linked to the Pakistani Taliban also claimed responsibility for the attack and a similar ambush-style attack against the Sri Lankan cricket team earlier this month in Lahore. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the two claims.

Omar Farooq, who said he is the spokesman for Fedayeen al-Islam, said the group would carry out more attacks unless Pakistani troops withdraw from tribal areas near the Afghan border and the U.S. stops its drone strikes. The group previously said it was behind the deadly September bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad that killed 54 people.

Mehsud declined to comment on Fedayeen al-Islam's claim that it carried out the attack or to say whether the group is linked to his own. The Pakistani Taliban leader also said he was not deterred by the U.S. bounty on his head: "I wish to die and embrace martyrdom."

The AP has spoken to Mehsud several times in the past and recognized his voice, and a request for an interview with Mehsud was submitted through his aide. The militant leader also granted phone interviews to other media organizations.

The Pakistani Taliban has links with Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban militants who have launched attacks against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from a base in the border region between the two countries.

Pakistan faces tremendous U.S. pressure to eradicate militants from its soil and has launched several military operations in the Afghan border region.

The U.S. has stepped up drone attacks against militants in the area, causing tension with Pakistani officials who protest they are a violation of the country's sovereignty and kill innocent civilians.

Monday's highly coordinated attack highlighted that militants in the country pose a threat far outside the border region. It prompted Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik, Pakistan's top civilian security official, to say that militant groups were "destabilizing the country."

After gunmen stormed the academy, masses of security forces surrounded the compound, exchanging fire in televised scenes reminiscent of the militant siege in the Indian city of Mumbai in November and the attack on Sri Lanka's cricket team.

Officials Tuesday were still trying to sort out how many attackers were involved, giving varying accounts to the media.

A senior Lahore police investigator, Zulfikar Hameed, told the AP that three of the attackers blew themselves up when commandos retook the police academy and one was shot by security forces. Hameed said it was difficult to say precisely how many militants carried out the attack and some may have escaped.

Tasneem Qureshi, a top official at the Interior Ministry, told an Express News TV that four attackers were in custody and "one, who was wounded, managed to escape."

Punjab police chief, Khawaja Khalid Farooq, said one of the captured militants had provided useful information and that about 50 other people in Lahore were detained overnight for questioning.

Iran Signals Willingness to Join U.S. in Fight Against Afghan Drug Trade

U.S. and Iranian diplomats took baby steps toward thawing tensions between their countries Tuesday, at an international conference on Afghanistan put together by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In a significant move, Iran's deputy foreign minister, while criticizing U.S. plans to send more troops into Afghanistan, said Iran is "fully prepared" to help fight the drug trade in Afghanistan -- a campaign the U.S. wants to escalate.

The U.S. is planning to send of surge of narcotics agents into Afghanistan to help stem the opium trade, which is a goal Iran shares.

Iran's Mehdi Akhundzadeh also met with Richard Holbrooke, Clinton's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the sidelines of the conference, held at The Hague in the Netherlands.

Holbrooke's meeting "did not focus on anything substantive. It was cordial, it was unplanned and they agreed to stay in touch," Clinton told reporters as the day-long conference was winding down.

The gathering was being closely watched for signs that the U.S. and Iran can work together on a common problem after years of hostility. The two countries cooperated in 2001 and 2002 after U.S.-led forces ousted Afghanistan's Taliban government.

But relations were frozen during the administration of George W. Bush, who referred to Iran as part of the "axis of evil," although Bush's former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell had informal contacts with Iranian foreign ministers.

Washington broke diplomatic ties with Tehran after the U.S. Embassy was overrun and diplomats taken hostage during the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which brought to power a government of Islamic clerics.

At the Afghan meeting, Iran highlighted its history of helping Afghanistan with cash and infrastructure development and by sheltering 3 million Afghan refugees. The two countries share a 600-mile border.

Akhundzadeh signaled his country is open to cooperating with the U.S. on certain fronts.

"Iran is fully prepared to participate in the projects aimed at combating drug trafficking and the plans in line with developing and reconstructing Afghanistan," Akhundzadeh said.

However, Iran was critical of President Obama's plan to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, saying those funds instead should be redirected to building Afghanistan's own forces.

"The presence of foreign forces has not improved things in the country, and it seems than an increase in the number of foreign forces will prove ineffective, too," Akhundzadeh said.

Meanwhile, Clinton said she also sent Iran a direct letter concerning three U.S. citizens unable to return from Iran: Robert Levinson, Roxana Saberi and Esha Momeni. Their return would be a humanitarian gesture, the letter said. Normally, U.S.-Iran contacts are conducting through Swiss intermediaries.

A State Department official at The Hague told FOX News the letter was not signed by Clinton and was delivered to "a representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

The official could not confirm how it was delivered and by whom, but said it was not delivered by Holbrooke.

An excerpt from the letter, obtained by FOX News, states that the return of the three citizens "would certainly constitute a humanitarian gesture by the Islamic Republic of Iran in keeping with the spirit of renewal and generosity that marks the Persian new year."

Ex-FBI agent Levinson vanished after visiting an island off the coast of Iran two years ago.

Saberi is an American Iranian freelance journalist who has been detained in Iran since January, allegedly for outdated visa credentials. Momeni is an Iranian-American graduate student who was staying in Tehran to work on her master's thesis on the Iranian women's movement. She was arrested in October for allegedly passing another vehicle while driving.

The rare diplomatic overture to Iran Tuesday comes two weeks after Obama reached out to the Iranian people and marked the Iranian new year in a Nowruz video message.

And the Holbrooke-Akhundzadeh meeting was foreshadowed by a handshake at the conference between another state department official, Patrick Moon, and the Iran deputy foreign minister.

The U.S. and Iran were among more than 80 countries summoned at the initiative of the United States to focus on Afghanistan. It comes days after Obama unveiled a revamped U.S. policy calling for another 17,000 troops, 4,000 military trainers for Afghan security forces, and hundreds of civilians to assist in Afghanistan's development.

Both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Clinton said Afghanistan would welcome Taliban fighters who embrace peace, reject Al Qaeda and pledge to abide by the Afghan constitution.

Clinton said most Taliban fighters have allied with anti-government forces "out of desperation" rather than commitment, in a country that has barely made inroads against poverty and lack of development.

"They should be offered an honorable form of reconciliation and reintegration into a peaceful society, if they are willing to abandon violence, break with Al Qaeda, and support the constitution," Clinton said.

The United States is starting cautiously down a path in Afghanistan that proved helpful in Iraq, where former insurgents joined forces with U.S. troops and a U.S.-backed government.

Clinton did not mention Iran during her address to the conference but has expressed a hope that Iran and the U.S. could find some common ground on Afghanistan, notably on combating narco-terrorism and on border control issues.

"The range of countries and institutions that are represented here shows the universal recognition that what happens in Afghanistan matters to us all," Clinton told the gathering.

Although the conference was devoted to Afghanistan, Clinton said it should also focus attention on the lawless border regions of Pakistan that provide a safe haven for the insurgents.

"Our partnership with democratic Pakistan is crucial. Together, we must give Pakistan the tools it needs to fight these extremists," Clinton said.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, however, warned against interfering in his country. A regional approach to Afghanistan must include "respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference," he said.

Akhundzadeh, too, cautioned against losing sight of the conference's objectives of providing security and reconstruction for Afghanistan, and urged countries to "refrain from any kind of deviation from this motto."